If a snatch starts from an incorrect position, it is doomed to be ineffective. To snatch effectively a lifter must start the snatch from the right position.

There is a checklist of rules that successful weightlifters follow in the setup for the snatch. Below are images illustrating the application of these rules. Each setup is a bit different because of lifters’ unique limb lengths, however, they all follow the same general principles.

Liao Hui and tatiana

Liao Hui and Tatiana Kashirina looking straight forward with tight, slightly arched backs. Images from All Things Gym’s Youtube.


  • The head looks directly forward or a bit above the horizon. This position keeps the upper back tight. Lifters should find an object in the distance, slightly above eye level, to focus on throughout the lift.  
  • The back is tight and slightly arched. At this stage, its main purpose is not to bend under the pressure of the pull. A loose back works as a shock absorber – absorbing the force generated by the legs. Keeping the back tight will allow the transfer of the force from the legs through the back to the shoulders, arms, and then the bar. Arching the back will tighten it and reduce the horizontal distance between the hips and shoulders, which will relieve some of the pressure from the lower back. To arch the back properly, focus on making the chest vertical. 
  • With a tight and arched back, the shoulders must be relatively relaxed, internally rotated, and slightly in front of the bar.
  • The arms should be straight, with elbows pointed slightly sideways. This will set the shoulders to stay over the bar throughout the pull. If the shoulders are over the bar, then the shoulders and traps will be able to pull the bar up. If the shoulders are pulled back, the traps and shoulders will not be involved in the pull. I imagine a gorilla when I picture how my shoulders should look in the setup. Chest up, tight back, shoulders hanging.

Image from gremlindog.com


  • The width between the feet should be somewhere between the position in which the lifter back-squats and the position they naturally jump from. The squat stance is the strongest position, and the jump stance is the optimal position to get the highest extension. The snatch requires a combination of strength and high vertical extension.  
andrey and lu with circles

Lü Xiaojun using the same stance in his squat as his snatch. Andrei Rybakou using a snatch start from which he extends fully. Images from Hookgrip, Weightlifting archive and bensps1 on Youtube and Eurosport.


  • For most lifters, the knees should be pointed sideways. This allows the hips to be closer to the bar and makes the back more vertical. The legs can be more involved in the snatch if the back is more vertical, and in this position, the back is less likely to bend and absorb the force from the legs. 
knees starting position

Andrei Aramnau, Behdad Salimi, and Lü Xiaojun pointing their knees as far as the arms allow. Images from Aleksandr Kurlovich and Weightlifting archive on youtube, and Eurosport.


Lifters with shorter femurs automatically start with their hips closer to the bar. If the back is already relatively vertical, and is able to handle the pressure of the pull, there is no need to make the back more vertical. 

knee forward snatch start

Wu Jingbiao, Yang Lian, and Pyrros Dimas starting their snatches with knees closer than most. images from wlift84 and Frank Rothwell’s youtube channels.


  • The balance should be on the middle of the foot. The entire foot needs to be able to feel the platform. With this position, the lifter can fully use the leg strength and extend the ankles effectively. It’s important to note that the balance must remain on the middle of the foot when the weight is lifted. To make sure that the weight is balanced properly, lift the bar up an inch while in the setup position. If the weight remains mid foot, then the balance is correct.  
  • If throughout the lift the weight is felt only on the outside of the foot, this is an issue of not pointing the toes in the right direction. The toes should be pointed in the direction of the knees. With knees and toes pointed in the same direction, the ligaments of the knee are evenly stressed and the balance remains on the entire foot.
toes start position

Akakios Kakiasvilis, Li Ping, Boyanka Kostova and Kim Un-guk pointing their toes in the same direction as the knees. Images from Gregor Winter and wlift84’s youtubes and Eurosport.


A few years ago, the starting position of my snatch looked good. It seemed like I was following every rule described above. However, with all of those separate parts correctly placed, my body as a whole wasn’t properly set up to lift. My arms and shoulders had slack and were working against me in the pull. When my legs began pushing up, the force didn’t transfer into the bar. Instead, it was partially absorbed by my arms and shoulders. I was mimicking the right starting position, but it wasn’t as effective as it could have been.

Coach Arnold Khalfin, who I’ll write more about in the future, helped me fix this problem quickly.

He saw my snatch and told me that I wasn’t starting tight. I didn’t understand what he meant, so he put his finger on the base of my neck, between my traps, and told me to get this part of my neck as high as I can without lifting the bar off the ground. My shoulders were lowered, and my arms were stretched. The pull felt lighter and more precise. The pull was higher.

I’ve been poking people in the back of the neck ever since.  But when that doesn’t work, I grab the lifter by the throat and push them up. It doesn’t feel good to the lifter – but it works.

Every lifter must figure out the most effective starting position for their unique body, and use it for every snatch. Hope this helps.


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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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