The Two Hands Snatch: The Why and How of Gripping the Bar
by Charles A. Smith
One of the nicest feelings in the world is to know that your efforts are appreciated. You take a thousand knocks and chunks of adverse criticism, whether it is justified or not. But that one letter which says “Thanks” or the young lifter who comes over at a meet to thank you for helping him, washes away all the spiteful words that have been directed your way, and makes all the time you spend working and learning about lifting more than worthwhile. I felt particularly happy when my good friend, Ludwig Shusterich told me his pal had considerably increased a hitherto stationary press by following certain of my ideas in the Press section of these articles, while a letter thanked me for the 22 ½ pounds a lifter had added to his total in two months by using a schedule I had mapped out for him.
This department is here for the benefit of all lifters. If there is any problem you have, any experience you think will be of interest to me, then don’t hesitate to send me a letter. Tell me how you increased your press or how you overcame a poor pull in the snatch or clean & jerk. Tell me all about your lifting difficulties; perhaps I can help you overcome them. If I can’t help you, maybe I’ll learn something from your training encounters and experiments. Any man who thinks he knows it all is a “dead” man mentally, to all intents and purposes. I think I’ve got a lot to learn about lifting and I like to think you and I can help each other.
In this article I am going to deal with some seemingly minor details in the snatch, yet points that can make all the difference between a success and failure. But first I’d like to go over a few a certain part of my last article – POSITIVE ATTITUDE. Now perhaps some of you may be of the opinion that I place too much importance on what many of you regard as “kidding yourself.” Yet it is astonishing how greatly the mind influences the more material things. Years ago, I knew a young lifter who had been trying for months to crack a best-ever clean & jerk of 200 pounds. He was a beginner, a featherweight, and had great possibilities. Every time he came into the gym he would don training kit, walk right over to a bar loaded at 200, make his attempt, and promptly fail. He did this so many times that he got ACCUSTOMED to failing. It was the normal pattern of his training. Success was the ABNORMAL. To fail was OK – to succeed all wrong. One day, unknown to him, his pals had used the bar for squats and had left it loaded to either 220 or 225, I forget which over the years. The youngster came in, tried the clean, and as usual failed, remarked that it felt unusually heavy and asked what weight was on the bar. Someone said, “Oh, around 180-190. Whereupon the young lifter, secure in the knowledge that it was always 200 he failed at, walked up to the bar and made a perfectly easy clean with 20 pounds more than he had ever before lifted. So NEVER discount the importance of a POSITIVE MENTAL ATTITUDE. As I pointed out in my last article, get into the habit of failing and it will remain with you. Adopt an aggressive, positive lifting attitude. VISUALIZE A PERFECT SNATCH while you are preparing to lift, and then carry out that snatch with confidence and no thought of failure and you have overcome one of lifting’s greatest obstacles.
Now we come to choice of grip, an all-important factor in your two hands snatch, and this brings in the question of position AT the bar too. As you know there are three types of grip – the thumbless, the thumbs-around, and the hook type. The most commonly used types are the first two. Let us first talk about the reasons why these grips should be used and then the advantages and disadvantages of them.
A man who has particularly small hands will find the use of the hook grip more advantageous than any other. Or if he has short fingers with a long wide palm, again the hook grip will be the best. There are of course exceptions, who can use a thumbless grip or a thumbs-around the bar grip, but for the man with small hands or short fingers OR WEAK GRIP, hooking will provide a secure hold on the bar. Some lifters find they can put more into the pull too, either if they use a thumbs-around or a hook grip. My opinion is that this is mainly psychological, the more secure feeling unconsciously leading to a greater confidence, “elation,” and output of power.
Due to certain anatomical factors which I will discuss shortly, a thumbless grip is of great advantage and in some instances helps a faster and better lockout as the weight arrives at arm’s length in the snatch – but the danger is, with men who have short or weak digits, to lose the bar though falling out of the fingers just as the wrists are turning over. I have seen this happen in many local contests. Rarely does this happen with the experienced lifter and nearly always with the novice. Since this series is mainly for the beginner, I have no doubt that they will benefit from the advice I have to offer.
Personally I advise a thumbs-around grip. The hold is more secure than any other. It is more comfortable . . . something not always the case with a “hook” grip and it contains less possibility of the bar falling out of the hands than the thumbless variety. A man with thick, powerful hands will be able to use a thumbless grip better than the “thumbs” variety, but if you are the kind of guy who likes to make sure, then use the thumbs-around the bar grip.
While it is not my intention to talk about the distance between the hands (width of grip) and the effect it can have on the lift itself, yet the hand spacing can and does have an effect on the grip on the bar. An extra wide hand spacing (out to the collars) sometimes has the effect of pulling the lifter’s shoulders forward over the bar itself. It requires no imagination to see that that this leads to a movement forward and away from the lifter by the bar. The use of a grip not suited to the lifter makes it much harder for him to retain his hold on the bar during this forward motion and his attempts to control it.
It has been said that the disadvantage to using a thumbs-around grip is because some men have a limited ability to pronate the hand or turn it palm down or away. Now with these men a thumbs-around grip on the bar and a NARROW hand spacing will find them having difficulty in locking out as the weight arrives at arm’s length. The man who uses a thumbs-around grip on the bar should use a fairly WIDE hand spacing because then the upper arm bone (the humerus) can perform its job of partial rotation more easily, as well as the shoulder blades PARTIALLY rotating, as the bar flies above the head. If you think I am stretching this point of relation a little too far, try the following experiment. Hold a bar above the head with the thumbs-around grip and a shoulder width or less hand spacing. Try and twist the arms, that is, ROTATE them. You’ll find difficult, if not impossible. Now use a THUMBLESS grip and see how much more turning motion is possible. There is another reason why certain lifters find it hard to lock out when using the thumbs-around grip. A muscle known as the pronator teres acts as a flexor of the elbow and those with limited pronation of the hand are in the position of trying to straighten the arm while the above muscle is trying to bend it. But this is a comparatively rare condition and is mentioned here only because there are some lifters who might be experiencing difficulty in locking out and will find this to be the solution to their problem.
I have covered as many points as possible that must be considered in your choice of a grip. But since in the final analysis it is strength of grip that counts, the above advice is nothing more than a guide. If in spite of the type of grip used you find the bar still has a tendency to slip out of your hands at critical moments, or you have difficulty in holding on to the bar in close to limit attempts, then do what should be obvious. Undertake a programme of grip strengthening exercises. Of these (and for your particular purpose) the two hands dead lift with both hands knuckles to the front, using a snatch width hand spacing will be extremely effective.
Apart from actual power or grip, there are also artificial aids in maintaining a tight hold on the bar. These consist of the use of chalk or powdered resin. Personally, I am in favor of resin when it can be obtained. When you chalk your hands, make sure the inside surfaces of the fingers are well covered as well as the palm. Small pieces of adhesive tape on the first joints of the thumbs and index fingers will also help . . . but . . . if your grip is weak . . .
DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT!