Why are Power Snatches so hard?

Let’s face it, if executed correctly, the Power Snatch looks so easy and effortless, just poetry in motion. However, if you don’t fully dominate the technique and give it a go you might be surprised how difficult it is and you ask yourself ‘Why are Power Snatches so hard?’

This article discusses

  • Why are Power Snatches so hard
  • What makes the Power Snatches so hard

But the good news is, that once you understand, why the Power Snatch is so hard, you will be able to make the necessary adjustments to your Power Snatches so that they become less hard.

No other exercise leads to so much frustration, because the harder you try, the less successful you will be. You just can’t muscle a Power Snatch.

Why is the Power Snatches so hard?

First and foremost, the Power Snatch is a full body lift, a complex movement, that requires a synchronized approach and execution in order to be successful.

What makes it so complex?

It is complex, because it involves the entire body from the toe to the head, and even over the head, this is where you ultimately need to get the weight and stabilize it.

But it is also complex because it has varying movements.

What does that mean?

The Power Snatch starts an extension, followed by a flexion and again an extension.

And it not only changes in movement, it also changes in speed and rhythm.

If you go through the phases of the Power Snatch technique, you will find that there are different speeds of execution in each phase. Consequently, these changes of speeds and the rhythm required make it more complex and make it even harder.

How do these speeds change?

Let’s go through it.

The moment you lift the weight off the ground, you need to be fairly controlled in your speed until you get it past the knees. Once you have the bar in the position of the so-called second pull, you have to maximally accelerate the bar upwards.

One of the best examples of this upward acceleration was demonstrated by Aleksey Torokhtiy during a workshop I hosted featuring Aleksey Torokhtiy, check it out, no further explanation needed

https://www.instagram.com/p/Bg26P00B0iw/

Once the maximum acceleration is terminated, you need to get under the bar and you need to absorb the forces of the bar coming down at you. This means you have to go from maximum acceleration to maximum deceleration within a split second.

And once you decelerated and fixed the bar over your head you need to accelerate again to get into the end position. Well, it’s not really a maximum acceleration, but you do need to overcome inertia and create momentum to get the bar up.

So, now that you understand the theory, why Power Snatches are difficult, let’s look at the different positions and phases of the Power Snatch technique.

What makes the Power Snatch so hard?

I will discuss the difficulties and common technical flaws during each phase of the Power Snatch technique. The technical phases of the Power Snatch are

  • Start position, when the bar rests on the ground and the athlete gets into position / gets set-up to lift the bar
  • First pull, from the ground until below the knee
  • Transition, from below the knee to the point, where the bar maximally accelerates
  • Second pull, the maximum upward acceleration
  • Catch, receiving the bar overhead and stabilizing overhead
  • Recovery, standing back up into the end position with the weight fully extended overhead

For more details, check out the article outlining the Power Snatch technique  or this explainer video

Start position

That’s where the problem starts for most people. Due to the wide grip, you need to get further down, as in a Power Clean or Deadlift, therefore you need to have sufficient mobility in the thoracic spine to keep the upper body upright and you also need to have sufficient mobility in the ankle and hip in order to sit down and to get comfortably into the start position.

This is why you see a lot of people being hunched over the bar and if this happens, you set yourself up for failure in the Power Snatch. If you can’t get the start position right, everything else that follows will be negatively affected.

First pull

The next phase, the first pull, is from the moment of separating the bar from the ground until below the knees.

As discussed above, if the start position is flawed, the first pull will be flawed as well.

However, even if the start position is correct there are difficulties in the execution f the first pull.

Whilst the bar path during the first pull should be straight up or even a little bit towards the body, most people tend to lift the bar forwards, so that the bar gets too far away from the body. The further the bar is away from the body, the more difficult it becomes later to accelerate the bar.

Transition phase

The transition phase isn’t a common technical phase and left out in some technical models of the Snatch or Power Snatch and these models only teach the first pull and second pull. However, the moment of bringing the bar past the knees shows different kinetics and kinematics (which is just a fancy word of different movements and speeds) and can, therefore, be considered a different as a separate technical phase.

Basically, the main challenge is to get the bar past the knees, also called ‘knee-passage’ and the problem for most people is to get the knees out of the way to make room for the bar to pass.

Bridging the gap to the previous phase the first pull, and if you had problems in this phase and lifted the bar forwards, it becomes even more difficult to pass the knees and you literally have to lift the bar around the knees.

By lifting the bar around the knees, the bar travels too far away from the body and it can’t be optimally accelerated in the next phase.

