Learning how to Snatch — Journey

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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.

First — the why?

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.

Second — the process?

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

Third — Purpose?

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.

Friday, April 2

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, wrists, and ankles. This is something I will consciously focus on for the next session.

Saturday, 3 April

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.

Sunday, 4 April

  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.

Monday, 5 April

  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.

Wednesday, 7 April

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.

Thursday, 8 April

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.

Saturday, 10 April

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 with minimal leg and hip movement. I guess, the fear of falling backward 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.

Wednesday, 14 April

“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.

Friday, 16 April

Anyway, a few points from this session.

  1. It's alright to jump, and it’s alright to jump back
  2. The ‘bar path’ does not have to be a straight line. The bar can pull in, toward the hip and then thrust out to overhead
  3. Don’t pause too often. Because I’m intimidated by the weight, I can’t pull directly from the floor to overhead. I keep the barbell at knee-to-hip level, take a big breath and then heave it upward. This increases fatigue and hurts the overall technique
  4. The hip rattle mentioned in this video hurts, especially when done incorrectly. When I do this, the bar seems to be hitting my hip bone. Another technical flaw I need to correct
  5. During this session, I was setting up per this video. Find my feet > Straight low back > Legs down > Heels down > Look straight > Breathe in > Get back in line > Pull. However, things did not go according to plan. Next session, I’ll rework this system.

I wrote earlier about my poor ankle mobility. This is something I have to sort out. Poor ankle mobility is preventing me from sinking into an overhead squat. I’ve decided to go for weightlifting shoes. These are shoes with the heel elevated compared to the toes. It allows you to push the knees over your toes, giving you greater squat depth with a neutral spine. Especially helpful for people with poor ankle mobility. I’m unsure of which ones to get. If you know of a good pair, do let me know.

That’s it for today, let’s get after it tomorrow!

Sunday, 18 April

I’m also gradually introducing complementary movements. For instance, today, I did a hang clean with a few front squats to work on the pull and hopefully catching the bar from below in the squat position. Again, I don’t want to go full blast on a particular muscle group. I’m feeling a niggle in my left shoulder socket, hopefully, that’ll go before the next session.

Key takeaways:

  1. I’m starting with the hip higher than the bar. This is preventing me from having as much leg drive as I like.
  2. The pull has to be more ferocious (for the lack of a more apt word), I have to pull from the ground up. I’ve also noticed a trick that works. While pulling, I tilt my chin up toward the ceiling (from pointing at 5 to 2 on a clock). This builds more speed in the pull and allows me to sink easier/
  3. As it gets heavier, 1–2 reps are alright. I start with sets of 3 and end with sets of 1.
  4. Since I can’t drop the bar at my gym, bringing the bar down takes a lot out.
  5. The hip hit is still not happening. But I’m not giving it too much thought. Zach Telander, in one of his videos, advised not to focus too much on it. I’m hoping it comes gradually

Here are a few training videos to show the poor form and learn from feedback.

Tuesday, 20 April

I toned down the warm-up drills and the sets, in order to have gas for the working sets. This is something I will incorporate in other movements as well. I’ve also added a few cleans and front squats to work on complementary movements that’ll help me in the snatch.

Key takeaways from this session:

  1. The shirt ruffle as I pull is happening, even with tight shirts. But the hip thrust on the bar is absent. I’m consciously holding the bar slightly wider to ensure the bar “hits” the waist rather than the hip bone
  2. Still muscling it, as I can’t squat in the snatch due to poor ankle mobility. I’m also on the lookout for a good squat shoe to allow me to offset mobility issues
  3. The drive-to-high pull is getting better. This is because I’m consciously trying to pull the shoulders towards the ear
  4. I pushed the weight to 37.5 kgs (including the bar), this was in reps of 1–2. This felt heavy and I switched it down to 35 kgs and it was better, for the form and fatigue level
  5. On the front squat, I’m rounding the lower back too much. This is after squatting with my heel elevated (plates under the heels). I’ve got to fix this as this will prevent me from squatting heavy
  6. Overall, I drove from the legs consciously and exploded into a wide stance. This wasn’t as smooth as I’d hoped, but it's getting better. That’s all I can ask for.

