Friday, December 11, 2009

From “Secrets of the Squat Snatch” - Larry Barnholth

Dave Sheppard snatching 235. Weight well back, head well forward and shoulders in a position where the weight can be caught no matter which way it goes.


Pete George. Note similarities to Sheppard's style.


Kinunnen of Sweden in a very low squat snatch. This is a superb style but not as sure as the style taught by Barnholth because the head is not far enough forward nor the weight far enough back which makes it difficult to adjust the body and shoulders under the weight.






From “Secrets of the Squat Snatch”
by Larry Barnholth (1950)


At the present you may be quite dubious about the squat style of snatching. You may ask, “What is the value of the squat style of snatching; aren’t most of the current records held by split lifters?” Then, too, you may be wondering if you are the type that can conform to the correct position required by this method of lifting. Finally, you may have undoubtedly heard at some time or another that the squat snatch is a precarious lift, and you may be doubtful if it would be safe for you to employ this style in competition where only three attempts are permitted. These questions are very common among lifters who have been considering learning the squat snatch as they are embodied in the minds and letters of the hundreds of students who have come to me for instruction. I will answer these questions in the following pages.

The squat and split styles of lifting originated approximately simultaneously. Split lifting was first developed in France and slightly later in England. Continental Europe was the place of origin of the squat style; it was mainly employed by the Germans and Austrians. During these early stages in the history of weight lifting the Germans thought that their style was the only right way and would rule out all splitters who competed in Germany, and the French in their turn believed that the split was the only right form and would disqualify all squatters. Finally both sides came to recognize both styles.

During these early days of modern weight training, records would often alternate between squat and split lifters. Henry Steinborn, a squat lifter, at one time held the world heavyweight snatch record. Nosseir, the big powerful Egyptian, used the split style to push the record up to 275, and then later to 280. Wohl, a German, raised the mark to 286 while employing the squat style. Ronald Walker used the split style to increase the record to 292½. Then, the great American champions, Louis Abele, Steve Stanko, and John Davis, entered upon the scene and batted the mark around until the war. Of course the war put an end to Germany’s claim as an international weight lifting power.

In spite of the fact that that the Germans were able to break world records with the squat style, very few of them had good form on this lift. I have seen some of the great German champions, but was very disappointed with their form on the snatch. Manger for instance would squat on his toes and would often walk or crawl under the weight to maintain his balance. Of course there were some Germans who had good form on this lift, but there were many who did not. The latter were the ones who were responsible for attaching the reputation of unreliability to the squat snatch.

During a period of over 25 years that I have been coaching lifters I have yet to find a person who could snatch as much in the split style as he could in the squat style after he had learned both methods correctly. The reason that the majority of lifters today use the split rather than the squat is that the split style is easier to learn. The squat style is a science. Anyone can pick up form of one sort or another in split style with little or no teaching, but to learn the correct form in squat lifting one must receive proper instructions. There are very few coaches who have studied the squat style thoroughly enough to be able to teach or perform a perfect squat snatch. You are fortunate along these lines because for the first time in the long history of weight lifting a comprehensive analogy of this lifting is presented to the public.

Anyone short of being a very unusual freak can learn to perform a correct squat snatch. It is true that men with short legs and long torsos often can more quickly adapt themselves to the squat style, and appear to have smoother form on the lift. For instance, I have often remarked that the form employed by Tony Levenderis, whose body and legs are in the above mentioned proportions, is the smoothest and most graceful that I have ever seen. Although long-legged lifters do not as a rule appear quite as graceful as do their teammates with the opposite proportions, they can employ the squat style with equal success as far as reliability and power are concerned. This has been proven by Pete George and Dave Sheppard. At the American College of Modern Weight Lifting we start out all beginning lifters on the squat style and find no difference among the various types as to poundages lifted or reliability. So regardless what type of general body structure you may be classed in you can learn to squat snatch correctly.


