Utilizing the SNATCH as an Effective Tool in the Coach’s Toolbox

Leo Totten, MS

Totten Training Systems, LLC

USAW Level 5

We all have been inundated with information on how beneficial the Olympic lifts can be as part of the strength coach’s repertoire – an effective tool in the toolbox.  Many of the physical attributes that athletes need are enhanced by doing the Olympic lifts properly:

  • Ability to exert forces as well as to absorb forces
  • Maximum force production as quickly as possible (explosive power)
  • Total body movement / Multi-joint movement mimicking sport movement
  • Closed kinetic chain
  • Triple joint extension
  • Functional core stability

However, many coaches use the Clean as the sole Olympic lift and forget the benefits of getting some Snatch training into their programs as well.

What is the Snatch and what does it accomplish?  The pull pattern is basically the same as the Clean, but the difference is where the “catch” or “receiving position” occurs – overhead instead of on the chest.

Because of the pull similarity to the Clean, teaching the Snatch is relatively simple.  In spite of this, some coaches think the Snatch is too difficult to teach and/or not worth the effort.  A good coach is a good teacher.

Like the Clean, the Snatch has two major components to the lift, the “pull” and the “catch”.  The pull works all of the major muscle groups and utilizes the triple extension producing the desired explosive power so crucial to athletic performance.  

Thinking back to old exercise science classes and the force/velocity curve, different components of strength training affect moving that curve in a positive direction.  Because Snatches will need to use lighter weight and move that weight more total distance, they would be training more in the “speed-strength” category as opposed to “power” or “strength-speed”.  Documented studies have shown Hang Power Snatches to exude higher velocities than Hang Power Cleans.  By the same token, Snatch Pulls have higher velocities generally than Clean Pulls.  In a nutshell, if you train fast, you’ll be fast!

An additional benefit is that a wider grip is used for the Snatch as opposed to the Clean, thus opening up the chest more and allowing for more leg work and less back.

Some coaches are afraid of the overhead component of the Snatch.  But, are overhead movements, in general, OK to be used by the coach?  Obviously, screening for risk factors of all athletes ahead of time is smart to head off any problems or if a particular athlete is predisposed to shoulder issues, then caution must be taken.  But, if safe and progressive training protocol is utilized, then the Snatch or another overhead movement can be effective and useful.  With proper technique, proper progressions and proper loading, the athlete has an additional resource for core strength, scapular and shoulder strength and stability, as well as scapulothoracic mobility.  The “catch” or “receiving position” can provide that additional benefit of core and shoulder stability.

Let’s be clear, though, that we are talking about Snatches to enhance athletic performance.  Most coaches are not using Snatches to create a one rep max to prepare for a weightlifting competition (although we can help with that too! )  Athletes can use variations or derivatives of the Snatch to accomplish their goals.

A weightlifter in competition has to perform a one rep max on the platform from the floor.  A majority of the time, they use a “Squat” Snatch as opposed to a “Power” Snatch. That simply means they only have to pull it as high as they need to get under and stabilize in the full squat position.  A Power Snatch needs a higher pull to “catch” it above parallel.

However, any other athlete besides the weightlifter performing the Snatch can do any number of variations of the lift.  Different goals, right?  They can reap benefits of proper Snatches by either doing a power or squat.  Both need that explosive power in the pull, but more flexibility is needed for the athlete to hit the bottom, squat position.  Perhaps more weight can be used in the Squat Snatch, but only if the technique and flexibility allow it.

Flexibility might be another inhibiting factor for a proper pull position from the floor.  If this is the case, the athlete can still attain the explosive component of the lift by doing a Hang Snatch from varying positions.  Many athletes will do Snatches off blocks instead of from the hang, still accomplishing the goal.

If the pull is the weak component of the lift for the athlete, a heavier load can be used for just the pull itself rather than finishing in the overhead position.  Any variety of start positions (floor, hang or blocks) can be used.  Keep in mind when adding load, though, the proper technique AND speed of movement must be emphasized.  Other slower, strength movements like snatch grip Deadlifts or snatch grip RDLs can be used where speed is not a factor, just proper technique.


