The Snatch Grip Deadlift

Strength coach Charles Poliquin introduced T Nation readers to many strength-training tenets like squatting past parallel, body part splits, and the value of compound lifts.
One of his more radical ideas was doing snatch grip deadlifts from a 4″ podium. He loved this exercise, saying it was among the best for putting on mass, fast. Sadly, with the advent of maintaining a neutral spine, this exercise has been snatched from existence.
Many coaches opt for safer, shorter ROM deadlift variations, especially when working with populations sporting the posterior chain mobility of a crowbar. But not having the mobility now doesn’t mean you won’t have it in the future. You just have to put in extra time if you want to do one of the most underrated exercises in barbell history.

Why Snatch Grip Deadlift?

If getting “walking-like-you-have-Sidney-Crosby’s-Olympic-Gold-winning-hockey-stick-up-your-ass” syndrome after a heavy session of snatch grip deadlifts isn’t enough proof that they “work,” here are some other reasons to do the exercise:

1. Upper-back development.

Olympic weightlifters have very impressive back development. Outside of pulling from the floor with insane frequency, one thing they do that most others don’t is pull with a snatch grip. So if band pull aparts aren’t exploding your posterior delts and upper traps as planned, consider adding this lift into your program.

2. Posterior chain development.

Conventional deadlifting is known for developing a muscular back more than it is for developing muscular legs. This is because, all things considered, the lift doesn’t require a lot of range of motion in the hips and knees.
Even though you’re not lifting as much weight when you use the snatch grip, it’s more of a leg exercise because of the starting position depth. Your hamstrings and glutes gets stretched considerably more, and this is what packs on the size.

3. Assisting conventional deadlifts.

The deadlift, for all practical purposes, is like a half-squat. There’s nothing “normal” about the height of forty-five pound plates, they’re that size because of tradition. To increase ROM, many lifters will pull from a deficit.
The snatch grip deadlift is essentially a deficit pull because the wide grip forces you to get deeper in the starting position. You can now stop balancing on stacked plates like a jackass.

4. It can boost your vertical jump.

I’ve researched vertical jump training thoroughly to prepare my athletes that go onto combine-esque tests. Although journal articles are insightful, nothing compares to analyzing video footage of people attempting vertical jumps.
I’m looking at two stills taken from YouTube. The quality is too crappy to post here, so take my word for it. Both shots show jumpers stopped in the amortization phase of a vertical jump.
The guy on the left boasts a 30″ vertical. Honestly, with the setup he’s using, I doubt it, but for the sake of conversation, let’s say he’s telling the truth. The dude on the right boasts a near 50″ vertical. Since that’s very high, I’m going to bump it down to 40″ to account for YouTube inflation.
We’re left with a 10″ difference. Apart from the guy on the right being noticeably more muscular, they have dramatically different body positions. The guy with the higher vertical is relying much more on hip extension, which equates to more glute and posterior chain use. The other guy is all quads and calves.
Although there are probably many reasons why the one is jumping higher, his body position isn’t hurting him. And strangely enough, it’s a position that resembles the beginning of a snatch grip deadlift.

Get a Grip!

Many who try snatch grip deadlifts get as far as the first set and never to do them again because gripping the barbell mangled their hands into a pseudo-cramped claw. But this lift isn’t meant to be grip work, so don’t fret.

The Snatch Grip Deadlift

Most Olympic weightlifters use straps in training and the hook grip in competition to save their hands. The hook grip is a gripping technique where your fingers wrap around the thumb instead of the traditional thumbs-atop-fingers monkey grip. But it’s not really meant to be done for long duration sets, and is much more of a “singles” friendly technique.
If you’re serious about the snatch grip deadlift but want to save your hands, you’re going to need straps. Forgo them on the warm-up sets, however, and save them for the work sets.

The Setup

In the Olympic weightlifting world, it’s customary to setup and start with the shoulders behind the bar so that the quads help the initial push from the floor.
But since we’re not Olympic weightlifters, I prefer to use the pulling mechanics that most heavy deadlifters abide by: shoulder blades directly above the bar, and the bar kept close to the body (scraping the skin off of the shins).

