Why Does My Snatch Suck? Fixing the Set-Up and First Pull: Part 1

firstpullsnatchI’ve written and spoken extensively about fixing the back squat, front squat and overhead squat in the past.  The squat is definitely one of  the most important exercises to get right if you’re serious about being strong and staying pain free.  Before we go any further, here are some helpful links to improving the squat, which is going to be essential if you ever want to have a decent snatch.

Below-the-Knee-position-SnatchAnother topic that I’ve been meaning to write about for some time now is getting into the correct position for the snatch, or more specifically the set-up for the snatch and the first pull.

For a quick refresher, the first pull begins with the weight on the floor and ends when the bar reaches just above your knee cap.

In the set-up for the snatch and during the first pull a couple things need to occur to be efficient and stay injury free.

1) Neutral Spine throughout the lift

Snatch Flat Back zhong145_lg

Now most of us know that keeping your spine in a neutral position (i.e.: flat back) is not only going to make us lift heavier weights, but is going to keep our backs much less prone to injury.

This is a central theme in the text “Low Back Disorders” by Dr. Stuart McGill.  As our lower back rounds (flexes) the stress on the discs within our spine increases substantially.   For most this is a no brainer.  Lifting with a flexed spine creates a great situation for a disc herniation, not something anyone really desires.  For a novice lifter, hammering the idea of moving from the hips and keeping the spine in a neutral position is paramount.

As simple as this may seem, many people can’t seem to get this right, especially in the set-up for the snatch.  Several common compensations I see are:

A Rounded Upper Back (Thoracic Spine):

Snatch rounded thoracic

A Rounded Lower Back:Snatch lumbar round

A Combination of the Two:Snatch global round

Although lifting like an angry cat appears like it would be fun I strongly advise against it

2) A Relatively Straight Bar Path

http://youtu.be/Etpg_PfFiZ8

Having the correct bar path is vitally important for getting good at the snatch.   The closer the bar is to the body, the more power we can put into the bar and the lower the stress on your spine.  Unfortunately this is also very difficult for many people.

When people aren’t getting their bar path down they end up doing one of several things:

  • Jumping forward to catch the bar
  • Landing with the weight forward resulting in a rounded upper back and possibly lifting the heels off the ground.  Sometimes coaches mistake this problem as weakness in the upper back and a fault of not keeping the elbows up, when in reality if we fixed the starting position and the bar path, things might start cleaning up nicely.

A lot of times people can start in a good position but it all starts falling apart once the bar starts moving.  What I very commonly see is that people can not maintain a neutral spine and keep their knees and hips back far enough so that the bar can travel upwards in a straight path.  It ends up looking something like this:

See how the bar doesn’t travel in the straight line?  The dowel bangs right up against the knees.  This isn’t efficient.  Sounds like we need to tell our client to keep their knees back some.

Now when cued to keep their knees back it starts to look like this:

Now there goes your spine…

They just can’t seem to get it right.  Very frustrating isn’t it?

As a coach it’s extremely important to give your athlete the correct cues and progress that athlete properly over time.  We all know this.  Most clients will naturally over time learn the correct positions and progress without much difficulty.  This article isn’t intended to teach correct snatch technique.  There are plenty of great tutorials out there with individuals far smarter and more experienced then I.  Here’s a good one from Glenn Pendlay if you’re looking.

Part 2, Part 3

Well, what happens when you cue the absolute crap out of a client and they still can’t seem to get in the correct positions?  You’ve spent several sessions trying to master these positions with an unloaded bar or PVC pipe and you just don’t seem to be making any progress?  Their back still rounds and they can’t seem to get the bar path down.

This is where I start to begin to think that there is a mobility problem present.   In reality it takes a tremendous amount of flexibility to get into the correct positions to snatch.

Sidenote: A lack of strength and stability can also lead to these same issues and I’ll touch on this later on in the series.  I’m specifically referring to a client who can’t get into the right position  even with an unloaded bar or PVC pipe after extensive cueing.  For an article explaining how stability and strength can be causing poor exercise technique read this.

So what structures can be holding me back?

  1. Posterior Hip Capsule
  2. Hamstrings and Gastrocnemius (calf)
  3. Nerves

Each one of these structures can decrease our ability to get into the correct positions of the snatch.  More specifically, I’m talking about the snatch set-up and during the first pull, up until the bar passes the knee.  This part of the lift requires a tremendous amount of flexibility.  As described earlier, if this part of the lift is messed up, its going to throw off the rest of the lift.

If we’re tight in these areas it’s going to cause those compensations we discussed earlier.  Since we don’t have the required mobility in the above listed structures, we’re going to get the mobility somewhere else in the body in order to finish the lift, and it’s going to look ugly, and possibly be fatal…  Just kidding, but you might really wrench your back in the process and you definitely aren’t maximizing your strength.

In the next parts of the series we’ll address the best strategies to mobilize these structures.  Then once you’re good and limber, we’ll hammer away at better technique utilizing that new mobility.

Find Part 2 HERE

World’s tightest hamstrings,

Dan Pope

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