Sunday, July 6, 2008

Learning The One-Arm Snatch - Tony Terlazzo

Learning The One-Arm Snatch
by Tony Terlazzo

The one-arm snatch was at one time among the official International Five Lifts along with the one-arm clean and jerk, press, two-arm snatch and two-arm clean and jerk. This made quite a long program so eventually it was cut to the three Olympic lifts and later to the two-arm snatch and two-arm clean and jerk which we now use. We expect sometime to see only the two-arm clean and jerk used in competition but we well still performing the any other lifts and making records, even tho’ they are unofficial. It is a great satisfaction to perform a high poundage in the one-arm snatch in perfect style. It requires the utmost in speed, timing, strength, flexibility and general athletic ability. It is truly one of the greatest of lifts. You will find it a great pleasure to perform and very beneficial. It is hard to imagine anyone doing nearly 260 pounds as Rigoulot did while weighing about 230. It is quite possible our present champion might go as high as 300 with specialized practice. Needless to say, the lift requires a terrific grip and you will likely want to use the hook grip.

As of late, the average bodybuilder and barbell man in general has lost out on a lot of benefits which would otherwise be his. I am speaking of the lack of interest in the classical one-arm lifts shown by many lifters. For those interested in reaping the benefits, I have written this article.

The one-arm lifts call for considerable skill, timing, coordination and speed. The man who practices these lifts will develop such qualities in addition to greatly increasing his strength and improving his physical development. In addition to that, doing one-arm lifts is a lot of fun and whenever two or more lifters have occasion to get together a little competition in the lifts including the one-arm snatch will certainly make for a truly healthy pastime.

Whenever there is talk of lifting weights and one person says, “So-and-so lifted 250 pounds over his head” almost invariably there is one fellow at least among the crowd who will ask, “What, with one hand?” Well, few men indeed have lifted or can lift that much weight with the use of only one hand. But imagine how wonderful it would be if you could lift that much, or even one-hundred pounds less! The only way to accomplish this is to practice one-arm lifting.

The lift know as the “Bent Press” is perhaps the one in which the greatest amount of weight can be elevated to arm’s length overhead with only one arm doing the lifting. However, any lifter who has achieved any success at all in this lift never actually used only one arm to put up the weight. In practically every case the bent-presser always brings the weight from the floor to the shoulder with both hands. Then, while balancing the barbell on one hand, he bends his body down and to the side while at the same time slowly pushing or “pressing” the weight overhead. A great deal of strength and skill is required to lift any appreciable amount of weight in this manner. But at the same time only the man with a certain type of body structure is ideally suited for this lift. Others, no matter how strong and intelligent they may be, can never do this lift right and consequently will never be able to lift much in the bent press style. I am one of those fellows. I once pressed up 140 pounds with one hand. Val DeGennare. who used to train at York with me and who incidentally was one of the most skillful bent-pressers I have ever seen, performed this lift with 200 pounds or better. Yet I could outlift him by one-hundred pounds in the two-arm press and I did manage to lift one-hundred pounds more than he did in the clean and jerk. Likewise, I never saw him lift over 120 pounds in the one-arm snatch, whereas my best poundage in the lift has been 180 pounds. Val and I weighed pretty much the same.

In nearly every one of the popular lifts and even many of the more widely practiced exercises, leverage or skeletal structure, in more ways than one, greatly determines what advantages or disadvantages one may have insofar as the lifting of weights is concerned. However, this is less true in the one-arm snatch. Here is the reason why.

In every one of the popular lifts, such as the two-arm Clean, Jerk, Snatch or Bent Press, the more a lifter can lower his body beneath the weight, the more he is likely to lift. This is also true of the one-arm snatch. But, in getting the body down under the weight in the one-arm snatch the lifter has the option of squatting straight down or squatting down with a slight turn of the body by merely shifting one foot slightly forward. In either case, however, the lifter squats all the way down and this enables him to assume the extreme low position. In the other lifts, many lifters find that it is impossible for them to use the squat. Because of body construction peculiar to them they are forced to use the split. We know that no matter how skilled a lifter is, no lifter can get down lower with the split than is possible with the squat. 

The one-arm snatch is the only lift in which any lifter, regardless of body structure, can use the squat and get full advantage from it. As a matter of fact, no lifter should attempt to snatch a weight with one hand and use the split style. When doing the lift just remember that all the weight is to one side. Remember also that in order to lift a maximum poundage the lifter must lower his body down all the way. This is not possible with the split, nor is it advisable to even attempt using this style. In splitting, one leg goes forward and the other goes aft. With the weight all on one arm the force of gravity will tend to force you down to one side. Balancing then becomes most difficult. If the lifter is to lower his body to any appreciable degree, the weight of the barbell will very likely make him lose his balance. In other words, the split can be employed only if the lifter does not go down low. But if one doesn’t go down all the way there is no sense doing the lift, as it will never be done correctly, with ease, or with any great amount of weight. On the other hand, when you squat it is possible to get way down low and in this way lift the greatest amount of weight. Balancing is easy because you are sitting down on both legs. Regardless of which arm you may be lifting with and no matter to which side the force of gravity may pull you, it is not difficult to maintain your balance because you can lean over as much as is necessary and find that there is a leg there to support you.

