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The Power Snatch

Ronai, Peter M.S., RCEP, CEP, EP-C, CSCS-D, FACSM

doi: 10.1249/FIT.0000000000000310
Columns: Do It Right

Peter Ronai, M.S., RCEP, CEP, EP-C, CSCS-D, FACSM, is a clinical associate professor of exercise science in the Department of Physical Therapy and Human Movement Sciences at the Sacred Heart University in Fairfield, CT. He is a fellow of the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM). He is an associate editor of the ACSM’s Health & Fitness Journal® . He is a member of the ACSM’s Health & Fitness Summit & Expo program committee and a past president of the New England Chapter of ACSM (NEACSM). He writes articles regarding exercise program development for people with chronic diseases and disorders and about online tips and tools that exercise professionals can access to better serve their clients.

Disclosure: The author declares no conflict of interest and does not have any financial disclosures.

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EXERCISE TYPE

The snatch is one of the two lifts performed in the sport of competitive weightlifting, and it entails lifting a barbell from the floor to arm’s length overhead in one continuous motion. It is a five-phase lift depicted in Figure 1A and consists of the first pull, transition or scoop, second pull, turnover, and catch phases (2,12,25). It is considered a technical lift requiring extensive practice, skill, mobility, stability, coordination, and power (12,25,29,30). The power snatch is a total body, multiple-joint strength and power development exercise. It is a derivative of the full snatch (13,25,29).

Figure 1

Figure 1

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BENEFITS OF THE EXERCISE

The power snatch from a hang position often is performed as a means of enhancing lower body power as well as trunk stability and rate of muscle force development (1,3,5,16–18,20,25–30).

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INTRODUCTION

The power snatch typically is taught to athletes interested in enhancing their jumping and sprinting abilities during initial or general preparation stages of power enhancement training from a hang position and often is taught at first without the final catch phase (also known as the high pull) with novices because of its relative simplicity in contrast to the full classical snatch or other snatch varieties (6,8,18,22,26–30). Training protocols using the power snatch and its variations have produced significant increases in vertical jump height, horizontal jump distance, lower body peak muscle force, power, balance, and speed (1,3,5,16,18,20,25–29). The full classic snatch, power snatch from a hang position, and high pull exercises appear in Figures 1A, B, and C, respectively. The hang power snatch or power snatch from the hang, depicted in Figure 1C, will be the focus of this column article.

Weightlifting movements and their derivative exercises have been performed safely in well-supervised training programs for children, adolescents, and adults (5,6,9,10,16,19,21,22,25). To perform the power snatch or its derivative, the high pull, properly, vertical acceleration of a weighted bar is accomplished by rapid and forceful extension of the hips, knees, and ankles known as triple extension. Synchronized triple extension of the hips, knees, and ankles is essential for actions that include but are not limited to jumping, running, hopping, lifting objects from the floor, and rising from a seated position (9–11,13,18,24–26,28). The reported incidence of injuries occurring during well-supervised weightlifting in children and adults is minimal and less than that of persons competing in sports including but not limited to soccer, football, basketball, gymnastics, and rugby (14,19,21). Please refer to digital video content file no. 1 for demonstrations of the full classic snatch and hang power snatch and high pull in that order (http://links.lww.com/FIT/A61).

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PRIMARY MUSCLES ACTIVATED

The primary muscles activated are the gluteus maximus, hamstrings, quadriceps, erector spinae, soleus, gastrocnemius, trapezius, latissimus dorsi, and deltoids (4,23) (Figure 2).

Figure 2

Figure 2

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TEACHING AND SAFETY POINTS

The power snatch and its derivative exercises like the high pull require that the lifter maintain an upright rigid torso aligned with the head and neck throughout all phases with the bar kept close to the body at all times (2,4,5,12,23,26,27,29). The use of PVC pipes, broomsticks and unloaded Olympic weightlifting–type bars, teaching-weighted plates, and specialized safety racks and lifting boxes can facilitate safe and effective learning of the hang power snatch and its variations (2,9,24,26,27,29). To prevent injuries to lifters and to personal trainers, explosive-type exercises like the hang power snatch and its variations are taught or coached with close supervision but not directly spotted like the rear barbell squat exercise. Optimal viewing of the phases of the hang power snatch can occur at an angle that is approximately 45 degrees to the front of the client’s body. Clients should be screened for and free of musculoskeletal injuries and should learn how to perform an overhead squat with proper bar position before performing the exercises discussed in this column article. When in a full overhead squat, the feet should be wider than the shoulders, turned outward slightly and flat, the elbows should be fully extended, the ears should be directly over the shoulders and the arms (when holding the bar fully overhead), and the torso and shins should be parallel with each other and almost vertical with the ground. Clients should demonstrate proper technique during each learning stage before progressing the level of exercise complexity or the amount of weight lifted. Variations of the power snatch also can be performed with dumbbells, sandbags, and kettlebells (15). Figure 3 depicts the overhead squat.

