A good read (read the whole article). And, gives reason for why I always tell you guys that if we’re doing full snatches or cleans that you should do it with the lighter warm-up weights, not just when it starts getting heavy. – Ben
I’ve nearly always defined a power snatch (or clean) by a receipt above a parallel squat. This is how I was taught. For the most part, I continue to use this definition because it’s served me fine. However, at times I change my expectations based on what I want achieved. My other definition is no less than a 90-degree angle at the knee. This is a considerably higher receiving position—there is no question at this height of whether or not a lift can be classified as power. You won’t be able to measure 90 degrees exactly, but it’s not hard to get it close enough.
Defining a power snatch as a snatch received with the legs above horizontal is generally fine because much of the power snatch work a lifter does will not be at weights that force such a low position; that is, there won’t be many times where a close call has to be made. This raises the question, however, of what we’re trying to achieve by power snatching, and the answer to that will vary somewhat depending on the circumstances. We may be using the power snatch as an early exercise in the snatch learning process; we may be using it as a way to force somewhat lighter training on a given day; we may be using it to encourage an athlete to do something in particular, usually extending more forcefully, changing directions more quickly, or pulling under and fixing the bar overhead more aggressively.
There are three primary problems with pushing the weights of the power snatch up high. First is that athletes will tend to throw the feet out much wider than their squat positions. Some coaches couldn’t care less about this and actually teach it. That’s fine, but the reason I don’t like it is simple: a miss in this position gets dicey because the athlete can’t simply ride the bar down into a squat and turn a power snatch attempt into a snatch. Instead, you end up with some unwanted stress on the hips and knees, and with the bailout, most likely some strain to the shoulders and elbows.
Second, it’s very difficult to actually stop a squat at just above parallel, especially with a ballistic load. Athletes will naturally avoid bending the knees that much because their bodies know how rough it will be. To compensate for the lack of depth at the knee, the lifter will hinge forward more at the hip and bring the arms farther back behind the head to keep the bar in place over the feet. Not only is this putting the shoulders and elbows in a sketchy position and asking for injury, but it’s changing the mechanics of the lift, making the transition between power snatch and snatch more difficult. In my opinion, the two lifts should be identical and there should be no difficulty moving between them; this can only happen, however, if the two lifts are intentionally performed the same way.
Finally, the anticipation of getting the bar overhead so high with heavier weights can cause the lifter to tense up the arms rather than keeping them relaxed and focusing tension in the back. This makes the lift clumsy and typically slower, as well as causing the speed of the turnover and the aggressiveness of the punch up against the bar to suffer.
All of these potential problems can be avoided, but caution needs to be taken to do so.
Some coaches and athletes use the power snatch extensively; others in limited amounts; yet others refuse to use it entirely. There has been success in weightlifting with a lot of different methods, so I’m not going to condemn any of these approaches. As with most things, I’m of the opinion that the power snatch has utility at certain times and with certain athletes, and is inappropriate at other times or with other athletes. Maybe this sounds like unhelpful ambivalence, but unfortunately, that’s how I think most things in the training world work. I’ll run through some of the most common uses for the power snatch and mention some benefits and drawbacks.
Teaching The power snatch can be used as part of a teaching progression for the snatch. I personally use it almost every time I teach the snatch at least briefly. How much it’s used and for how long depends on the athlete and the circumstances. But the power snatch is useful in this situation because nearly everyone is flexible enough to do it (which is not at all the case for the snatch), it helps ensure new lifters extend completely and aggressively, it helps teach the effort to turn the bar over aggressively and fix it tightly overhead as quickly as possible, and it limits the number of details the athlete is thinking about at this early stage of learning. As I’ve mentioned previously, I believe the power snatch and snatch are no different technically, so an athlete learning the power snatch before the snatch should present no problems at all, particularly when the goal is to progress them to doing snatches as soon as possible. One potential drawback of learning the power snatch first is that the athlete may develop a hesitation during the receipt of the bar before squatting. This is usually minor, temporary and can be combated quite well by making sure an athlete at this stage is also doing plenty of overhead squats and even snatches in addition when possible, such as in complexes of power snatch + snatch.
Warm-ups Some athletes use the power snatch to warm-up for snatches. On this one I do have to agree with folks like Tommy Kono and Matt Foreman(you’re welcome Matt—now you can say you’ve been mentioned alongside the great Tommy Kono) that it’s not a great idea for most lifters. To clarify, I’m talking about a lifter starting with power snatches and moving to snatches as the weight increases. Some lifters are able to do this seamlessly, but more tend to reach a rough transition point. If multiple reps are being done at lighter weights, a lifter can start with a power snatch and end with a snatch each set to help combat this, e.g. power snatch + snatch at 50, 70, 90, then snatch at 110, 120, etc. I would prefer to just see snatches, although I like to see all snatches received high (relatively) and ridden down.
Technical Work Power snatches can have a variety of uses for technical work. The most common are probably encouraging a more aggressive finish, a quicker change of direction at the top, and a more aggressive turnover. Like any technical drill, there is no guarantee the power snatch will force a lifter to do any of these things. It will vary among lifters and circumstances, so it’s incumbent on the coach or lifter to evaluate each time to ensure they’re achieving the desired effect. Like with warm-ups, I like the combination of power snatches with snatches at times. An example of a good use for such a complex would be to encourage a lifter to meet the bar better in the snatch. A lifter who tends to drop out from under the bar and let it crash down and becomes unstable as a result can benefit from the feel of turning the bar over high and meeting it immediately and tightly; follow the power snatch immediately with a snatch, and the lifter can apply that concept and feeling to the snatch—because the weight is the same, they should be attempting to turn the bar over and fix it overhead at approximately the same height before sitting in to the squat. The previously discussed potential problems need to be kept in mind and effort needs to be made to avoid them especially in cases in which the power snatch is being used for technical improvement—it’s not wise to try to fix one problem with a drill that creates another problem.
Reduced Intensity Power snatches and power cleans are often used as substitutes for the full lifts in order to reduce training intensity in general and minimize leg fatigue specifically. This might be for a taper week or a lighter training day or period. This reduces intensity and leg fatigue while keeping the athlete performing essentially the same skills.
Modification The power snatch can be used as an alternative to the snatch for individuals working around flexibility limitations or injuries. The former is very common with athletes new to the lift and it’s preferable in my mind to have them learning and practicing the mechanics of the lift as soon as possible rather than either delaying the use of the lift until flexibility is adequate, or having the athlete perform the lift with an unsound bottom position. Flexibility can take a long time to improve, and an improper bottom position opens up the athlete to injury and also changes the mechanics of the lift to some extent, so it’s arguably not any better than simply using the power snatch instead if you believe the power snatch and snatch are not identical.
Variety Finally, the power snatch can be used simply to introduce some variety into a training cycle that might otherwise be extremely monotonous if comprised entirely or nearly so of the classic lifts and squats. Preventing mental burnout is critical to keeping lifters motivated and productive and even seemingly minor modifications like this can have surprisingly dramatic effects.
Ultimately, decisions about exercise selection need to be made based on the needs and abilities of each athlete and the circumstances in which that athlete is training. What works for one lifter can be counterproductive for another. Avoid dismissing any exercise entirely, and let the needs of each situation dictate the approach.