How to Do Barbell Snatches

Proper Form, Variations, and Common Mistakes

A trainer teaching an athlete how to do a barbell movement.

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Targets: Hamstrings, quadriceps, abdominals, shoulders, triceps, biceps, etc.

Equipment Needed: Barbell, bumper plates, barbell clips

Level: Intermediate to Advanced

Barbell snatches are a hallmark of CrossFit. At the CrossFit Games, the “fittest people on earth” seem to effortlessly snap hundreds of pounds above their heads, landing in an overhead squat or a power stance. They make snatches look so easy, but years of training went into perfecting that technique and learning how to quickly send heavy loads overhead. 

The barbell snatch is arguably one of the most technical weightlifting moves in existence, surpassing even the power clean, push jerk, and barbell thruster in complexity and difficulty.

Anyone can learn to perform barbell snatches, but everyone must be willing to commit to hours, days, weeks, and even years of practice. Getting good at snatches is no easy task, but it’s worth it, as evidenced by the benefits below.

Benefits

Barbell snatches have many benefits for your overall fitness.

Full-Body Strength

Mastering the barbell snatch pays off. Not only will you be able to send weight flying above your head and catch it with ease, but the movement also transfers to other lifts. When you start snatching, pay attention to your squats, deadlifts, and shoulder presses. You may find your numbers going up.

Motor Control and Coordination

Barbell snatches will teach you to stay in tune with your body and open your mind up to muscles you didn’t even know you had. You’ll learn to execute perfect timing, engage just the right muscles with just the right amount of force, and master receiving positions to safely catch the barbell.

Power and Explosiveness

These two characteristics don’t always come to mind when you think about “getting fit.” However, power and explosiveness play an important role in overall fitness. When you develop power and explosiveness, you’ll notice that you can jump higher, run faster, and perform most sports with improved athleticism. 

Core Stabilization

Core strength and stabilization are critical to safe snatches. If you lack the ability to stabilize or engage your core, you can hurt your back while performing barbell snatches (or doing anything, really). That said, practicing snatches themselves with very light weight, such as with an empty barbell, can teach you to stabilize your core while simultaneously teaching you the snatch technique.

Mobility

Hip and shoulder mobility is a must. To perform barbell snatches with good technique, you’ll need to be able to get into a wide-grip deadlift stance, as well as lock your elbows and shoulders out overhead. Practicing snatches can help you attain these positions, and they’ll eventually come with ease.

Step-By-Step Instructions

To get ready for barbell snatches, you’ll need a barbell, bumper plates, and barbell clips. You need bumper plates because the bar should rest at shin height when it’s on the ground, and if you need lighter weights, you can’t accomplish this without bumper plates. For instance, a 10-pound bumper plate has the same diameter as a 45-pound bumper plate; it’s just thinner.

Your starting position should look a lot like a deadlift, but with a substantially wider grip. Bend down so that you can get a full grip on the bar, but keep your chest high and eyes forward. Don’t look at the ground or round your spine. The barbell should hover over your shoelaces and lightly graze your shins. Tighten your core and take a deep breath.

  1. The first pull is essentially a deadlift with extra power from your hips. Using the strength in your glutes and hamstrings, stand up with the barbell and thrust your hips forward. Squeeze your glutes hard, but don’t bounce the barbell off of your hips. The bar should stay close to your body, grazing or nearly grazing your hips as it moves upward.
  2. The second pull can be compared to a barbell shrug or an explosive upright row for the traps. With your hips still fully extended, continue to drive the barbell upward by shrugging your shoulders up to your ears. You may also come onto your toes at this point.
  3. To send the barbell above your head, pull your elbows up high (imagine pulling them to ear-level) and quickly flip them over so that your palms face forward. Lock out at your shoulders and elbows. At this point, it’s important to prevent the weight from continuing to move backward. If you don’t stop the weight by locking out your shoulders, the bar will continue its path, potentially injuring you or pulling you down with the weight.
  4. Catch the barbell in a power stance (knees slightly bent, like a quarter-squat) or an overhead squat, whichever is more comfortable for you. Make sure your elbows and shoulders are stacked and locked out. With your core tight, step your feet to a natural standing position. Now the rep is complete.
  5. Finally, you can bring the barbell back to the ground. Do so with control. Don’t just drop the barbell from above your head. First, bring the bar back to hip level. From there, set it down as if you are completing a deadlift. You can go back in for another rep after resetting your start position, or take a rest.

Common Mistakes

With an advanced move like the barbell snatch, it's important to be cognizant of potential mistakes you might make.

Pulling Too Early 

Many people feel an urge to “drop under” the bar too quickly, which results in an early pull. This isn’t necessarily a dangerous mistake, but it can certainly hinder your process. If you pull the barbell upward too early, you won’t utilize maximum power from your hips, and you’ll find yourself stuck at a certain weight.