The overhead position has to be strengthened as well.  The Overhead Squat is one of the best exercises to improve the Snatch and is also a great exercise in and of itself.   This is a great exercise to work shoulder and core stability, balance, flexibility and, of course, it increases confidence in the receiving position in the Snatch.  Other overhead strength builders for the Snatch can be included in the program as well – Snatch Balance, snatch grip Push Press and Push Jerk.

Bo Sandoval, outstanding strength coach at University of Michigan, had this to say about including Snatches in his toolbox of exercises for his athletes:

“I implement the Snatch as a means to develop ground based explosive power systemically through coordinated bouts of concentric and eccentric actions.  This lift, when executed properly, takes fractions of a second, taxes the ATP/CP energy system and requires varying degrees of athletic positioning while demanding and promoting mobility, stability, and speed throughout.  Currently, I use the Snatch and/or variations with Track&Field, Cross Country and Lacrosse.  I have used this movement with, but not limited to, Football players, Basketball players, Swimmers, Gymnasts, Weightlifters (of course!), Shooters, Tri-Athletes, Wrestlers, Cyclists and Bobsledders.”


So, ask yourself:

  • Do the exercises you choose accomplish what you want them to accomplish?
  • Do the exercises you choose fit with the clientele that you are working with?
  • Are the exercises you choose safe and effective for the athletes you are working with?

Can the Snatch be one of those exercises that fit those criteria?  With proper coaching and if done for all the right reasons, the Snatch can be a very effective tool in the coach’s toolbox!

For more information on performing Power Snatches correctly, check out a one hour DVD entitled, “Power Snatch:  Doing it Right”, available in our online store.


Leo Totten, MS

Head Coach, Totten Training Systems

Head Coach, East Coast Gold WL Team


One of my favorite things to do first thing in the morning is to tune in to Mike and Mike on ESPN.  I like to catch up on the latest scores and the back and forth banter of two very cool sports talk show hosts.  Mike and Mike often bring on special guests who offer their expert opinions on the topic of the day.

Herm Edwards, an outstanding football coach and now expert analyst, was brought in to discuss the professionalism (or lack thereof) of a particular pro athlete.  His perspective was very enlightening and his point was how he breaks down athletes into two basic categories – those who are “interested” and those who are “committed”.

As a coach, how many times have you come across athletes who talk a big game and have big plans on doing this or achieving that?  But when push comes to shove are they just “interested” in attaining those goals or are they really “committed” to doing all that it takes to actually make it happen?  Are they willing to put in the long hours and discipline to persevere through the highs and lows that it will inevitably take to get to the top?  Are they willing to do the things off the platform and away from the coach’s eye that are needed to continue their progress?

Get to know your athletes.  Dig in their psyche.  Find out what makes them tick.  Don’t assume that each person is the same with the same aspirations or same motivations.  Do what needs to be done to help them maximize their performance for what “they” want and need, not necessarily what “you” want or think they want.  

Don’t get me wrong.  As a coach, you absolutely treat the athletes as if they are as committed as you are and as you know they need to be to reach their true potential.  You always push them to do the things they need to do to succeed.   You always try to get them to evolve from someone who is just “interested” into that “committed” athlete doing what they need to do.

However, don’t beat yourself up or get frustrated if your athlete doesn’t “get it”.  You can only do so much and the athlete himself or herself has to get it into their heads that all the little things that need to be done when you aren’t around can only be done if they are truly “committed”.  Keep pushing but understand that all athletes are different and have different motivations.

Reminds me of the great “bacon and eggs” analogy – the chicken is “interested” but the pig is “committed”!


Totten Training Systems announces the latest course in the certification series.

Coaches Education and Lifting Certification (CELC)

Everyone knows how important a positive, efficient weight room is in the production of top level athletes and teams. Give your teaching and coaching in the weight room a better direction!

