Thursday, September 9, 2010

The Squat Snatch, Part Three - Bob Hoffman

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Alan Stephen, George Eiferman, Steeve Reeves, Clancy Ross.

The Squat Snatch, Part Three
by Bob Hoffman

In this discussion of lifting techniques it might be well to show by means of the Hoffman formula how the various holders of the world records in the snatch compare with each other. Three are splitters, four squatters.

Bantamweight – Stogov – Russia – 231¼ – 213.9
Featherweight – Zielinski – Poland – 248 – 218.4
Lightweight – Kostylev – Russia – 275½ – 223.3
Middleweight – Kono – USA – 294 – 222.5
Lthvyweight – George – USA – 303 – 215.7
Midhvyweight – Ocypa – Russia – 321¾ – 219.4
Heavyweight – Ashman – USA – 331½ – 201.8

You will note that Kostylev, a splitter, has the highest rating, followed closely by Kono, who is of course a squatter. As mentioned before, Kostylev snatched 281 pounds while weighing just a few grams over the lightweight limit. Had he received credit for the 281 his Hoffman formula rating would be 228. The fact that he is a splitter, however, does not indicate that the style he employs is superior to any other style. He is a very extraordinary lifter, tall for his class, muscled like a racing stallion, and possesses a terrific pull.

I vividly recall an occasion I had to talk about and compare training methods and lifting techniques with most of the world’s best two-hand snatchers. We were riding on a train from Leningrad back to Moscow during our first trip to Russia in 1955. Crowded into a compartment with me were Vinci, Tchimiskian, Kostylev, Duganov, Vorobiev, Kono, Sheppard, Stanczyk, and Anderson. All either held or had held world records in their classes. And although there were some differences in their styles, all agreed that just two things were necessary to be great at two-hands snatching – a hard pull and the lowest possible position when getting under the bar. Both require incessant practice.

We have discussed the placing of the feet for this lift. Next is the position of the hands on the bar. The spacing varies with different lifters. With a closer grip the lifter can pull harder, but he has to pull higher. On the other hand, when a collar-to-collar grip is used, it is not necessary to pull so high, but one can not pull as well in this position. It is wise to adopt a hand position which permits you to pull with maximum force. At one time the best two-hand snatcher in America, and perhaps in the world, was Johnny Terpak. In 1937, weighing less than 160 pounds, he snatched 260 when the American heavyweight record was only 255. Johnny had a very strong grip, he did not hook. I always thought that he would have done even better with the hook grip but he did not agree. He posed for one of the series of pictures in my book “Weightlifting”, which shows him pulling the bell to maximum height, raised on his toes, head back, chest up. Terpak was wonderful in his ability to push hard against the bar as he went into the low split position. We will try to describe this important part of the lift a bit later.

A lifter who uses an extremely wide position of the hands will have a tendency to swing rather than to just pull the bar straight up. A method by which you can determine the correct spacing for yourself is to see at which hand width you can lower the bar to the hips behind the back while keeping the elbows locked. If you are very flexible you might be able to do this with the hands only 45 inches apart. If you can, you can snatch with a closer grip. Terpak and other great snatchers of his day, notably Tony Terlazzo and John Davis, held their hands at about the middle of the knurling on an international barbell. Today most of the star squatters of the American team hold the bar either with the hands at the edge of the collars or within an inch or two of the collars. Big Dave Ashman is a splitter, and he is so broad-shouldered that his shoulders cramp a bit even with the collar-to-collar spacing he uses.

Whether you have a strong grip or not, you will be wise to use the hook grip. Most lifters can handle 10 to 20 pounds more in this style. To assume the hook grip, place your hands tightly around the bar with the thumbs wrapped around the bar and turned in somewhat; then wrap your fingers around the thumbs. In the very beginning the thumbs may get a little sore but they will soon become accustomed to the added strain and you will find that it will be possible to lift considerably more in a very short time.

