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Mastering All Varieties of Snatches in CrossFit

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  • Post last modified:September 25, 2023

Athletes crushing across the floor on their hands, cranking out single-limbed pistol squats, and gracefully flinging their bodies over pull-up bars: There’s no shortage of individuals doing impressive exercises in a CrossFit box. But perhaps the most extraordinary of them all is the snatch.

The snatch — which can be done with a barbell, dumbbell, or kettlebell — involves launching weight from the ground all the way overhead in one continuous movement. Arguably the most intricate motion in CrossFit, the snatch requires a little finesse to execute — but you shouldn’t let that discourage you from incorporating this awe-inspiring movement into your exercise routine, says physical therapist Grayson Wickham, D.P.T., C.S.C.S., founder of Movement Vault.

“Anyone who’s willing to put in the work to learn the snatch can reap the mobility and strength advantages of the moment,” says Wickham. So while the snatch is one of the primary lifts used in the sport of Olympic weightlifting and CrossFit, “you don’t have to be a CrossFit Games athlete, CrossFitter, or Olympic lifter to do it,” he says.

Want to learn? Here’s what to know about snatch exercises. Below, you’ll discover the benefits of all the snatches workout moves — plus how to do every snatch CrossFit variation you see in all those WODs.

Advantages of the Snatch

The snatch is very dissimilar to exercises such as the hamstring curl and biceps curl, which only target one muscle group at a time. “The snatch is a intricate and dynamic motion that engages nearly every muscle group in the body,” says Rebecca Rouse, a USA weightlifter, kettlebell coach, and NCSF-certified personal trainer. Yep, tossing a weight from the ground up over your head engages your hamstrings, quads, glutes, calves, traps, shoulders, triceps, forearms, biceps, and entire core.

“The movement necessitates a ton of stability, which means your core has to go into overdrive to keep you balanced and controlled as you move the weight,” says Wickham. Beyond just strengthening your abs, a robust core is crucial for good posture and balance, and can assist you in lifting, throwing, kicking, punting, and punching with great force and power.

Because the snatch can build muscle mass just like other resistance exercises, consistently incorporating the movement into your routine can actually accelerate your metabolism, adds Rouse.

And an accelerated metabolism? That denotes additional calories burned both within and outside of the fitness center. “The snatch can additionally contribute to cultivating power, explosiveness, velocity, body consciousness, and synchronization,” she asserts. You’ve heard of plyometric exercises, correct? Well, this maneuver stands as one of the finest. “Simply envisage the potency your legs must possess and the rapidity with which you must maneuver to elevate a substantial barbell over your head,” elucidates Wickham.

Any of these grabs workout moves requires some flexibility as a prerequisite, says Wickham — but practicing the snatch (even with a PVC tube or broomstick) can enhance flexibility in your ankles, thoracic spine, shoulders, and hips. “You have to take your muscle through its end ranges of motion (or, as far as the joint is capable of going) with a barbell snatch, which is beneficial for improving flexibility,” he adds. (See: Why You Should Care About Thoracic Spine Flexibility)

How to Perform Each Variation of Snatch In CrossFit

Considering CrossFit’s gimmick is “constantly varied functional movement,” it shouldn’t surprise you that there isn’t just one variation of snatch regularly done in CrossFit — there are many. But fear not: “While there are many different versions of the snatch, the skills from one will transfer over to the others,” says Tony Milgram, CF-L1, a coach at ICE NYC in New York at the time of this article’s original publication.

If you’re planning to join a CrossFit box, the coaches there will be able to teach you how to perform all of them. If not, hiring a coach to help you master the snatch movement is highly recommended by Rouse. “A qualified coach will know how to teach, cue, and correct any movement’s imperfections,” she explains.

The Barbell Snatch

The snatch variation that you’ll see most often in CrossFit? The barbell snatch. “You can power snatch or squat snatch a barbell,” says Milgram. A power snatch is generally considered “easier” for individuals new to lifting and those with limited flexibility because it does not require squatting with a barbell overhead — it only requires quarter-squatting.

Before you pick up a weighted barbell, it’s a good idea to go through the movement with an empty barbell, PVC tube, or broomstick to perfect your form. Below, how to perform a power snatch in CrossFit, step by step, according to Milgram and Rouse.

A. Start with the loaded barbell on the ground with feet under the bar, about hips-width apart, toes slightly turned out.

B. Squat down and position hands with a snatch grip (wide enough so that, when standing with straight arms, the bar sits in hip crease). Ideally, use a hook grip (thumb around the bar).

C. Get into starting position: Screw pinkies into the bar to engage lats, lift hips so that they’re slightly higher than knees, and push knees out.

D. Straighten legs while pulling the barbell up along the front of the body with straight arms.

E. When the barbell brushes against mid-thighs, drive hips forward (allowing feet to leave the ground). Pull elbows high to drive the barbell overhead.

F. Land in a quarter squat (feet shoulders-width apart, toes slightly turned out), while moving quickly into an overhead squat position under the bar.

G. Once the bar is steady above your head, rise up to complete the lift before lowering the bar back down to the ground.

Once you master the power snatch explained above, you can attempt the barbell squat snatch. Instead of catching the barbell overhead with your legs in a quarter squat, you’ll catch it at the bottom of your squat and then push the bar upwards as you stand up.