Thursday, 22 April

  1. The shrug+high pull is still not apt; I’m making a conscious effort to pull shoulders to ears, but this will take some time to get use to
  2. I end with the kettlebell directly overhead or sometimes slightly in front (which is very bad). Once again, I’m making a conscious effort to end slightly overhead in order to engage the lats, similar to the snatch
  3. Wrist movement is also key here; I need to smoothly turn the kettlebell over rather than slamming it on the wrist, similar to turning the wrists out on the snatch
  4. Added a few front rack squats and kettlebell jumps which engaged the quads to develop the same movement, but shoes are once again the need of the hour

Friday, 30 April

Since I can’t get the resistance of the bar, I can’t work on the drive or the speed of the high pull. The body isn’t as fast because it know — the resistance is low, and is fearful of the plates falling. I’m trying to offset this as much as possible, but I can’t replicate the actual barbell. So, I’m working on squat mobility, mainly the ankles and the shoulders. This involves a lot of overhead squats, squat snatches, and just staying at the bottom position.

A few takeaways:

  1. Hip and ankle mobility is improving, the heel-wedge shoes will only make it better
  2. As I sink lower, the chest is a lot less slanted and more upright
  3. Lats are still not fully engaged with the bar overhead
  4. Hands are pulling the bar closer to the hip when pulling from the floor, the contact with the hip is absent, but this “shirt ruffle” is present
  5. Head thrusting out as the bar moves overhead

Sunday, 02 May

More importantly, I was able to mimic the snatch movement with a decent weight. I increased the rep range to 5 from 3, and took shorter rest intervals, as the weight wasn't strenuous.

Today’s goal was to sit well in the overhead squat. My ankle mobility is improving. I am able to get down in a squat with a slightly narrow stance with non-heel-elevated shoes. My chest is still facing the floor, preventing me from holding the bar upright. Any added weight (beyond 20–25 kgs) and I’ll fall forward. On the bright side, I’ve ordered weightlifting shoes.

Here’s a training video. What’s clear is I’m not very explosive. This is forcing me to overuse my upper body more and underuse my lower body. Notice the slow speed at which the feet move out. This is something that I should fix by focusing on explosive lower-body movements. What’s I’m happy with is the straight back even when I’m holding the bar with the plates touching the floor. As always, any feedback is welcome.

Sunday, 09 May

Today was a good session. I managed to put on 16 kgs on the bar, taking the total weight to about 28 kgs. I can add another 4, but the plates would fall. This is as much as heavy as I can go until the gym opens, which will be around May 25 (I hope).

The focus today was on exploding with the feet, toes pointed at 2 and 10. I still feel I’m muscling it, and not allowing the technique to set in. That’s quite common when increasing the weight, bigger muscles take over, and technique falls by the wayside. I should look to correct this going forward.

Here’s a front side video of a set:

Takeaways:

  1. I’m really happy with the hip and ankle mobility. Zach Telander says you can build mobility effectively under load and during workouts than by form rolling or standalone mobility exercise. This is paying dividends.
  2. Feet exploding outward is happing (the second rep in the video). I need to look for the “THUD”
  3. The heavier the load, the more I want to get it overhead rather than allow it to hit the hip, ruffle the shirt and then move up. This is something I will fix
  4. I’m working on the head jutting outward with a few snatch balances
  5. Overhead squat strength is improving. I tried a narrow grip overhead squat and got down pretty comfortably. Although, with a light load.

Wednesday, 12 May and Friday, 14 May

On the bright side, I got the shoes. Here’s a picture.

These are the Nike Metcon 6. They come with an additional 8-millimeter pad, which increases elevation. This improves ankle mobility. More than that, I like the feedback of the “THUD” as it hits the floor during the snatch. This wasn’t possible with my previous shoes.

