Why the Snatch Is Stupid

Olympic lifting, and the snatch, in particular, has made a big comeback in recent years. 

People watch the Olympics to see a lifter explosively move massive amounts of weight above their head in the form of the Snatch or Clean and Jerk. Crossfit has played a significant role in this.

No shit, this is a screenshot from Crossfit’s homepage as I write this post. A big image of a guy doing a snatch, and a workout of the day (WOD) of 30x Snatch’s for time at 155 lbs. I had no idea that would be the image or WOD, so lucky me.

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Crossfit has made the Olympic lifts, and specifically the Snatch, a big component of the national level competition. This year, the Crossfit Games featured the “Amanda .45” WOD of Squat Snatches and Muscle-Ups, with a 1RM Snatch ladder the following day. 

Why This is Stupid

The Snatch is the most intricate and complicated lift to teach to an athlete. The lift has six phases, all with their own cues and techniques. Every manual I’ve ever looked at has pages upon pages of notes on how to coach the movement. 

For a new lifter, it will take several hours of coaching to learn the movement. For a moderately trained athlete, that time will be reduced but still significant. For an advanced athlete, it will still take time with plenty of coaching and homework.

This is not an efficient return on time and energy. We want to train athletes to be strong, fast, durable, and efficient for their sport and general health. If the sport is not 1) Olympic weightlifting or 2) regional/games level Crossfit competitor, then you’re wasting your time.

For coaches and athletes, you have 1-1.5 hours to train, 4-5x a week (if you’re lucky). This is likely in a class/group setting, so your attention is divided. Providing the watchful eye and coaching cues to teach the movement and ensure it’s done safely (with proper loading) is a challenge. 

Can it be done? Certainly. Is it worth it? Probably not. 

The snatch at its core is used to train full body power as it relates to moving external loads (the barbell) with the extension of the hips, knees, and ankles. This power is transferable to movements such as sprinting, pushing, jumping, and throwing. It also has benefits to the proprioceptive system which is the fancy term for your body learning how to maintain balance.

Can we train these traits with other, simpler movements with a significantly shorter learning curve?

Hell yes.

Off the top of my head, here’s a list of exercises that will train power, explosiveness, and balance which require less teaching/learning with equal real-life results.

  • Sled or Prowler Push
  • Unloaded Squat Jumps
  • Loaded Squat Jumps (Barbell, Sandbag, Dumbbells, Weight Vest)
  • Maximal height box jump
  • Broad Jump
  • Single Leg Box Jump
  • Kettlebell/Dumbbell Hang Power Snatch
  • Kettlebell/Dumbbell Hang Clean + Push Press
  • Push Press
  • Barbell Power Clean
  • Barbell Hang Clean
  • Barbell Hang Squat Clean
  • Dynamic Effort Deadlift
  • Jumping Lunges
  • Any variation of the individual pulls of the Snatch or Clean
  • The actual conduct on sprinting, pushing, jumping, and throwing.

After an athlete has demonstrated they are capable of doing these movements, I might introduce them to a variation of the Power Snatch, in which the athlete doesn’t catch the barbell in the squat. Maybe. 

Keep in mind the safety aspect. The snatch requires you explosively move a barbell overhead and then quickly catch it in the squat position.

Meanwhile, the barbell is directly over your neck with your shoulders and elbows supporting a load in it’s weakest position. You’re not in a great position to bail, so if something happens, you’re in for a world of hurt. Like this guy... and he's a pro at it. 

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The Takeaway
As an athlete or gym rat, you only have so much time in the gym. 

As a coach, you only have so much time with that athlete.

If the athlete has a goal, (that isn’t to snatch more weight), they should focus on movements which are simpler in nature and therefore have a higher return in developing athleticism as it relates to power/explosiveness. 

Stop glamorizing the snatch - it’s stupid for the vast majority of the population who walk into the gym.