Figure 3

Figure 3

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STARTING POSITION

Proper alignment in the starting position is fundamental to performing all lifting tasks from the floor and should be taught to novices engaging in all forms of resistance training. With the feet between hip and shoulder width and pointing outward slightly, squat down with the hips lower than the shoulders and grasp the bar with a wider than shoulder-width pronated grip. Hand spacing generally is determined as the distance between one arm when abducted to 90 degrees with a clinched fist to the contralateral lateral deltoid. The hands are then placed evenly apart on the bar at this distance from one another (4,5,23,29). Figure 4 depicts measurement for proper hand spacing on the bar.

Figure 4

Figure 4

The elbows are fully extended, pointed outward slightly with the feet flat on the floor, bar within 1 inch of the shins and over the balls of the feet. With the shoulders slightly in front of the bar, keep the head and neck parallel with the trunk. Maintain a rigid torso and flat back at an angle approximately 30 to 45 degrees to the floor (29). Figure 5 depicts proper starting position.

Figure 5

Figure 5

Verbal teaching cues for this stage of the exercise include the following: “keep back flat or slightly arched,” “hold the chest up and out,” “squeeze the shoulder blades together,” “look straight ahead or slightly upward,” and “keep the shoulders slightly in front of the bar”(2,18,21,29). Common errors include rounding the upper back, looking downward, bending the elbows, and allowing the heels to rise (2,18,26,29).

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THE FIRST PULL

Proper alignment and technique during the first pull are fundamental to performing all lifting tasks from the floor and should be taught to novices engaging in all forms of resistance training. Maintain a constant torso angle of approximately 45 degrees to the floor. Keep the chest up and out, maintain a neutral neck and head position, and keep the elbows straight and turned outward. Keep the bar close to the shins and lift the bar by “pressing the feet into the floor” and forcefully extending the hips and knees. The shoulders and hips should rise together at the same time (26). During performance of the hang power snatch, the lift begins with the bar already at midthigh level so the first pull is only used to raise the bar to the hang position above the knees and against the thighs (2,25–27,29). During the full “classic” snatch, however, there is no pause between phases and the lift begins from the floor (2,4,5,21,23,25,29). Verbal teaching cues include the following: “keep the bar close to the shins,” “keep the chest up and out and the back slightly arched,” “keep the shoulders above the hips,” and “press the feet into the ground and stand up.” Common errors include pulling the bar off the floor too fast, rounding the upper back, letting the hips rise ahead of or faster than the shoulders, letting the bar travel too far in front of the body, and straightening or extending the knees before the hips (2,12,18,26,29). Figure 6 depicts the proper performance of the first pull.

Figure 6

Figure 6

Three supplementary exercises to improve performance of the first pull include the hip hinge, Romanian deadlift, and plate or goblet squat and appear in supplemental digital content file no. 2. Please refer to supplemental digital video content file no. 2 for demonstrations of these exercises (http://links.lww.com/FIT/A68).

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TRANSITION OR SCOOP

After the bar passes the knees, thrust the hips forward and slightly rebend the knees. Maintain a flat back with the chest up and out. Verbal teaching cues include the following: “bend the knees slightly and keep them under the bar,” “keep the elbows straight and pointing outward,” “ keep the chest up and out,” and “look straight ahead” (22,26). Common errors include rounding the upper back, looking downward, bending the elbows, and swinging the bar away from the body (2,12,18,26,29). The Romanian deadlift, which was previously mentioned, also is a supplemental exercise for improving performance of the transition or scoop and appears in supplemental digital video content file no. 2 (link above). Figure 7 depicts the proper performance of the transition or scoop.

Figure 7

Figure 7

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THE SECOND PULL

The highest rates of force development and power occur during the second pull, which resembles a combined jumping and shrugging motion. This phase is where the most rapid and forceful bar acceleration occurs (12,13,18,25,26,29,30). The bar is kept close to the body and against the thighs. The hips, knees, and ankles fully are extended and the shoulders forcefully are elevated or shrugged. The elbows remain straight until the end of the second pull when they begin bending in preparation to pull the body under the bar during the turnover (22,27). The hang snatch and its derivative, the high pull, begin in the second pull or midthigh position, and the weight can be lifted from either the floor, a safety rack, or from specialized lifting blocks or boxes (7,18,26,27,29). Figure 8 depicts proper performance of the second pull.

