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Fixing the Snatch for the Crossfit Athlete

By Nathan Wilson | In Crossfit Training | on January 4, 2013

To master the Olympic lifts it takes many years of repetitive daily training and drilling of the movements. And even then I’m sure some top lever weightlifters would claim that no one ever really masters the lifts. So when you throw these highly technical movements into a crossfit class you are undoubtedly going to see some common technical errors right away. I think it is safe to say that the snatch is a bit easier to screw up than the clean. So I would like to discuss some of the common errors I see with the snatch in my crossfit classes and some ways to correct them.

The thing I see the most is the lifter not getting the bar back into the hips. They will try to rip it off the ground as fast as they can and miss bar body contact all together or they will bounce the bar off the low thigh and usually have to jump forward to catch the bar. From the start position everything should move in unison like an elevator pulling the bar straight up off the ground. The knees also need to be pushed back out of the way of the bar so that the legs are almost extended bringing the bar to just above the kneecap. It is from this position that I see things start to go wrong.

In this video the first lift shows when the lifter doesn’t fully get their torso vertical before making their final extension and as a result the bar is not fully placed back into the hip where a more powerful extension can be delivered. The second lift shows when someone just try’s to pull the bar as fast as they can off the ground and then use their arms, lower back, and hamstrings to whip the bar over head. The weight never gets transferred back on to the legs where powerful leg drive can be used to propel a heavy weight up those extra couple of inches you need to get under it.

Another common problem I see in the Crossfit class is when a lifter shoots their butt straight up in the air first thing before the bar breaks off the ground. This usually goes along with the lifter not holding their back tight. Having a strong tight upper back is one of the most important links in the chain. If the upper back buckles as the weight breaks the ground the following positions will not be as sound as they could be. Remember everything has to rise together like an elevator and the upper back is the cable that raises the bar off the ground. But back to the butt shooting straight. This usually happens because the lifter wants to use their hamstrings to whip the bar overhead or don’t know how to properly move their knees out of the way. When this happens it immediately puts the lifter onto their toes and then they have to throw their hips into the bar and jump way forward to make the lift successfully.  Here is an example of the butt shooting up in the video below.

Now on to how to correct these problems. Weight lifting technique is all about hitting the proper positions if you train your body to always hit the proper positions then you will be a very consistent lifter. So before you start trying to speed things up first get the muscle memory for the proper positions and know how to get from one to the next smoothly.

First I will discuss the position just above the kneecap, the position at the hip, and how to move from the knee to the hip. With the bar just above the knee the knees should be pushed back out of the way to where the legs are somewhat extended. Your chest should still be over bar with the upper back held very tight. At this point the lower back is supporting most of the weight. The next step is to begin to get the torso perpendicular to the ground and transfer the weight onto the legs. It is important that as the shoulders begin to come back that the knees bend and the hips move forward under the bar at the same time, you should also use your lats to push the bar back into the hip at the same time. This brings you to the final position at the hip. This is the most powerful position where all the magic happens. When the bar gets to this point you are going to powerfully extend your legs through the ground transferring all your energy into the bar and completing your pull.

Below is a video of some drills you can do to work on these positions until you can smoothly transition from one to the next. Notice that once the bar is at the hip the knees are already bent ready to deliver the final extension. A common mistake with this is going from the knee then standing straight up. If the bar is at the hip and you have to dip back down to finish then you’ve done something wrong.

To fix the problem with the butt shooting the lifter first need to realize that speed off the ground really is not all that important. They need to focus on leading with the chest off the ground and not letting the hips rise without the shoulders also rising.  Sometimes it is a strength issue and the muscles are just not strong enough to hold everything together. A snatch deadlift with a pause right off the ground and again just above the knee is a good drill to build upper back strength and also teach the lifter to move the bar from the ground to the knee properly.

Here is a video below. Make sure to do this with a focus on holding upper back tight. Only go as heavy as you can and still maintain proper position.

If your having trouble with your snatch then drill these positions until they become muscle memory and you will see great improvement.  And if you’re coaching a crossfit class these drills are great to incorporate in your warm-up.

Nathan Wilson is a Crossfit and strength and conditioning coach at Derby City Crossfit/Darkside Strength and Conditioning. Nathan is currently training to compete in the sport of Crossfit. Although he has only just recently begun training for Crossfit as a sport, he served four years in the Marines as a scout sniper where he was introduced to some Crossfit workouts in his training. Since it is only Nathan’s first full year of training his first goal is to make it to the central east regional Crossfit competition this year in 2013.
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