the joy of strength training


November 24th, 2007 at 3:36 am

How-to: One-arm dumbbell snatch

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?

dumbbell snatchThe 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

dumbbell snatch 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

dumbbell snatch 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

dumbbell snatch top position

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.

Video clips

Female athlete performing power snatches with jump

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.

Crossfit workout incorporating dumbbell squats

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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  • 1

    Great post. I like the one arm db movements.
    Particularly partial to the swings.

    MonkeyMan on November 25th, 2007
  • 2

    Db swings are up next!

    gubernatrix on November 25th, 2007
  • 3

    I tried this out yesterday, I really like the combination of the squatting movement and use of the upper body. I’ll be doing these more often :)

    Rooroo on November 25th, 2007
  • 4

    Isn’t it brilliant? I’m so glad you like them.

    gubernatrix on November 25th, 2007
  • 5

    I tried them yesterday for the first time too, they’re great fun!

    Lisa on November 28th, 2007
  • 6

    Thanks very much for this post. I’ve been doing the DB snatch for a little while but haven’t been able to teach it very well because I didn’t learn it from anyone. The written description (esp. with stomping) is so helpful. Looking forward to the DB swing article. Have actually never done that before. :o)

    Erin on November 28th, 2007
  • 7

    [...] goes very well with the dumbbell snatch. In my article on the dumbbell snatch, I quoted a routine from Ross Training called Magic 50 which utilises both the dumbbell snatch and [...]

  • 8

    @ Erin
    Pleased you found the article helpful. The dumbbell swing post is up now – hopefully this will be just as useful.

    @ Lisa
    Nice one! Why not try combining the dumbbell snatch and dumbbell swing in a circuit? Add a bodyweight exercise of your choice to the mix (I usually do burpees but it can be anything) and you’ve got yourself a great workout!

    gubernatrix on November 29th, 2007
  • 9

    Dumbbell or KB Snatches are excellent for interval cardio, I.e the Max V02 protocol from Kenneth Jay. Very Similar to Tabata workouts which can also be done w/ a Dumbbell or KB for snatches.

    Guy on March 18th, 2008
  • 10

    Great idea, I must try Tabata DB snatches!

    gubernatrix on March 19th, 2008
  • 11

    [...] Exercise guide to the One arm dumbbell snatch [...]

  • 12

    [...] favorite exercises include squats, good mornings, and one-armed dumbbell snatches. That last exercise is one I pretty much never see anyone else doing, but it is awesome and [...]

    Changing it up « Exceptionally Fat on November 10th, 2008
  • 13

    Best db snatch tutorial on the net!

    vman on March 6th, 2009
  • 14

    Thanks – glad you like it!

    gubernatrix on March 6th, 2009
  • 15

    [...] DB Snatch - How To [...]

  • 16

    How do i determine what weight to use?

    jim on August 3rd, 2009
  • 17

    Good question, Jim.

    If you want to learn the technique, choose a weight that is reasonably light but not too light, since it is hard to get the feel of an olympic-style lift without a bit of resistance. You need to have something to drop under (see step 3) and having some weight makes you do this properly.

    Without weight, it’s too easy to just do a bit of a knee bend or use arm strength to lift the weight, rather than pulling yourself underneath it and then pressing it up.

    If you just want to get the movement wired first, choose a super light weight or even mime it with no weight at all. Then choose a practice weight. I recommend a dumbbell that is heavy enough to give some resistance but light enough that you can shoulder press it overhead for at least 5 reps.

    Once you’ve got the technique down, match the weight to your workout goal. For strength, choose a heavy weight and low reps; for GPP, choose a lighter weight and higher reps. I often use 5 reps each side as a warm up set.

    gubernatrix on August 3rd, 2009
  • 18

    Hey Gubes

    Just found your article. I have been doing these for a while but always good to ensure my technique is correct. This is far and away the best article on this exercise rather than the single sentence you find on other sites.


    hatter on October 6th, 2009
  • 19

    I mix dumbell snatches with kettle bell swings for a great cardio workout. Right side, 12 snatches followed by 12 swings)switch sides, do 3 sets, pass out on the floor and beg for water.

    denise on October 7th, 2009
  • 20

    Good idea! Swings and snatches are a great combination. Although you can do swings with a dumbbell, they are much better with a kettlebell. Have you ever tried Ross Enamait’s Magic 50 workout? It’s one of my go-to workouts when I need a real blast and don’t want to think up anything myself:
    5 snatches with each arm
    5 swings with each arm
    10 burpees (with a push up)
    5 rounds for time
    Good stuff!

    gubernatrix on October 7th, 2009
  • 21

    Top workout that gubes.

    I decided top give it a go toady as it looked good. Near enough killed me but must be doing me some good.

    How often would you chuck in a workout like this to your normal strength routine? Is it a once a week effort or every now and then just to see how you are improving?

    hatter on October 7th, 2009
  • 22

    There would be no harm in doing it once a week as it is essentially GPP, but I tend to do it every now and again. Generally if I can do it in less than 10 minutes then it’s time to up the weight of the dumbbell.

    Sometimes if I do it at the end of a strength training session and I just want a quick GPP hit, I’ll use a slightly lighter dumbbell. This doesn’t make it easier on the cardio system, as you take less rest. But it’s easier on muscles that have already been worked hard.

    gubernatrix on October 7th, 2009
  • 23

    [...] One Armed Dumbbell Snatch – Read this. [...]

  • 24

    [...] The one-armed dumbbell snatch is lots of fun and tough too. Do it first to continue warming up your whole body – 8-10 reps for three sets.  I do this a little slower and without a squat. Good form is important! [...]

  • 25

    [...] The one-armed dumbbell snatch is lots of fun and tough too. Do it first to continue warming up your whole body – 8-10 reps for three sets.  I do this a little slower and without a squat. Good form is important! [...]

  • 26

    [...] How to: one arm dumbbell snatch [...]

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    [...] Grip Bench Press, Shoulder or Military Press, Straight Bar Curls, Cleans, One Arm Snatch, Underhand Row, T-Bar Row, Olympic Bar [...]

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    [...] One-Arm Dumbbell Snatch [...]

  • 29

    [...] gutter, people! In a wide-squat stance, hold the dumbbell in your right hand in front of the knees. Drive the weight up, keeping it close to the body, and thrust it up with your hips. When the weight [...]

  • 30

    [...] gutter, people! In a wide-squat stance, hold the dumbbell in your right hand in front of the knees. Drive the weight up, keeping it close to the body, and thrust it up with your hips. When the weight [...]

  • 31

    [...] gutter, people! In a wide-squat stance, hold the dumbbell in your right hand in front of the knees. Drive the weight up, keeping it close to the body, and thrust it up with your hips. When the weight [...]

  • 32

    [...] gutter, people! In a wide-squat stance, hold the dumbbell in your right hand in front of the knees. Drive the weight up, keeping it close to the body, and thrust it up with your hips. When the weight [...]

  • 33

    [...] like the description here on the Gubernatrix: The Joy of Strength Training [...]

  • 34

    […] Dumbbell snatches:  I love these.  They make me feel powerful, and also really wake up my muscles in the morning. […]

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