Figure 8

Figure 8

Verbal teaching cues include the following: “keep the elbows straight and the bar against the thighs,” “jump and shrug,” “bend the elbows high at the top of the shrug,” and “pull the bar up to the clavicles and pull the body under the bar.” Common errors include swinging the weight out in front of the body, bending the arms before the shrug is completed, failing to maintain fully extended elbows directly above the head and torso, and bending at the waist or rising up on the toes during the squatting phase of the catch (2,18,26,29). To simplify learning and to ensure safety in novice lifters, some strength coaches eliminate the catch during the hang power snatch and substitute a rapid, midthigh pull known as a power shrug and by performing high pulls (24,26,27,29). The power shrug resembles a vertical jump combined with a powerful shrug at the top of the motion. The high pull is performed by pulling the bar upward against the body with bent elbows to clavicle height after completing the jump and shrug phases of the power shrug (18,26,30). The bar is then allowed to return to the starting position with rapid and controlled triple flexion of the hips, knees, and ankles and by rapid eccentric muscle actions of corresponding muscles surrounding each joint. Exercises to improve execution of the second pull include the power shrug/jumping shrug that appeared in a previous article about the hang power clean and the high pull, which appears in digital video content file no. 1 with the full classic and hang power snatch, respectively (please refer to digital video content file no. 1).

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THE TURNOVER PHASE

Once the hips, knees, and ankles have achieved maximal triple extension, the body is pulled under the bar by the elbows bending and the hips and knees flexing simultaneously into a quarter squat. Figure 9 depicts proper execution of the turnover.

Figure 9

Figure 9

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THE CATCH PHASE

To pull the body under a heavier loaded bar, a full squat position often is required. Heavier weights necessitate deeper squat positions during the catch/rack phase (24,28). This article addresses snatches performed from the hang position, which is equivalent to pulling the bar during the transition or scoop phase from the midthigh and catching the bar in the power or quarter squat position and necessitates the use of lighter loads (18,24–26,29,30). The bar should be caught directly above the head in a near vertical trunk and spine position with the elbows fully extended and the arms parallel with the trunk and shins. The head is placed slightly in front of the torso to maintain proper upper arm position and full elbow extension. The torso is maintained in an upright position with the feet flat on the floor with the weight centered over the middle of the feet (2,4,5,12,23,24,26,29). Clients having difficulty catching the bar should concentrate on performing power shrugs and high pulls and practicing the overhead squat with a broomstick held directly above the head (18,24,29). Squat depth should be dictated by proper alignment of the head, neck, torso, arms, and shins. Verbal learning cues include the following: “pull the body under the bar and bend the elbows,” “bend the elbow up high like a capital M,” “absorb the catch by bending the hips and knees slightly,” “keep the feet flat,” “look straight ahead,” and “push the ceiling up” (18,28,29). Figures 10A and B depict the beginning and completion of the catch in the power position.

Figure 10

Figure 10

Common errors include swinging the bar away from the body, performing an arm reverse curl to pull the body under the bar, gripping the bar too narrowly, bending the elbows during the first pull, transition, or second pull, gripping the bar tightly, failing to fully extend the elbows directly above the head, not placing the head slightly in front of the torso, and landing with the head, neck, and torso flexed and the heels elevated (2,26,29). Supplementary exercises to improve performance of the catch phase include the overhead press, squat to a press, pressing squat, drop snatch, and power snatch from triple extension in that order. Proper execution of the overhead press, squat to press, pressing squat, and drop snatch appears in digital video content file no. 3 (http://links.lww.com/FIT/A69). The power snatch from triple extension and overhead squat is depicted in Figures 11A to E. For simplicity and safety, exercises in digital video content file no. 3 are performed with a lightweight padded training bar (videos http://links.lww.com/FIT/A70, http://links.lww.com/FIT/A71, http://links.lww.com/FIT/A72, http://links.lww.com/FIT/A67).

Figure 11

Figure 11

Some coaches and trainers prefer to use a top down teaching approach in which the exercises mentioned previously intended to enhance performance of the catch (appearing in digital video content file no. 3 and Figure 11) are taught before exercises involving any upward or vertical pulling of the bar from the floor (29). An exception to this approach would be for clients who will only perform high pulls without catching the bar (18,24,26,27). As previously mentioned, the snatch and its derivatives and variations are coached from a safe distance at an angle that is approximately 45 degrees with the front of the lifter’s body but never directly spotted. To prevent muscle fatigue and improper lifting techniques in novice lifters, short sets composed of between three and five repetitions with rest periods of 3 or more minutes in duration typically are used during execution of the hang power snatch and its variations (6,12,17,30).

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SUMMARY

The hang power snatch is one of a number of derivatives of the snatch used to enhance lower body power and rate of muscle force development. It often is taught along with the high pull exercise in lieu of the full snatch because of its relative simplicity and safety. Both lifts easily can be adapted for use with dumbbells, kettlebells, and sandbags as needed (15). Their use as a safe and effective power development tool is predicated on sound instruction, repetitive and precise practice, and effective supervision.

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