Before I get started, please read this intro so that we’re on the same page:
This is NOT one of those annoying “bash CrossFit” posts. I wrote it out of genuine concern for the safety of regular people who do CrossFit — not for Games-level athletes. I realize that because of the already-existing antagonism between (some) CrossFit and (some) Olympic weightlifting groups, my post can be taken as something it simply isn’t. I’d like to make clear that the only purpose is to help those who are looking for safety advice on the snatch.
I want you to understand the risks of snatching in an honest way — no white-washing, nothing fancy, just some basic safety facts that are common-knowledge in Olympic weightlifting, but aren’t discussed enough. Olympic lifting coaches, like myself, could do a better job explaining HOW and WHY to be safe. That’s all I’m doing here.
High-level athletes take risks in their sports, some of those risks are seriously dangerous. That’s cool, because they do so with intent, with full-knowledge of what those risks are. To 90%+ of the people I work with in person, this is all brand new information — they had no idea about the risks. I hope you find something here that is useful.
- Save Your Spine: The Video & the Problem
- We Should Not Encourage Dangerous Behavior Among Our Athletes, Even if (Especially if!) the Pros do it.
- Taking Calculated Risks vs Acting Out of Ignorance
- Is it Immoral to Allow Someone to Snatch Like This?
- Dirty Secret: A Safer Snatch is a Stronger Snatch!
- Snatching vs Squatting: Breaking Form Means FAIL, Literally
- Beginners Learn Safety SO THAT They Can Lift Heavier
- Safety Rules for the Snatch
- A (Counter-intuitive) Fact About the 3rd Pull
- Bottom Line: Know What You’re Getting Into
- PS. At Least Learn How to Miss a Snatch!
Save Your Spine: The Video & the Problem
I take potential spinal injury seriously. So should you. I’m not fucking around, some of these snatch misses are beyond-the-pale dangerous.
The women in the video are trying to be the best athletes they can be. That’s awesome. I want that for them, too. However, they won’t have that chance if they needlessly screw up their body.
They may be OK with the risks, but do you know what those risks are? One bad miss ends their career.
- Is it ethical to encourage fans of these athletes to do something equally dangerous when they don’t realize how dangerous it really is?
- When that danger can be avoided without hurting performance?
- In fact, a safer snatch is a STRONGER snatch, so these athletes could be lifting more! (see below)
There are many snatches in this video that are good, and a few are great. But the ones that are bad are really bad, and more dangerous than most people realize — they can lead to serious injury — injury that CAN and SHOULD be avoided.
We Should Not Encourage Dangerous Behavior Among Our Athletes, Even if (Especially if!) the Pros do it.
Let me be clear: As I said above, this is NOT one of those annoying “Bash CrossFit” posts. Rather, I am genuinely concerned for the safety of non-high-level athletes and their long-term success.
I don’t think the fundamental issue is coaching or training, but attitude.
We should not encourage the willingness to go for lifts in ways that aren’t safe. That willingness is only OK if you truly grasp the risks. Most people who lift like this do not.
I’m sure many Games athletes do understand the risks. But my concern is not THEM as much as those inspired by them, who may emulate them without realizing what the risks are.
Below are a few of my thoughts on snatching and sports, and at the end I’ve got 2 big tips to keep your spine safe.
Taking Calculated Risks vs Acting Out of Ignorance
I’m OK with someone making a choice to play a dangerous sport and do dangerous things. Surfing, rock climbing, baseball pitching, shark wrestling, MMA, Strongman, and CrossFit are all like this. They are all potentially VERY dangerous.
It’s OK to do dangerous things, but ONLY when you realize the danger and are taking a risk on purpose.
I know that most people — like the people who come to our seminars and camps — who choose to snatch like this know how dangerous it actually is. That means they are NOT taking a calculated, intelligent, informed risk. They are making a mistake in judgement.
I don’t want you to get hurt because I failed to tell you about the risks.
Is it Immoral to Allow Someone to Snatch Like This?
In Weightlifting we LIE to people by telling them that snatching is safe. No. Snatching is ONLY POTENTIALLY safe when done exactly the way Olympic lifters do them under OUR competition rules (which are there to force safety). Even then, the snatch is a heavy bar over your head: in any other area of life, you’d be required to wear a hard-hat!
There is no press-out in weightlifting because doing so can lead to a barbell slamming onto your cervical spine.
These women are lifting a LOT of weight. If that bar lands on the back of their neck, their spine, imagine the possible injuries. Seriously. Spend time going over the many horrible things that can happen to you if a heavy bar slams into your neck.
Dirty Secret: A Safer Snatch is a Stronger Snatch!
The skills that make a snatch safe will help you lift more weight. I know that’s weird, but it’s also awesome!
In many sports, it’s the opposite. The safest way to throw a baseball is SLOW. But to be a great pitcher, you must go fast. And that speed and technique will destroy your shoulder.
In the snatch, thankfully, the safer you make the movement, the more weight you’ll lift.
