Everything You Need to Know About the CrossFit Snatch


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Mastering the CrossFit snatch is not something you can do overnight. But anyone who’s serious about their fitness will do well to work on it regularly.

Snatches (and snatch variations) are a staple of CrossFit. They come up in many different WODs and are used to build strength, power, endurance, and even cardio sometimes.

Beginners should start light and really drill the fundamentals. It will feel difficult at first, but starts to feel natural after a few weeks of practice.

Here’s everything you need to know about the CrossFit snatch to learn proper technique and excel during workouts.

What’s a Snatch in CrossFit?

A snatch is a full-body explosive barbell exercise. The lifter takes the barbell from the ground to a locked out overhead position in one swift motion.

The snatch is not one of CrossFit’s 9 fundamental movements.

However, snatches and their variations are commonly found in pretty much every area of CrossFit: metabolic conditioning workout, standalone strength training workouts, hero workouts, and in competitive sessions at the CrossFit open and at the CrossFit games.

The regular snatch is performed with a loaded barbell. Snatch variations can be done with dumbbells, kettlebells, or even just a PVC pipe.

Snatches are one of two exercises performed in Olympic weightlifting. Along with the clean and jerk, athletes get 3 attempts to establish a one-repetition max of each lift. Their combined score is their Olympic ‘total.’

Benefits of the Snatch

The benefits of snatches include:

  • Better explosive power
  • Improved speed
  • Shoulder and upper body strength
  • Grip strength
  • Better upper and lower body mobility
  • Better overall coordination and balance
  • Quicker reflexes
  • Better understanding of posture and biomechanics

As you can see, the benefits of snatches in CrossFit are immense. One reason why is they are performed with a wider grip than pretty much any other barbell exercise, including cleans and deadlifts.

The wider grip delivers a different stimulus that helps develop back and upper body strength. It also means the bar has to travel further from ground to overhead, which strengthens your pulling power.

How to Perform a Snatch

Performing a CrossFit snatch is not easy. Regardless of your background in fitness, they are an advanced functional exercise that should be learned with light weights first.

Due to the extreme amount of balance, coordination and strength required, some coaches liken them to “doing gymnastics” with a barbell.

Here’s a breakdown of the three positions you’ll need to master: the start, pull, and catch/finish.

Start

  • Feet: Start with your feet shoulder-width apart.
  • Hand placement: Wide grip on the bar. Depending on arm length, your hands may be at, slightly before, or even slightly beyond the second knurling on a standard barbell.

*One way to figure out how wide to go is to pick an empty barbell up. Find a hand placement that places the bar in the crease of your hip when standing. 

  • Grip: Use a hook grip. As a beginner it might hurt, but fight through this or practice on a PVC pipe to help your thumbs get used to it. It’s necessary at heavier weights.
  • Body: Drop into the starting position for a snatch grip deadlift: weight in heels, shoulders slightly in front of the bar. Flat back, proud chest, and active shoulders.

Pull

To initiate the snatch pull:

  • Raise your hips and shoulders at the same time.
  • Once the bar clears your knees, extend your hips aggressively.
  • As the hips and knees extend, come up on your toes. At heavier weights, your feet will leave the ground.
  • Shoulders shrug, arms pull your body underneath the bar.

Catch/Finish

  • Catch the bar in the bottom of an overhead squat. 
    • Activate shoulders and locked out arms
    • Bar over the crown of the head
    • Bodyweight distributed and balanced through the heels.

To finish:

  • Drive through your heels, standing up to the top of an overhead squat.
  • After each rep, pull your body away from the bar and allow it to drop to a hang position or to the floor (if you’re using bumper plates).

Remember, it’s best to practice snatches in CrossFit with an empty barbell or PVC pipe first. 

It can also be helpful to use dummy weights to help practice from the correct starting position. 

If you don’t have those, start with the bar at mid-shin (where it would be with weights) for each rep instead of from the floor..

How to Do Each Type of Snatch In CrossFit

There are several variations of CrossFit snatches you’ll come across in standard programming. Here are breakdowns of each, as well as how to perform each exercise safely.

The Hang Snatch

The hang snatch is commonly used in metcons. It’s also used for auxiliary strength training to help improve your regular snatch.

  • Start with the barbell off the floor in the hang position. (The hang position in a snatch varies slightly based on your body type. For most people it’s between mid thigh, slightly above the knee, or right at the knee.)
  • Pull the bar aggressively and drop underneath. 
  • Catch in the bottom and drive up. Repeat.

Hang snatches emphasize faster pulls and speed getting under the bar. You have to make up for the momentum created pulling the bar off the floor with speed and power.

The Power Snatch

The power snatch is another popular CrossFit lift found in metcons and strength WODs.

Power snatches, like power cleans, are the same as the standard version of the Olympic lift minus one key detail: the depth of the catch.

  • Start as you would with a regular snatch, all the way through the start and pull.
  • Instead of catching a power snatch in a full squat, catch it in the “power” position, which is a quarter squat.

This may require you to pull the bar higher to get underneath it as you dial in the technique.

The Squat Snatch

The squat snatch and CrossFit snatch are interchangeable terms for most coaches.

  • Follow all the cues described in “How To Perform A Snatch.” The start, the pulls, and the catch/finish are all outlined above.

If you ever see “snatch” written on a CrossFit workout (especially on main site programming), it’s referring to the squat snatch.

