Learning how to Snatch — Journey

This is not me, its probably Victor Freitas via Unsplash

I’ve always been fascinated with weightlifting. I remember watching the Olympics as a child fascinated by the barbell. I always wanted to learn…

Let’s cut the crap. You thought this was a sentimental outpouring over Olympic weightlifting? One that would segway into my learning it? Well, it isn’t. I don’t know the first thing about the snatch or the clean and jerk. But, and this is the truth, it’s fascinating. I’ve always wanted to learn these movements.

The only way I know how to learn them is to try it and document the journey in words. Occasionally I’ll throw in a picture, videos, but strictly no gifs (or jifs, whatever you call it).

I’m starting with the snatch because it’s a more complex movement. Hence, learning the snatch would have a carryover to the clean and jerk. Like I said, I know nothing about these movements, this is what Clarence0 advises. He can snatch 180 kgs, so I’ll take his advise.

Honestly, because I failed at it two years prior. I remember going for a CrossFit class at The Fit District, Bangalore. They were teaching us how to snatch. At that time, I had no concept of technique or patience. I just wanted to sweat to prove to myself I was working hard by working out. The snatch took time; time I didn’t have. So, I dropped it. Now, I’m want to achieve it.

In practice, Olympic Weightlifting is very helpful. Bot to the mind and the body. However, I’m can’t talk about these attributes because I’m just a beginner. But Brad Stulberg, the co-author of the amazing book — Peak Performance wrote a brilliant piece on it. Check it out here.

Lastly, I consider Olympic Weightlifting an example of one of the five key attributes of ‘fitness.’ I list them (in no particular order of importance) below:

  1. Strength
  2. Endurance
  3. Speed
  4. Power
  5. Skill

Personally, even though I’m a noob, I consider Olympic Weighlifting a combination of Strength and Speed. While I have a decent base in strength, speed is something I lack. This is why I want to learn weightlifting. However, I’m a beginner at both and would like to get better.

I don’t have a streamlined process. So, expect this section to be edited as I build one. However, I’d want to hit a snatch of at least 50 kgs (about 110 pounds). The time period — around two and a half months. I’m writing this on April 2. I’ve set the deadline for my goal as June 10. In case you’re wondering why this date, June 10 is my birthday.

Since my gym does not have PVC pipes, I’m relying on a curtain rod and bamboo shoots to perfect the form. Once satisfied, I’ll move on to the barbell and begin adding weight. Since I don’t know the baseline, I cannot draw a progress table yet. But once I graduate to the bar, I’ll increment slowly with added weight.

Like most things in life, I’m learning from the internet. In order to get the form right, I’ll be relying on YouTube. The owner of the gym I go to also knows the snatch. I’ll seek his feedback as well. However, I’ve learned the hard way that you shouldn’t rely on commercial gym trainers/owners for proper technique. Therefore, I’ll limit my exposure to his opinion. Once I feel like I’m progressing, I’ll consult a specialized coach. Nevertheless, the target remains.

Target: 50 kg

Deadline: 10 June, 2021

What will this blog document exactly? I can sound Sensei-like and say something like — “Let this blog be a lesson from me to you on how to learn the snatch and the clean and jerk.” But it isn’t. This blog is to keep my lazy ass accountable. I’ve taken up a task before and tried to document my journey. But since I didn’t make it public, I wasn’t accountable, and I failed. I won’t make that mistake twice.

I will add to this blog each snatch training session I do. The faults, progress, and internal and external feedback will be written in full. I’ll train the snatch 3–4 times a week. Each session should have an entry.

With that longer-than-required introduction, let’s begin.

First day of training. Did a short HIIT workout and then began the snatch training.

I’m using a 4 feet long curtain rod. It feels fine for my slightly long arms and isn’t that heavy.

I don’t have a well-crafted plan. I just typed “How to snatch” on the YouTube search. I came across this video by Alan Thrall.

Worked on the drive from mid-foot to standing on the toes. The rod hitting above the pelvic bone is something I’m struggling with. Mainly because I feel like I’m over-extending at the lower back. This is something I should avoid.

I also tried a few back-of-the-neck snatches (I don’t know what you call it exactly). This is when the rod sits on the back of your neck, just at the shoulder and you drop the head down and arms up while sinking into an overhead squat.

Spoke to a friend who suggested Squat University’s mobility guide for lats, writs, and ankle. This is something I will consciously focus on for the next session.

I know I’d said snatch practice would be 3–4 times a week. But I had some time and thought I’d go through a few snatch videos on YouTube.

I found one by Clarence0 where he breaks down the snatch into separate steps. The steps are:

  1. Extension: Picking up the bar from the floor > above the knees > to the pelvic bone where it makes contact with the body
  2. Muscle Snatch: Bringing the bar from hip to just below the nose using a shrug-like-movement
  3. Scarecrow: Bring the bar from just below the nose to overhead using a jerk or push-out-like movement.
  4. Catch: Once the Scarecrow is completed, you’ll catch the bar overhead. The grip here is the behind-the-neck snatch grip (BTNSG).
  5. Overhead squat: Once the bar is ‘caught’ overhead, simply drop down into an overhead squat. Side note: My ankles are not very mobile. So, deep in the overhead squat, my chest is falling forward. This will force my body to move forward and drop the weight. This is something I should work on.

Today, I practiced the extension. The learnings are:

  1. Maintain a hook grip
  2. Don’t slide the rod on the quads
  3. Shoulders directly above the rod
  4. Rod comes up in a straight line

Tomorrow I’ll practice the Muscle Snatch.

