Top 5 Assistance Exercises for the Snatch
I’m finally wrapping up this extensive series of three articles with what you probably would assume would be the first—the snatch—but I’m such a maverick I just had to start with the jerk and then move on to the clean. The snatch, of course, is the lift that most commonly crushes dreams and tortures the poor individuals who make the mistake of becoming infatuated with weightlifting. Of the three lifts, it requires the most precision and mobility, and these two elements alone are enough to make the snatch a lift that has incredible power to frustrate even the most composed of athletes.
The snatch requires perfectly controlled aggression—maximal effort channeled into a precise movement with perfect timing. Some lifters are naturally endowed with the kind of talent that allows them to very quickly develop impeccable and consistent technique; others struggle for years to refine their technique; still others finish their lifting careers unsatisfied. Hopefully this article and others will help prevent you from meeting such a fate.
The snatch pull is a no-brainer on this list. It’s the most basic strength builder for the snatch (other than squats) and can be adjusted to emphasize strength or speed, and a huge number of variations provide for all kinds of changes in effect to address any lifter’s needs. Generally, snatch pulls are done with weights around 90-105% of the lifter’s best snatch. Of course, this can change dramatically depending on the lifter’s level of development. Generally speaking, the more advanced the lifter, the lower the percentage of the snatch weights will be for pulls because of the greater ability of the lifter to snatch higher percentages of his or her basic strength capacity. In any case, pulls offer the opportunity to overload the pulling motion of the lift by using weights above what the lifter can actually snatch.
Of course, the weights can be kept relatively light if the focus is on training speed, or even mechanics. This will often include snatch high-pulls to add to the leg and hip extension the mechanics of the first part of the pull under the bar—bringing the elbows up and out to accelerate the lifter down while maintaining proximity of the bar and body.
We can also add pauses in the pull to practice and strengthen certain positions, postures and balance, or elevate the lifter on a riser to emphasize the push with the legs to begin the pull, and strengthen the legs for this movement. They can be done off of blocks to emphasize the top of the pull, or to reduce the load on the legs for recovery purposes. In other words, I’m cheating and including a million different exercises under the umbrella of snatch pulls.
The muscle snatch is one of my favorite exercises. It’s also the one that’s performed “incorrectly” more than any other. I say incorrectly with hesitation because there technically is no ultimate authority on lift execution, which means I can’t call anything incorrect. Having said that, if the execution of the lift diverges from its intended purpose, the term incorrect seems fair.
I see two basic purposes for the muscle snatch—a drill to teach the proper mechanics of the third pull, and an exercise to train and strengthen that movement. In either case, the accuracy of its performance is necessary for its effectiveness. If the movement is not essentially the same as what occurs during the pull under of the snatch, not only is it not helping, it’s arguably counterproductive.
I like using the muscle snatch in a few different ways in training. First as a technique primer—done with relatively light weights immediately prior to snatch training to practice and prime the proper pull under the bar, which will then be naturally applied to the snatches that follow (Usually 3 reps in this case). Second as part of a warm-up couplet combined with snatches to train and strengthen the turnover while warming up during a snatch session (Usually 1-2 muscle snatches + 1 snatch). Finally, as a standalone strength exercise for the turnover, done typically toward the end of a workout using sets of 3-5 reps.
I’m going to cheat a little on this one too and include three variations of the snatch balance—the drop snatch, heaving snatch balance and regular old snatch balance. Each has its own unique benefits and each can be ideal in different circumstances. Speaking of the snatch balance exercises as a group, they address a few primary elements of the snatch: Receiving position strength, timing of the lockout overhead, receiving position precision, turnover aggression, footwork and confidence.
Snatch balances are basically a more advanced variation of the overhead squat, the most basic snatch receiving position exercise. The more advanced a lifter, the more often they’ll use snatch balances relative to overhead squats generally, and in a given training cycle, I will often begin with overhead squats and progress to snatch balances.
The more you want to emphasize strength and confidence, the more appropriate the snatch balance is. The more the focus is on speed and aggressiveness, the more appropriate the drop snatch is. The heaving snatch balance is good for reinforcing the proper receiving position of the feet.
Like the muscle snatch, the snatch balance can be used in a few ways—a technique primer, part of a warm-up couplet and as a standalone exercise.
The dip snatch has a few uses. As a technique exercise, it helps train the final aggressive drive of the legs in the pull, the proper position and balance in this phase of the lift, and helps practice better bar proximity in the third pull. It can also be helpful to correct overreaching of the hips through the bar and practicing better foot transitions between the second and third pulls. As a training exercise, I often use it as a substitute where I might normally use a power snatch—that is, to keep training loads somewhat lighter, to train a more aggressive finish and pull under, and to train a quicker change of direction at the top of the pull. Do it without straps (as I prefer) and it’s also a serious grip strengthener.
Finally, the tall snatch is my favorite exercise for improving the pull under the bar and an important part of my snatch teaching progression. It helps train the proper mechanics of the turnover, like the muscle snatch, but even more accurately because the body is actually moving in the correct direction. It’s a tough exercise—physically and mentally—and will develop aggression because it’s impossible to do without it. It also is a great exercise to train the proper movement of the feet because of its abbreviated nature.
You won’t use much weight. In fact, don’t try. It’s easy to let your ego get in the way when you’re doing anything with a fraction of your best snatch, but remind yourself that this exercise will be more effective the better you do it, and you won’t do it correctly past a certain weight threshold.
The secret of the tall snatch is that everyone cheats a little bit. By that I mean everyone begins lifting the bar up at least very slightly before they start moving down. It’s necessary, really. But the key is minimizing this and focusing on moving down under the bar as far and as quickly as possible. Pull the elbows up and out as hard and high as possible while moving your feet and planting them flat directly under the bar. I typically instruct the tall snatch from flat feet, but doing it from up on the toes is a legitimate variation. I prefer flat-footed in most cases simply because it allows proper balance and is more difficult.
Like most exercises on this list, the tall snatch can be used a few different ways, but I use it most commonly as a technique primer with sets of 2-3 reps at about 25-30% of the lifter’s best snatch.
Select your snatch assistance exercises based on an accurate evaluation of your needs with regard to the lift. You may very well need an exercise not on this list, but I can’t imagine any lifter not benefitting from at least a couple of these. You can find more exercises with full descriptions, video demos and programming information in our weightlifting exercise library. Have some fun experimenting and find what works best for you.
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