Lack of Full Hip Extension

This mistake is also about utilizing maximum power from your hips. A large part of snatch success comes from momentum—momentum that you won’t garner if you don’t extend your hips all the way. To fully extend, think about squeezing your glutes as hard as you can as the barbell passes your thighs.

Faulty Bar Path

Newer athletes tend to swing the bar out far in front of their bodies. Not only does this set you up for potential injuries, but it makes the exercise extremely inefficient—when you swing the bar out wide, you make yourself do a lot more work. Keep the barbell close to your body for the duration of the lift. Many coaches will even tell athletes to lightly graze the barbell against their legs and hips on the way up.

Incorrect Setup

A poor setup means poor execution, and this is true for any lift. If your setup is faulty, you probably won’t time the pulls correctly and you likely won’t keep the bar close enough to your body, potentially setting yourself up for a missed lift. 

Poor Timing

Timing is one of the most difficult aspects of the barbell snatch. Without proper timing, the exercise becomes inefficient and potentially dangerous. To master the timing on snatches, practice a few of the snatch variations below.

Modifications and Variations

Olympic lifts are extremely scalable, thanks largely in part to their complexity. You can break the barbell snatch down into various parts in order to practice and perfect any problem areas. 

PVC Snatches

Most lifting coaches have new athletes perform snatches with a PVC pipe, so they can get the feel of the exercise without using weight as a crutch. Even an empty barbell can disguise technique faults, so using a near-weightless piece of plastic can help nip bad form in the bud.

Muscle Snatch

A muscle snatch essentially is a snatch without utilizing power from your hips. You also don’t “drop under” the bar during a muscle snatch, as it’s performed without any foot movement. This snatch variation can help people who struggle with upper back and shoulder strength.


This video
can help you learn to do a muscle snatch.

Pause Snatch

Pause snatches force weightlifters to segment the movement and build strength in problem areas. You can add a pause at any point during a barbell snatch, but most commonly, athletes add pauses at the top of any of the three pulls. For example, you might pause at the end of the first pull if you struggle with hip extension and explosiveness. Generally, the higher up the pause, the less weight you’ll be able to use.

Here’s a helpful video demonstrating a pause snatch.

Tall Snatch

This accessory or primer movement helps you develop speed and improve your mechanics during the “third pull” and “turnover” portion of the barbell snatch. To perform a tall snatch, start with your hips already fully extended. The point is to practice the portion of the snatch that involves flipping your elbows to send the weight overhead. 

Watch this video to learn how to do a tall snatch.

Snatch-Grip Deadlift

The snatch-grip deadlift can help you improve the very first portion of the barbell snatch: getting it off the ground. To perform a snatch-grip deadlift, simply set up as if you were about to perform snatches, and stand the weight up as if you’re doing a deadlift. It’s essentially a wide-grip deadlift. You can use more weight for this movement, since you won’t be sending it overhead, and because the point is to develop strength in your hamstrings, glutes, back, and grip.

Here’s a helpful video demonstrating a snatch grip deadlift.

Dumbbell Snatches

This single-arm variation of snatches is great for beginners who don’t feel comfortable with a barbell yet, as well as advanced athletes who want more of a cardiovascular stimulus. Lightweight dumbbell snatches are great for building endurance, while heavy dumbbell snatches can build strength throughout your posterior chain.

This helpful video demonstrates dumbbell snatches.

Kettlebell Snatches

Snatching with kettlebells is basically an advanced version of snatching with dumbbells. The form of the kettlebell makes it more difficult to time the lift properly and catch the weight.

Safety and Precautions

Because form and technique are so essential to the barbell snatch, it’s important to go into your weightlifting session with some precautions in mind.

Use a PVC for Practice 

While you can do snatches in any space with a barbell, the move is common in CrossFit gyms, and most CrossFit gyms utilize PVC pipes for practice. They do this because the weightlessness of the PVC pipe exposes faults in your technique and forces you to focus on form. What’s funny is that snatches will feel more difficult with a PVC pipe than they do with an empty barbell. Many new weightlifters are shocked at how hard it is to handle a PVC pipe.

Practice Under Coach Supervision

If you’re new to CrossFit, weightlifting, or exercise in general, it’s best to practice snatches under a coach’s supervision. Have a coach keep an eye on you until you feel comfortable enough with the movement that you can confidently say, “I can do this without hurting myself.” A coach can cue you to fix your form and prevent injuries when it’s time to perform snatches on your own.

Perfect the Technique First

All too often, weightlifters are in a hurry to add weight to the bar. With snatches, it’s a bad idea to add weight before perfecting the technique—this move is so complex and it requires a near-faultless form to avoid injuries. Of course, no one performs a perfect snatch every time (except for elite and Olympic weightlifters), but you should get to a point where you can consistently execute a safe snatch before packing pounds on the barbell.

Try it Out 

Incorporate this move and similar ones into one of these popular workouts.

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Article Sources
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  1. Huxel Bliven KC, Anderson BE. Core stability training for injury prevention. Sports Health. 2013;5(6):514-522. doi:10.1177/1941738113481200

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