How to Do a Snatch

Medically Reviewed by Dany Paul Baby, MD on July 08, 2022
5 min read

The primary purpose of weightlifting is to build muscle and strength. Not many moves focus on explosive power. If you're looking to train muscles and build power, mastering the snatch is a great goal.

A snatch, or squat snatch, is a technical, advanced weightlifting movement. It’s a move popular with CrossFit and Olympic athletes.

Snatches use momentum to lift a barbell above your head in a fluid motion. It’s a dynamic movement requiring a solid core and controlled balance.

Snatches are unique because they use muscles all over the body. The muscles that work hardest during a snatch are the quadriceps, deltoids, trapezius, and glutes.

Quadriceps. The quadriceps muscles are at the front of your thigh. Quad muscles assist knee stability, flex your hips, and are involved with posture, balance, and gait. Quads keep the body stabilized and create the power needed to hoist the barbell.

Deltoids. Your deltoid muscles cover the tops of your shoulders. These skeletal muscles allow you to move your arms and insulate your shoulder joint. Your deltoids are vital in managing the barbell.

Trapezius. The trapezius muscle is a large, diamond-shaped muscle on your back. It starts at the base of the skull and extends across the shoulder blades and down toward the middle of your back. These muscles help you shrug your shoulders, move your arms, head, and neck, and stabilize your spine. 

Glutes. The gluteus muscles are the three muscles within your buttocks. These muscles mainly function to extend and rotate the thigh and hip. When you perform a snatch, the glutes are engaged almost the entire time.

Other muscles like the hamstrings, calves, and rectus abdominis also assist with stabilizing the body during this lift.

A snatch can be a dangerous lift if done incorrectly. Follow these steps to perform a snatch safely:

  1. Stand with your feet hip-width apart and the barbell on the ground in front of you.
  2. Grip the bar with your hands slightly wider than shoulder-width. Use a hook grip: thumbs wrapped around the bar and fingers wrapped over thumbs.
  3. Squat down with your shoulders slightly in front of the bar, keeping your core tight and back straight.
  4. Drive your legs into the ground as you pull up on the bar and begin to rise to stand.
  5. The barbell should be at your hip as you reach a standing position. At this point, continue lifting until you fully extend your lower body.
  6. Keep your arms relaxed as the force of the full extension drives the barbell upward.
  7. Quickly allow your feet to leave the ground, plant your feet about shoulder-width apart, and drop into an overhead squat: bend your knees until your thighs are parallel to the floor while your arms hold the barbell straight above your head. 
  8. Lock your arms overhead and stabilize the barbell.
  9. Rise back to standing.
  10. While learning the technique, aim for eight to ten sets of two to four reps with an unloaded bar. Once you have the technique down, try for four to six sets of five reps with light weight on the bar. For power, shorten the sets and reps, but increase the weight.

For best results, remember:

  • Keep your heels planted until the full lower body extension
  • Hips and shoulders should rise at the same rate
  • Power comes from the thighs and hips while the back and shoulders keep the barbell suspended

There are several adaptations of the snatch to accommodate varying fitness levels and allow focus on specific muscle groups:

  • Block snatch: Start with the barbell raised on blocks. This adaptation allows you to focus on technique and is a good option if you're injured or can't use a full range of motion.
  • Hang snatch: Start by holding the barbell in a standing position before squatting and performing the lift. This concentrates work on the lower body muscles and is another option if you have an injury preventing you from safely lifting the barbell from the floor. 
  • Deficit snatch: Stand on bumper plates — the weights used for barbells. The extra height extends your range of motion and works the quadriceps muscles.
  • Tall snatch: A tall snatch eliminates the initial squat. Instead, begin the move by standing and holding the barbell. Using your back and shoulders, thrust the barbell overhead and then sit into an overhead squat.
  • Power snatch: This adaptation is similar to a standard snatch, but the squat before the lift is not as deep. This trains the shoulder and back muscles and is easier on the knees.
  • Muscle snatch: A muscle snatch is slower and requires less explosive energy than a standard snatch because it doesn't include the squat at the end, just the overhead lift.
  • Dumbbell snatch: This snatch uses dumbbells instead of a barbell. It's good for beginners because it is less technical, and if one arm is injured or needs more work, you can adjust your reps accordingly.

For beginners, moves like kettlebell swings and jump squats are good training for a snatch. Both train the quadriceps and glutes, but kettlebell swings also train the deltoids, trapezius, and hips. 

Snatches train your body in different ways. Practicing and performing snatch exercises benefit you by:

  • Increasing your power. Proper execution of a snatch requires your body to exert massive power. The more you train these muscles, the more force these muscles will be capable of exerting.
  • Training control. To perform a snatch with proper form, you need to have total control of your body. Snatches increase coordination and balance.
  • Building muscle. Snatches build muscle all over your body. This not only makes you stronger, but more muscle increases your metabolism, supports your joints, and helps you manage blood sugar. 

Weightlifting competitions have two events: the clean and jerk and the snatch. If you are interested in competitive weightlifting, you need to be able to perform a snatch. 

Snatches are an advanced move. Because the snatch is a power move, it's easy to lose your balance and injure yourself. Be sure to use the correct amount of weight for your fitness level to avoid falling and getting hurt. 

Improperly performing a snatch can lead to injuries like pulled muscles and hyperextension of joints. Improper form includes a grip or foot stance that is too wide or too narrow, using the wrong grip, extending the body too early, or not extending the knees and hips together.