The clean, and its variations, seem to be the most commonly used weightlifting movements included in the training program of high school (3), collegiate (1), and professional athletes (4,5), based on the limited literature available reviewing this data. This indicates that strength and conditioning (S&C) coaches are aware that there are benefits of including the weightlifting movements as a part of the strength/power training program for non-weightlifting athletes. The clean and its variations can be a very effective exercise; however, there is also a significant advantage to including the snatch and its variations, when the goal of training is improved athletic performance.
The purpose of this article is to discuss the benefits of performing a variation of the snatch, the split alternating foot snatch (SAFS). These advantages include:
- High power output matching what typically occurs with the clean.
- The opportunity to train in an alternating split position.
- Increased exercise variation.
- Bar speed greater than what normally occurs in the clean or jerk.
- This greater bar speed in the snatch gives the lifter the opportunity to train at a variety of movement speeds.
Furthermore, when taught and supervised correctly, the weightlifting movements are both safe and effective (9,10), and the ability to accomplish this is certainly within the capability of coaches who have been properly taught how to teach the weightlifting movements.
As mentioned above, there is awareness by many S&C coaches that there are distinct advantages to including the clean in the training program of athletes. One of the primary benefits of the clean, and its variations, is the high levels of power (work done per unit of time) generated when performing this exercise (13,14). As suggested by Waller et al., (14), the 3 weightlifting movements (i.e., clean, jerk, and snatch) and their variations are effective at developing power, strength, and speed.
Not commonly recognized by many S&C coaches is that the power generated when performing the snatch (and the jerk for that matter) is nearly similar to the power generated when performing the clean (6). This similar power generation in the snatch as compared with the clean occurs, although less weight is used in the snatch, because bar velocity is greater in the snatch (6). The greater bar velocity when performing the snatch is discussed in more detail.
Because the SAFS is not a commonly performed exercise in S&C programs, a description of this movement is presented. The teaching progression provided below is based on descriptions from both Pierce (12) and Javorek (10). Before performing the full movement, because of the complexity, it is suggested that the lifter first be instructed on how to perform the following movements as a teaching progression:
- Overhead squat: take the bar from a rack and place it on the shoulders. Using a snatch width grip, press the bar overhead with the arms fully extended and locked out and the feet in a squat position. Keeping the arms locked, the heels down, and the back arched, sit back at the hips until a parallel or lower squat position is achieved.
- Snatch balance: similar to the overhead squat, take the bar from a rack and place it on the shoulders. With the feet in a pulling position, use a quick dip of the hips and then quickly extend the hips to drive the bar up. As the bar is moving up, jump the feet out into a squat stance and quickly lower the body under the bar into a parallel or lower squat position. Catch the bar with the arms fully extended, the back arched, and the head and eyes up.
- Hang power snatch: this involves the steps below but with the bar starting just above knee height and resting on the thigh and ending when the bar is caught overhead without splitting the feet.
- Power snatch: identical to the movement just described above, except the movement starts with the bumper plates resting on the floor (if using full-sized weights on the bar) or if using less than full-sized bumpers, starting at the position the lifter would be, if full-sized bumpers had been loaded on the bar (approximately mid-shin height for most lifters).
- Hang split alter foot snatch: starting at the hang position described above and ending with the bar caught with the feet in the split position as described below.
- The feet are flat and about hip width apart, positioned so that the metatarsals are directly below the bar, and the toes are straight or slightly turned out (Figures 1 and 2).
- Back is arched by pushing the abdomen forward and lifting the inflated chest. The head is in a straight line with the trunk, and the lifter should be looking forward while focusing on a spot.
- Knees and ankles are bent until the shins are close to or touching the bar.
- The hip joint is positioned above the knee joint. The angle between the lower leg and the thigh should be between 56 and 60°.
- Shoulders are slightly in front of the bar.
- Arms are straight, shoulders are rotated outward so that the elbows are directed towards the plates, and wrists are flexed slightly.
