How to Perfect Each Type of Snatch You'll Do In CrossFit
Athletes clobbering across the floor on their hands, cranking out one-legged pistol squats, and gracefully flinging their bodies over pull-up bars. There's no shortage of folks doing badass exercises in a CrossFit box at any given time. But perhaps the most epic of them all is the snatch.
The snatch—which can be done with a barbell, dumbbell, or kettlebell—involves flinging weight from the ground all the way overhead in one fluid motion.
Arguably the most technical movement in CrossFit, the snatch requires a little finesse to pull (pun absolutely intended!) off. But physical therapist Grayson Wickham, D.P.T., C.S.C.S., founder of Movement Vault, says you shouldn't let that deter you from incorporating this sick-looking, super-Instagrammable movement into your exercise regime.
"Anyone who is willing to put in the work to learn the snatch can reap the mobility and strength benefits of the moment," he says. So while the snatch is one of the main lifts used in the sport of Olympic weightlifting and CrossFit, he says, "you don't have to be a CrossFit Games athlete, CrossFitter, or Olympic lifter to do it."
Want to learn? Scroll down for your snatch crib sheet. Below, you'll learn the benefits of the exercise—plus how to do do every snatch variation featured in CrossFit WODs.
Benefits of the Snatch
The snatch is basically the exact opposite of movements like the hamstring curl and bicep curl, which only work one muscle group at a time. "The snatch is a complex and dynamic movement that engages almost every muscle group in the body," says USA weightlifter, kettlebell coach, and personal trainer Rebecca Rouse. 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.
And the snatch doesn't just work your midline muscles a teensy weensy bit—it works them A LOT, says Wickham. "The movement requires a ton of stability, which means your core has to go into overdrive to keep you balanced and controlled as you move the weight." Beyond just sculpting six-pack abs, a strong core is essential for good posture, balance as you get older, and helping you lift, throw, kick, punt, and punch far and powerfully.
Rouse adds: Because the snatch can build muscle mass just like other resistance exercises, regularly incorporating the movement into your routine can actually speed up your metabolism. And a faster metabolism? That means more calories burned in and out of the gym.
"The snatch can also help build power, explosiveness, speed, body awareness, and coordination," says Rouse. You've heard of plyometric exercises, right? Welp, this move is one of the best. As Wickham says, "Just think about how powerful your legs have to be and how quickly you have to move to get a heavy barbell overhead."
While the snatch requires some mobility as a prerequisite, according to Wickham, practicing the snatch (even with a PVC pipe or broomstick) can boost mobility 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 good for improving mobility," he says. (Related: Why You Should Care About Thoracic Spine Mobility).
How to Do Each Type of Snatch In CrossFit
Considering CrossFit's schtick is "constantly varied functional movement," it shouldn't surprise you that there isn't just one type of snatch regularly done in CrossFit. There are many. But fear not: "While there are many different variations on the snatch, the skills from one will transfer over to the others," says Tony Milgram CF-L1, coach at ICE NYC in New York. Phew.
If you're planning to join a CrossFit box, the coaches there will be able to teach you how to do all of them! And if you're not planning to join a box, Rouse highly recommends hiring a coach to help you master the movement. "A qualified coach will know how to teach, cue, and correct any movement's imperfections."
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. But a power is generally considered "easier" for folks new to lifting, and those with limited mobility, because it does not require squatting. It only requires quarter-squatting.
Below, Milgram and Rouse explain how to do a power snatch in CrossFit, step by step.
A) Begin with the loaded barbell on the ground with bar over feet. Feet should be about hip-width apart, toes slightly turned out.
B) Squat down and position hands at snatch grip (wide enough so the bar sits in hip crease when standing upright with arms straight). 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 are slightly higher than knees, and push knees out.
D) Straighten legs while pulling the barbell up alongside 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 shoudler-width apart, toes slightly turned out), while moving quickly into an overhead squat position under the bar.
G) Once the bar is stable overhead, stand up to complete the lift before lowering the bar back to the ground.
Once you nail the power snatch broken down above, you can try the barbell squat snatch. For the squat snatch, rather than catching the barbell overhead with your legs in a quarter squat, you'll catch it in the bottom of your squat, and then press the bar overhead while you stand up.
"The squat snatch is a challenging movement that requires a lot of prerequisite ankle, hip, shoulder, and thoracic spine mobility, but the movement allows advanced lifters to lift more weight than they'd otherwise be able to," says Wickham. And more weight=more gains.
