by Wil Fleming T-Nation
You can’t beat the snatch – at least not in terms of things you can do in the weight room for developing explosive strength, ridiculous traps, and extreme athleticism.
Unfortunately, few recreational lifters have the slightest idea how to perform a snatch, and those that do often still make some common mistakes that turn this solid exercise into a chiropractor and soft-tissue therapists’ wet dream.
It doesn’t have to be that way. And if you keep an eye out for the following six mistakes, you can take your snatch game up a notch and develop the mountainous traps and explosive power you deserve.
Mistake 1: Always going from the floor
Problems in the snatch often result from bad movement once the lift has begun, but an even more prevalent problem is a poor starting position.
There are a number of explanations for this, but the most common is simply not knowing what the heck a good start position looks like.
At the floor level, the key is to maintain a trunk position that’s about 30 degrees above horizontal. The angle of the shins and the thighs can vary greatly based on the height of the lifter, but the trunk angle remains constant.(1) Get this wrong and you don’t have much of a shot at getting the pull off the ground correctly.
Let’s take a look at getting in the correct position. The true start position for the snatch is uncomfortable, maybe even downright difficult, for the following reasons:
Hip mobility. A quality you lost by sitting at a desk all day.
Ankle mobility. Probably taken from you in that heated game of pick-up basketball 3 years ago when you rolled your ankle going for a game winning lay-up.
Thoracic spine extension. Again, stolen from you by your desk job.
Trunk stability. Unless you’ve been practicing some awesome diaphragmatic breathing patterns over the last several years, this is probably gone as well.
Most aren’t lacking in every area required to get into the correct start position, but even one red flag means that you’ll default to easier patterns to get to a bar resting on the ground.
For example, those lacking in hip mobility, thoracic mobility, or trunk stability will likely default to flexion at the lumbar spine, meaning a jacked-up back is right around the corner.
Fortunately, it’s possible to improve mobility in areas that you’re lacking and achieve the correct start position in no time. So make your first goal to develop mobility and stability where you need it, and then come back to trying to snatch from the floor.
In the meantime, starting the lifts from a slightly elevated (but static) position (a low block or another bumper plate) can help athletes get into a start position that doesn’t include lumbar flexion.
Here’s an example from when I was working on recovering some hip mobility that I’d lost over the years.
Mistake 2: Hitting pop ups.
Getting into the correct start position for a snatch from the floor doesn’t mean that you’re out of the danger zone. A big mistake could still be waiting to bite you in the arse.
We’ve already established the correct torso position for when starting on the ground – roughly 30 degrees above horizontal – and that’s also the angle the torso should be in when the first pull is complete and the bar is above the knees.(1)
Snatching mistake #2 is letting your hips pop up too early. Doing so results in the bar being too far in front of you, and effectively puts your chances of making a good lift on par with the odds of Carrot Top winning an Oscar.
The initial lift off the floor should be done by extension of the knees – driving the knees back while lifting the torso. The torso should remain in the same position relative to the ground (30 degrees above horizontal) throughout the first pull.
Now we’re looking to translate this torso position vertically through space. This maintains the powerful RDL/hips loaded position above the knee. The knees should continue driving back until almost reaching extension as the bar begins to pass the knee.
Here’s a video that shows the difference when your hips rise too fast versus when they rise at the right pace. It doesn’t appear to be a huge difference, but it will significantly affect your ability to complete the lift.
Mistake 3: Not keeping the bar tight to the body.
Just as if you told me you saw an awful movie recently, I’d guess that it probably featured sparkling vampires and bad acting, if you were to tell me that you miss a lot of reps in the snatch, I’d immediately think this mistake was the culprit.
Mistake #3 is letting the bar get too far from your body during any part of the snatch. One of the basic concepts of weightlifting is once the bar breaks from the floor, the body and the bar must act as one unit. This unit, or lifter/barbell system, functions optimally when the bar is close to the body.
There are two typical instances when the bar can get away from you during the snatch:
First pull off the floor
If the bar gets away from the body during the first pull, you’re basically screwed. The lifter/barbell system is loose, and you’ll have a hard time recovering the lift.
To correct this, try pulling the bar tight to the body in a sweeping motion as you start the lift.
After the bar passes the knees is another point in which the bar can get away from you. If this occurs at this stage you have zero hope of making the lift because you’re no longer in control of the bar. As the bar drifts out away from the body, you must move away from your upward motion path and jump forward to catch the bar.
Mistake 4: Not closing the “triangle.”
The next mistake goes by a number of names: a short pull, leaving the hips out, or not finishing with extension. We call it “not closing the triangle” and it’s mistake # 4 on the list.
The triangle is the position you achieve when the bar is above the knees. This position is important to form: the hips are away from the bar, the arms are directed back towards the thighs, and the chest is over the bar forming three sides of a “power triangle.”
The triangle stores a ton of potential power – the hips are primed and ready to explode with force on the bar. It’s easy to achieve any sort of triangle above the knees, but often people are unable to shut it.
Focus on driving the hips to the bar as soon as the bar passes your knees. Finish the second pull and shut the triangle with force and finality to get the most out of your snatch. If you leave it “open” you’ve left a lot of power on the platform that could’ve been used to lift bigger weights.
Mistake 5: Being a swinger.
In snatching there are two types of people: swingers and pullers.
Although the term “swingers” invokes pleasant images of a loose and free-loving lifestyle, being a swinger isn’t a good thing when it comes to the snatch.
Efficient weightlifters finish the second pull with a vertical spike of power. Swingers, on the other hand, finish the second pull with a forward spike of power, leading the bar to “pop” off their hips in a distinct forward arc.
While big weights can be lifted in this way – you’re still reaching full, powerful hip extension – it’s far from efficient, and will lead to more missed lifts than you’d care to have.
Focus on achieving a vertical finish to the bar. Know that by actively pulling yourself under the bar you’ll be able to get around the bar, rather than making the bar move around your body.
The video below shows the big difference in bar path and the loss of efficiency that comes from swinging versus pulling.
Again, it isn’t a huge difference in the “looks” category, but one that will screw you up big time going forward. And that’s why it’s mistake #5.
Mistake 6: Catching like a Starfish.
A largely overlooked component of the Olympic lifts is the receiving portion. The snatch is great for force production, but just as important is the force absorption that takes place as you receive the bar.
This position should look like landing from a jump. When it doesn’t, not only are you missing out on the benefits of force absorption, you’re also training yourself to land in bad positions in other athletic movements. Your training just went from injury prevention to injury promotion. Hello mistake #6.
The starfish is an ugly creature that likes to poke its head out when weights approach a maximum. Most have seen it before, and likely done it as well. The feet splay out wide, with all the weight towards the toes. It’s about the least athletic position you can imagine.
Landing like a starfish occurs because you haven’t prepared to move rapidly under the bar. Your body defaults to what it thinks is the fastest way, which in most cases happens to be the feet wide, starfish position.
Prepare yourself by doing drills like the snatch balance to improve your comfort level in getting under the bar for max weights. Although this drill requires that you go into a full overhead squat to receive the bar, it will still equip you with a strategy to get under the bar that’s far better than the starfish.
Wrapping it up
There are plenty more mistakes lifters make when performing the snatch, but these 6 are the big ones that keep most from hitting big weights. Correct these mistakes and you’ll be on your way to putting some serious weight over your head.
1. Y. Ikeda, Jinji T, Matsubayashi T, et al. Comparison of the snatch technique for female weightlifters at the 2008 Asian Championships. J. S&C Res. 2012 26(5). 1281-1295.