I’ve indicated previously that the 1st Ascent of the snatch and clean are extremely similar and this goes for their start positions as well. The snatch and clean start position are so similar in fact that I’ve been able to generally talk about them as one position and indicate 3 Essential Steps that, no matter which of the two lifts you are setting up for, are to be accomplished to ensure optimization for each. Even within the complete start position checklist, there is very little differentiation. But, since these are more observable and “stick out,” it can make the start positions as a whole seem more different than they really are. Let’s summarize these few differences right away here, and then go ahead and smash them with an overview of the constants.
Grip-width in the snatch is wider than the clean. The grip width then dictates knee width to accomplish the checklist point of “flare knees to arms” (with the hands wider for snatch, the knees will have to go wider to touch the arms). Those, in combination with all other points of the checklist, create just two other noticeable but by-product differences outside of the checklist: hip height and femur angle (with the wider snatch grip the hips will be lower than with the more narrow clean grip, which will change the angle of the femur IF all other points of the checklist are intact). To get to the how and why of these differing characteristics and that of the constant characteristics (now on and off the checklist) we’ll go back through necessary portions of the checklist and branch off from there.
Will we ever not start at the feet or attribute most issues OR successes back to their lacking or sufficient ability? NO! So as usual we start there, at number 1 on the Start Position Checklist, “Assume Stable Stance”. Optimally, your stance should be the same between the snatch and clean – and even jerk. “Optimally” because if you are accumulating reps in the snatch and clean (and jerk) with the SAME stance, there is a consistency there that makes that specific stance that much stronger and more powerful and there is more positive carry over from one movement to the other. This is especially true if it falls within the “gold standard” range we previously indicated that stems from the basic idea of, “where would you put your feet if someone asked you to jump as high as you can?” The answer is very likely under your body/hips with your feet straight (and I hope that is your answer); so, essentially we are trying to stay somewhere as close to this as possible if not right on it in both lifts.
Also, it indicates sufficient overall mobility as it takes a certain amount to have your feet here and to be able to get the hips down where we want them and then to lock the back in. This is even more difficult in the snatch for those with lacking mobility, especially when you add in the desirable point of “flare knees to arms” since they now need more external and internal hip rotation, as well as tibial rotation, to push the knees out sufficiently with the foot position we are recommending. This is why you will see some athletes with a wider stance in the snatch than what they are using in their clean, since they are unable to either push the knees out that far at all, or cannot do so while maintaining a stable foot (the inside of the foot/big toe drifts off the ground). You may also see an athlete use a wider stance in one lift or the other due to an injury or tweek that causes pain with a stance more narrow (certain low back pain can at least be relieved with a wider stance and this is more commonly seen with the snatch). In either case (mobility or pain), the athlete is using a wider stance as a band-aid to a deficiency. In accepting that using a different stance for each lift is “just my style,” they never get around to addressing an issue that would make them a more complete and healthier athlete with greater potential in the Olympic lifts. Hence my conservative estimation of 90% of the best in the world using the same stance for the snatch, the clean, and the jerk. With that, let’s proclaim that if you are strong, healthy, and sufficiently mobile, then your feet can and should be consistent between the snatch and clean (and jerk)!
Moving on up the body and looking at the athlete from the side, let’s consider the angles that are created once again. Between the snatch and clean, the shin and back angles should be identical. Let’s see how this is possible by revisiting the 3 Essential Steps and then the rest of the checklist as needed for your clean start position. From there you can sink STRAIGHT DOWN into your snatch start position by sliding your hands out, following the arms out with your knees, and squatting your hips down simultaneously. If you maintain all 3 characteristics from executing the 3 Essential Steps (mid-foot pressure, bar touching shins, and bar in-line with back of shoulders) and the rest of the checklist, the shin and back angles of each position will be a match.
The shin angle looking directly from the side is the same because you flared your knees out while lowering the hips straight down (if you do not flare the knees, the shin angle would have to change forward to drop the hips straight down OR the hips and body go too far back). The back angle remains the same because the hips and shoulders are descending simultaneously which maintains the mid-foot pressure and shoulder position in relation to the bar (if the hips descend faster than the shoulders, the shoulders will go behind the bar; if the shoulders descend faster than the hips, the shoulders will end up too far in front of the bar). Lastly, the squatting down into the snatch grip while maintaining all other points of the checklist is what changes the femur angle and hip height (these are by-products and should not be a concern beyond this or labeled as wrong if THEY do not match from one to the other).
Let me reconfirm that an athlete’s specific shin and back angles are not a part of the checklist or a basic that we need to dial in to a “gold standard” degree. Rather, they are by-products of the basics in the checklist that WILL vary from one athlete to the next. Whatever those are for a specific athlete, when they match up in this way they become another area of beneficial consistency. Without this your snatch and clean will surely work AGAINST each other (i.e., because your back angle is parallel to the ground in the snatch, it wants to adjust to that position when initiating the weight from the ground from a more upright back angle within the clean: the hips rise faster than the shoulders to get there). So, like using the same stance, when we accumulate reps using the same back and shin angles in and coming out of the start positions we make those angles that much stronger and more solid. There will be more positive carry over from one start position to the other. Additionally, it sets you up to then move through the rest of the lift more in the same way with the same coordination and timing for more carry over from one movement to the other and more potential as a whole in the Olympic lifts!
Until next time,
2-Time Olympian, USAW
Dr. Aaron Horschig, PT,
DPT, CSCS, USAW