The Dumbbell Snatch
If you're not comfortable using a barbell or don't have access to one, you can try doing a single-arm snatch with a dumbbell or kettlebell. In addition to requiring less equipment, using a dumbbell or a kettlebell has the added benefit of improving your unilateral strength. (Related: What Is Unilateral Training and Why Is It Important).
Wickham explains: "Most people have a strong side and weak side. Doing single-arm exercises can help make the weaker side as strong as the stronger side." During bilateral movements like the barbell snatch, the stronger side can compensate for the less-strong side, which actually prevents the weaker arm from getting stronger, he says. Doing unilateral movements helps promote muscle symmetry, which prevents issues like overuse injuries over the long term.
If you have the option between the dumbbell or kettlebell snatch, Rouse recommends starting with a dumbbell. "The single-arm dumbbell snatch is the simplest of the snatches," she says. Here's how:
A) Stand with feet hip-width apart, with a dumbbell horizontal on the floor between them.
B) Squat down, grabbing the center of the dumbbell with one hand.
C) Straighten legs while pulling the dumbbell off the ground, up alongside your body.
D) As the dumbbell passes hip-height, explosively extend hips while shrugging shoulder up towards ear. This will help propel the weight overhead.
E) When the bell passes chest height, drop under the weight to land in a quarter squat, elbow completely locked out.
F) Finish the movement by straightening knees and hips fully before initiating another repetition.
Once you feel confident with the movement, try this 15 minute CrossFit partner workout, which features the dumbbell snatch.
The Kettlebell Snatch
The kettlebell snatch requires more skill than the dumbbell snatch. Why? Because of the position of the handle when you punch the weight towards the sky, you have to do it ~just so~ to avoid the bell crashing down onto your wrist. It may take a little trial and error to figure out the timing, according to Wickham.
A) Stand with feet hip-width apart, kettlebell between feet, lined up with laces.
B) Reaching right arm straight down, hinge hips back and bend at knees into a squat.
C) Grip the bell with an overhand grip, then shift hips up towards the ceiling so that your chest is over the weight. (If you've ever seen a rugby or football player in the hike position, this will look familiar).
D) Simultaneously pull the bell straight up alongside your body while explosively opening hips and knees to stand.
E) When the bell passes chest height and your right elbow is pointed straight towards the ceiling, rotate hand so palm/inner wrist faces forward, punching the weight towards the ceiling. Catch the bell so that it's resting along right forearm.
F) Continue to press the weight upwards until arm is completely straight and locked out over right shoulder.
E) Stand up before returning the weight back to standing.
Note: For both the dumbbell and kettlebell snatch it *is* possible to squat snatch the weight. But be warned: that shit is tough! "Single arm squat snatches require even more core and shoulder stability than the barbell squat snatch," says Wickham. "Even with moderate weight, this is really challenging."
What's a Hang Snatch vs. a Full Snatch In CrossFit?
Beyond just switching up the type of weight you use, and where you "catch" the weight (power snatch=quarter squat vs. squat snatch=full squat), in CrossFit you can also switch up where the rep starts—that's where the terms "hang snatch" and "full snatch" come in.
Milgram explains: "The hang snatch involves starting a rep with the weight somewhere between your knee and hip." While a full snatch involves the bar starting from the ground. The barbell power snatch detailed above is a full power snatch. However, if you started that movement at mid-thigh (rather than the floor!), and "caught" the weight in a quarter squat it would be a hang power snatch.
The difference? "In the hang snatch, you have less time to accelerate the bar before bringing it overhead, which means you really have to focus on hip explosiveness," says Milgram. It also means that the movement is faster. "In CrossFit, hang snatches often appear in a workout using light weight, so that you can move the bar fast, and crank up your heart rate," he says.
Full snatches, on the other hand, give you more room to accelerate the bar. Because of that, "most folks 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 portion of class, when the goal is to lift heavy," he says.
What About Split Snatches?
"Split snatches involve receiving the weight with your legs in a split or lunge position, as opposed to in a partial or full squat," explains Milgram.
While the single-arm, hang dumbbell split snatch made an appearance in the 2019 CrossFit Games, this is not an exercise you will often see programmed in your typical CrossFit class, according to Milgram. "You have to be an excellent clean and jerk-er and snatcher to pull this movement off, so it really isn't for beginners," he says.
Once you're a master snatcher and ready to try out the split snatch, watch this CrossFit split snatch video.
How to Incorporate the Snatch Into Your Training
Pick up an empty barbell (or a PVC pipe) and practice moving very little weight with good form. And be patient with yourself! "It's such a technical movement that you can spend your whole lifetime getting a little bit better at it day-by-day, week-by-week, and year-by-year and still have something to improve," says Wickham. "It's tough, sure, but that's part of what makes it so rewarding."