Learn more about the CELC and our other offerings on the courses page.


For those who know me well, you will know that I am a huge Green Bay Packer fan and have been one since way back in the day when Vince Lombardi was coach and Jim Taylor was my first real football hero.  Recently, a college buddy of mine (who just happens to be a huge Packer fan as well) emailed me an article by Dan Oswald (CEO of BLR) in his “Oswald Letter”.   The article really summarized one of the major reasons Lombardi is one of my all-time favorite coaches.

The following story was chronicled in the article.  Going into the coaching clinic given by Coach Lombardi, another great coach was at the clinic thinking he knew a lot about football (John Madden).

He was astounded by what occurred during that clinic.  In his own words, “I went in there cocky thinking I knew everything there was to know about football, and he spent eight hours talking about one play – the power sweep.  He talked for four hours, took a break, and came back and talked four more.  I realized then that I actually knew nothing about football.”

Here are the major concepts to be taken from this clinic by Vince Lombardi:

  • Attention to Detail:  Lombardi spent 8 hours just going over one single play.  It is often the little things that make a big difference.  As he once told his players, “Gentlemen, we will chase perfection and we will chase it relentlessly, knowing all the while we can never attain it.  But, along the way, we shall catch excellence”.
  • Mastery of the Subject:  As a teacher/coach/leader of athletes, your knowledge inspires those around you and makes success possible.  As Lombardi says, “Success demands singleness of purpose”.
  • Clear Understanding of Each Person’s Role in Success In order to work together as a “team”, the coach has to clearly convey what each person’s role is as part of the whole.  Lombardi stated, “The achievements of an organization are the results of the combined effort of each individual”.
  • The Importance of Teaching Good coaches have to be good teachers.  Even as a manager, you must be a good teacher.  You can’t expect your people to properly execute movements they don’t understand.  As Lombardi said, “You cannot coach them what they have not been taught”.

Think about these concepts and how they apply to your situation as coach/teacher/leader.  Are you on the path of consistent, quality coaching?  There are a lot of so-called “experts” out there.  Seek out the highly qualified, highly respected coaches and teachers who they themselves are constantly learning.  The primary lesson to be learned is – be humble, be a life-long learner.  There is SO much information out there.  Keep learning and never be satisfied that you know it all!  For me, the lessons taught in this one session are great lessons to be learned.  In fact, I try diligently to use these concepts in the way I teach and coach and the way I manage my team (East Coast Gold).  It has proven to be a successful game plan!

MENTAL TRAINING – Making the Difference!

mentalcdsFred Hatfield, renowned lifter, coach and educator, once told me, “Training is all about being either good, better or best”.  How true!  If you are really aiming to be the very best, then you must train every aspect of athletic development.  Everyone can train the physical part, but not everyone takes the time or effort to train the MENTAL part!  It truly can make the difference whether you reach your goals!

Mental training, which includes relaxation, visualization, goal setting and positive reinforcement, should be as important a part of the lifter’s training as any of the physical training.  Unfortunately, it is often ignored altogether.  The great athletes know that ALL aspects of training make the most complete and efficient lifters.  If you ignore one or more of these important aspects of training, you will never reach your full potential!

I have put together a two disc set to help you on your way to developing skills to get that mental edge.  They are designed specifically for the weightlifter in mind.  One disc is for pre-workout or on non-workout days and the second disc is for immediately after doing either the snatch or the clean and jerk.

 Disc One:      Pre-Workout

 Use this disc before the entire training session starts or between training sessions.  It begins with relaxation to make you more receptive to the information being processed and then visualization starts.  Remember, you can either visualize from the “outside looking in”, like viewing yourself in a video, or from the “inside looking out”; with this technique, you look outside your body to perceive your surroundings, your focal point, the sights and sounds and smells, etc.  Either way is fine.  For this session, position yourself in a comfortable, reclining or seated position.  You can even perform the session before you go to bed.