Second pull

The second pull is when you maximally accelerate the bar up, as demonstrated perfectly by Aleksey Torokhtiy’s video above, where he shows how to throw the bar over your head.

In the video, you can see, that the contact should be on the height of your hip with a powerful extension of the hip.

Too often people and athletes tend to make contact with the thighs, similar to the contact in the Power Clean, however for the Power Snatch this contact is too low, and results in the bar moving forward and away from the body and it will get increasingly difficult to get under the bar and stabilize the bar overhead.

Very often you see resulting compensatory mechanisms, such as jumping forward to get under the bar or vigorously pulling the bar with your arms back towards the body.

Essentially the idea of the Snatch, as well as the Power Snatch is to have maximum vertical displacement, with a very minimal horizontal displacement. Consequently, any horizontal displacement in the bar makes the Power Snatch more difficult and decreases the likelihood of success.

Another technical flaw you can see quite often is a lack of powerful hip extension. The hip extension is necessary to accelerate the bar upwards. Consequently, a lack of hip extension leads to pulling the bar with your arms and in the worst case, the movement becomes an upright row with a wide grip. Check out Breaking Muscle’s take on the importance of hip drive and not using your arm’s in their article The 3 Most Horrifying Lies About The Snatch

In essence, the powerful hip extension drives the bar up and the arms are more guiding the bar and help you to actively get under the bar.

This actively getting under the bar is also the reason, why some people call the next phase the ‘third pull’, because of the of the fact that you actively pull yourself actively under the bar.

Catch

The catch phase is when you bring your body under the bar and actively decelerate the bar to stabilize the weight over your head.

However, difficulties in this catch phase, or third pull, is that you need to keep the bar close to your face and that can be scary for some people.

Another common challenge is that you need to get yourself into a potentially vulnerable position.

What does that mean?

You need to get under the bar with full commitment and you have the weight over your head.

Why is it a vulnerable position?

The line of gravity dictates, if something goes wrong, the bar comes down in a straight vertical line and who is in between this vertical line of weight and the ground?

Well, it’s you and that’s why it can be scary for some people because if it goes wrong, you are in between the weight and the ground and if the weight is high you can get hurt.

And please don’t think it’s only a beginner’s mistake, it can happen to the best of us. Check out Matthias Steiner, Olympic champion in 2008 in the 105+ Olympic Weightlifting  four years later as a reigning Olympic champion at the Olympic Games in 2012 (disregard the german text, the video speaks for itself)

Once you have completed the catch phase and have stabilized the weight overhead, the weight should be right over the back of your head, and if you look from the side, the weight should be vertically over the center of your body.

A common problem here and why it is hard for a lot of people, because they tend to have it a little bit in front, which works with lighter weights, because you can always use the strength of your shoulders to pull the weight backwards, however, as soon as the weights get heavier and challenging, the bar will fall forward if you have it too far in front.

That being said, T-Nation outlines another common problem in the catch position, as they call it ‘catching like a starfish’ in the article The 6 Most Common Snatch Mistakes

I don’t have this problem, as I spent a lot of time with my athletes Overhead Squatting to learn the correct squatting pattern, and also engrain the correct catching of the weight overhead for the Snatch or Power Snatch.

Recovery

Once you got to the recovery phase, you have almost made it.

Normally the recovery phase is not that difficult but, only if things went wrong in the previous phases, such as having the weight too far in front, as discussed above or too far back, and you are not controlling the bar.

The only challenge next to that in the recovery phase, if athletes get too excited that they have stabilized the weight and stand up too quickly, which often leads to losing the bar to the front.

Check out this example from one of our max testing sessions, which is an example of a sub-optimal recovery

https://www.instagram.com/p/Bc-gj02BNEk/

However, he made it and set a new PB, which is acceptable for the 1 RM testing, but not acceptable in training.

Concluding why are Power Snatches so hard?

The Power Snatch is a complex full-body movement, which requires a synchronized approach and a synchronized execution.

It is a complex movement, because it involves the whole body, has varying movements – extension, flexion, extension and it is complex because it has varying speeds and you need to find the right rhythm. In a nutshell, you start with a moderate speed, you accelerate maximally upwards, you need to maximally decelerate and you need to moderately accelerate again to get back into the end position.

Why is the Power Snatch difficult?

Because athletes and people have difficulties in the different phases of the movement, such as getting into the right start position, the bar trajectory during the lift-off, keeping the bar close to the body,  have difficulties using the hip extension properly, pull too much with their arms and struggle to get under the bar and fixate the weight overhead.

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