As coaches, we make training decisions based on the relative efficacy of each selection. We choose exercises to match our athletes’ needs, determine how training should be structured, and select the intensity with which to train. Not surprisingly, most coaches implement similar structures—once a successful blueprint has been created, there is no need to reinvent the wheel. While a great deal of modern training principles are founded in scientific reasoning, others continue due to the reasoning of that’s the way it’s always been done.
One example that warrants reconsideration is the introduction of a hang power clean prior to the hang power snatch. A number of coaches believe that athletes must always learn how to perform a hang power clean before any snatch derivative because that has always been the traditional progression.While there may be cases where instructing athletes in the hang power clean is more beneficial than the hang power snatch, I believe it can be beneficial to teach the hang power snatch first. Click To Tweet
Hang power snatches appear more complicated because they require an athlete to catch the weight overhead, leading to the negative connotation that weights overhead inherently equals injury. While there may be cases where instructing athletes in the hang power clean is more beneficial than the hang power snatch, I have a rather unpopular opinion in the human performance world in believing that it can be beneficial to teach athletes the hang power snatch before the hang power clean.
Checking All of the Boxes
Before I dive any further into this article, I must stress the importance of checking all the boxes before even attempting to teach an athlete how to hang power snatch. An athlete must be able to perform an overhead squat with flawless technique and demonstrate adequate hip, ankle, and thoracic mobility. Attempting to build a snatch on top of poor fundamentals is a recipe for disaster, so don’t try it!
Besides inadequate movement capabilities, the only other reason why you should avoid introducing an athlete to the hang power snatch is for medical or health purposes. Previous hip, shoulder, or knee surgeries could be a red flag warranting a doctor’s consent before any training modality is prescribed (not just weightlifting).
Assuming everything is okay, there is no reason to be shy about teaching an athlete how to hang power snatch. Research suggests that weightlifting is no more dangerous than sporting activities with regard to the resulting number of injuries. In fact, Hamill1 reported that school children playing soccer reported nearly 6.2 injuries per 100 hours of activity versus a mere 0.0017 injuries seen during 100 hours of weightlifting. The myth that weightlifting in itself is a high-risk activity has long been dispelled.
What Is the Hang Power Snatch?
Although the competition-style lifts are rather straightforward (snatch, clean, and jerk), we can use a variety of movements at various ranges of motion to teach and train our athletes. A hang power snatch is simply a derivative of the snatch, where we start with the bar above the knees and do not catch it at a significant depth. This motion can be further broken into a high-hang (upper thigh), mid-hang (mid-thigh), or hang (top of the knee-cap) power snatch. Again, I use each variation to some degree, but in this case, I will simply cover the hang power snatch starting at the knees.
Video 1. Performing the hang power snatch.
Teaching athletes weightlifting exercises can be quite difficult, from both an instructional and learning standpoint. Beginning with the hang power snatch is beneficial because it provides an abbreviated motion requiring less mobility and technical proficiency to execute. Additionally, we bypass the first pull altogether and put athletes in a position to properly begin their second pull while learning to get under the bar.Beginning with the hang power snatch is beneficial because it provides an abbreviated motion requiring less mobility and technical proficiency to execute, says @jimmypritchard_. Click To Tweet
A big issue I see athletes have when attempting to learn the snatch from the floor is pulling entirely too early and never achieving the proper double knee bend to generate the necessary force for an effective lift.
In order to execute a hang power snatch:
- Start with a snatch grip (hands wider than the shoulders) and lift the bar to a tall standing position.
- From there, slightly bend your knees and hinge your hips a bit while lowering the bar to the kneecaps (mid-thigh or upper thigh, if you were doing those derivatives).
- Once in position, begin the execution of the lift by driving your feet aggressively through the floor and extend the hips as the bar begins coming up your thighs. It is important to keep the bar tight to your body and ensure you keep your arms fully extended here.
- As you reach triple extension, you should begin to pull the bar upward toward your chin and continue pushing through your feet/ankles.
- From there, throw yourself aggressively under the bar while establishing a solid squat stance with your feet and punch your hands toward the ceiling.
- Stop your squat with the thighs above parallel and imagine trying to rip the bar apart with your hands in order to keep your arms fully extended overhead.
- While maintaining perfect posture, completely stand up with the bar and dump it safely or continue for the prescribed number of repetitions.