With the feet properly placed, the hands properly placed, you are ready to assume the correct starting position of the trunk. Lower your hips so they are well below your shoulders. The best position is with the back flat and at an angle of 45 degrees to the platform. Your arms are kept straight at the beginning of the lift, hanging as if they were ropes with hooks on the end. As the lift starts, the first motion is the straightening of the legs, very much like the correct performance of a dead lift. Start pulling smoothly and comparatively slowly. Keep pulling until you have almost reached the upright position for the dead lift before putting your arms and shoulders into action. The lift gets faster and faster as the bar rises, and you complete the pulling movement with a vicious high pull, endeavoring to elevate the bar as high as is humanly possible. Keep he bar as close as possible to the body throughout the lift. At the highest point of the pull you will be on raised toes to get the last possible amount of lift; your chest will be up, your head well back, your hands turned in somewhat as you pull, and the elbows turned a bit to the front.

Now comes the really important part – getting under the bar. Spread or jump your feet to the side as you drop. Do it fast enough that the feet hit the platform with a resounding smack. You have started with the feet a comfortable distance apart, about 12 inches for smaller men, perhaps 18 inches for larger men, and this has allowed you to pull the weigh high. Now, by spreading your legs and feet fairly wide, you will be able to go into a lower position than would be the case if you maintained a narrower stance. The best way to find your best low position is by lowering yourself into the bottom position while holding the weight overhead.

Dropping under the bar must be done with deliberate speed. As the body is lowered you must push hard against the bar. This is the part of the snatch that so few lifters master. The rules for the two-hands snatch forbid pressing out the arms at the completion of the movement, but this exerting a hard pressure that I am referring to, pushing away from the bar as the body is lowered, is not a press-out. By mastering this phase of the snatch you can add 10 or 20 pounds to your record. Johnny Terpak was the first man I ever saw using this style and it had a lot to do with his superlative snatching ability. It’s a must if you want to be a truly good lifter. Too many men simply pull the weight up and catch it at arms’ length, whereas if they would push viciously against the bar as the body is lowered, their record performances would be much higher.

The position of the head is important in the correct performance of the two-hands snatch. When you start the lift your head is raised; at the highest point of the pull the head is turned well back; then, as you drop under the weight, your head is lowered, and the deeper your drop down, the lower you should place your head. In the lowest position some lifters look up a little; few have their head lower than looking straight to the front.

Many lifters pull the weight as high as they can on each lift but do not drop to the lowest position until they approach their limit. I recommend always dropping under the weight to the correct low position regardless of where you catch it. Even big Paul Anderson, who perfected his lifting in the York Barbell Club gym, learned to go into the lowest possible position in both the clean and the snatch by practicing dropping into this low position after he had the weight fixed at the shoulders or overhead.

A few lifters can snatch a weight to arms’ length and then not get up with it. It happened to me occasionally. Louis Reicke of the New Orleans Athletic Club, a former Junior National Champion and the present YMCA champion, snatched 273½ pounds at Dallas last April and held the weight overhead for long seconds in the split position but just could not get up with it. He weighed less than 165 pounds. Since most great squat snatchers also use the squat style for the clean, they should have power enough to come erect with any weight they can get to arms’ length. If you have any trouble getting up with higher poundages, in your training practice half or quarter squats from the bottom position with progressively heavier weights.

In the low position your body should incline forward somewhat, the degree depending upon the proportion between your back and legs. A study of sequence pictures will show how this position varies among the better lifters. The reason for keeping the body inclined is that you have a lot more room for adjustment of your overall position to fix the weight overhead than you do if your body is straight up and down.

Endlessly I argue with our champions that the correct form in two-hands squat snatching is to pull the weight up in a straight line. Some of them insist on pulling the bar in an S curve, a style I consider to be very precarious. In this S method the bar is pulled from the floor in toward the shins, moves out to miss the knees, is well in front of the body at the chest, and is then swung back in the overhead position. Dave Sheppard used this style for a time and got so out of form that he does not know what to do next. He now seems to alternate between the split and the squat and can never be certain of what he is doing with either style. Isaac Berger at one time used the S so strongly that he had to jump forward to fix the weight overhead. Under our coaching he has corrected this somewhat and now pulls pretty much close to a straight line. Chuck Vinci learned to pull the weight straight up as we urged him to do, and he has snatched 231¼ to equal the world record in competition no fewer than six times.