“The squat snatch is a demanding movement that requires a lot of prerequisite ankle, hip, shoulder, and thoracic spine flexibility, but it allows advanced lifters to handle heavier weights than they would otherwise be capable of,” says Wickham.

The Dumbbell Snatch

If you’re not comfortable using a barbell or don’t have access to one, you can try performing a single-arm snatch with a dumbbell or kettlebell. In addition to requiring less equipment, using a dumbbell or kettlebell also helps improve your unilateral strength. (More: What Is Unilateral Training and Why Is It Important?)

Most individuals have a dominant side and a weaker side, so single-arm exercises can help balance things out, explains Wickham. During exercises that involve both sides of the body, like the barbell snatch, the stronger side can compensate for the weaker side, which actually hinders the weaker arm from getting stronger, he says. Incorporating unilateral exercises promotes muscle symmetry, which helps prevent long-term issues such as overuse injuries.

If you have the choice between the dumbbell or kettlebell snatch, start with a dumbbell, suggests Rouse. “The single-arm dumbbell snatch is the most basic of the snatch variations,” she says. Here’s how to do it:

A. Stand with your feet hip-width apart, with a dumbbell lying horizontally on the floor between your feet.

B. Squat down and grasp the center of the dumbbell with one hand.

C. Straighten your legs while lifting the dumbbell off the ground, bringing it up along the front of your body.

D. As the dumbbell reaches hip height, explosively extend your hips while shrugging your shoulder up towards your ear. This will help propel the weight overhead.

E. When the dumbbell reaches chest height, drop underneath it, landing in a quarter squat with your elbow completely extended.

F. Complete the movement by fully extending your knees and hips before starting another repetition.

Once you feel confident with the exercise, give this 15-minute CrossFit partner workout that incorporates the dumbbell snatch a try.

The Kettlebell Snatch

The kettlebell snatch requires more technique compared to the dumbbell snatch. Why? Because of the position of the handle when you drive the weight skyward, you have to do it just right in order to prevent the bell from crashing down onto your wrist. It may take some trial and error to figure out the timing, says Wickham.

A. Stand with your feet hip-width apart, with the kettlebell positioned between your feet and aligned with your shoelaces.

B. Extending the right arm downwards, hinge the hips back and bend the knees into a crouch.

C. Grasp the bell with a grip from above, then shift the hips upwards towards the ceiling so that the chest is positioned over the weight.

D. Simultaneously pull the bell directly upwards along the front of the body while explosively opening the hips and knees to stand.

E. When the bell surpasses chest height and the right elbow is pointed directly upwards, rotate the hand so that the palm or inner wrist faces forward, propelling the weight towards the ceiling. Catch the bell so that it rests along the right forearm.

F. Continue to press the weight upwards until the arm is fully straight and locked out over the right shoulder.

G. Stand up prior to returning the weight back to its initial position.

Note: It is feasible to squat snatch the weight during both the dumbbell and kettlebell snatch, however, be aware: That’s exceptionally difficult. “Single-arm squat snatches necessitate even more stability in the core and shoulders compared to the barbell squat snatch. Even with moderate weight, this is genuinely demanding,” says Wickham.

The Distinction Between a Hang Snatch vs. a Full Snatch In CrossFit

Beyond merely changing the type of weight you use and where you “catch” the weight, in CrossFit, you can also alter where the repetition commences — that’s where the terms “hang snatch” and “full snatch” come into play.

While a full snatch involves the barbell starting from the ground, the hang snatch entails initiating a repetition with the weight positioned somewhere between the knee and hip, states Milgram. The barbell power snatch described above is a complete power snatch. However, if you initiated that movement at the middle of the thigh (as opposed to the floor) and “caught” the weight in a quarter crouch, it would be a hang power snatch.

The distinction? “In the hang snatch, you have less time to accelerate the barbell before bringing it overhead, which means you truly have to focus on hip explosiveness,” says Milgram. It also means that the movement is faster. “In CrossFit, hang snatches frequently appear in a workout employing light weight so that you can move the barbell rapidly and elevate your heart rate,” he says.

On the other hand, full snatches provide more leeway for accelerating the barbell. Because of this, “most individuals are able to lift more weight with a full snatch,” says Milgram. “In CrossFit, full snatches are usually the type of snatch programmed during the weightlifting segment of the class when the objective is to lift heavy,” he says. (Also: 9 CrossFit Circuits and WODs Seriously Strong Trainers Swear By)

What to Understand About Split Snatches

“Split snatches involve receiving the weight with your legs positioned in a split or lunge stance, as opposed to a partial or full crouch,” explains Milgram. But while the single-arm, hang dumbbell split snatch appeared in the CrossFit Games, this is not an exercise you will frequently encounter in your typical CrossFit class, according to Milgram.

You must possess exceptional proficiency in the clean and jerk as well as in the snatch in order to execute this maneuver successfully, which means it is not suitable for novices,” he explains.

Once you have become a skilled snatcher and are prepared to attempt the split snatch, view this CrossFit split snatch video.

How to Integrate the Snatch Into Your Training Routine

Take hold of an empty barbell (or a PVC pipe) and practice executing the movement with minimal or no weight while maintaining proper technique. Additionally, it’s important to remain patient with yourself! “It is an incredibly intricate movement that allows for continual improvement over the course of your life, day after day, week after week, and year after year,” Wickham advises. “Undeniably challenging, but that is part of what renders it so fulfilling,” he further explains.”