One important concept that I didn’t grasp when I first started lifting is that we have a lot of muscles in our bodies, and that every one of them should be used to lift the bar, not just the muscles of the legs, glutes and lower back. When I watched the biggest lifters, I could clearly see their leg drive, their back opening up, and the big hit. This big hit would give the bar upward momentum, and the lifter would go down into the catch position. I thought that the loudest and most noticeable part of a good pull was the hit. All the cool kids were doing it, so I mimicked the movements that were visible to me.
When I started lifting with Vasiliy Polovnikov, he would tell me to keep pulling, pull longer, on nearly every lift that I did. I didn’t understand what that meant for the longest time. I thought he meant I should wait longer before going under the bar, to let the bar go higher before I start to get down into the catch.
That’s kind of what he meant, but specifically that I was using my legs, glutes and back and hitting the bar, but I wasn’t using my upper body to keep pulling up. I wasn’t using my traps or shoulders, both of which are major muscle groups.
I could lift a 150kg bar to the right height to snatch it and it would take 100% of my leg power, 100% of my glutes, and 100% of my calves and lower back to get it there. Because I was using those muscle groups to their max capacity, none of them were able to put any more work in, so I wasn’t able to lift any more weight. But if I split the work between those big muscles AND the shoulders and traps, then all of the muscle groups would have to put in only, let’s say, 85% of their capacity to complete a 150kg snatch pull. Then, since each muscle group is only working at 85%, I’d be able to increase the max weight that I could lift.
Every part of the lift is important, not just the loud and highly visible parts.
Each muscle should be putting in as much work as needed, not more, and not less. If a muscle group is underused, you won’t be able to lift as many kgs, and that group will develop less. If a muscle group is overused, then the subsequent muscle group doesn’t get a chance to work, and doesn’t develop. As an example:
Hitting too hard will make you pull less with your upper body, since the bar is flying up anyway. When this happens, the lower body gets stronger but the upper body doesn’t develop and the all around strength doesn’t grow to its full potential.
Muscle snatches are an excellent series of exercises to force good use of all the muscles needed for a snatch.
By muscle snatch I specifically mean the Russian term “pratazhka,” which means “pull through.” It may be different from the muscle snatches your grandma used to make. This muscle snatch is a snatch without hip contact. By removing the hip contact, the bar is not flung up and the lifter is forced to use all other parts of the body for the lift. There are 2 basic variations of the muscle snatch – muscle snatch to standing, and muscle snatch to parallel. And there are a few variations within each of those too. For now, I want to talk about the most used: the muscle snatch to parallel. By parallel, i don’t necessarily mean parallel – but a squat, in which the legs are still turned on.
This exercise is typically used as a warmup for the snatch, and usually, but not always without moving feet and without a hook grip.
Not moving your feet will make you have constant pressure on the floor and constant pressure on the bar. You’ll be able to feel whether you are acting on it at all times.
The hook grip helps you hold on tight. When using a hook grip, you can pull on the bar with a jerking motion and still be able to hold on. If you’re not using a hook grip, you won’t be able to accelerate the bar in a jerking motion at any time or the bar will slip out of the hand. Because of this, you won’t be able to overuse any group of muscles that would cause other muscles to be underused.
How to muscle snatch to parallel:
Start in a snatch-start position but with your feet in the catch position and without a hook grip. Pull the bar vertically all the way up to nipple height without the bar touching your body at any moment. The shoulders should be touching the ears and the elbows must remain above the wrists at all times and should end up above the shoulders. Then pull the entire system of you and the bar to the catch position. Try to do this slowly at first with light weight. Go slow enough so that at every inch (including on the descent), you can feel which muscles are being used to pull yourself and the bar into the target position.
The muslce snatch is also a very good diagnostic tool – to see which part of the snatch is weak. When muscle snatching heavier weight, you should be able to feel which part of the pull is weakest.
- There should not be a moment in which you are not acting on the bar.
- The bar should never be moving fast.
Every major muscle group should be working at a specific point. Well-rounded lifters can typically muscle snatch about 70-75% of their snatch. Muscle snatches (this variety and others) are usually done before full snatches, as a warm-up, especially during the volume phase.
Muscle snatch to parallel: 2(3)40%, 1(3)50%,, 3(2)60%
Hang snatch + snatch: 2(2+1)65%, 2(2+1)70%, 4(2+1)75%
Clean pull: 3(4)65%, 1(4)80%, 5(4)90%
Seated press: 3(4)80%, 3(4)85%
Each weapon in the arsenal has a purpose and a specific strength or attribute that it builds. One may give you +1 might. Another may give you +2 agility and -1 accuracy. They can be used to build up the body and muscles needed to lift more.
The muscle snatch to parallel, without moving feet, with no hook grip gives a
+2 in ”continuous, steady pull on the bar”
+2 in ”activating all needed muscles”
There are many variations of the muscle snatch, and they should be used as needed.
Doing them from a hang, or from a deficit, or with a pause (I’ve never seen it) may benefit a specific part of the lift – or at the very least add some variety to the routine. Today I did muscle snatches with moving feet, without a hook grip, from deficit + overhead squats. By doing this exercise from deficit, I got an additional +1 to my leg strength, since the legs have to work longer, and from a lower position.
Next blog will be a short one.