Snatch Technique – The Key Concepts

Three Basic Components

In the early stages of learning the Snatch, beginners are often overwhelmed by the complexity of the skill and, as a result, struggle to develop a training process that delivers sound technique. The coach can help the learner considerably by providing a simple overview of the Snatch by identifying and demystifying its most basic components (see Figure 1). Although learning a physical skill is always a matter of doing, a simple description of these basic components helps the beginner make sense of the exercises and instruction given by the coach. Furthermore, clear and simple explanations of what the Snatch is really about will improve the beginner’s perception of the coach’s competency as a teacher of skill.

Figure 1

Excellence in snatch technique depends broadly on three entirely different skills:

  1. The skill to lift the bar
  2. The skill to move rapidly under the bar
  3. The skill to stabilize the weight overhead.

Each of these skills are equally important and each can be a cause of failure. How often do we see an athlete fail a lift despite pulling the bar sufficiently high? How often do we see an athlete demonstrate a lack of confidence to move under the bar? How often do we see athletes doing everything right except they are unable to fix the weight overhead in the receiving position?

These three skills should be developed with equal attention from the very first lesson but often greater attention is paid to the pull. It is only natural for the beginner to see that the main issue in Weightlifting is the strength to pull the bar high. However, somewhere down the track and a little too late, the athlete begins to realise that the really good athlete in the Snatch has great confidence in their movement under the bar and an amazing ability to fix the bar overhead.

Concept 1: Elevation of the Bar

The finish of the pull in the Snatch, the body fully extended to gain maximum elevation of the bar,
Figure 2

Yes, of course, the Weightlifter must develop great strength to elevate the bar as high as they can, from the platform. On maximal lifts, a high performance Weightlifter will achieve an elevation that is around 63-67% of body height. This is about as high as the bottom of the rib cage. Athletes of lower qualification tend to pull the bar considerably higher than this however. This is because they have an abundance of pull strength in comparison to their level of skill and confidence to move under the bar at great speed and achieve low and stable receiving position.

At any level of performance, elevation of the bar is more often than not the factor that limits performance. In other words, the vast majority of athletes are able to pull the bar high enough even when they fail a personal best lift. So often, an athlete will look at a video of their failed lift in slow motion and say “I should have got that”! The video will show that the bar reached sufficient elevation and the pull technique was quite satisfactory.

For every athlete, there is an absolute critical height for the bar to reach so that the athlete has time and space to drop under it, and achieve a lockout. This critical height cannot be equal to or less than the elevation of the bar from the ground in the athlete’s receiving position. Amazingly, really good performers elevate the bar only 10 cm more than the bar height in the receiving position.

The critical height to which the bar must be elevated is higher than bar height in receiving position.
Figure 3

The critical height to which the bar must be elevated depends on two factors:

  1. The depth of the athlete’s receiving position. The ability of the athlete to sit very low in the receiving position is an obvious advantage. The critical height that the athlete must achieve in the pull will be lower if they can sit deeper.
  2. The quickness of the athlete to move under the bar into the receiving position. This factor is often not worked on sufficiently. The longer the athlete takes to move under the bar, the more the bar falls in height.

Therefore, athletes who develop a low receiving position and are fast under the bar will tend to excel at the Snatch.

Concept 2: Movement under the Bar

Dropping under the bar with confidence and speed is a key attribute of good performance in the Snatch.
Figure 4

An important component of Snatch technique is the athlete’s speed and fluency of downward movement under the bar. There are two aspects to consider, and to some extent these aspects are related.

  • Speed of movement
  • Confidence in movement

Coaches and athletes lack the means to accurately measure the athlete’s speed of movement under the bar and, for this reason, it is probable that there insufficient understanding of this component. However, with videography at 100 frames per second it is possible to measure the differences between athletes in the time taken to drop into the receiving position. In fact, the differential between expert performers and very average athletes is only 0.2 seconds. This may not seem much but it is a world of difference. Fast movement under the bar makes the impossible Snatch possible!

Athlete’s cannot simply be told to move fast under the bar, but they can be given exercises and skill drills that encourage it. Some may say that athletes will eventually develop speed given sufficient training experience, and some may say that speed of movement is genetic. But speed of movement is a matter of neural learning and therefore there is good reason to believe it is trainable.

Confidence is another matter though!

Athletes, especially at lower levels of performance, are frequently seen to abort movement the bar. We have all seen an athlete complete the pull with great strength only to miserably refuse to commit to the lift. Probably all athletes have done this at some time, and generally this issue is in the realm of psychology.

However, an athlete’s confidence is trainable, and indeed there must be a focus on developing confidence through the training process. It is very likely that athletes who develop sound receiving positions in the Snatch and believe in their speed capability under the bar, will be more confident than those who do not. This is a very valid reason why these components of technique must be developed from the first lesson.

Concept 3: Fix the Bar Overhead

A strong upright receiving position is an absolute necessity of Snatch technique. Typically, good performers in the Snatch have very low receiving positions.

It is relatively well understood that the receiving position is a critical component of Snatch technique. The receiving position is all about being able to fix the bar overhead. This means not only developing an ability to arrest the bar’s downward movement and defeat gravity, but also to remain in balance and prevent the bar from falling forwards or backwards. For the beginner, the balance issues are frustrating as an abundance of strength in the pull often comes to no avail as the athlete tries in vain to keep the bar overhead. For the majority of high performance Weightlifters, endless hours of training are spent developing this important component. The strength and skill to be able to fix a bar weighing 160-200% of body weight is enormous. Words cannot adequately describe how the elite Weightlifter feels to be ‘sandwiched’ into a deep receiving position with a limit weight and then somehow stand up without losing balance.

The receiving position seems a simple proposition but the reality is very different. It is all very well and good to state that good snatchers sit upright in very low positions, but achieving the strength and flexibility needed requires great dedication to training. It is therefore a necessity that athletes set on the task of developing a good receiving position from day one of training, and over the years continue to diligently practise on a highly frequent basis.

Dealing with Beginners

As stated at the beginning of this article, it will help the beginner athlete to learn at the outset that they must become proficient in three different skills which have equal importance. The beginner athlete will form a useful picture of snatch technique if they understand:

  1. In almost all circumstances, the beginner athlete’s strength in the pull will be adequate and the bar will be elevated sufficiently high. In short, the beginner should not worry about the strength of their pull, it will not be the main limiting factor in the early stages of learning.
  2. Developing confidence in movement under the bar is a key objective in Weightlifting. Confidence comes from success, from trusting in one’s own technical capability. It does not come from frequent failure from limit or near limit weights. It is a very bad idea to lift to failure on a regular basis.
  3. The Weightlifter must patiently and diligently develop the receiving position for the Snatch. It is necessary to not only put effort into Snatch Balances and Overhead Squats but with EVERY Snatch it is important to PRACTISE your receiving position. This means being content to sit for a few moments and be completely still in a low position with the bar directly overhead. If you don’t practise these moments in training, how do you expect to achieve them in competition?