At the start, because everything is progress, I’m practicing every day. Today, I tried the muscle snatch. This is muscling the rod from hip-level to just below the nose. A few pointers:

  1. Keep the bar close to the body
  2. Ruffle the shirt on the way up (heard this from a few people)
  3. Consciously use the lats

Also tried a few complete snatches to see how much I learned in consolidation. A few obvious errors crept up. This is something I’ll focus on in the long run. At the start, it isn’t important. I should just focus on the smaller pieces.

As the schedule goes, today was Scarecrow practice. I’m consciously focusing on engaging the lats as much as I can. Every time the rod is overhead, it's the lats that keep it in place. When I engage it, my elbows are not bent. I’m not sure if this is right but it's a process. Even though I didn’t practice the Scarecrow as much as I’d like to, I did come across a few pointers.

  1. Keep the bar below the nose level
  2. Turn with wrists not with arms
  3. Be explosive, let the bar get behind you
  4. Do not sink into a squat yet; just dip a little

My ankle mobility is still weak, hence my dept in the squat isn’t that great. Also, my toes are pointing to 10 and 2 rather than 10.3 to 1.5. Again, I’m unsure if this is correct. But once again, I’ll work through each step as part of the process.

For today’s reference video, I watched this video by Alan Thrall and Zach Telander. The focus was to work on the high pull and a transition into the overhead position. This is similar to Clarence0’s Scarecrow technique detailed above. But a recurring problem resurfaced.

My arms are too long. Or at least longer than it should be for my height. This is causing a few problems.

  1. I have to use a wide grip on the barbell
  2. The bar falls way behind my neck than it should

But these are problems I have to fix with more lat activation and turning the knuckles towards the floor during the snatch (I think). This prevents me from keeping the bar slightly behind my neck with a strong grip. Since I’m still working with a curtain rod, there is little weight pulling my arms away from my neck. I’m sure when I move onto a barbell, the weight will force me to use my back and lats to hold the bar in place.

Like with the clean, the more the weight, the more conscious you are with the movement. Again, this might just be spitballing but it's all part of the process.

Today, I finally moved on to a bar. But not an Olympic bar, but a simple home workout one. It’s less than 4 feet in length and less than 1.5 centimeters in diameter. I can’t put additional weights on it. This is because I have to put my long arms on the outer part of the bar (where the weight sits). But it’s a considerable step up from the curtain rod and a good build-up to an Olympic bar.

Now, onto the training entry. Followed the same video by Thrall and Telander. The focus was on hip contact and the high pull. Here’s what I learned:

  1. Bring the bar closer to the body but still maintain a more-or-less straight pull
  2. As the bar goes up let it ruffle your shirt, but don’t be too conscious about this
  3. In the high pull — elbows go up first
  4. Knuckles facing down and whip them overhead with a quick elbow straightening
  5. Explode with the feet, but don’t straight jump (not sure if this is correct)

I’ll still look through this video for the time being. There’s always something I miss. I’ll set a date of April 10 to move onto the Olympic bar, once I’m good with the movement on this bar.

Finally went to the gym to learn the snatch. Scheduled a few minutes with a trainer who knows the technique. He was surprisingly helpful. I started with a lighter bar, and then moved onto an Olympic bar, and then added plates.

Once again, I followed this video by Zach Telander. However, my ‘following’ the video was only watching it before the session. I did write down my training, but got sidetracked by the trainer’s instructions. My mistake. Always stick to a plan.

A few points of mention:

  1. My grip kept slipping even though I was wearing gloves (these are cycling gloves with padding for the palms)
  2. I wasn’t comfortable with the overhead squat, especially with plates added. I was sure I would fall on my back.
  3. No explosion at once the weight was on. I tried to stimulate the explosiveness by doing some (bad technique) clean and jerks, but this did not translate into the snatch
  4. I was mostly muscling the movement, and not focusing on the proper technique
  5. Couldn’t descent below the bar. I kept consciously putting it over my hear
  6. No head jerk

The list could go on, but these are my top pain points. I managed to work my way up to about 30 kgs in total. But this was muscling it with minimal leg and hip movement. I guess, the fear of falling backwards is still there. That’s something I should train for. My next barbell session is in a week’s time. In the meantime, we practice falling.

I know I said the next barbell session would be in a week’s time. But over the weekend I read the following words by Napolean Hill in his book ‘Think And Grow Rich,”

“Perfection will come through practice. It cannot come by merely reading instructions.”

I realized my process cannot be — watch videos, snatch with an ineffective barbell and go to the gym once a week to practice with an Olympic barbell. It has to be practice with intention frequently. I’m switching up the barbell session to at least three times a week. That’s exactly what I did yesterday.

For the warm-up, I followed this video, again by Zach Telander. I don't want to overdo the warm-up or warm-up sets and be exhausted for the working sets.

After the warmup, I did a few full reps with the empty bars. Added 10 kgs and then an additional 2.5 kgs. Maxed out today at 32.5 kgs, including the barbell.

At first, I felt I was muscling it. This happened because my legs weren’t in play and there was no momentum as the bar went overhead. My focus on dipping below is something I’m working on. I’m looking to incorporate more explosive lower-body movements like kettle-bell jump squats and drop squats. More work on the high-pulls while moving from heel-to-toe should also be incorporated. Key takeaways from today’s session:

  1. Inhale before moving the barbell
  2. Hips up and then sink, while keeping the lower back straight
  3. Pull intentionally like you’re forcing the shoulders to touch the ears
  4. Before the bar goes overhead, sink down into an overhead squat
  5. Tighten the lats, so the bar is stable overhead

The heavier the sets get, the more intimidated I get about dropping the bar or falling over. That fear should go. But more importantly, it should not deter me from increasing the weight if I can handle it.

If you have any suggestions or feedback on how I can better document my journey please comment. You can reach me on Twitter here.

Writing as opposed to keeping the thoughts locked in my head.

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