Remember, one of the major reasons we’re looking at the overhead position is to solidify where we’ll be receiving our snatches – let’s not overlook or belittle that connection. EVERYONE will need to be doing at least some specific overhead work with their snatch grip outside of just snatching.
Let’s go back to the axle bar example. To go along with the unavoidable characteristics we’ve covered, you’d likely use a grip width that is closer to your jerk grip than what we will ultimately be recommending for your snatch. Why? A grip that is closer to shoulder-width is a stronger, more sustainable position for the shoulders, arms, and wrists. If you’ve done any amount of snatching and jerking, this goes without being said. If you haven’t, try holding a barbell overhead for 30 seconds with a shoulder-width grip and then with a much wider grip (as close to the collars as possible); you’ll find out very quickly how much harder it is with the wider grip position.
This indicates that a wider snatch grip will be “disadvantaged” in supporting load overhead. With that understanding, it’s even more important to apply the overhead characteristics that we’ve covered and spend time strengthening them within the specific grip width of your snatch. Let’s now find YOUR ideal snatch grip so we can begin to use it and solidify that part of your bottom position sculpture for the snatch.
We’ll find this grip not by the way it looks or feels overhead, but how it is interacting with your body BEFORE it goes overhead. The premier interaction we’re concerned with is where the bar is contacting your body at the “hip” as you extend and exert final power into the bar. How wide you grip the barbell will dictate how high or low it makes contact around your hips. We’ll cover more specifically how to learn “hip” contact within the snatch (and clean) later, but for now you need to understand how necessary it is so you can begin to mold your overhead position with greater purpose (i.e., if you feel “weak” with the specific grip we recommend, or it “bothers your wrists,” then the first step in overcoming those “deficiencies” is to actually USE it).
CONTACT! Contact is a CRITICAL part of the lift. It means that the bar literally TOUCHES your body at the hip within a snatch before it goes overhead. Please take a moment to think about that and look at some slow motion snatches from any elite lifter to pick that part of the lift out, take it in, and accept it. I’ve had a few athletes in the past that I found out only years into working with them that when I spoke about “contact” and said the word, they somehow for some reason did not make the “connection” (see what I did there) that the bar was ever supposed to literally touch the body. I could get them to do it within a session, but it was never maintained because it was not understood and appropriately prioritized in their minds (I did not do my job in delivering the magnitude of this action and therefore hindered their progress and performance). CONNECTION must be made in understanding the concept, and then physically between the body and bar through the extension portion of the lift. This transfers energy into the bar – gives it NEW LIFE from the point of contact – and done appropriately, helps direct the bar overhead. Without this contact, the bar is further away from the body than optimal, and the smaller muscles of the arms are disproportionately in charge of pulling the bar overhead. This leaves efficiency and weight that you could be lifting on the table (or rather, on the platform).
Our general recommendation is going to be contact with straight arms. Bent arms and/or a shoulder shrug before and at contact are, once again, “muscled” positions that can give way if the athlete is not strong enough to maintain them. Both of these technique breakdowns lead to energy leakage and decrease the amount of power that could be transferred into the upward trajectory of the barbell. These muscling actions are typically compensations from something in the set up or movement before, and/or lead to other compensations after (I like to say muscling leads to more muscling). That being said, use the following instructions to find the grip that will allow for the most effective straight arm contact point with your body:
- Hold a bar with a full grip in a standing position.
- Align the body (as we’ve defined in the set up of a squat; no bend in the knees or at the hips, and no arch in the back) and relax the shoulders down. Then, straighten the arms and twist them to where the elbows are pointing out (as if you were loosening a bottle cap with your right hand, and tightening with your left hand).
- Adjust your hands (out and/or in) until the bar is resting directly in the MIDDLE OF YOUR PUBIC BONE (the middle being the meatiest part of this solid bone). This is just above the genitals and right at the “hip crease” (yes, for male and female).
NOTE: WATCH OUT for muscling the bar up to this point by shrugging the shoulders and/or pulling up with the arms; this will set the grip too narrow.
A grip that is too narrow is typically the root of an unintended early arm bend and/or shoulder shrug for two reasons: 1) The body WANTS the more powerful and propelling contact point of mid-pubic bone, and 2) keeping the arms straight and contacting with a narrow grip would not feel good (again, male or female). So, usually if the arms stay straight with a narrow grip there will be no contact at all. I’ve certainly “racked” myself with the bar a few times and what a memorable, quick lesson this is; hence the hesitation to contact, or once again, muscling the bar up above this sensitive area.
As mentioned above, mid-pubic bone is the sweet spot that we are looking for as your most powerful, effective, and efficient contact point. But, I’ve given the above instructions enough to know that they are not always enough. “I think this is the middle?” or “This can’t possibly be where he wants me to contact?” are comments that I’ve heard and I’ve even had a few long, intimately detailed conversations about anatomy to confirm what and where exactly I mean when I say “mid-pubic bone.” So, I want to give a secondary method for you to use to confirm this specific spot, and ultimately your snatch grip (not as an alternative, but to match one with the other). The emphasis for this method will be appropriately pinpointing the “hip crease”:
- Repeat steps 1 and 2 from above.
- Raise one knee slightly (the toes remain on the ground), which creates the crease in the hip we need to find. Adjust your hands (out and/or in) until the bar is sitting securely at this crease with arms still straight and shoulders down.
NOTE: Understand that if the leg is lifted too high here (i.e., in many cases the athlete is directed to position the femur parallel to the floor) it will incorrectly define the hip crease for these purposes, placing the bar too high and the snatch grip too wide. With a grip that is too wide, one will either contact too high and knock the breath out of themselves (I’ve done this before as well and once again learned my lesson very quickly) or shy away from contact altogether. What we are really aiming to do with the slight leg lift is mimic the bend of the hip at initial contact within the snatch as shown below.
The last step for each of these methods is to now place the bar overhead to see how much distance there is between the head and bar (looking from the front).
Though it is rare, IF you find this sets the bar within 2 inches from the top of the head (and this is WITH the unavoidables we’ve previously defined), modification of the grip and experimentation for the movement as a whole would be required. We’ll cover this more in the snatch section (i.e., purposely bending the arms in the pull to accommodate a better contact point, and specifically strengthening that so there is less chance for that “give” and energy leak mentioned above). For now, you would need to bring your hands in, to where you have at least 2 inches of clearance.
There is a good chance I’ve led you to a different grip than you’ve been using for the snatch. I estimate that I widen the grip of at least 50% of the athletes I come across that ask for my advice, and I understand the hesitation one might have in making and maintaining the change. A wider grip that you are not used to will likely feel uncomfortable, weaker, harder on the wrists, etc. with the bar overhead. But, let’s not shy away from this temporary obstacle as molding your overhead position to this new width will increase your potential to get more weight overhead through the increased benefit you’ll have in transferring power and pulling under the bar.
So, what is it that you most need right now to improve, solidify, or maintain your overhead position? We’ll be helping you answer that question soon and the first part of that is defining the goals for this specific position to begin to get a feel for where you currently fall on the spectrum of priority. Additionally, as previously mentioned, you must actually USE the grip. More specifically, all the other overhead characteristics we’ve covered need to be executed within this specific grip, so we’ll also be summarizing and simplifying our recommendations to leave you with a quick checklist you can apply with your overhead squats and other overhead work for the position to be optimally prepared for use in the snatch.
Until next time,
2-Time Olympian, USAW
Dr. Aaron Horschig, PT,
DPT, CSCS, USAW