SNATCH, for your Shoulders!

By: William Lien, BSc

            Olympic weightlifting has huge benefits: speed, strength, complete body coordination & awareness, total body mobility & stability and of course, POWER!

But let’s have a closer look at the shoulder. There’s  very few movements in the gym that provide the complete internal & external rotation of the snatch. Many shoulder injuries occur from doing too much upper body push exercises (ex. bench press) while totally neglecting the pull (ex. inverted row). This ultimately leads to an over developed anterior musculature and a kyphotic thoracic spine (see below), inhibiting end ranges of both internal and external shoulder rotation.

Look Good Naked
Figure 1. Kyphotic spine commonly seen. Note the over-developed anterior musculature.

Top strength coaches and trainers like Mike Boyle & Eric Cressey even go beyond advocating simply a balance of both push and pull – a 2:1 or even 3:1 ratio may be what it takes to get our modern society out of their caveman postures!

It’s hard to find an exercise that even comes close to the Snatch in terms of complete internal and external rotation of the shoulder:

Look Good Naked

  •  From the ground position and for the snatch pull, the shoulder is in complete internal rotation position.

Look Good Naked

  • In the receiving position, the shoulder is in a complete external rotation position.

The snatch mobilizes and stabilizes when practiced and trained correctly.  Let me elaborate: Practicing refers to the correct development of the snatch technique while training implies getting stronger or better at it.  The complete full range motion of rotation and stabilization is the key to preventing shoulder injuries. Here what Christian Thibaudeau, of T-nation, had to say:

“In retrospect, the times in my life when I had the least shoulder issues was when I was doing the Olympic lifts. Even when I wasn’t doing them for competition, and doing only the power snatch in my training, my shoulders were painless. I achieved my best bench press (445) when I was bench pressing six days a week, sometimes twice a day, but doing the power snatch daily too. In fact, my training was pretty much only the bench press, power snatch, and deadlift, with some occasional supportive work thrown in there for flavoring.”

What if people and athlete lack the mobility to perform the snatch?

Proper coaching cues should generally increase the range of motion of the shoulder: expanding the  rib cage, tracking of the knees, and keeping the head up.  Likewise, mobility exercises such as thoracic extension & rotation, ankle mobilization, stretching the hip adductors and IT band will improve the snatch receiving position.

If coaching cues, stretching and mobilization do not work, the snatch can still be modified by slightly narrowing the grip. There are multiple approaches to performing the Snatch in order to accommodate individual requirements or limitations. It doesn’t matter which way you pick – perform the Olympic Weightlifting Snatch and reap all that it has to offer!

Further Reading:

What are your thoughts on the Snatch and shoulder health? Have any stories on his Weightlifting manouvre? Let us know by commenting below!

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3 Comments

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