Preliminary Exercises

As I write this information on lifting I find myself confronted with the problem of addressing various types of audiences simultaneously. By this I mean that some of you reading this book are just starting to work out with the weights, some of you have done some preliminary training with weights, and others of you have years of experience in the iron game. So I will presume that before you start training on the competitive lifts you will have spent the necessary amount of time conditioning yourself to the extent that there are no weak links in your chain of strength.

I will assume also that since you want maximum results from our teachings you will shelve your present knowledge and let me take you right from the beginning through the various stages up to the heights of a finished and polished lifter. Whenever I am coaching any of the hundreds of the students (past and present) who have attained the required results, I never permit them to assume that they know wall about it. I must be accepted as the sole expert during your training period if you wish to receive the results that have gratified my various pupils the world over.

In learning the squat snatch the preparations and preliminary exercises are extremely important. If you are very exacting in seeing to it that this conditioning is executed correctly you will find that the form in the squat snatch will come almost automatically. However, if you slight this part of your training you will probably encounter a great many difficulties later. So by all means make haste slowly, and remember that Rome wasn’t built in a day. The squat snatch is a complex art requiring application of scientific principles. The system that is contained in the following pages is the method used at the ACMWL to teach their near perfection squat style of lifting. If you apply it properly it will work for you.

Now to get down to brass tacks. The first item that we will consider in preparing for the squat snatch is that of the proper shoes. In all of your lifts use shoes with heels on them. The heels should be as high as on your street shoes or higher. This not only tends to make you more stable, but also tends to keep your pelvis in proper position to prevent sacro-iliac trouble. For the best results you must wear heels. Leather gym shoes with heels added make very good lifting shoes. The ankle height of these shoes not only give good support to the ankles, but when laced up tightly produce a better fit on the foot. This is another important point to remember since you can not do your best lifting while wearing loose and sloppy shoes. If your shoes can not be laced tight enough wear an extra pair of socks. Pete George prefers a working shoe. They are of sturdier construction and will not very readily split at the sides as lighter shoes often do when lifting heavy weights. Pete also claims that the heavier shoes give him the feeling of a solid foundation to lift on. They do not have any noticeable effect on his speed.

For our second point we will consider the lifting belt. This piece of lifting paraphernalia has become very popular in recent years, and I believe it produces a good and almost necessary effect in attaining best results on all the lifts. It helps to keep your back in the correct position, and it also produces an important psychological effect, i.e., gives your back a feeling of support. After you have developed good form in the squat snatch by all means wear a lifting belt. However, while you are learning the form I suggest that you do without.

Never practice the squat style while wearing street pants. This is especially important while learning the correct form not only because it’s a good way to rip a pair of pants, but because trousers will restrict your motions. You must have complete freedom of motion to execute the perfect squat snatch. Trunks or sweat pants are a very essential part of your lifting outfit.

Now that you are all togged out for lifting, the next thing to think about is the kind of bar that you will need to commence your training. When you first start to train for the squat style snatch, take no bar shorter than six feet in length. This length will permit you to learn the right shoulder action.

Now you will need to know how wide to grip the bar. There is a simple test that you can apply to determine the best width for you on the squat snatch. This test consists of holding a bar overhead; then without bending the elbows, lower the bar behind you to the level of your hips. Incidentally, this width test, or DISLOCATION movement, is also our first conditioning exercise.

Flexible, strong shoulders are extremely important in performing a perfect squat style snatch. Many lifters who claim that they have tried squat snatching but felt that the position was to awkward felt that way as a consequence of tight shoulders. The shoulders must be loose to permit the weight to drop into that certain groove where it will feel solid. Tight shoulders also have a tendency to make on rise on his toes when holding a weight overhead in the squat position. The feet should be flat on the floor after catching the weight in the squat as the up on toes position contributes more than any other one thing toward making the lift precarious.

