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Explosive Lifting - Part 2

In the first part of this article series, we looked at the rationale for personal trainers using explosive lifts (traditional competitive weightlifting) with their clients. We went over the basics of lifting technique and covered the benefits afforded by this type of training. Now, it’s time to actually look into explosive lifting details.

The snatch is the first of two competitive lifts performed in the sport of weightlifting at the Olympic Games. This article describes this exciting, extremely explosive lift in greater detail and offers guidance for learning and training the snatch.

The snatch is a mystery for most folks. The bar is overhead just too quickly to really know what happened. Due largely to its explosive nature, we see plenty of exercises currently labeled as a “snatch,” but most of these have little to do with the actual competitive lift or how it is most efficiently performed.

For example, cable, stretch cord or dumbbell one-arm snatches are often described in today’s “functional training” world. Yes, you start with your hands at or near the floor, and yes, you finish with your hand overhead. Simply elevating a resistance overhead should not be confused with the proper execution of a snatch lift.

Adding to this confusion is the NSCA’s personal trainer column, One-on-One, in the December 2007 issue of the Strength and Conditioning Journal. The column deals with an exercise traditionally called the “Muscle Snatch,” which is a legitimate warm up and training movement that requires very light weight but teaches a complete pull-through of the barbell. The writer failed to acknowledge the actual lift and describes something entirely different (and deserving of yet another “snatch” name).

A further article in the same journal clouds what could be a fairly simple teaching method by introducing confusing and inconsistent exercise names. Learning and executing the snatch lift doesn’t have to be this difficult!

A Challenging Lift

The snatch is considered a total body lift. Described simply, the snatch involves lifting a barbell from the ground to overhead in one very quick motion (less than one second from lift off to lockout).

Many novices think the bar is swung overhead, but in reality, you want the barbell to pass very close to your torso and head. The old adage of “a straight line is the shortest distance between two points” is key to maximizing your ability to “snatch” a weight overhead.

But still, you can only pull a heavy weight so high. In order to maximize their lifting ability, weightlifters have developed specific techniques to quickly lower the body under the still rising barbell, thus catching the weight at arms’ length. This greatly increases the amount of weight lifted, although this is NOT a major goal for the personal trainer working with a non-weightlifter client.

Be assured that the snatch is a difficult lift to master, at least if you’re going to do it right. In the late 1970s, Carl Miller, then USA Weightlifting’s National Coaching Coordinator, held summer training camps in his hometown of Santa Fe, New Mexico. Carl related a story of Olympic and world champion Dwight Stones’ high jump coach attending a camp to learn more about explosive lifting and forming the opinion that the Snatch had to be “just about the most difficult exercise available.”

But you’re up to the challenge, right? Actually, as a personal trainer planning to implement this type of training, your goal here is pretty simple and straightforward. Since explosive lifting is the most advanced form of resistance training, you should aim to learn as much about explosive lifting as you can. But let’s be realistic. You don’t expect to train your clients like weightlifters (unless you find your clients clamoring to learn more). In other words, know all you can about the lifts, but apply abbreviated versions of the snatch, the clean and the jerk to a non-weightlifting population. Everyone will breathe easier!

Snatch Styles

As I covered in our first installment, the snatch lift is generally executed in one of three styles: the squat snatch, the split snatch and the power snatch. Keeping with the premise that you aren’t training weightlifters, I’ll cover all three styles but will focus on the power snatch. This is the easiest lift to learn quickly and one that produces all of the positive benefits available in the other styles. The only major difference is that less weight is used in the power snatch than in the squat or split versions, where the body receives the bar in a lower "catch" position.

Squat Snatch

The squat style snatch is used by nearly all competitive weightlifters. It is the most efficient use of the body/barbell combination. But there are several reasons why the squat style snatch may not be appropriate for personal trainers to introduce. Some considerations include the following:

The challenging part of the squat snatch is the final receiving position, where the lifter is in a full squat position with feet flat, spine neutral and the bar locked solidly overhead at arms’ length. Our first step is to learn this receiving position.

Many so-called “functional” resources encourage the overhead squat as a great screening or core strengthening exercise. This move has always been a very secondary move in weightlifting circles, but it does serve the purpose of sorting out those who can ultimately perform a squat snatch. If clients can’t comfortably and safely perform overhead squats with an empty bar or dowel, you have two reasonable choices: utilize another snatch style or train toward a more flexible body.

Split Snatch

The split style snatch is hardly seen in weightlifting competition these days. The pull is nearly identical to the squat style, but the bar must be raised higher. This is due to the fact that it takes longer to move both feet fore and aft, and the final receiving position is higher than in the squat style. Some considerations include the following:

The split snatch can be a fun and yet challenging experience, especially if you train your clients to alternate the footwork. Again, you’re not training weightlifters, so the weight on the bar should be reasonable.

Power Snatch

The power snatch is nearly identical to the squat Snatch, but the final receiving position requires bending the knees only about four to six inches to “catch the weight.”

Regardless of snatch style used, another lead up to learning the snatch is to practice a wide grip press behind the neck with a dowel or empty bar. When your client can comfortably do this and the overhead squat or lunge, you’re ready to start learning the snatch.

Top Down Learning Progression

Teaching the snatch is accomplished fairly easily by teaching from the top down. For optimal results, the bar should be safely located on pulling blocks. This allows for an easily repeatable position for each rep.

The set up allows for bar placement around the top of the thighs, with the client in a coiled position (see Figure 1). The emphasis is on a strong vertical lifting action with the lower body, not a big upper body or arm pull. From this starting position, explosively triple extend the knee, hip and ankle joints to reach a fully elongated body position balanced on the toes. As the momentum from this jump begins to fade, the lifter allows the elbows to move upward to about the level of the ears. As much as possible, elbows are kept over the wrist, rather than in an arm pulling motion that results in the elbows falling behind the bar. This is a snatch high pull from the high blocks.

There’s really no need to perform the entire snatch motion if vertical force is a primary training goal. But let’s move forward with the assumption that you want to know the entire teaching sequence.

Once a client has performed several workouts, it’s time to move into the final receiving position. A rapid pulling of the body down under the bar follows the same explosive upward action. This is challenging to learn and may take a number of workouts.