 Disc Two:       Post-Workout

This disc is used between lifts.  You would actually stop after one lift workout (either snatch or clean and jerk), and take 15 minutes or so to listen to the disc, relax and do the mental and kinesthetic imagery.  While performing this visualization exercise, you can either be seated or reclining, but you will not be able to get as comfortable as the other disc since you will be in or near the gym.  Also, touching the bar, chalk, etc. tends to enhance the effect of the training.   After the session is complete, then finish your workout.  By performing the exercise after the lift, you reinforce what you have just done.  Part 1 (the first 15 minutes into the disc) is for the snatch and Part 2 (about 15 minutes into the disc) is for the clean & jerk.

To get the Mental Training CDs, check out our store.



“Setup” to Fix That Problem JERK!

Adam_JerkThere is nothing more frustrating than missing the jerk after a great clean!  And, think about it, to hit a good split jerk, you really only have to push the bar about 6-8” or just above the hairline.  You should never miss a jerk! (Well, in theory anyway!)

The biggest problem I have seen is an improper setup.  Without a strong, tight core, the bar “sags” on the dip, driving the bar forward and enough out of position to cause the miss.  In order for the bar to be driven overhead properly, ending up “right behind the ears”, the setup has to be right.

Here is what I look for in the perfect setup:

  • Take a big breath in
  • As the inhalation takes place, “lift and spread” the chest setting a wider “table” for the bar to set on (the bar sitting on the clavicles and shoulders)
    • Be careful not to lift the shoulder so the bar loses contact with the clavicles
  • The elbows will spread out a bit and even drop down just a tad
    • Many lifters try to lift the elbows without spreading them but when they “dip”, the elbows tend to drop, particularly with heavier weights
  • Relax the hands but keep the core tight

With this proper setup, now the body is in the correct position for the dip to be straight down with the elbows staying in that same neutral position as at the start.  Think of the body as the “fulcrum” allowing the bar to get that nice bend and rebound.  The bar has an elastic quality to it and this allows the bar to work for you.

Bottom line is that a proper jerk is all about center of gravity.  By getting the body in the proper setup position, the center of gravity of the bar stays as close to the lifters center of gravity as possible.  Then, on the dip and drive, the lifter is able to utilize his/her powerful legs and get the most out of the drive.  Straight down, straight up, perfect split position.

Never want to miss a jerk again??  Set it up right and you are on the right track!

Be the Best Coach That You Can Be

Leo_TeachingThere are a ton of great coaches out there.  Over the years, I have been so fortunate to have learned so much from so many and I will continue to learn!  It is crucial in any coach’s development to be a “lifelong learner”. As I always say, “When you stop learning, you have stopped living.”

That being said, some of my personal “mentors” were highlighted in an awesome book entitled “Beyond Winning”, by Gary Walton.  The six coaches studied included two of my all-time favorites, Vince Lombardi and John Wooden.  Man, if you can’t learn from those two of the best coaches ever, then who can you learn from?

Reading through the book (for about the 4th time!), the philosophies and values of all the coaches could be summarized by listing the 10 characteristics common to them all:

  1. Committed to individual integrity, values and personal growth
  2. Profound thinkers who see themselves as educators, not just coaches
  3. Well-educated (formally and informally) in a liberal arts tradition
  4. Long time commitment to their athletes and their institution
  5. Willing to experiment with new ideas
  6. Value the coach-athlete relationship, winning aside
  7. Understand and appreciate human nature
  8. Love their sport and work
  9. Honest and strong in character
  10. Human and therefore imperfect

Everyone wants to be regarded as a top notch, quality coach right away.  Everyone wants immediate results.  Improvement and winning has to happen NOW.  But it is a process.  And this process takes time.

As you examine the list of values and philosophies and compare them to how you are as a coach, ask yourself how you match up with the best coaches of all time.


“Pursue Perfection, Achieve Excellence”

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