Weightlifting Technical Glitches I'm Seeing A Lot These Days: Part 3
Matt Foreman

This will be the last installment in this little three-part technique problem series I’m doing. The issue I’m going to address here is something I’ve been noticing for a very long time, and it’s spreading. Weightlifting newbies are constantly being infected with it. New victims are popping up all over the place, like zombies in "The Walking Dead." We’ve gotta do something about this, before we all get overrun.

Actually, we’re talking about a combination of different technique glitches, and the first one is often the cause of multiple others.

The first problem is very simple…athletes using a snatch grip that’s way too narrow. When I think about the lifters I’ve worked with over the last few years who had previous instruction in the snatch, I would say almost every single one of them had their hands too close together on the bar when I saw their lifts for the first time. This is one of the easiest fixes for a coach, because all you have to do is tell the athlete to move their hands out wider. 99.9% of the times I’ve done this, it was an immediate improvement. When they do their first snatch with the wider grip position, the reaction is almost always, “Wow! That feels so much better!”

I totally understand where this problem is starting. Most of the people who are doing the OLifts these days learned them from a CrossFit coach. We all know how snatching fits in as a component of CrossFit training. CrossFitters do these workouts called Fran or Grace or Tammy or Norma, whatever. In these workouts, they have to do fifty snatches with 61 pounds in eleven seconds or something like that. Because of the need to get lots of reps in a short amount of time, technical precision isn’t a top priority. And because the weight on the bar is so light, the lifter can use really crappy technique and still complete their lifts. When they’re doing this, their snatch technique really doesn’t look much like actual snatching. It’s more like a two-handed overhead hoist. Instead of looking like weightlifters performing snatches, they look like farm workers lifting a wounded pig over a fence or something.

If the pig-hoist movement helps you get a really awesome time on your Norma workout, that’s awesome. However, you’re going to have some serious problems when you try to make the transition into snatching heavier weights and actually attempting a one-rep max. You see, snatching with a close grip almost always causes other technical problems with the lift. One of them is the bar being too far away from the body during the pull. When an athlete performs a snatch, one of the most crucial components is keeping the bar as close to the body as possible during the second pull phase (when the bar is traveling past the abdomen, chest, and then eventually past the face into a lockout position overhead). If you watch world-level athletes and look at their snatches in slow motion, you’ll see what I mean. That bar stays very tight to the body.

When a lifter is snatching with a grip that’s too narrow, a problem occurs that’s a little hard to describe in words. That narrow grip limits the athlete’s ability to keep the bar close to the body, and you’ll almost always see an excessive gap between the torso and the bar as it travels upwards. I’ve always called it “being bunched up” for lack of a better term. Sure, there are occasional people who can snatch with a narrow grip and still keep the bar close to the body, contradicting the point I’m making. And if you grab a broomstick or PVC pipe right now and pull a few snatches with a narrow grip, you’ll probably be able to keep it relatively close to your body because you’re really thinking about it. However, I’m talking about new and intermediate lifters who are trying to learn the movement in the infant stages. Once you’ve coached a few hundred of these people, you’ll see what I mean. A narrow snatch grip usually results in too much separation between the bar and the body during the second pull. It might stay close to the body when it’s passing the abdomen and chest, but the problem really surfaces when it’s passing the upper shoulders and face. It’s just hard to get a quick, snappy snatch turnover when the hands are close together.

I haven’t even touched on hip drive problems, either. When lifters get into more advanced technical development and they start to learn how to increase power and acceleration by driving the hips into the bar, using a narrow snatch grip is going to screw it up. They’re going to make contact with the bar at their mid-upper thigh, which damages the speed (and trajectory) of the movement in most cases. Great snatching happens when the bar tucks right into that hip notch at the top of the thigh and then the athletes can just drive their hips and extend upwards with all the murderous force they can muster. If the arms can then be used properly to keep the bar close to the torso and stick the lockout over the ears, you’ve got perfection. You’ve mastered the hardest movement that can be performed with a barbell.