- Hands grasp the bar with a pronated snatch width hook grip.
- One method that can be used to estimate the grip width on the bar is to measure the distance from the outside of the shoulder to the outside of the fist of the opposite arm. Have the athlete stand with their back to you. Next, have them raise their left arm so that the arm is pointing directly lateral to the athlete. Make sure the arm is fully extended with the left hand held in a fist position. Measure the distance between these 2 points with a tape measure (Figure 3). Next, center the midpoint of the measured distance with the middle of the bar. The 2 end points on the tape measure indicate where the thumbs should wrap around the bar (Figure 4).
- The first movement is to pull on the bar to cause it to flex slightly. Begin the lifting movement by shifting the center of gravity slightly toward the heels.
- Raise the bar from the floor by extending the knees, maintaining a constant torso angle relative to the floor. Movement should be initiated slowly with a gradual increase in velocity. In this phase, the center of gravity is toward the heel, and then, during completion of the first pull motion, the center of gravity moves slowly toward the middle of the foot.
- Keep the barbell close to the body with the arms remaining fully extended.
- Shoulders remain in front of the bar as long as possible.
- After the bar passes the knees, the knees flex and the ankles plantar flex slightly resulting in the bar lightly contacting the mid to upper thighs. During this phase, the bar brushes the legs (Figure 5).
- A powerful jumping action then takes place with triple extension of the ankles, knees, and hips.
- Contract the trapezius muscles in an aggressive shrugging motion.
- Continue to pull on the bar with the arms keeping the elbows up and out (Figure 6).
At this point, the movement pattern differs from the traditional snatch, where the lifter quickly squats under the bar and catches the bar with the arms fully extended. In the SAFS, as the bar is pulled to approximately sternum height, the lifter quickly splits their feet in a full deep lunge position while simultaneously catching the bar overhead with the arms fully extended. In this split position, the back knee is just short of touching the floor, the front knee can be either over or slightly forward of the ankle. When used as an S&C exercise, the split position is alternated with each repetition with the right leg going forward on the first repetition (Figure 7), then the left leg on the second repetition (Figure 8), and so on.
ADVANTAGES OF THE SPLIT ALTERNATING FOOT SNATCH
What are the possible advantages of having the athlete perform a SAFS as opposed to performing the traditional snatch? First of all, this discussion is aimed at athletes training for sports other than weightlifting. There is little question that performing a traditional snatch, where the lifter squats under the bar, is advantageous in the sport of weightlifting. Weightlifting is a sport where competitors lift in various weight classes and attempt to lift as much weight as possible in the snatch, clean, and jerk. Resistance training, or weight training, is an activity with the goal being typically to improve athletic performance, general fitness, and/or appearance.
One of the advantages of the SAFS is the fact that most sports are performed in an “open” environment (i.e., ever changing) as opposed to a “closed” environment. Weightlifting is a closed sport, that is, the environment is stable or predictable (11). In weightlifting, every time the athlete steps onto the platform, the “competitive environment” is the same except for the load on the bar. The weightlifting athlete wants to replicate the same movement pattern (depending on the movement being performed) every time they perform one of the lifts that make up the sport of weightlifting.
In contrast, most sports are open, where the “competitive environment” is ever changing and unpredictable (11). For example, a running back in football has to adjust his movement pattern from play to play based on the effectiveness of the blocking in front of him, what defense has been called, or how well the defense has read the play. The same is true in basketball, soccer, volleyball, wrestling, and most other sports, where the flow of the game dictates the movement pattern used by the athlete. This open environment requires an athlete to be bilaterally strong, balanced, and powerful in a variety of positions. Athletes in these open sports must be able to perform at a high level at times when the right leg is forward and at other times when the left leg is forward. Performing the SAFS teaches the athlete to be strong, powerful, and balanced, regardless of which leg is forward.