What Not to Do

Having a form breakdown during the snatch grip deadlift is about as easy as a guy having an affinity for Jamie Eason. Since the wider grip stresses the upper back, it needs to stay rigid to keep the system intact. But the upper back is a mixture of many smaller muscles, and it’s not nearly as strong as we’d like it to be. When it fails, the shoulders round over and the lower back soon follows.
Because of this, I prefer “mastering” an easy weight to ease the upper back into the lift. This means volume is added before weight. If you deadlift anything above 350 pounds, a good starting point is 225 pounds for five repetitions. Yes, this will feel “easy,” but it’s necessary to prepare for higher intensities down the line.
Weight on the bar should only be ramped up after you’ve solidified the mobility to use maximum grip width, and have built the upper back tolerance for it.

Disclaimer

Before I go further, this article is about snatch grip deadlifts from the floor. Most lifters have enough trouble keeping the back in a good position without the extra height a podium offers. If you toy around with this lift for a while, however, and decide you want to kick it up a notch, feel free to pull from a deficit. At that point you should know whether your back can take it.

Strategies

Since we’re easing into this exercise, it’s perfect for a “light” lower body day (or light deadlifting day). You can also incorporate it into your conventional deadlifting warm ups. Again, if you’re handling anything above 350 pounds, do your warm ups up to 225 pounds with a snatch grip. The extra range of motion will make your conventional pulls feel easier.
Let’s start at the beginning: “Where should I grip the bar?”

The Grip

When people think of taking a “snatch grip,” they envision grabbing the bar from collar to collar. But the widest grip I advise (and this is for tall folk) is with the index finger just outside the last ring on the barbell. The narrowest grip would be a grip where the pinky finger is just inside of the last ring. Most, however, will settle in between these two grips.
The Snatch Grip Deadlift
To find your starting grip, you’re going to have to do some testing. Grip the bar one thumb length away from the smooth. Do one or two deadlifts to groove your form. If you hit them without problems, move your grip out an inch further. Again, one or two reps should tell you whether you’re ready for the grip width.
The Snatch Grip Deadlift
Repeat this process – re-gripping, testing, and resting – until you’re unable to keep your spine in a good position. Take note of where your hands are because that’s the grip you’ll use until you become flexible enough to hit your optimal width.
If you get as far as pinky finger just inside the ring, then you won’t need much work. Hell, if you’re a shorter person don’t worry about going further. For most, however, it’s best to have at least your fourth finger gripping overtop the smooth ring on the barbell.
To make this clearer, here’s a standard.

This certainly isn’t gospel. If you’re shorter and want to shoot for a wider grip, then I encourage you to go for it. But if your form is breaking down with a not-so-wide grip, you need to work on your flexibility.

Flexibility

To get more flexible for the snatch grip deadlift, you need to practice the snatch grip deadlift position. Complicated stuff, I know.
Load a bar with 315+ pounds (you need enough weight on the bar so that you don’t actually end up lifting it), get into the starting position (the sequence is described below), and then anteriorly rotate your pelvis while lifting your chest up. Use the bar to pull yourself into the ground. You’ll feel this most in your lower back and hamstrings.
Hold the position for 20-30 seconds. Stand up and shake yourself out. Go back and take a wider grip on the bar and do the same, holding for 20-30 seconds. Again, stand up and shake yourself out. For your third set, grip the barbell at what you feel is your optimal grip. Another 20-30 seconds and another shake out concludes your stretching.
Do this as frequently as you can, but especially after your lower body lifting days.
For those already at your optimal grip, take a collar to collar grip and do this stretch for one set after your deadlifting days to develop a safe net of flexibility.

How To

Despite the snatch grip deadlift appearing to be technical wizardry, it’s an easy maneuver to master as long as you’re working within your means.

Feet

Start by settling your feet underneath the bar, lining it up over the mid-foot. Your feet shouldn’t be quite as wide as squatting width, but they shouldn’t be quite as narrow as deadlifting width, either.
You need to give your torso some room, so point your toes out anywhere from ten to twenty degrees. This makes getting into the bottom position easier, which helps keep the lower back rigid.
The Snatch Grip DeadliftThe Snatch Grip Deadlift

Grip

Take your grip on the barbell with the same width that you tested into earlier. Along with having a suicide grip on the bar, make sure you lock your elbows.
Think about pulling the bar apart with your hands. This keeps both the elbows and upper back tight. Losing slack in either of these areas is a recipe for hunching over and losing spinal position. It’s common to “forget” about the elbows because they’re not normally a concern during conventional deadlifts, so make it a point to remind yourself.
The Snatch Grip Deadlift