Snatching vs Squatting: Breaking Form Means FAIL, Literally
An Olympic lifter, working with a good coach, who has been dedicated to training the sport for 1 year will not break down like these athletes did that at heavy weights.
Why? Because the Snatch is not a Squat! It’s more like a javelin or a hammer throw or a discus. You either make it, or you don’t. You can’t GRIND OUT a Discus throw! But, you really can grind out a deadlift or squat. It’s not ideal, but at the heaviest weights, it’s likely. So competition powerlifting squats are sometimes a bit nasty looking!
That’s not true in Olympic Discus though, is it? In the Olympics, if you break down your technique, you can’t throw as far, so you lose.
Weightlifting is the same as the throwing sports in track and field. A breakdown in technique means you can’t lift as much weight, so you lose.
Beginners Learn Safety SO THAT They Can Lift Heavier
Safety is worth it on its own! But, it’s also the EXACT thing that makes you more EFFICIENT — allows you to lift more weight.
When these athletes (in the video) press up on a snatch, that means they aren’t lifting as much weight as they are actually capable of. They could lift MORE if they were better at the basics of safety.
So just in case “safety” means nothing to you, LOL, it helps to know that lifting safer will also make you stronger!
Safety Rules for the Snatch
I’ve got 2 basic rules below. Follow them, and you’ll be safer and stronger.
In my gym, if you break these rules, I’ll have to ask you to leave. It’s not about technique, it’s about your attitude, your willingness to make safe choices in the moment. If you need to lower the weight to do things safely, then do it.
(BTW, it’s the people who refuse to do so that I will kick out of my gym, not the people who are struggling with technique. It’s a person’s willingness to follow safety rules that matters, not their physical capacities.)
Lock Out or FAIL (on Purpose). Period. No Exceptions.
Many CrossFit athletes don’t realize that by “lock out” we mean the arms are IMMEDIATELY straight. It is NOT like a bench press or overhead press: you cannot press the bar up into a lock out. It must already be there, instantly.
If you are snatching a bar over your head, and you are not able to lock out in that exact second, then THROW the bar forward or backward, and run the other way. Every time. Every lift.
A snatch is a BLACK or WHITE lift: either you made it with a perfect lock out — 100% — or you bail on purpose. Embrace this. Anything less than 100% is a FAIL. The middle ground (what most of those snatches were) is where injuries come from.
I realize that to many beginners, most of the snatches in the video seemed fine. But that’s because it’s new to you. Anything less than a 100% lock out is a no-lift in Olympic Weightlifting — and carries a much higher risk of injury at heavy weights.
I’ve judged a lot of contests over the last decade, and I would have given red-lights (no lift) to at least 2/3 of those lifts. If you’re under 100% locked out, that puts you in the gray area. That might seem harsh, but it’s also true.
Obviously some of the worst fails were really bad, but don’t discount the danger of a 90% lockout with a max-effort lift! That’s actually where the worst injuries I’ve seen have come from.
NEVER “Dive” or “Drop” Under the Bar!
Beginners think that weightlifters “dive” under a bar really fast. NO. Weightlifters do what is called a 3rd Pull to literally PULL themselves under a bar faster than gravity can take them.
Pulling under the bar is ACTIVE. Dropping is PASSIVE. When you “drop” under a bar, you loosen up. At a heavy weight, you won’t be able to tighten back up fast enough. The bar will crash down on top of you. This is the source of nearly all of the worst possible injuries in a snatch or a clean.
Many beginners hate doing power versions because they want to look like a “real” weightlifter. That’s just ridiculous. But I hear this so often that it’s worth making a point of.
Your ego is not my concern. Your spine is my concern. Your goal is not to look like a weightlifter, but to perform like one.
A (Counter-intuitive) Fact About the 3rd Pull
Pulling yourself under a bar feels exactly (in the upper body) like a well-performed POWER snatch — They are identical in the upper body. (Only when done right.) In other words, if you can’t do a PERFECT power snatch, I know you don’t have a good 3rd pull. It’s a diagnostic as well as a teaching tool. The power versions come first because I need to make sure you really get it.
The bar must move FASTER into the finish than it was moving off of your hips! (Just like a 100 meter sprint: start fast, end faster.) To learn the 3rd pull means that you are learning how to use your upper body (mostly traps) to pull UP on the bar and put continuous increasing speed on the barbell all the way through to the finish.
Clearly this is hard to learn! You have NO business “getting under a bar” if you can’t even power snatch beautifully yet.
By mastering these skills of the 3rd pull, you make the entire snatch active. You are always putting force on the bar. You are always INCREASING your control of where the bar is going. This makes the lift MUCH safer. It means you won’t ever be crushed.
Bottom Line: Know What You’re Getting Into
Dangerous sports are fun, but only when you know what you are getting yourself into. If you want to snatch with dangerous technique, you can. But you had better know that you’re putting your spine at risk!
If you know this, and you don’t care, then be my guest! However, if you snatch like that in my gym, you’re gone.
Now go lift something SAFELY,
PS. At Least Learn How to Miss a Snatch!
This video is the basics of how to miss a snatch safely.
The original episode was posted on Weightlifting Academy.