How to Perfect Each Type of Snatch You'll Do In CrossFit

Find out how to do basically any of the snatches workout moves you'll encounter in CrossFit, including power snatches, squat snatches, and split snatches with barbells, dumbbells, and kettlebells.

snatches workout: person doing a squat snatch at a CrossFit box
Photo: master1305/Getty Images

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. 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 off — but you shouldn't let that deter you from incorporating this sick-looking movement into your exercise regime, 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 benefits of the moment," says Wickham. So while the snatch is one of the main 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 learn the benefits of all the snatches workout moves — plus how to do every snatch CrossFit variation you see in all those WODs.

Benefits of the Snatch

The snatch is very unlike exercises such as the hamstring curl and biceps 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 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 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," says Wickham. Beyond just strengthening your abs, a strong core is essential for good posture and balance, and can help you lift, throw, kick, punt, and punch far and powerfully.

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, adds Rouse. 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," she says. You've heard of plyometric exercises, right? Welp, this move is one of the best. "Just think about how powerful your legs have to be and how quickly you have to move to get a heavy barbell overhead," explains Wickham.

Any of these snatches workout moves requires some mobility as a prerequisite, says Wickham — but 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 adds. (See: 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, 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 do 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 folks new to lifting and those with limited mobility 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 move through the movement with an empty barbell, PVC pipe, or broomstick to perfect your form. Below, how to do 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 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.

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. (More: What Is Unilateral Training and Why Is It Important?)

Most people have a strong side and weak side, so single-arm movements can help even things out, explains Wickham. During bilateral movements such as the barbell snatch, the stronger side can compensate for the weaker side, which actually prevents the weaker arm from getting stronger, he says. Doing unilateral movements helps promote muscle symmetry, which prevents issues such as overuse injuries over the long term.

If you have the option between the dumbbell or kettlebell snatch, start with a dumbbell, recommends Rouse. "The single-arm dumbbell snatch is the simplest of the snatches," she says. Here's how to do it:

A. Stand with feet hips-width apart, with a dumbbell horizontal on the floor between feet.

B. Squat down, grabbing the center of the dumbbell with one hand.

C. Straighten legs while pulling the dumbbell off the ground, up along the front of the body.

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

E. When the dumbbell 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 toward the sky, you have to do it just so in order to avoid the bell crashing down onto your wrist. It may take a little trial and error to figure out the timing, says Wickham.

A. Stand with feet hips-width apart, kettlebell between feet and lined up with shoelaces.

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 toward the ceiling so that chest is over the weight.

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

E. When the bell passes chest height and right elbow is pointed straight toward the ceiling, rotate hand so palm/inner wrist faces forward, punching the weight toward the ceiling. Catch the bell so that it's resting along the right forearm.

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

G. Stand up before returning the weight back to the starting position.

Note: It is possible to squat snatch the weight during both the dumbbell and kettlebell snatch, but be warned: That's really tough. "Single-arm squat snatches require even more core and shoulder stability than the barbell squat snatch. Even with moderate weight, this is really challenging," says Wickham.

The Difference Between 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, in CrossFit, you can also switch up where the rep starts — that's where the terms "hang snatch" and "full snatch" come in.

While a full snatch involves the bar starting from the ground, the hang snatch involves starting a rep with the weight somewhere between your knee and hip, says Milgram. 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. (Also: 9 CrossFit Circuits and WODs Seriously Strong Trainers Swear By)

What to Know 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. But while the single-arm, hang dumbbell split snatch made an appearance in the 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 jerker 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 or no 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," he adds.

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