Finish

The feet are in place and the grip is settled. To finish the setup, bend your knees until your shins hit the barbell. Once contact is made, lift your chest and settle the lower back into a neutral position. You’re now ready to pull.
The Snatch Grip Deadlift

The Pull

Drive the bar off the ground using your legs. Envision squeezing yourself into the floor. Be sure to keep your back angle constant during the initial leg drive. When the bar passes your knees, drive the hips forward to a strong lockout with tight hips. Remember to slide the barbell up your body. For the sake of your lower back, don’t let it float away.
The Snatch Grip Deadlift
As a small aside, be sure to bring your shoulders with you at lockout. If you don’t, depending on your grip width, there’s a good chance the bar will settle right across your junk. Guys, consider yourselves warned.
To set the bar down, reverse the directions above, breaking at the hips until the bar reaches the knees. Reposition yourself after each rep to ensure that your back stays in good position.

Programming the Snatch Grip Deadlift

Most people don’t like to pull heavy twice in one week, and for good reason. Between the squats and other leg work, the lower back and nervous system can fatigue quickly.
The good news is that snatch grip deadlifts will be anything but “heavy,” especially compared to conventional pulls. Approach this exercise with a tortoise mentality. Start at 225 pounds for sets of five.

Cycle #1

The Snatch Grip Deadlift

The purpose of the first cycle is to gradually introduce the snatch grip deadlift and to work on any flexibility issues you may have. Since three weeks of hard training followed by one week of deloading is a common training strategy, that’s the format I’m going to use for this example.

Week One

Day 1 (Light day)

Exercise Sets Reps
A Back squats 3 6
B Snatch grip deadlifts+ 3 5
C Glute-ham raises 3 8
D Ab wheel rollouts 5 8

Day 2 (Heavy day)

Exercise Sets Reps
A Power cleans*
B Conventional deadlifts+ 2 3-5**
C Good mornings 3 8
D Bulgarian split squats 2 8
D Band hip rotations 2 10

Week Two

Day 1 (Light day)

Exercise Sets Reps
A Back squats 3 8
B Snatch grip deadlifts+ 4 5
C Glute-ham raises 3 10
D Ab wheel rollouts 5 10

Day 2 (Heavy day)

Exercise Sets Reps
A Power cleans*
B Conventional deadlifts+ 2 3-5**
C Good mornings 3 10
D Bulgarian split squats 2 10
D Band hip rotations 2 10

Week Three

Day 1 (Light day)

Exercise Sets Reps
A Back squats 3 10
B Snatch grip deadlifts+ 5 5
C Glute-ham raises 3 12
D Ab wheel rollouts 5 12

Day 2 (Heavy day)

Exercise Sets Reps
A Power cleans*
B Conventional deadlifts+ 3 3-5**
C Good mornings 3 12
D Bulgarian split squats 2 12
D Band hip rotations 3 10

Week Four (deload)

Day 1 (light day)

Exercise Sets Reps
A Back squats 2 5
B Snatch grip deadlifts+ 2 5
C Glute-ham raises 2 10
D Ab wheel rollouts 3 10

Day 2 (Heavy day)

Exercise Sets Reps
A Power cleans*
B Conventional deadlifts+ 2** 5
C Good mornings 2 10
D Bulgarian split squats 1 10
D Band hip rotations 2 10

Less Reading, More Lifting!

Whether you’re interested in strength or size, the snatch grip deadlift is worth the investment. It’s a great exercise that can complement and improve a traditional deadlifting program while adding extra mass to the upper back, glutes, and hamstrings.
So man up, work on your mobility, and start gripping the bar wider and wider to master snatch grip pulls from the floor. Just don’t complain to me when your friends start making off-color jokes about your newly acquired walk. Of course, once their girlfriends start checking out your beefed-up glute and hamstrings, you might hear a lot less laughing.
Anthony Mychal is an athlete consultant, writer, teacher, and coach. In his free time, he publishes a blog about his musings on athletic preparation at http://www.anthonymychal.com

About EdR

Tant que les lions n’auront pas leurs propres historiens, les histoires de chasse continueront de glorifier le chasseur. (proverbe africain)

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