The Muscle Snatch

The muscle snatch reduces the explosive hip component of a snatch. Instead, it relies on power generated by your upper body.

  • Follow all the same cues as a regular snatch.
  • After the shoulder shrug and arm pull, continue pulling the bar overhead. Don’t drop under it like you would normally.

Muscle snatches are especially effective in high-rep snatch workouts, such as Randy. (See “Popular Snatch Workouts” below.)

If you’re strong enough, muscle snatches save time as you don’t have to drop under each rep or leave the ground to generate force.

However, muscle snatches do fry your arms and upper body faster, though. So pace yourself if you’re using them in WODs.

The Dumbbell Snatch

Dumbbell power snatches are great metcon exercises and perfect for high-rep cardio strength training. They’re also good for addressing weaknesses or muscle imbalances if one side is stronger than the other.

To do a dumbbell snatch:

  • Start with the dumbbell between your feet in a shoulder-width stance. (The rest of the setup is the same—you’re just using one arm.)
  • Initiate the pull the same way you would with a barbell: hips and knees rise evenly, hips extend rapidly, pull the bell high and drop underneath.
  • Catch the dumbbell in the power position, then stand to lock it out.

In some workouts you’ll see alternating DB power snatches. This means you have to smoothly transition the weight from one hand to the next each time you do a rep.

Practice transferring the weight from above your head as it drops down to the floor. This takes some time to get good and is better learned with lighter dumbbells.

The Kettlebell Snatch

The one-arm kettlebell snatch is slightly more challenging than the dumbbell variation.

  • Follow all the same cues as the dumbbell snatch: set up between the feet, extend hips rapidly, and shrug and pull the bell high.
  • As the bell gets to about eye level, “punch” the bell out. The punch is crucial as it turns the bell in your hand so it can be caught with a straight wrist overhead. 

Again, lighter weights here will help you learn the technique without risking an injury when you’re first learning.

How to Improve Your Snatch

There’s so much going on during a CrossFit snatch. Breaking the movement down into separate pieces and drilling technique is the best way to improve. 

Use light weights or PVC pipe as a beginner and seek guidance from a coach or experienced friend if you’re brand new. And don’t worry; almost no one is good at snatches when they start. Initial frustration is very common.

Most experienced CrossFitters still look to improve their snatch technique years in.

Snatch Balance

The snatch balance improves the catch and standing portion of a CrossFit snatch.

  • Start with the bar on your back (like a back squat) but with your hands at a wide snatch grip position.
  • Dip underneath the bar and drive it overhead; simultaneously drop under the bar and catch it in the bottom of an overhead squat.
  • Stand to finish, then repeat.

Drop Snatch

Drop snatches are also commonly called snatch balances in CrossFit. But the two are slightly different from each other.

  • Start with the bar on your back (like a back squat) but with your hands at a wide snatch grip position.
  • Rapidly drop under the bar and punch your arms towards the ceiling at the same time. Let your feet come off the ground. Your goal is to lock the bar out and receive the barbell in the bottom of an overhead squat.

Basically, the main difference is drop snatches have no dip and drive. You simply drop under the bar.

Sotts Press

Sotts presses strengthen the shoulders and improve upper body flexibility. 

  • Start with an empty barbell in the bottom of a back squat position.
  • Place your hands in a snatch grip on the bar; find your bodyweight in the heels.
  • Press the bar overhead with a wide grip. Stay in the squat position the entire time. 
  • Do 5 to 15 reps while maintaining an upright torso and your balance.

If you’re having trouble holding the bar over the crown of your head or keeping your arms locked, add these to your routine.

Paused Overhead Squat

Paused overhead squats help you build endurance and find your balance at the bottom of each rep. 

  • Perform a light overhead squat.
  • At the bottom of the rep (when the crease of your hip is at parallel, meaning your thigh is parallel to the floor), pause for 1 to 3 seconds.
  • Drive up to a stand.

They’re a great drill for hitting heavier snatches. Often, a heavy snatch battle is lost because you lose balance in the bottom position.

Popular Snatch Workouts

Here are some common snatch workouts you’ll find in CrossFit. They are more advanced, so scale as necessary if you are a beginner.

1. Isabel

The Isabel WOD is one of the original CrossFit girls workouts. It’s about as straightforward as it gets:

For time:

30 Snatches, 135/95lb 

Isabel is a popular challenge workout. Both Mat Fraser and Rich Froning completed Isabel at 225lbs in under 7 minutes!

2. Randy

The Randy WOD is a hero workout that originally came out in 2008. 

For time:

75 power snatches, 75lbs

It honors the fallen Randy Simmons, a 51 year old LAPD and SWAT team officer.

3. Amanda

Amanda WOD is another classic CrossFit workout that incorporates the full squat snatch. It’s a burner.

For time:

9-7-5
Muscle ups
Squat snatches (135lb/95lbs)

If you can’t do muscle ups, sub pull-ups and dips or chest-to-bar pull-ups.

4. Regional Nate

The Regional Nate WOD was a competitive CrossFit event during the 2016 season.

10 rounds for time:

4 strict muscle ups
7 strict handstand pushups
12 kettlebell snatches (70/53lbs)

*20 minute time cap.

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About Julien

Hey! Thanks for being here. I’ve been active pretty much my whole life and I discovered Crossfit about 5 years ago. I want to help you improve your Crossfit performances by giving tips on specific movements, workouts and equipment. You have a question? Get in touch!

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