The CrossFit Snatch: Your Ultimate Guide to the Toughest Movement in Fitness

The snatch is the fastest, and most complex lift in CrossFit. Conquering the snatch requires a seamless combination of flexibility, strength, power and technique.

If you are a frequent CrossFitter, this is a lift you will need to be good at.

In this article, we will look at what a snatch is, how to set up for it, and offer some tips to improve your snatch technique.

What Is A Snatch?

Credit: Mike Chiong’s snatch

A snatch is one of the two Olympic Weightlifting moves, along with the clean and jerk. A snatch involves moving the barbell from the floor to a standing locked out position overhead. It is one of the most complex moves in CrossFit.

There are many variants of the snatch, including the hang snatch, high hang snatch, squat snatch, snatch balance and power snatch.

The snatch is one of the most intricate movements in all sports. In order to complete a snatch, an athlete pulls a weight upward with both strength and speed and then explodes down under the still-moving bar. Foot placement, body positioning and lockout are all absolute key when one reaches the bottom position to prevent the bar from crashing to the floor. The snatch is the ultimate in athleticism.

Reasons you SHOULD snatch

The snatch is an excellent way to develop skills and can provide you with many significant benefits. These include:

1. Greater Proprioception

Proprioception refers to having an awareness of where your body is situated in space. It is key for all athletes, not only does it reduce the risk of injuries, but it is also said to have a positive impact on brain function.

2. Better Posture

The snatch is a great tool for strengthening the entire posterior chain which in turn can help to improve your posture. When working on the snatch you must maintain a straight back, your shoulders retracted and a tight core – giving you a ballerina-esque posture!

3. Quicker Reflexes

The snatch happens so quickly. There is only a very brief moment to pull yourself under the bar, while simultaneously catching it before it starts accelerating down. This requires cat-like reactions, a skill that you develop further as you continue to perform the movement. Speedy reaction times is a skill that transfers to everything from basketball to martial arts.

4. Enhanced Coordination

When performing a full snatch, you must stop, change direction and resume the movement in a very short amount of time. Working on all of these directional changes and  movements helps to foster agility and teaches people to be lighter on their feet.

5. Greater Flexibility and Mobility

The snatch truly challenges your mobility. It challenges the range of motion in almost all of your body, but particularly your ankles, shoulders and hips.

The Importance of Mobility 

Mobility is an essential element of every athlete’s training; it is vital for movement and coordination and is intricately tied to many other areas of training. The ability to move well, with no pain or injuries, will permit you to continuously work on your technical ability and strength, and permit you to progress as an athlete. Poor mobility will restrict your ability to move in certain ways and almost certainly halt any progress.

For example, if your hip mobility is limited, this will have a negative impact not only on your snatch, but on your general performance.

How will working on mobility be of benefit?

Improving your mobility for the Snatch, will of course help you with the lift itself, but it also has many other benefits:

  • Ease pain
  • Help to avoid injury
  • Reinforce movement patterns
  • Better range of motion which will in turn help with many different exercises
  • Enhance performance
  • Improve your overall well being

Mobility in Practice

The snatch is an exercise that works the entire body, it requires sharp focus and superb technique. From a solid core, strong and mobile shoulders to power and speed, it is one drill that truly tests your ability as an athlete.

Developing brute strength from powerlifting is of no use to the Snatch if you don’t have the mobility to support the bar during the catch or reach a deep squat position.

Snatch Mobility Routine

Try this routine to improve your Snatch.

Setting Up For The Snatch

In order to complete a good snatch, it is key to set up correctly, this will allow you to move most efficiently and set you up for proper technique. Placing your feet in the correct spot, ensuring your back is tight and your shoulders are in the right position will make or break your movement.

Tips for a good snatch set up:

  • Grip – I know it can feel awkward and uncomfortable, but always snatch with a hook grip.
  • Toes – feet under the bar, not as close as they are with a deadlift. Align the bar with the edge of your shoelaces. If the bar starts far away from you, it will stay far away.
  • Shoulders – shoulders must be active, think about gently rotating your elbows out when you grip the bar. Shoulders need to be over the bar to begin with, which will allow you to deliver a powerful hip extension when you move further into the lift.
  • Hips – Hips must always be lower than your shoulders.
  • Knees – your mantra should be: “knees back”. In order for the bar to move directly in a straight line, your knees must not be blocking the trajectory. Activate your hamstrings to your knees out of the way. Point your feet and knees slightly out.

Snatch Technique

Brilliance in snatch technique depends on two very different skills. First, the ability to lift the bar, and second the skill to drop speedily underneath the bar and to stabilize it overhead. To complete a snatch correctly an athlete must pay attention to both skills.

A simple tool for learning the snatch is by breaking the movement down into four distinct phases, this allows you to identify both strengths and weaknesses.

First Pull

First phase of the lift from floor to above the knee.

The distance that the bar moves from the floor to just above the knee is known as the “first pull”.

Throughout this section of the lift, the angle of your back should remain largely unchanged, the bar should be moving at a gradual and controlled pace as you start to stand up. Your knees must pull back to allow for space so that the bar can move in a straight line. Keep hip extension for the next phase.

The closer you keep the bar to your body, the better. Pulling the bar towards your knees helps you to maintain a straight back.

A very common error that often occurs in this phase is trying to lift the bar off the floor too quickly or with too much power. This will throw the whole lift off balance and your timing will be totally off. It is very important to maintain control in this phase. If an athlete approaches the second phase in a position that is not balanced the overall mechanics of the lift can be thrown off.