Another advantage of performing the SAFS is that it increases variation in the training program. Most exercises (e.g., squat, front squat, cleans) are performed with the feet positioned in a shoulder/hip width stance. Far fewer exercises (e.g., lunges) are performed in an alternating split position, and the SAFS and the split alternating foot jerk are the only exercises that typically would involve alternating split position while simultaneously holding the bar overhead.
As a result, the SAFS adds variation to the typical movement pattern occurring during training. As noted by Craig (2), although it is important to follow established scientifically based protocols of training, the results from training may be less than desired if variation is not introduced into the training program. Because muscle is controlled by neural input, introducing new exercises requires the central nervous system to establish new recruitment patterns (2). In other words, by introducing new exercises, even if those new exercises recruit musculature that is recruited by exercises that you are already performing, the central nervous system is required to establish new and possibly more complex recruitment patterns. This new recruitment pattern will involve muscle fibers that you are not now recruiting and will help stimulate a greater amount of fibers during training.
In addition to exercise selection, another variation that can be introduced into training is speed of movement. As the speed of movement changes, the fibers recruited during training will also change (2). As mentioned previously, the clean, and its variations, are the most commonly used weightlifting movement in the training programs of non-weightlifting athletes. However, one advantage of the snatch is that, in comparison to the clean, the snatch is performed with greater bar velocity.
In a study by Garhammer (7), analyzing performance of 5 gold medal winners from the 1984 summer Olympics, bar velocities from the clean, jerk, and snatch were compared. Average bar velocities for these 3 lifts were 175.2 cm/s for jerks, 166.6 cm/s for cleans, and 196.2 cm/s for snatches.
As a result, it was found by Garhammer (7) that maximum barbell velocities during the pulling motion were about 10–20% higher for the snatch pull as compared with the clean pull. There are 3 effective ways to potentially maximize power when the goal of training is increased power output. The first school of thought when attempting to maximize power output suggests lower intensity efforts (<50% 1 repetition maximum [1RM]) are optimal for the development of power generation capacity (8). This lower intensity training lends itself to higher velocity training because the athlete is able to move a lighter load faster than a heavier load. In contrast, the second school proposes that higher loads (>50–70% 1RM) are required to best develop power (8). Using these higher intensities has the effect of decreasing training velocity.
A third school of thought suggests using a mixed methods approach is the best. The use of a mixed methods approach allows for optimal increases in maximal power output (8). This is where the benefit of performing a snatch occurs because this exercise, as just discussed, allows a faster velocity than does the clean. As noted by Haff and Nimphius (8), a review of the literature suggests that focusing only on the development of strength or focusing only on developing power is not the best approach when the goal is optimal power development. Instead, a mixed methods approach is recommended when attempting to maximize power output (8). The use of a mixed methods approach to optimize power output allows for best increases in maximal power output and greater transfer of training effect because it involves training at a variety of movement speeds.
Although both the clean and the snatch are used to develop power, and both exercises are performed at a high velocity in comparison with more traditional types of exercises, the snatch provides the opportunity to train at a higher velocity than does the clean. This allows the athlete to train over a great spectrum of movement speeds. This approach could be advantageous when optimal power development is the goal of training.
Although not as commonly used in S&C programs as the clean, the SAFS offers some distinct advantages, and thus its inclusion in the S&C program of non-weightlifting athletes is warranted. These advantages include enhancing the athletes' ability to be strong, powerful, and balanced with either foot forward, which is critical in open sports. The exercise also increases the opportunity for variation in the training program, which has been shown to be important for optimal development (2). One such variation that can be introduced into training programs is the speed of movement during training, and it was shown that the snatch is performed at a greater velocity than is the clean or jerk (7). When learning this lift emphasize correct technique, use the suggested progression of exercises (i.e., overhead squat, snatch balance, hang power snatch, power snatch, hang SAFS), and do not progress to the next exercise until correct technique has been mastered.
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