I often say that lifting is done almost gently, with a strong, smooth movement almost like you were picking up a basket of eggs and raising it overhead. Awkward, jerky motions are not correct. Wasted motion is to be avoided, for after all, the shortest distance between two points is a straight line. In both the snatch and the clean, the lift is really nothing more than a continuation of a high dead lift. In the dead lift you stop when the back and arms are straight; with the clean you pull the weight to belt height; with the snatch you pull it higher, which is possible because the weight is lighter.

Once again I’ll repeat, a picture is worth a thousand words. Study sequence photos carefully and closely examine videos sometime in the future on what will come to be called a computer, they can show you some of the world’s best squat snatchers in action.

Constant patience pays off in two-hands snatching. In the course of a year I attend at least 40 weightlifting contests, and I see too many fellows miss three times with the squat snatch. They seem stiff and awkward and they obviously do not assume the correct positions. The reason is that they do not practice enough. You should practice until you can do the lift smoothly and with proper coordination throughout. Although your limit will be in direct proportion to the power or your pull, you must also practice all the other movements which constitute a completed lift. I have in mind now the practice of squatting with the weight held overhead. This is by far the best way to determine the position of the feet which makes it possible for you to get into the lowest position, to maintain proper balance, and it will enable you to learn the proper position to hold the back and shoulders and to keep the weight in control overhead.

To develop pulling power, practice all sorts of pulling movements. Bent over rowing motions, dead weight lifts, upright rowing motions with both barbells and dumbells, high pull ups to arms’ length overhead, and learning to pull heavy weights to arms’ length in a progressive manner will all strengthen your pull. Cleaning heavy weights likewise increases your pull. You should also practice snatching with a very close grip, with the hands in pressing position. At times practice snatching without using the legs, at other times without the legs or back by pulling strictly with the arms and shoulders. Learn to pull up as much weight as you can and drop under it. It may seem odd, but Chuck Vinci with very limited training snatched 245 pounds from his lifting belt. This is done with the legs to a certain degree, but mainly with the arms and shoulders. Assuming the correct hand position for the snatch, take a weight much heavier than your record and see how high you can pull it. Vinci often takes as much as 300 pounds with the snatch grip and pulls it to his chest, his body leaning well forward.

Most advanced lifters when training on their snatch warm up with the bar and the big plates, 135 pounds. They pull the weight high from the start and with each succeeding repetition squat lower until they have reached the lowest point. Isaac Berger has good success in starting with this 135 and moving up in jumps of 10 pounds each until he approximates his record. For him this means 10 lifts. He then drops back, making a few heavy snatches with about 10% under his limit. Vinci starts with the same weight but moves up faster with about 20 pound jumps. We have a rule in the York Barbell Club gym that success breeds success, failure breeds failure. When a man misses a weight, we ask him to drop back five pounds for the next attempt, and if he fails again, to drop back another five pounds, and then move forward again when he makes a good lift. Thus he is continually working with good poundages. It is possible to snatch moderate weights with faulty style, so to improve his form a man must snatch heavy weights. Heavy weights to a big man might mean 6-8 sets of 2 with 250 or more pounds for a lifter such as John Davis, Norb Schemansky or Dave Ashman.

Most of the world’s best snatchers practice repetitions in their snatching. Two and sometimes three reps with a heavy weight are done. Our system in York has usually been to lift the first rep from the floor, the second from the dead hang. The dead hang is sometimes done from higher, from the top of the thighs, or sometimes from a position where the weight is lowered to almost the floor. Dave Sheppard can handle more from the thighs than from the floor and Tommy Kono could always lift more from the dead hang start than from the floor. I have always felt that something is wrong with the starting position when the lifter can dead hang more than he can pull from the floor. The object of starting slowly from the floor as in the dead lift is to get the weight in the right position before starting the second pull.

The two-hands snatch is a beautiful lift. It is fast and it is thrilling to watch. It builds much in the way of strength, health and athletic ability. To be a true weightlifter you must be a good snatcher. I hope this series of articles will help you to be just that.

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