The press in snatch
is one of those exercises that every weightlifter wants to be able to do—they may not have any idea why, but it doesn’t much matter. As it turns out, I think it’s an extremely valuable exercise for a number of reasons, all of which I’ll gladly share with you now: it can help develop and preserve weightlifting-specific full-body mobility, diagnose mobility restrictions, train balance and stability in the snatch receiving position, and improve the ability to aggressively maintain trunk rigidity. How could you not like an exercise like that?
The goal with the press in snatch is to be able to sit comfortably in the bottom, remain stable, and press a loaded bar smoothly from bottom to top (as opposed to starting in the overhead position and lowering the bar to your back to begin each rep, which is a bit easier).
Squeeze the upper inside edges of the shoulder blades together to set upper back and aggressively maintain this position throughout the movement (scapular retraction and upward rotation
—there should be no additional elevation beyond what you feel naturally with this position, i.e. don’t intentionally shrug the shoulders up).
Your presses need to be smooth from start to finish with no grinding, pain, abrupt jerking to get the bar started, or bouncing off the shoulders to change direction. Try to keep your elbows as close to under the bar as possible rather than behind, keep your abs tight to prevent abrupt hinging at the T/L junction (aim for a continuous arch of the back, not a sudden angle at the joint of the lumbar and thoracic segments).
Control the bar all the way down onto the shoulders—don’t allow the bar to crash down. You need to be able to control the lowest range where the mobility demand is the greatest. Focus on squeezing the shoulder blades and almost pulling the bar down into position actively rather than simply allowing gravity to do your job.
You can run through the following progression by starting each stage from overhead and then graduating to beginning your reps from the bottom. Lowering from the top will make it easier to set the proper scapular and upper back position, and consequently to hold those things in position as the bar nears the back.
Start with a light technique bar or PVC pipe if needed. Once you can control the entire range of motion in a certain position with reps starting from the bottom, progress to the next step.
- Start in the standing position with a snatch-grip press behind the neck. This should really be Step 0 instead of 1—if you can’t press behind the neck with a wide grip and a vertical trunk, you have no business trying to do a press in snatch yet.
- Sit on a box in an above-parallel squat position and position your trunk vertically.
- In the above-parallel box squat position, lean your trunk forward to mimic the slight forward angle of the trunk in a squat.
- Move to a box that puts you in a slightly below parallel squat and start with the trunk vertical again.
- Incline the trunk forward slightly from the below-parallel box squat.
- Move to an actual squat position but with your heels elevated enough that your trunk is approximately vertical.
- Move to a flat-footed squat.
Don’t start adding weight until you’ve achieved adequate mobility, stability and control with a full press in snatch starting at the bottom, and make sure that with each weight increase, you’re maintaining your position and full range of motion control. Don’t increase the weight so much so suddenly that you end up punching the bar straight forward through your brain stem to get it moving.
Once you can smoothly press under control through the full ROM, you can begin to incrementally narrow your grip for a further challenge, as well as do the exercise in flat shoes.
Diagnosis of Mobility Restrictions
As alluded to earlier, if you currently can’t even press behind the neck with a snatch grip while standing vertically, you have some serious upper back and shoulder mobility work to do.
If you can press on a high box with a slight forward lean but not in a squat, the restriction is at least primarily in your lower body, not your upper body.
If you can press in a squat with the heels elevated but not flat-footed, the restriction is at least primarily in the ankles, not the hips.
If you can overhead squat well
but not press behind the neck, your lower body mobility is adequate but your upper back and possibly shoulder mobility is restricted.