Key takeaways from the two sessions:

  1. My explosion is still not right. It requires more drive from the lower body.
  2. I’m bringing the bar in front of the body, too much so. I’ve got to keep it close. This is also a consequence of using lighter weights. Since it’s easier to move it ahead, I’m doing so. I’ve got to mentally prevent this.
  3. Ankle mobility is improving even bare feet. This is because I’m putting the ankle under pressure with some overhead squats. As Zach Telander says, joints under tension improve mobility than ancillary work like foam rolling.
  4. I’m not getting under the bar as quickly as I’d like. This is preventing me from catching the bar while in the overhead squat. Instead, I’m catching it almost upright. Again, because of the light weight, it’s easier. It won’t be once I move up.

Now, there’s less than a month to go. My deadline to snatch 50 kgs is on June 10. I’m still snatching just 25 kgs at max while at home. But on the plus side, I can see several improvements. From form to mobility to several other feedback loops. Can’t wait for the gyms to open and pile on the weight.

Tuesday, 18 May

A positive from today was segmenting the workout. I worked on the snatch first and then the kettlebell conditioning work. My basics with the snatch went haywire, so I didn’t increase the weight. I kept it at about 20 kgs, 4 kgs short of what this home barbell can go up to. There aren’t many, but a few takeaways from today are:

  1. The head is moving too slow below the barbell. Need to up the pace.
  2. I feel like I’m holding the bar too narrow. But if I hold it wider, there won’t be any place for the plates.
  3. The shoes are helping, but my focus is increasing time under tension with the ankles working so that I can gain mobility and strength, which is more sustainable
  4. There was no hip to barbell contact because of lack of conscious effort

I’ve got a good working set for the snatch. Of course, this will change with time. This is what I have now

Drive > High pull > Scarecrow > Snatch balance > Overhead squat > Overhead squat hold

This is warming my body for the snatch very well.

Thursday, 10 June

  1. The weights aren’t very heavy; they max out at 20 kg, which provides little to no feedback for movements like the snatch
  2. Gyms aren’t opening anytime soon

So, I’m taking the decision to alter the plan. I’m still going to training strength, but instead of focusing on speed (under the barbell), I’ll focus on power. This will keep the explosive training in check and allow me to still progressive overload. However, the “overload” factor will be endurance rather than strength. But fast-twitch muscles will still be in play.

Once the gyms open up, I’ll get back to snatch training. The goal is unchanged — 50kg snatch, whatever it takes. It’s just going to take longer than I expected. Well, don’t we always have to wait for good things?

Friday, 2 July

Felt very stiff with the upper body to the lower back during the lift. A few pointers:

  1. Butt wasn’t parallel to the bar (or close to) as I was lifting upwards
  2. Didn’t “hit the hip” as the bar passed the upper body to overhead
  3. Feet didn't move out wide enough
  4. Didn’t start from a good position. I’m still afraid to lift the bar from the floor. Usually, I rest it at the quads and then proceed with the snatch.
  5. Was too winded. Did a long session before it, and wasn’t feeling right for the snatch. Should shorten sessions and work on snatches for longer, I think.
  6. I also tend not to read these before I attempt the snatch. That’s a rookie mistake.

These are easily fixable and progression-able. I’ll attempt the snatch once a week to get recall the movement again. This will take time. I’m planning on going through increments of 5 kgs (2.5kgs each side) until I hit 50. I think till 40kgs won’t be too difficult. But after that, it will. It’s just about building the strength and speed to get through it. Let’s get after it.

Saturday, July 10

  1. Still beginning with my hips way above the bar, which puts a lot more pressure on my mid-back because I’m leaning forward
  2. The chin is still facing down, even mid-rep. I should look to aim it upward so that the drive is more propelled
  3. The shrug is minimal which puts a lot more pressure on the arms to pull the bar overhead
  4. I’m not as forceful with the feet. During the session, I practiced on mats which didn’t allow me the thump of a harder surface. This prevented feedback
  5. Overall, I could’ve focused more on the form. But the form comes naturally at a heavier weight. Remember that

Reach out

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

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