Reasons for Introducing the Snatch Derivatives Before the Clean
Whether or not you agree with my stance here, it’s okay—we can still be friends, I promise. Strength and conditioning coaches often get into heated debates over topics such as these, even when they agree on 99% of everything else. This article in particular is simply my own opinion based upon what I have seen anecdotally over the course of my career. If I experience any evidence to change my mind in the future, I’ll happily be the first one to discuss it.
That being said, I absolutely love the hang power clean and all of its derivatives. I incorporate them all within my own programming, and I teach a lot of my athletes how to do them. Quite honestly, the hang clean derivatives make up a much greater volume of the training I prescribe than the hang power snatch or its derivatives do. With that in mind, I think the hang power snatch is a fantastic teaching tool, and I prefer to teach it first for three primary reasons:
- Unlike the hang power clean, athletes cannot easily cheat the motion with premature arm bend at lower weights prior to the catch. In order for an athlete to execute a hang power snatch, they must produce force through the proper areas (i.e., hips, knees, ankles) rather than relying on their arms to pull the bar overhead.
- One of my professors in graduate school, the great Dr. Greg Haff, has said, “As soon as the arms bend, the force production stops.” What he means is that as soon as an athlete can cheat and rely on their upper body to do the work, then they are no longer producing force throughout the rest of their body. I often see athletes fail to understand the principle of keeping their arms straight for as long as possible while allowing the knees to extend, and they subsequently pull too early. Once the poor habit of bending the arms early is created, it is extremely difficult to fix.
- Athletes must use lighter weights to execute the movement versus a clean and jerk. It is no mystery that they can clean significantly more weight than they can snatch due to the nature of the movement; however, I frequently witness “cleans” resembling ugly reverse curls for the same reason. This brings me back to the point I made earlier, highlighting that athletes cannot bend their arms prematurely and get away with supporting a weight over their head as easily as they can when the weight only needs to travel to their neck.
- Faigenbaum2 says it best: Even simple exercises like the bench press can initially be performed with moderate to heavy loads, whereas a snatch can only be learned with light weight or a wooden stick. The hang power snatch provides a level of complexity that modulates the load being used while keeping the focus on mastering technique.
- It is extremely likely that once an athlete learns proper technique, they will easily pick up the hang power clean3. I don’t believe the same could be said for the other way around. This relates back to all of the aforementioned reasons, including proper force production, pulling technique, and mobility. An athlete who has the mobility to catch a bar overhead will certainly be able to catch it near their shoulders.
- As coaches, we all know that time is extremely limited, and if I can get my athletes to master the technique of a hang power snatch and then quickly pick up the same for a hang power clean, I have saved an extraordinary amount of time. If you compare this to teaching the athletes the movements the other way around, you will likely spend a similar amount of time teaching the hang power clean with lower transferability to the hang power snatch and ultimately give up due to lack of time. Why not increase the chances of adding two tools to the toolbox instead of one?
Worth the Squeeze
While I understand that it may be daunting to teach athletes complex movements such as the hang power snatch and clean, I believe that, when done appropriately, the juice is worth the squeeze. The weightlifting derivatives are excellent tools to build better athletes and increase rate of force development as well as technical motor skills. Athletes are not competitive weightlifters, I understand, which explains why I often resort to teaching them simple derivatives of the movements versus a full squat clean or squat snatch. If possible, I would like my athletes to learn those movements, but I do believe they will take a much greater investment of time over the hang power varieties.
My goal in this article is for you to think outside of the box in the manner with which you coach or, if you are an athlete, the manner in which you learn. I challenge you to question the way you do things from an intellectual perspective and decide if what you are doing truly makes sense, or if you are simply following a blueprint as old as time. I don’t believe there is a one-size-fits-all approach to coaching and training, nor should athletes learn the hang power snatch over the hang power clean in every single case imaginable. My argument is that if you take a look at the way we learn, altering your coaching progression may yield some positive results.
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1. Hamill, B. P. “Relative safety of weightlifting and weight training.” The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 1994; 8(1): 53-57.
2. Faigenbaum, A. D. and Polakowski, C. “Olympic-style weightlifting, kid style.” Strength and Conditioning Journal. 1999; 21(3): 73.
3. DeWeese, B. H., Serrano, A. J., Scruggs, S. K., and Sams, M. L. “The clean pull and snatch pull: Proper technique for weightlifting movement derivatives.” Strength and Conditioning Journal. 2012; 34(6): 82-86.