Be slow and controlled enough so that you can:

  • Keep your back and core tight.
  • Pull back your tibias.
  • Keep the bar very close but avoid touching your knees.
  • Hold your shoulders and chest over the bar.

Second Pull

Also known as the jump or triple extension, is the second phase of the snatch.

The second pull is where the majority of the force is generated to accomplish the lift. Beginning above the knee, to the explosive pull, this is when the bar is moved to an overhead position.

Once your bar reaches the middle of your thigh (phase one), you then drive your feet into the floor, open your hips while driving your shoulders back. This should allow the bar to seamlessly fly up. The key to this stage is maintaining the bar close to your body and pulling it into your hips and high up into the air. Continued control is necessary to stop the bar from pulling you backwards or forwards.

Catch & Recovery

This is the third phase of the movement, and it should be thought of more as a ‘pull under’ the bar as opposed to a catch. You need to actively pull yourself under the bar in order to catch it, you can’t just simply take it easy once you have completed the second pull.

A good catch is marked by a smooth lockout. Once you have completed the second pull, you swiftly move your feet out into your squat stance and actively pull yourself down into a strong overhead squat position. Once you reach this position, you need to prevent the bar from crashing down on you by actively pushing up on it. The bar should be marginally behind the ears and directly above the centre of your foot. Initially, you may need to catch it a little higher up and ride it down to the bottom of the position.

Recovery (“Stand Up”)

To complete the repetition, drive your heels through the floor and stand up. Once your knees, hips and elbows are locked out, the snatch is complete, and you can return the bar to the floor.

Top Tips for a Successful Snatch

Start Right, End Right

Initiate the pull in a controlled manner and speed up as you pass the knees.

The first pull dictates the rest of the movement and is therefore of extreme importance. If you begin the pull in a controlled way it will give you more control over the bar and allow you to set yourself in a good position for the second pull. Beginning the lift in a measured and slower way allows for a clear path of the bar. Starting too quickly or too hurriedly can create a disordered bar path.

Having Difficulty? Reverse the Chain

Working your way backwards through the snatch can be extremely helpful (think of negative pull ups!). If you struggle with the catch positions, then drill overhead squats and snatch balances. If your problem area is transitioning from below the knee to above the knee, try working on a hang snatch below the knee or a pause snatch, these can help your body and mind to connect the two movements.

Squat Your Way to Success

Squat Your Way to Success

In order to have a strong snatch you need to be able to drop your body below the bar. This applies to the power snatch as well as the squat snatch. Good technique in the snatch requires a good squat position – i.e. upright, heels down and knees tracking out. Start by working on your air squat, if your air squat is not solid (if your chest drops forward or you drive up with your butt first) then your ability to do overhead squats will be extremely compromised. If you need to start with the air squat and progress from there, there is no sense in adding weight to poor form.

Keep the Bar Close

Keep the bar as close to your body as possible for the entire duration of the move.  You do not need to have unnecessary friction on the body from the bar scraping its way up, but you must maintain a close proximity between the barbell and the body.

Imagine a lever – the further away from the object the more leverage is exerted on the object. Leverage means that the barbell will likely pull you forward, and often lead to a missed lift.

If you find yourself chasing the barbell out ahead of you it may be because you are not moving the bar back in towards yourself. Once the first pull has been completed and you have passed your knee, you must actively engage your lats in order to keep the barbell close to the body.

Stay Calm

This applies to all stages of the snatch, but particularly to the recovery phase (once you have completed the pull and squatted under the bar). A common mistake amongst novice and intermediate lifters is to fail to secure a balanced and secure overhead position in the squat as they are too keen to finish the lift. If you rush to finish the move, this can often cause the weight to fall forward.

Add Variety

There are a myriad of other exercises that will help you perfect the snatch. We have already mentioned overhead squats and snatch balances, snatch grip deadlifts are also a great option. These allow you to work on the hook grip in a more controlled manner as well as helping you to improve your setup position.

Another great drill to work on is the three-position snatch – the power position (bar at the hips), the hang position (above the knees) and a full snatch from the floor.

Be a Supple Leopard

We have already mentioned the importance of mobility, but it is so important if you want to work towards a solid snatch that it deserved a second mention. For a good snatch you MUST be able to squat to the required depth with solid form and you MUST be able to hold the bar (in the snatch grip) overhead with your lats activated.

Adding extra weight through a complex lift that requires a sturdy, supple and mobile body onto a tight or immobile body is a sure recipe for disaster.

This is a complicated move and it is EXTREMELY important to be careful

Olympic Lifts are enormously technical and are supposed to be both explosive and powerful. They are typically done in sets of very low reps and with plenty of rest. Exposing your body to those movements at high reps (with a heavy load) can easily set you up for injury. (High level of reps refers to anything over 8!)

Performing a complex movement for the sake of it being as fast as possible will unquestionably lead to injury. Relinquishing intensity over mechanics will also have the same effect. Trying moves that you are not ready to complete is another recipe to hurt yourself.

CrossFit is often criticized for its high rate of injury, and its approach to Olympic Lifting is often at the centre of this argument. In order to avoid injuries, work on progressions over scaled options. Start with your overhead squats, snatch balances and snatch grip deadlifts. Perfect your squat technique, work on your mobility and set yourself up on a path for success, not injury!

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Steph Contomichalos

Stephanie is a sports enthusiast, an avid crossfitter, wakeboarder and yogi. An advocate for women’s sport who strongly believes in the use of sport as a tool for development. She is currently living in Athens, Greece where she runs a hiking and yoga wellness retreat.

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