Snatch Technique – The Key Concepts Fully Explained

In the early stages of learning, it is exceptionally important for the coach to provide a conceptual picture of the snatch. The task for the coach is to help the beginner unravel the complexities of snatch technique, to simplify and make more understandable what the snatch is, and what it isn’t. If insufficient attention is paid to explaining the fundamental concepts of snatch technique, it is highly likely that the beginner will suffer considerable learning difficulties and may accumulate errors of technique that may be intractable. It is, of course, a truth that coaches will differ very considerably in their own understanding of the snatch. These differences among coaches emerge as a result of the passing on of knowledge, beliefs and attitudes from one generation of coaches to the next. Inevitably, the most powerful influence is when an athlete learns from their own coach, and largely adopts the same view of snatch technique. Some differences between coaches will be merely superficial and the end result of coaching will be athletes with broadly similar styles and consistent performance ability. On the other hand, some coaching beliefs result in athletes developing a style of snatch that has has a pronounced eccentricities and a great deal of performance unpredictability.

Kiana Elliott - Excellence in Snatch Technique - displaying a great Receiving Position
Kiana Elliott – Snatch Receiving Position

Therefore it is greatly important for athletes and coaches alike to investigate the key biomechanical concepts upon which snatch technique is built and avoid the trap of passed on beliefs systems.

Key concepts of snatch technique

CONCEPT 1: TWO BASIC SKILLS

Excellence in snatch technique depends broadly on two entirely different skills. Firstly, the skill to lift the bar and secondly the skill to move rapidly under the bar and stabilize the weight overhead. No matter how good the athlete’s capability is in the first skill, their performance will be limited by the second skill. In other words, no matter how strong an athlete is in the pull, if they cannot stabilise the weight overhead, their pull strength comes to no avail. It is critically important therefore to set about developing these two skills in tandem from the very first lesson. It is often the case, that far more attention is paid to the first skill (the pull) in the early stages of learning and not enough on the second skill (excellence in achieving a low, stable receiving position), and as a result athletes develop a lack of confidence with the bar overhead.

CONCEPT 2: CRITICAL HEIGHT

Good snatch technique is NOT a throwing action i.e. the bar is not catapulted or thrown overhead. Instead, the athlete’s task is to extend the body powerfully upwards to complete the pull as shown in Figure 2 below, and then to complete a fast drop into the receiving position and stabilise the bar overhead. The term “critical height” denotes the need for the bar to reach sufficient height so that the athlete has time and space to drop under it, and lockout.

Critical height to which the bar must be raised in order to be successful with the snatch
Figure 2: The simplicity of the snatch is that it is a pull to full extension followed by a fast drop.

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. If an athlete is slow in their movement under the bar, the bar must be pulled higher to compensate. 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 3: Final velocity

It is common for beginning athletes to think that it is necessary to pull the bar as fast as possible immediately at the start of the lift. However, the important concept that the coach must enable the athlete to grasp is that the velocity at the end of the pull is much more important. The velocity of the bar achieved at the end of the pull is termed the ‘final velocity’ and it is final velocity that determines the upward momentum of the bar. The larger the final velocity, the larger the momentum. This is illustrated in Figure 3 below, which depicts that the faster the car goes the greater the stopping distance.

The faster the car the greater the momentum
Figure 3: Momentum is a product of mass and velocity

Athletes should therefore focus on obtaining a strong pull finish rather than trying to gain as much velocity at the start of the lift.

Concept 4: Direction of Force

In Weightlifting, the task is to maximise the force applied in vertical direction and to minimise force applied in a horizontal direction. Movement of the bar horizontally is a major problem for the athlete for two reasons:

  • The athlete must keep the barbell over the base of support to remain in balance. If the bar moves too far horizontally,  it will move outside of the base of support.
  • Horizontal movement results in horizontal momentum, that is the bar has a tendency to keep moving in the same direction (horizontally). In the receiving position for the snatch, for example, if the bar is moving horizontally forwards or backwards the athlete will have extreme difficulty, or it becomes impossible to arrest the movement of the bar.

The problem is that the human body is not a machine built to lift weights in straight lines but is comprised of many parts that move in circular fashion. For this reason, it is very hard for the beginner to learn to minimise horizontal movement, nevertheless that is what good snatch technique demands.

Concept 5: Time

In general, when coaches and athletes think about the snatch technique, they think about good body positions at various stages of the lift, and about the trajectory or path of the bar. This is normal and useful. However, there is often little consideration of the time component of the lift and this is largely because coaches and athletes do not have easy access to tools that accurately measure the time dimension.

For athletes and coaches alike, the brevity of the snatch makes it very hard to appreciate the exquisite timing involved. It its is necessary to observe and compare a great many lifts of excellent and average performers alike, before it becomes possible to distinguish the small fragments of time that are critical to the success of the lift.

Table 1 below provides data obtained by video recording of a snatch by Kiana Elliott (Aus) at 25 frames per second (at 0.04 second intervals). The data illustrates two critical phases of the lift where excellence of performance is demonstrated. Firstly, Elliott is able to continue the pull for 0.16 seconds after the bar has reached the top of the thigh. This time component takes place between position A and position C in Figure 4 below:

Snatch Technique: Finish of the pull in the snatch
Figure 4: Kiana Elliott (Aus) demonstrating the finish of the pull in the snatch. From position A to position B takes just 0.16 seconds.

The time duration of the whole of the pull is 0.88 seconds (see Table 1 below) and therefore the phase of the pull from the top of the thigh to full extension is 18% of the total duration of the pull. If for example this phase where just 1/20th of a second (0.05 sec) less in duration, the athlete would lose nearly 6% of the time duration of the pull. This amount of time is virtually imperceptible to the human eye, yet the consequences of losing 6% of the pull is dramatic, sufficient to cause the difference between success and failure at the elite level.

Table 1: Time components of the Snatch Technique of Kiana Elliott (Aus)

Time ElapsedEvent
0:00:00:00Start of Pull
0:00:00:40Knee Height
0:00:00:56Mid-Thigh
0:00:00:68Top-Thigh (see position A in Figure 4 below)
0:00:00:84Full-Extension (see position C in Figure 4 below)
0:00:00:88Toes still touching floor but body beginning to descend – end of pull
0:00:00:92Feet airborne
0:00:01:00Feet landing
0:00:01:16Elbows locked
0:00:01:36Attaining receiving position
0:00:01:44Full compression in receiving position

The temporal data in Table 1 also indicates a second aspect of performance in which Elliott displays excellence. The quickness of movement under the bar into a full receiving position is an obvious attribute of success in Weightlifting. The faster the movement, the lower the critical height of the bar needed to achieve success and this means that effectively an athlete can succeed with a heavier weight. The data in Table 1 illustrates that the lifter’s feet are airborne after 0.92 seconds duration of the lift, and that the full receiving position is attained at 1.36 seconds, that is 0.44 seconds later. The height and mass of the athlete will be factors that influence this time component but in general a duration of 0.4 seconds for this phase of the lift might be considered fast, whereas 0.5 sec is average and 0.6 seconds slow. There needs to be much more investigation of this with much higher video frame rate before such a statement should be adopted as a truth.

The above data is presented to demonstrate the importance of time values as a key concept in understanding Weightlifting performance. There is a reason why coaches cue athletes to “finish the pull”. It may help the athlete to think in terms of the “finish of the pull’ being not only a body position imperative but also a time imperative. To “finish the pull” means to hang on to pull just 1/20th second longer, and while the human brain will not likely be able to interpret such a small time interval, the concept of time does help the build understanding of key differences between average and excellent performance.