Our first conditioning exercise as was mentioned above is executed as was the width test. In this exercise you start with a wide grip. Each time you lower the bar from arms length overhead to the back of your hips and back up again think of keeping your elbows locked tightly. (A solid bar might be too heavy for you to begin this exercise with, so a pipe or wooden bar is alright.) After you have started this exercise with a wide grip go through the motion a few times then move in your grip slightly and repeat. Always make sure that you start this exercise with a grip wide enough to feel comfortable so that your shoulder muscles are warmed up before moving in the grip. This is especially important in the winter as it is easier to make the muscles sore during cold weather.

You are not ready to work on snatch form until you can comfortably do this exercise with the OUTER portion of your hands not over 45 inches apart. With diligent practice it should take only a few weeks or less to accomplish this, and then progress to a closer hand spacing and greater shoulder flexibility. If your shoulders are very tight I might suggest that you carry a five foot length of rope with you, and do the foregoing motion many times during each day. We can go no farther with this lift until you have mastered this exercise with elbows locked tightly. Do not measure the width of your grip after performing the exercise while holding the bar with hands partly open. These motions are intended to stretch the various muscles, so for the present it is not necessary to use a great poundage.

When you have limbered up enough to pass the 45 inch or less qualification we can go to our next exercise, the OVERHEAD SQUAT. This is an important exercise for in helping you to find the proper position for the squat snatch. Grasp an empty bar with a snatch grip, and raise it to arms’ length overhead. Keep your elbows locked tightly and well back during the entire exercise. Start with feet about 16 to 18 inches apart at the heels, and toes pointed out. Lower into as low a squat as you can while maintaining an arched back. Don’t relax the arch in your lower back at any time, and always keep pressing up on the bar. We have found that a lifter exerts a better pressure on the bar if he pulls out on the bar. That is, he must try to stretch the bar when it is overhead, as if it was made of rubber.

While in the full squat find a solid position by moving your feet to the width that is ideal for you. It should be fairly wide. You must remember this position well because it is one of the golden keys to the perfect squat snatch.

You now have the top and bottom positions of this exercise so all you have to do is practice going up and down and you are practicing the most important part in your program to master the squat snatch. In passing let me add, as you lower yourself lower your head slightly, and as you come up look upward slightly. A little experimentation will determine for you how much you should move the head throughout the various stages.

As soon as you can do this while keeping a firm position do 5 series of 10 repetitions each. Start with an empty bar, and add 10 lbs. each series. On your next exercise day start with 10 lbs. loaded on the bar, and add in ten pound increments as before. Keep increasing these series 10 lbs. per exercise day until you are doing 10 overhead squats with our bodyweight of more on the bar. Remember, always keep a strong upward and outward pressure on the bar at all times. When you are in the bottom position, your back should be leaned forward approximately 45 degrees from the vertical. This means that the weight must be back. In coming up, your buttocks should start to rise before your shoulders. In other words, your legs should start to straighten before your shoulders change in elevation, but the shoulders should move to allow the weight to go back. Mastering this point will greatly aid you in balancing the bar, and in coming up quickly with heavy weights.

You may feel a soreness in the wrists or shoulders at the start. This is a natural reaction. Work it out, don’t try a rest cure of it will return again and again. If you work it out once you will not need to worry about it from then on.


When you have done the above exercise with the required poundage you are ready for more advanced practice. Remember that while these exercises seem hard to get used to at first, the preliminaries to all other arts and sciences are that way also. There is no bigger thrill in any sport than accomplishing a perfectly executed squat snatch with heavy poundage. Make yourself enjoy these exercises for you know that if you work on them diligently your rewards will more than compensate for all your efforts. This is good conditioning for the development of concentration and proper mental attitude.

For your next exercise we will go through the same motions as the previous one with a slight alteration. Instead of merely raising and lowering yourself into the position you will jump up and drop down into the squat. Practice this jumping exercise by just barely getting your feet off the floor at first, but as you develop your balancing ability and strength you should do it more vigorously. When you are able to jump as high as you can and drop down to the bottom, and “bounce” right up again 10 times with about 65 lbs. you are ready to start the squat style snatch.

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