Monday, March 10, 2014

Snatches and Athletes

I love the snatch. It's one of the two lifts I compete in, and when performed correctly it's a beautiful combination of speed and power. But, when it's performed poorly it's an awkward clusterfuck of limbs and joints and barbells.

People (myself included) often debate about doing the snatch with general population clients; I personally never snatched with a client when I was a personal trainer, but that doesn't mean it is inappropriate. It just means that I never saw had a person with whom I said "they need to start snatching". Whether it was a coordination issue, a mobility/flexibility contraindication, or simply that it wouldn't benefit their goals I never saw a reason to teach it.

With athletes, however, I've done quite a bit of snatching. At Boston University a majority of the teams snatched, exclusively the hang-power variation. Many of the teams did the clean-grip or close-grip variation that has been popular in collegiate settings for quite a while. At my current job, too, nearly all of the athletes snatch. But do they really need to?

First off, I'm not a big fan of the clean-grip snatch. Most people, myself included, don't have the mobility to be able to keep a bar close enough to our bodies to have a good bar path, nevermind catching the bar overhead in the power position with a shoulder width grip. This variation promotes a poor bar path and catch position, and to be successful with it the athletes have to use a very low load. There are very few people who do this exercise well, more often than not they are elite level weightlifters. Call me crazy, but I'm not a huge fan of exercises that inherently promote poor form and require an obnoxiously low load.

Now, should athletes be doing conventional hang power snatches? Truthfully, I'm uncertain. It's a fantastic exercise where the barbell has to be moved at a high speed requiring a ton of power. However, this is all sacrificed for the sake of technique. If an athlete has poor snatch technique they will leak power all over the place and their weights be consistently be limited. They could start trying to compensate for poor bar paths with awkward catches and put themselves at risk for injury.

Not that the clean is an easy exercise, but it's certainly much less complicated than the snatch. The mobility requirements are also significantly less which means more athletes can do it and with less time spent on correcting all the contraindications preventing them from doing it in the first place. This means that you can get athletes training earlier, with less time spent on technique, with a training load that will induce more changes.

And yes, I'm aware that you can move a lighter weight faster but I'd still rather have a freshman in college who can hang clean 225 pounds rather than one who can awkwardly hang snatch 95.

I'm in no way suggesting that the snatch is a bad exercise or that athletes don't need to perform it; there are oodles of team sport athletes out there snatching big weights with fantastic technique. But it's not a one-sized-fits-all exercise (none of them really are). When you're deciding whether or not to include this in your athletes programming, please consider if you are a good enough coach to make it effective and if your athletes are good enough to be able to benefit from it.

Thanks for reading. Have a great day and go lift some heavy shit!

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