How to do a barbell snatch as a weightlifting beginner

The barbell snatch is one of the most well-known weightlifting movements. Here’s a guide on how to do it, even if you’re a lifting newbie.

The phrase “olympic weightlifting” might seem a little scary, mostly because it implies that you should be lifting weights at an olympic level – a prospect which is, of course, intimidating. But actually, it’s not about competing at all.

It’s actually just a way to describe some of the lifting movements that weightlifters perform. And when you think about it, most sports or fitness activities are something that are also done at an olympic level – swimming, running and football to name a few.

Admittedly, some of the movements olympic weightlifters complete do look difficult, especially the barbell snatch. If you haven’t heard of the exercise, you might recognise it – it involves moving a barbell from the floor to an overhead position – and very quickly.

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It’s not just a movement olympians should be practising. If you’re even slightly interested in weightlifting, the barbell snatch is a great way to test and improve your strength, as it’s a full-body movement that involves a lot of technique.

“A snatch is characterised as taking the bar from the floor and overhead in one movement,” explains Danielle Ren’e Gaskell, a personal trainer and the co-owner of the CrossFit Tooting and CrossFit Streatham gyms. The movement starts in a position that’s similar to a deadlift and ends in a squat position with the barbell lifted over your head, like in an overhead squat. It might look like the upper-body is doing all of the work, but it’s actually a full-body movement that targets many areas of the body including the glutes and your hips.

But before you move on to them, it’s best to get a good grasp of the basics. 

How to do a barbell snatch

The barbell snatch is a technical movement that has various parts to it. Despite this, the barbell should move quickly from the floor to overhead, as this is how more experienced weightlifters create enough power to move heavy weights from the ground to overhead.

Combining the various technical elements is an important part of getting to this point though and practising each part of the snatch separately is a good way to perfect your form and improve at the moment.

Here’s how to do a barbell snatch step-by-step, according to Gaskell:

  1. Place a plate on each side of the barbell and rest it on the floor.
  2. Stand with your feet under the bar, shoulder-width apart.
  3. Hinge your hips and bend your legs slightly to reach your arms down and grab the barbell. They should be wider than your feet and placed so that if you stood with the barbell, it would hang just across your hips.
  4. Keeping your arms straight with your chest lifted, lift the bar off the floor past your knees and towards your hips, letting the bar brush your hips.
  5. When the bar reaches your hips, the movement should speed up. Quickly shrug your shoulders and bend your elbows so they are pointed towards the ceiling, moving the bar to chest height. Your heels might rise off the floor to support the weight.
  6. Drive your elbows out wide and extend your arms to push the barbell overhead as you bend your knees to lower into a squat. Your feet should jump as you lower so you land a little wider than when you started the movement.
  7. Brace at the bottom and keep your arms locked out overhead. Press through your feet to and stand up straight.
  8. Lower the bar to your chest and then to the floor. 

How to perfect the barbell snatch

“The snatch is a difficult movement technically so it requires a lot of consistency,” Gaskell says. “Weightlifting is a lot about what’s going on in your head as well as what’s going on physically and confidence is a big thing, which comes with practice.”

You can practise movements like overhead presses and overhead squats too in order to improve your barbell snatch. It’s also crucial to ensure your technique is correct with the barbell snatch for both safety and form – if the body is in the wrong place under the bar, it can throw off the movement.

For this reason, it could be a good idea to head to an olympic weightlifting or a CrossFit class, or reach out to a personal trainer, so they can help you with your form. 

How to modify the barbell snatch for beginners

If you’re new to snatching or weightlifting in general, start off by practising a barbell snatch with a PVC pipe (they have these in most gyms – ask a trainer if you’re not sure) rather than a barbell. This will allow you to learn the mechanics of the movement without any pressure of the weight.

  1. When you do start using a barbell and adding weight to it, make sure you gradually increase the weight in order to avoid injury and bad technical habits.
  2. You can also try snatching with a dumbbell or kettlebell, if the idea of using a barbell is still slightly intimidating to you.
  3. How to do a dumbbell/kettlebell snatch:
  4. With your feet shoulder width apart, place the weight in between your legs.
  5. Hinge your hips and bend down slightly to take the dumbbell in one hand, keeping your chest lifted.
  6. Lift the weight up through the midline of your body, keeping the weight close to your body.
  7. When the weight reaches your hips, shrug your shoulders and bend your elbows upwards to face the ceiling to bring the weight to chest height.
  8. From there, move onto your tiptoes and jump to powerfully move the weight overhead, extending the arm so it’s completely straight. Your knees should be bent slightly to stabilise your body but there’s no need to squat fully down.
  9. Repeat the movement on your other arm.

Images: Getty

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