Learning the Snatch for CrossFit

I am not a weightlifting coach walking you through how to snatch. I will leave that to the professionals. What I want to share is a 2-year journey where I became more comfortable with snatch technique as a CrossFit athlete, whether it be heavy single snatches or cycling them together in workouts. The beginning was not so easy. I moved poorly and did not have much kinesthetic awareness, so let’s start there. Remember, the story is over the course of 2 years from December 2013 to December 2015.

It started in December 2013

I was attending classes at CrossFit Love in Philly much more consistently. CrossFit Love was a small gym that could not have had more than fifty members. It had been around longer than most CrossFit gyms, though. As a result, they had an elite group of competitors who trained for Regionals every year. When people compete at a level that high their movement is often remarkable.

I went in that day in December for the 6PM class and the strength was the snatch. The elite members were finishing up their snatch workout, and I was about to start mine. Before starting, I watched these elite competitors swiftly pick up the weighted barbell in the snatch grip, gracefully pull, and then drive themselves under the bar landing in a beautiful overhead position that showcased mobility, coordination, and strength.

The image of how it should look was clear in my head as I began my session. I completed the movement, but it didn’t feel like what I had watched twenty minutes earlier. I looked nowhere near as elegant as the elite athletes nor was I doing significant weight. I was extremely frustrated that day because I did not complete the movement as well as I wanted. I wanted to move better. I left the gym that day committed to practicing more. I longed to move as effortlessly as they did. I began practicing a lot with no weight. Just simply getting the movement pattern down. A lot of times I used just the barbell. I worked on pulling from the high hang and hang, and then from the floor.

Starting in 2014

At the start of 2014, a weightlifting coach was beginning an 8-week session at CrossFit Love, and I jumped at the chance to get this level of coaching. We met Wednesdays and Sundays and worked on snatch and clean & jerk variations. Below is a picture of me completing a 155lbs snatch on the last day of the class.

snatch 155

I don’t remember a ton from this 8-week session beyond just drilling movement patterns. I snatched way more often than I had ever done before. I also cut the ego and was comfortable moving really lightweight. Most of my snatch work in this time was between 75 and 115 pounds.

So far in my journey, I learned two things: 

  1. Use less weight than you think you should in order to perfect technique and get the movement pattern down. Don’t feel ashamed practicing with just the barbell.
  2. Be patient with your technique. I was extremely frustrated when my technique was not as good as some of the folks I watched. Arguably that frustration was good since it motivated me to get to where I am today; however, I believe I could have channeled it better.

snatch technique tips 1 and 2

From February to June I continued to practice the snatch at lower weights being in no rush to max out. At this point, I was moving 135 comfortably and I just kept working that.

Back to Boston

In July, I moved back to Boston and was waiting to join a gym full time. Here, brings me to another lesson I learned: don’t be afraid to practice alone!

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I found a gym on Cape Cod that I attended throughout July. They had daily open gym that I took advantage of. Here, I got really excited about practicing the snatch. I was on my own here with no coach and partner. It built discipline that I didn’t realize I had.

In August I found a new gym called CrossFit Southie. CrossFit Southie is a big gym with hundreds of members. They offer weightlifting classes twice a week that I jumped at the chance of participating in. In early August, I remember snatching 165. It was the most I had ever done and my technique was better. At this point, I had the movement pattern down and was strong in certain areas such as landing in the overhead squat and driving myself under the bar after the third pull.

I did not yet have an understanding on all the nuances that I would later start to learn. Things like:

  1. Stay over the bar on the first and second pulls
  2. Load the hamstrings
  3. Weight transfers in the feet

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These things were foreign and I did know how they felt yet.

Next thing I remember was a few months later. It was in November 2014. I hadn’t hit any snatch PRs but I was snatching more often and thought I could easily handle going up to 175 for 6 singles. Below is the note I wrote to myself in my journal that day after it happened.

I repped 155 for doubles no problem…then the person with me went up to 175 for the singles. A weight I have never done before but thought I could handle the 6 reps.. I got the first one…but everything fell apart after that. I tried it again when someone next to me was going and it totally threw me off. Then I tried it again and the coach came over and ripped on my starting position. I was totally thrown off. I went back down to 155 for a few sets and then finished at 165 but damn was that super intimidating and just a really uncomfortable feeling… it was helpful to get a reality check that I am much further from hitting 205 lbs than I thought which is completely okay… I just want to overcome this so I can never be intimidated for a lift like that again…this sucked tonight but was only a setback..it was a needed setback…a reality check that I can’t be jumping up in weight that does not feel comfortable but I also need to be tough and strong when I push myself on a heavy weight… I will see you again 175…for now peace.

It was an ordinary night that turned into one with a lot of crazy emotions. I was confident at first that I would be able to complete 6 heavy singles at 175. I couldn’t have been more wrong. On the platform, I was scared lifting that weight. Fear overtook everything I learned about the snatch over the last year.

Here I learned: trust your percentages and don’t overshoot them too early!

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All of 2015

After this happened, I went back to the basics with practice, practice, and practice. I got very comfortable in every part of the snatch movement. Below is an overview of PRs and what helped me hit it:

  1. February 2015 – I snatched 185 pounds. In the weeks leading up to this, I worked heavy weight overhead to get comfortable in the catch. I completed overhead squats and snatch balances at 215 pounds so attempting 185 for a full snatch felt easier since I knew if I caught it I could control it.
  2. April 2015 – I snatched 190 in April.  I learned weight transfers. I had a realization here where for the first time I felt the weight transfer from the front balls of my feet in the first pull then go to the back balls of my feet for the second pull then back to the front balls for the third pull.
  3. June 2015 – I snatched 195. Here I got stronger and had fun with what I was doing!
  4. July 2015 – I snatched 200. This was a nice little surprise to be honest! I was not practicing enough over the summer.
  5. October 2015 – I snatched 205 because I worked on my first pull through halting snatch deadlifts and snatch pulls. This helped me get much stronger and confident approaching the bar.
  6. December 2015 – I snatched 210, 220, and 225 pounds. I started to feel staying over the bar and loading hamstrings much more. Below is the lift at 225.

This is my journey so far. The snatch is my favorite movement in CrossFit and I am working to improve mastery while also making sure I celebrate key milestones.