How and when the bar contacts the body in the snatch and clean—and even whether or not it should—is an ongoing source of confusion
for new lifters, so we’re going to sort you out right now.
First, does the bar have to
contact the body? Only if you want to lift correctly.
The arms create a pendulum, so the bar wants hang directly below the shoulders. That is, wherever we position the shoulders, the bar will follow unless we actively prevent it from doing so, which we can only do to a limited degree—for example, you can’t do a front raise with any significant weight on a barbell to move the bar forward.
If you stand vertically with a bar at arms’ length, your shoulders will be behind the bar, and the bar will try to follow them there—but the bar is prevented from moving all the way back under the shoulders because your legs and hips are in the way, which means the bar rests against the body—as close as it can get to being under the shoulders.
In a properly executed snatch or clean, we finish with the legs approximately vertical and the shoulders at least slightly behind the hips. In other words, the only way to lift without the bar touching your body at the top of a pull would be to not extend the body completely—any proper extension will force the bar to eventually come into contact.
An exception to this is a new lifter using very light weights and generating enough speed early in the lift to allow the bar to swing away from the body early. We can accelerate a light enough bar enough that it doesn’t comes back toward after passing the knees. But again, like the front raise analogy, the ability to do this is limited to very light weights.
Time of Contact
This leads us to when
that contact should occur, and that’s when the shoulders first move behind the bar. As your trunk reaches vertical in the second pull, the bar will contact the body as it tries to remain below the shoulders as they move back with hip extension. This is the point in the scoop or double knee bend at which the knees reach their farther position forward.
Artificially forcing the bar to contact before this point by pushing it back excessively
will create two primary problems. First, it moves our balance too far back over the foot, meaning we either end up moving backward away from the bar, put too much horizontal momentum on the bar to stabilize it when we receive the lift, or are forced to stop short of complete extension because it would shift our balance past a point of being able to withstand it.
Second, the bar will contact low on the legs, which are or will soon be moving forward during the double knee bend, which means the bar will be pushed forward significantly by that motion, harming system balance and reducing its upward speed and total elevation, and it will drag, further reducing speed and elevation.
Simply keep the bar as close to the legs as possible all the way through the pull without dragging until this contact point. We use the back and shoulders to prevent the bar from moving away from the body during the pull when the shoulders are typically slightly in front of the bar, and therefore the bar is trying to move forward to be under them. It’s just a matter of the right amount of effort—enough to maintain proximity and not so much that it causes premature contact.
Brush or Bang
Finally, the perennial argument: should the contact be more of a brush or a bang? Understand that the goal is to ensure complete contact because that indicates proper balance and position, but doing so with minimal disruption of the bar’s upward trajectory and acceleration.
Contact aggressive enough to generate a bit of noise is fine, but significant horizontal contact of the bar with the hips is problematic because it moves the bar forward and slows its elevation. In other words, we’re looking for contact, not a collision.
In all cases, the bar needs to be continuing to move upward along the body as it contacts rather than contacting at a single point and then immediately moving away.
How To Do It
Now the obvious question is how you make all of this happen:
First, keep the bar as close to the legs as possible prior to contact. Use the back and shoulders to keep tension on the bar and prevent it from moving forward away from your body without dragging it against your legs. You can practice this with numerous deadlift and pull variations.
Continue driving through the floor vertically with the legs
through completion of hip extension. That is, as long as you’re opening your hips, make sure you’re also pushing against the floor as hard as possible. You can train this with snatch/clean from power position
, snatch/clean with no jump
, pull to hold
+ snatch/clean, or high-pull
Finally, stay over the bar
long enough to prevent it from contacting low on the legs as the knees move forward. In other words, wait until the bar is at the thighs to initiate the second pull, and ensure your position and balance for the second pull are optimal.