Coach, Why the Snatch Grip Deadlift?

snatch deadlift

Question: Why are we taking the time to focus on the snatch deadlift vs. the normal deadlift?

The snatch grip deadlift has always lived an obscure corner of the exercise universe, tucked away in the complex, esoteric world of Olympic weightlifting.

Although it has been a tool used almost exclusively by weightlifters, the benefits of moving a barbell this way can improve your general strength, stability, and help replicate the positions we take when snatching a barbell from the floor.

Here are a few benefits we can see by regularly including the snatch grip deadlift in a training cycle.

Hits the “specificity principle”

When it comes to the basic training principles that dictate how we as coaches program workouts, few are as important as specificity. The need to precisely replicate the exact forces and positions found in our goal task or activity cannot be overstated.

What do we mean? Well, for example, it’s obviously important to be able to run fast when playing basketball, but it is arguably more important to be able to run fast while dribbling a basketball if you’re looking to move the ball successfully.

This is all to say that pure athleticism is great, but no single athletic quality can replace practicing a specific movement pattern if you want to master that movement. So if an athlete desires to improve the snatch movement, and they’re having trouble taking the bar from the floor to the hip, the snatch deadlift would be the perfect starting point to try and address these issues.

Delivers a greater range of motion (ROM)

Taking a different approach to the deadlift can also expand our range of motion (ROM). This is because the snatch deadlift requires a wider starting position, different from the conventional deadlift.

This wider snatch position will force the hips into a lower starting position, requiring more from the hips and thighs to lift the bar. The bar must also travel a few inches higher, all the way up to the hip crease. While many deadlift specialists gifted with longer arms and a short torso are able to complete a conventional deadlift at mid-thigh, it’s a different story with the snatch deadlift. Regardless of how long the arms are, the bar must travel farther with a snatch grip for every rep.

Along with the increased ROM, the time the body is stressed lengthens. Increasing the time under tension is an effective method commonly used to spur muscle growth. You know the equation:

Force x distance = work

So if the weight is heavy, the force will be significant. And if the range of motion is increased, the overall amount of work per repetition is increased. The overall increase in work can potentially lead to greater strength and muscle gains if applied correctly.

Offers greater upper back and grip focus

Another bonus: the wider grip will also increase the demands on the upper back and hand/forearm musculature.

Yup, the trapezius, rhomboids, latissimus, spinal erectors, and smaller rotator cuff muscles must work incredibly hard to stabilize a heavy barbell while using a wide grip. The demand also transfers over to the grip as the hands must tightly hold onto the barbell to prevent them from sliding inward toward the middle of the bar.

This demand will certainly improve grip strength over time. So if you’re looking to improve posterior chain strength while getting some extra grip work in, the snatch grip deadlift fits the bill.

Keeps it varied and interesting

Yet another key principle of effective training programs is that variation is important in helping to provide a slightly different stimulation to the system.

Variation prevents staleness, both physically and mentally as well as helps maintain progression over the long term. Moving between hinging, squatting, pulling, and pressing patterns is common in most strength and conditioning/fitness, but especially in CrossFit.

The snatch grip deadlift works perfectly here. With a change in grip and position, the athlete can work their “deadlifting muscles” in a fresh, different way.

Reduced loading, but keep it a maximal effort

The final benefit comes from more of a programming perspective for us coaches, but you still see the benefit as athletes.

No matter how heavy an athlete loads the snatch deadlift, the increased challenge of completing the snatch deadlift makes it difficult to make it too heavy compared to the conventional or sumo deadlifts.

While this might initially sound negative (after all, we definitely correlate picking up heavy weights with strength and muscle gains) the overall stimulation or effect a movement has on the body is just as important as sheer poundage on the bar when producing a long-term result.

Why is this? Well, we often get so caught up in how much weight we’re moving we ignore the impact of other factors, like overall effort. So while we can go really heavy on a snatch deadlift and exert “maximal effort” the stress will not be quite as significant as a maximal effort on a conventional deadlift.

While this doesn’t seem like it is a huge factor, it certainly can make a difference for us as coaches when we are planning a full and complete week of a training cycle.

So let’s hear it for the snatch deadlift

The snatch deadlift packs a powerful punch for use in workouts and programming. It offers more muscle activity in positioning, time under tension, practicing part of a high-skill movement, and the opportunity to reduce the overall weight lifted without sacrificing intensity. It also keeps things fresh and interesting.

You’ll definitely be seeing it in our programming at Fringe. See you at the bar Fringies!