Who Cares About Your Snatch?
You’re special. No, really, I mean it. You are gifted beyond the norm and can get away with things that no one else can at your gym. You can use more advanced exercises, recover less, and train harder. Aren’t you a special little snowflake?
Except you’re not. You know how to test if you truly are special? Look for an Olympic medal hanging around your neck. If you don’t have one of those or aren’t even in the running to compete for one, then the reality is you fit in the fat part of the bell curve and are average, just like everyone else.
If you’re not training for elite competition then that means your time in the gym or playing your chosen sport needs to address your overall health and fitness to some degree. I know, training for performance is sexy, and it’s fun to go on training plans that will improve your squat, snatch, or “Fran” time. But are you really ready for performance? And how much of your overall plan should be devoted to performance versus health? Because the two goals are not always aligned.
Let’s start with what is probably the most complicated thing you can do with a barbell - the snatch. Because of the nature of the lift and the loads used it’s not normally a lift used for high reps. Therefore, training the snatch takes a long time, measured in decades, not years. There’s a reason you can find YouTube videos of eight year olds in China performing the lift. If they don’t start that young, they’ll never achieve the level of mastery needed to compete at the ultimate level. But that training isn’t geared towards health or fitness, only performance. And for every child who makes it to the world stage there are probably about 3,190 who don’t. Bob Takano noted that in Bulgaria the weightlifting program began each four-year block with 3,200 potentials and whittled it down until you had ten incredible athletes at the Olympics. No mention is made of the 3,190 who never made it.
So let’s get back to you. There’s a fair chance you are past the ideal starting age for weightlifting, which is twelve years old. (This is based off Soviet methodology. The prime starting age for serious lifting is twelve because that is when hormones start to make a big difference in the loads and recovery possible for young athletes.) If you’re like many and you've come to serious training later in life, having been delayed in your arrival by machine-based training or plain old inactivity for years prior, you’re going to need to start with the basics.
Most good coaches will agree there are many lifts that lead to the snatch, and they will progress you through them slowly, rather than hand you a bar on your first night in the box and say, “Here’s the snatch. Now do it.” (Although, I have heard of this, too.) Among these other lifts are the overhead squat, snatch balance, power snatch performed at various heights, snatch pulls, and finally the full snatch.
Is the Snatch the Answer?
But let’s step back even further. Are you really ready for the snatch, and do you even need it? Preparing to write this article, in just minutes I found more than twenty videos on Kelly Starrett’s YouTube page that relate to better squat and overhead mechanics. I’m sure there’s more than that, but it proves the point. If so many people have so many issues, then is the snatch the best way to go about training? Especially when so much of training should be geared towards health and fitness?
If we all need so much mobility work, why are we working so hard on strength? Why aren’t we working on our weak areas, and why aren’t coaches giving people what they need? And once we have given clients the adequate mobility to do the snatch (if we ever actually manage that), do we really want those people snatching anyway? Or is there a more efficient way to get the same job done?
Deadlifts and Swings
I’d argue that for most people they would get a far better result, and far faster, if they just concentrated on deadlifts and kettlebell swings. The two sides of the power equation deal with speed and load. The deadlift gives me one, the swing the other. Yes, the snatch is a more efficient way to accomplish that as you can get both sides of the equation from one exercise. But in the ten years it takes you to become mobile enough and develop good enough form in the snatch, how many deadlifts and swings do you think I’ll have done? And because of the huge volume of work I have done compared to you, who is going to be in better shape, with more strength and better body composition? Sure, I may not be able to snatch, but in terms of who has achieved a better outcome for all-around health and fitness I will be far better off.
In the time I save working on my snatch I can address other elements of fitness such as mobility, flexibility, agility, aerobic and anaerobic fitness, and even my diet. Meanwhile, you’re still working on that pesky snatch that you just can’t seem to get right. In a year, who do you think will move better? And how much fun do you think I’m going to be having in my fitness journey when I have been rock climbing, swimming, running, lifting, and hiking versus you, stuck on that platform in the gym working on your snatch?
Don’t get me wrong. There’s a lot to be gained from acquisition of skills. I’m just not sure you really need high-level skills for most purposes. When I see video of people being taught to bench press with really high back arches and these people have no plans to compete, I just shake my head and think of all the other things they could be progressing instead of working on a high-level technique they will never need. If you’re not a specialist, as evidenced by not competing in a strength sport, then you have no need of specialist technique.
What You Should Be Doing
If you’re training for GPP then what you want is the biggest bang for your buck in the gym. I won’t insult Paul Chek, Ian King, Mike Boyle, or Dan John here by rehashing the basic human movements, but a routine that consists of hinge, squat, pull, push, and core will give you all you need. I will suggest that you use deliberately less-complicated versions of the lifts and modify them so that they fit you, rather than trying to make your 35-year-old, desk-ridden body fit the lifts. Doing a power snatch off blocks is as good a choice for a quick lift for many as you’ll find, and I can teach you to do it relatively quickly.
Below is a two-day split that can be performed four days per week. I like Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday, but any four days work as long as they’re not all consecutive.
- 1A. Deadlift 5-3-2
- 1B. Two-hand kettlebell swing 10-10-10
- 2. Barbell push complex - 2 reps of pressing, 2 reps of push press, 2 reps of push jerks. Add a small amount of weight each round (2.5–5kg) until you can’t get the presses, but keep with the 2-2 push presses and jerks. Continue adding weight until you’re left with the jerks.
- 3A. Plank hold x 60s x 5 sets
- 3B. Get ups x 1 each side x 5
- 1. Power snatch off blocks 3 x 3 increasing weight each set.
- 2. Front squat 4 x 4 increasing weight each set
- 3A. Pull ups x AMRAP x 4 rounds
- 3B. Sled pull x 1 x 4 rounds (Attach a long rope to a sled and hand over hand pull it towards you, as if single hand rowing it.)
- 4. Hanging leg raises 3 x 5
In your spare time add in fitness, flexibility, and movement skills such as martial arts or agility drills. Training for all-around fitness and health will be far more fun and far more beneficial in the long run than working on a single skill like the snatch or arched bench press. Specialization is for insects. Man evolved to do many things, so remember that in your own training.
Photos courtesy of Shutterstock.