There are other aspects of this analysis that I’m intentionally leaving out because I don’t want this blog to be nineteen pages long. The easiest way to describe it in a nutshell is this…snatching is supposed to be a quick, choppy movement with the fastest turnover possible. A wide grip is required to make this happen, period. If you don’t believe me, just watch some World Championship weightlifting on YouTube. You don’t see narrow-grip snatching. Of course there are occasional exceptions to the rule, but they’re rare.

I’ve never used a specific method to determine grip width, by the way. I don’t think there’s one comprehensive way to do it because it’s so dependent on the athlete’s individual characteristics. It’s basically just a process of eyeballing it and blending the athlete’s feedback about what feels effective with your own judgment as a coach.

That’ll do it, brothers and sisters. I’ve tried to give you three solid blog posts about technical evils that can hurt your performance. As I said at the very beginning of this whole thing, I hate writing about weightlifting technique because of all the “I disagree…” and “You forgot to mention something…” and “On the other hand…” stuff that oozes out of the internet like oily discharge from an infected hemorrhoid. I know it’s good to have healthy debates and disagreements, but it’s aggravating when it comes from people who don’t know their ass from a hole in the ground. I took the risk for you guys and wrote this stuff anyway, because I care about you. I’m a loving nurturer who believes in positive affirmations and sensitive communication.

So I want to wish successful training to all of you who take these words the right way. Everybody else can suck it with the power of a thousand hurricanes.

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Matt Foreman is the football and track & field coach at Mountain View High School in Phoenix, AZ. A competitive weightliter for twenty years, Foreman is a four-time National Championship bronze medalist, two-time American Open silver medalist, three-time American Open bronze medalist, two-time National Collegiate Champion, 2004 US Olympic Trials competitor, 2000 World University Championship Team USA competitor, and Arizona and Washington state record-holder. He was also First Team All-Region high school football player, lettered in high school wrestling and track, a high school national powerlifting champion, and a Scottish Highland Games competitor. Foreman has coached multiple regional, state, and national champions in track & field, powerlifting, and weightlifting, and was an assistant coach on 5A Arizona state runner-up football and track teams. He is the author of the books Olympic Weightlifting for Masters: Training at 30, 40, 50 & Beyond and Bones of Iron: Collected Articles on the Life of the Strength Athlete.

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Greg Everett 2013-11-25
How do you address the issue of a lifter needing a wider snatch grip for the sake of properly contacting the body, but having a weak grip or wrist problems that make that wider grip difficult or impossible?
Ian Carver 2013-11-25
"Lifting a wounded pig over a fence". Holy shit I peed myself in a fit of laughter at that line....I guess the rest of the article was good... I can't recall since I couldn't stop giggling like a schoolgirl. Thanks, Matt!
Matt Foreman 2013-11-25
Hey Greg,
I guess I would start going through a checklist of possible solutions:
- If it's wrist pain, are there wrist wraps that will fix it and still allow a wide grip?
- If it's grip weakness, would prolonged grip-strengthening exercises? (that wouldn't help the snatches in the short term, admittedly)
- If the wrist/grip issues simply won't cooperate and there's no realistic chance of being able to use a properly wide grip successfully, I would just try to get it as wide as possible before the problems became limiting. Kind of just pushing the width as much as possible to see where the limit actually is.
- Once the absolute maximum width has been found for that person, I would just try to make technique adjustments that allow the pull to be as snappy and compact as possible. Just doing the best possible job with the resources available.

If all of those things were exhausted and the athlete still wasn't having success, I would tell them that they're just gonna have trouble with snatching. The crappiest conclusion possible, and sometimes it's the truest thing you know.
Jean-Benoit 2013-11-25
Nice post. I actually check my grip recently and I was too narrow 1 cm each side. Fixing this helped me to get a PR on that day :)
Eric Walker 2013-11-25
Being one of those 'Inferior' CrossFit coaches and owning a CrossFit that actually stresses Oly lifts as the primary program in their CrossFit I seem to recall Coach B stating in his Olympic Lifting Certification that narrowing the grip on the Snatch is a good way to alleviate wrist pain. Taking into consideration proper shoulder mobility. While I'm sure you weren't generalizing or implying that every CrossFit practices 'Pig Hoisting', there might be some 'credible' coaches out there that actually emphasize good technique. Just a thought.
Greg Everett 2013-11-26

