The goal of the pulling phase of the snatch is to get the bar as high as possible while having the elbows stay above the wrists. Every major muscle group that can help to accomplish this goal should be used.

These words also apply to the snatch pull. The snatch pull is an exercise that mimics the pulling phase of the snatch. It enforces correct timing and strengthens the muscles that should be used during the pulling phase.

Because the snatch pull is a complex movement with many moving parts, I’ll break it down into several posts. Today we’ll focus on the part of the pull that happens directly after the bar and hips make contact.  In future posts, I will break down other phases in the lifts.


During a heavy snatch, the bar is pulled vertically until it makes contact with the hips (or upper thighs). This movement is powerful and can clearly be seen in every lift. Many lifters assume that the snatch pull ends when the hips hit or come in contact with the bar, and that the bar gets its height solely from the force of the legs, glutes and back. However, the upward pull is not yet complete.

After the hips come in contact with the bar and the lifter is extended, calves, traps, and shoulders should continue to engage in pulling the bar up. Only after all of these muscles have added to the bar’s upward momentum, the lifter can begin the transition into the catch (to be covered in a future post).

ilya pulling

Zygmunt Smalcerz and I look on as Ilya Ilyin Demonstrates the snatch pull at Waxman’s gym, 2013. Photos from Klokov’s Youtube.


The following video shows Vasiliy Polovnikov performing snatch pulls. When the weights are relatively light, we can clearly see the full use of every major muscle group that can pull the bar up, including the calves, traps, and shoulders. As the weight increases, these muscle groups don’t have as big of an effect on the bar’s height as when the weights are lighter. They are, however, still helping to pull the bar higher. The extra few inches this adds to the height of the bar makes a world of a difference when the lifts are near maximum.


As the hips make contact with the bar, the calves engage, then the traps and then the shoulders. This seems like a small detail, but if the sequence is done incorrectly, the pull will be significantly less effective. There is a small difference between how top lifters view the use of the shoulders in the pull. For the most part, this is a difference in semantics. Some lifters view the work of the shoulders as actively pulling the elbows (and bar) up, while others see the work of the shoulders as actively directing the elbows and bar to go in the right direction.

For an effective pull, the shoulders should be directly above the bar. To do so, keep the shoulders slightly internally rotated throughout the pull (point elbows sideways). after the hips After the traps have engaged, the elbows should be pulled up. The direction in which the elbows point is the direction the bar will be pulled. The final position of the snatch pull is the highest that the bar can be pulled, with the elbows remaining above the bar.

For years, my snatch pull ended with a big smash of the hips against the bar, giving the bar upward momentum.  As the bar went up, I would sneak under it. This allowed me to lift respectable weights. When I decided to fix my pull (using the right muscles), my timing was off, and the traps and shoulders were weak. It took time for me to build the needed muscles, but when I did, the lifts felt better, I had more control of the bar, and more height to work with. I had a better understanding of the muscles that were being used and what muscles needed to get stronger in order to lift more. My snatch increased. 

A word of advice: When practicing the snatch pull with lighter weight, make it smooth.  The acceleration should be uniform throughout the pull. The hip contact should not accelerate the bar faster than other phases. If it does, the bar will go up so fast that there won’t be a need to use the traps and shoulders, because of which the traps and shoulders won’t develop. 

A good exercise to learn the timing and strengthen the smaller pulling muscles was introduced by Dmitry Klokov, called “Trapi.”


Trapi should be performed with 40-60% of the snatch for 4-6 sets of 4-6 reps.

  1. The setup:
              – Stand straight up with the bar in hand using straps, with a snatch grip.
              – Shoulders should be slightly internally rotated and relaxed.
              – Keep the legs straight at all times.
  2. Bend at the hip, keeping the bar pressed into the hip using the lats.
  3. Thrust up with the hips, pushing up with the calves.
  4. Pull the shoulders to the ears
  5. Pull the elbows up as high as possible.
  6. Lower the bar back to the hip. Try to make a smooth transition from one rep to the next.

By not using the calves, traps and shoulders during the snatch pull, you are limiting the force you put into the pull. In the next few weeks I will cover what happens after this full pull, and what determines the speed under the bar. Tune in next week!

Yasha Kahn
Weightlifter, coach and now: blogger. I've traveled around the world sharing my weightlifting knowledge and experiences. I look forward to the next adventure.
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