The dumbell snatch is not an exercise you will see in most gyms, but it develops great explosive strength and speed. It is one of the few genuine full body exercises.
What is the dumbbell snatch?
The dumbbell snatch is a version of the Olympic lift, the snatch, performed with a dumbbell in one hand. You move the dumbbell from the floor to above your head in one explosive movement.
The dumbbell snatch is a full body movement and most of the major muscle groups come into play, particularly legs, shoulders and core.
Why it is such a great exercise?
The dumbbell snatch requires strength, agility, power, speed and balance to perform. It really is the complete athletic movement. It is easier to learn and perform than the barbell version, and people are more likely to have access to dumbbells than to barbells so it can be used in a variety of situations.
This exercise requires a great burst of energy to perform. It is good fun and very rewarding to be able to pick a weight off the floor and have it locked out over your head in one smooth movement.
The dumbbell snatch is also one of the most versatile strength exercises. Sometimes I go for a maximum set, but with a lighter weight and higher reps it is also an incredibly effective conditioning tool. And since it requires such energy and involves the whole body, I often use it as a warm-up exercise when doing heavy weight training.
How to perform the one-arm dumbbell snatch
Olympic lifts are a lot easier if you can get your head around the idea of dropping under the weight. When you first pull the weight off the floor, most of the work is being done by your legs, which are driving upwards. Once your legs have fully extended, the weight has probably come up to your chest and at that point you squat down very quickly so that your body is now under the weight and driving upwards again. If you don’t do this, it’s your arms and shoulders that will be doing the lifting, when really you need to make use of the big muscles in your legs to do the donkey work.
It’s a bit weird at first getting the timing right, but once you get it, you see how effective it is. The better your technique, the more weight you can snatch.
There are some video clips at the end of this article. Sometimes it makes more sense when you see the exercise in action!
Step 1 – starting position
Take up a squatting position with your feet slightly more than shoulder width apart, toes slightly turned out for stability. The dumbbell is positioned between your legs, as close to the body as you can manage without damaging any important bits! The dumbbell handle is parallel to the body.
You can either start with the dumbbell on the floor or in the ‘hang’ position, with the dumbbell a couple of inches off the floor. I usually start in the hang position, as shown in the picture. The main advantage of this position is that you don’t have to squat quite as low at the start. But if the weight is very heavy, it might be advisable to start from the floor.
Whether you start with the weight on the floor or in the hang position, your arm should be straight but not stiff and locked-out. I’ve got my other arm stuck out to the side to aid with balance. As with any squatting position, your back should be flat.
Step 2 – drive up and pull
When you start the pull, drive upwards powerfully with your legs and thrust your hips forward. This gives you the momentum you need to lift the weight – you don’t have to deliberately pull it up with your arm. Using the momentum generated by your legs, let your arm rise up with it. Shrug your shoulders to help it up.
You should try to keep the dumbbell close to your body. In the picture, I could have the dumbbell a little closer to my body really.
Step 3 – catch and drive up again
By the time the dumbbell has reached your chest, your legs are practically fully extended and your hips are coming forward. At this point, you drop into a squat so that your bodyweight is underneath the weight. The dumbbell has travelled up with the momentum of the initial push, and you want to ‘catch’ the weight before it succumbs to gravity and falls to the floor. As soon as you are underneath it, drive upwards again and lock out the arm above your head.
In the picture above, you can see that because I have squatted again, my body is practically in the same position that I started, only now the weight is above my head. I finish the move by standing up straight with still arm locked out.
When you see Olympic weightlifters perform this move with a heavy barbell, they drop into a deep squat for the catch. In the one-arm dumbbell snatch exercise it is not necessary to squat that low. You can squat as much as you want or feel is necessary to complete the exercise. This is known as a ‘power’ snatch – when you only use a partial squat to catch the weight. Often you will find that if you can’t lift a particular weight, squatting lower will make a difference.
If the weight is getting heavy, I sometimes incorporate a jump. It gives you an extra bit of power! Olympic lifters always jump – Olympic lifting is about jumping with weight. The ‘stomp’ down helps you to drive up more powerfully and – if you land with your legs a bit wider – increases your stability when you ‘catch’ the weight.
Step 4 – return to start for next rep
Having completed the overhead portion of the exercise, you can either return the dumbbell to the hang position or return it to the floor before the next rep.
If I am using a slightly lighter weight for explosive power and conditioning, I return to the hang position and do the next rep with the same arm.
If I am using a heavy weight, I return the dumbbell to the floor and swop arms for the next rep.
How to use the dumbbell snatch in your training
You can incorporate this versatile move in many different ways, for example:
- as a warm-up for weight lifting
- as part of an explosive strength routine
- as part of a conditioning routine
Ross Enamait has a great conditioning routine incorporating the dumbbell snatch called Magic 50. It consists of 5 rounds for time of the following:
5 x dumbbell snatch with each arm
5 x dumbbell swing with each arm
10 x burpees (with press-up)
I will be covering the dumbbell swing in the next article in this series.
This video is a good example of a power snatch with a jump. The female athlete in this clip is lifting a fairly heavy weight and she really stomps the jump well.
This is a typically tough Crossfit workout featuring the dumbbell snatch. It’s interesting to watch because each of the participants has a slightly different style. They all squat quite deeply, partly because I suspect they have been instructed that way, and partly because the weight is quite challenging and gets more so as the workout progresses!
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