I don't think Matt was intending to insult CrossFit trainers or even crossfitters across the board. He was just making the point (which I agree with) that more often than not, crossfitters introduction and sometimes only exposure to the snatch and clean & jerk is in the context of conditioning workouts in which the speed of execution of a series of reps is more important than the technical quality of the individual rep. As he said, there is nothing wrong with that if you believe it best suits your goals. He's talking about advancing to bigger lifts, outside of conditioning workouts.

Burgener and others will often tell beginners to use a somewhat narrower grip if they have wrist pain with the proper grip width, but they're also quick to tell you that this is a temporary thing and that as the athlete's wrists become better conditioned to the new stress, the grip needs to be gradually widened to the optimal position.
Adam Ball 2013-11-27
I own a CrossFit gym and Oly lifting club (albeit a young one) and I'm not sure where some of the athletes are getting it from but some of the Folks who are not that tall (maybe 5'9"ish) are holding the bar collar to collar due to "what they've been told". Having these people bring their hands in more narrow helps more with comfort (wrist and shoulder) and a more solid overhead position, although I think it then just brings them to the correct width Matt is talking about, not an extra narrow width. Seems the BRAND new beginners grasp the bar far too narrow, likely confusing the clean and snatch, grip-wise, and trying to perform the lift from memory.

Great articles Matt, Part 1 was a wake-up call for me.
Matt Foreman 2013-11-27
Hey Eric,
Greg summarized my thoughts perfectly, so I don't have much to add to his comments. I definitely didn't call anybody 'inferior' or anything like that. There are plenty of CrossFits with good coaches who are learning (and teaching) the right things.

Tim 2013-11-27
I enjoyed the rundown. I thought it was informative, and as usual with anything written by Matt- I laughed while reading it. That alone- makes it awesome. There's gotta be "some" humor in all of this…
John Klessinger 2013-12-01
Matt, I am mainly a CrossFitter but I am focusing on my Olympic lifts because they need work as well as I need to develop more leg strength so I just started the "front squat 5 week program from August 2012". Curious, what should the grip width be for the snatch? I am 5'8". I currently am about 2 inches on outside of the knurls. I notice with my overhead squat I am fine slightly more narrow but it doesnt work for me when snatching. Am I too wide for the snatch? Any general rule for grip width? Second question, any suggestions for a poor front rack position. I have two fingers that won't straighten on my one hand. Consequently, i have the catch the bar with a full grip which is a huge strain on my wrists and hands. Can you recommend some stretches or mobility to help me have a better front rack using a full grip?


Jan 2013-12-19
"That narrow grip limits the athlete’s ability to keep the bar close to the body"

--> Then what is it about the c&j?
Fred_A 2013-12-20
I hope one day CATALYSTATHLETICS Writers grow balls as bid as the lifts they hit and stop apologizing for stating true facts about crossfit. Great article!
Jeannie Glover 2014-01-21
Matt, besides being a great coach, you are a great writer. Her informative with entertainment. I love your sense of humor. I discovered OlympicLifting through Crossfit. I love Crossfit, but I also know that if I blast throuh a workout, my technique suffers. I love Deadlifts but I've developed pain in my right hip & hamstring. Are there any past articles or references from catalyst that might help me?
Jeannie G 2014-01-21
I meant to say you' re very informative....
Francisco Martins 2014-08-22
Super interesting thid article Matt
Really love the end and thank you so much for teachinh thru your writing.
Douglas Price 2017-02-27
I think you would do better to draw Crossfitters in instead of push them away. And you can thank CF for the rest of the world finally noticing the sport of weightlifting (shear numbers at the American Open and Nationals). I like your technique stuff, but I can't put up with the ignorant digs on CF anymore. I'm unsubscribing, like you care.
Randy Main 2018-02-05
ah, late is better than never. in my own experience, you'll only use to narrow a grip once on a hard and blue in places never dreamed of !
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