There might be those of you who have only recently become acquainted with weight lifting and weight training. Naturally you may be wondering why so much emphasis is being placed on the method of lowering the body to get under the weight. Well, if a person were merely to pull the weight up with his arms and did nothing with his legs except to stand on them he would lift very little weight. Lifting heavy weights, with one arm or two, is an art requiring utmost skill. Where an athlete cannot lift a certain weight to his chest or to arm’s length overhead by sheer strength alone, the weight is pulled as high as one’s strength makes possible and if that is not high enough to successfully complete the lift, the athlete merely bends his knees, or shifts the position of his feet, or both, and lowers his body so as to get under the weight. A skilled lifter can, in this manner, lift as much as forty percent more weight. All this might come under the heading of “science.” The more science a lifter couples strength, the more weight he is able to lift. Thus, a lifter has to be not only strong but must be intelligent as well.

Weight lifting is practiced by all types of men. They vary in size, height and in weight. Some have long arms, others have short arms. Likewise, there are those who have large hands and others who possess small hands. In doing lifts in which both arms are employed it really doesn’t make a great difference whether a man has large hands with long fingers or small hands with short fingers. The athlete merely places both hands on the bar, grasps it firmly and pulls the weight without fear of the bar rolling out of his hands. However, it is quite different when lifting with one hand. Hardly any lifter can pull up a limit poundage by taking hold of the bar in the usual way. Instead he employs what is known as the hook grip. The lifter encircles the bar with fingers but instead of placing the thumb over the index and middle fingers as is normally done in clenching the fist, the thumb is placed directly against the bar, and the index and middle fingers are placed over the thumb and squeezed tightly. This assures a firm grip when lifting a heavy weight. Unless this type of grip is employed the lifter cannot perform with confidence. Instead he will always be in fear of the weight rolling out of his hand. Furthermore, in performing any one of the so-called fast lifts it is important that the wrists be as flexible as possible. The lifter will find that it is much easier to relax the wrist when using the hook grip. The one-arm snatch is a lift which must be done with the greatest amount of speed. The more speed one employs, the more weight he is likely to lift. 

Naturally it is done with one arm. The object is to lift the weight from the floor to arm’s length overhead in one complete motion. The word “snatch” means to tear, rip, to separate by violence, swiftly. Thus in performing the one-hand snatch the idea is to tear the weight suddenly and swiftly from the floor and bring it to arm’s length. In other words, a sudden effort must be employed. In fact, just pretend that you are trying to lift the weight to the ceiling. The harder you pull the higher the weight will go, and by the same token the more weight you will lift. The rules say that there must no be press-out in doing this lift. The movement must be one and it must be complete. Actually, if a record poundage is lifted there can be no press-out. Not even the strongest man can lift a heavy weight and be able to press it out while he is in the low position that the lift forces him into. To maintain balance the lifter must rise immediately. It is practically impossible to lift an appreciable poundage without locking out the arm instantly. Only those who are just learning and are afraid to go down into a low position do the lift with an obvious press-out. 

Once a fellow has learned to go down low and employs the speed he should employ, he will find that either the arm locks out instantly or invariably the weight comes crashing down to the floor.
Perhaps the best description of how the lift should be done can be summarized thus: “Pull up and sit down.” Yes! Pull the weight as high as you can and at the same time sit down as low as you can. Not all lifters can do it quite this way. But they should try to learn. It is doubtless the best way and one which will guarantee lifting of the maximum poundage. Here is the way I do it. Face the weight and stand with the feet close to the bar. The feet may be placed any distance apart for comfort. However, it is best never to have the feet more than about eighteen inches apart. Be sure the feet are on a straight line and not one behind the other at the start. This is a mistake the average beginner makes when he attempts to lift a weigh with one hand. I have never failed to see it happen. Now bend both legs at the knees and lower the body until the hand you are going to lift with is placed on the bar. Use the overhand grip and be sure to secure your grip by using the hook. If lifting with the right hand place the other hand on the left thigh just above the knee. When you go to pull up the weight press down as hard as you can with the left hand. In pulling up the weight the object is not to lift in a perfectly straight line. Teachers of the old school used to say that the nearest distance between two points is a straight line. I have found out that this does not always apply well to lifting. Instead of pulling the weight straight up I have always endeavored to swing it slightly to the rear after having made the initial pull from the floor.

It is not enough to pull the weight straight up. Here is the reason why. At the start of the lift the weight is in front of you. If you pull straight up the weight will continue to remain in front. You want to get it back over your head so that it will be in line with the shoulder. Only if the shoulder and arm lock securely will you be able to hold the weight. Therefore the object is to pull the weight up and back to get it into the best possible position for a successful lift. As the weight ascends suddenly lower your body by sitting down on both legs. Be sure to carry the weight back and look up at it. Difference in body construction will enable some lifters to balance the weight easily after having brought it to arm’s length. However, some lifters will find that the weight will have a tendency to be slightly forward, invariably falling back to the floor. In this case the lifter should make the effort to make a one-quarter turn with his body by stepping forward with his right foot. This will make it possible for him to step in under the weight making it easier to carry the weight back and lock the shoulder.

Another important thing to remember is that after the lifter has pulled the weight up as high as possible as the body is being lowered he swings the weight backwards and while doing so the wrist is bent so that the hand is leaning well back. Remember! You have to get the weight back as far as possible and by leaning the hand back you carry the weight back a couple more inches, greatly enhancing your chances of making a complete and successful lift.

Although I have not practiced the one-arm snatch much in the last fifteen years, it is a fact that I am fond of this lift. I like the smoothness with which it the weight travels up. True, it is not as impressive a lift as the Bent Press. Nevertheless, to me it is a fascinating lift. If you are a good lifter, imagine being able to pull up as much as your own bodyweight with a single spontaneous effort! Only the man who understands lifting will appreciate how wonderful a feat this is. It takes a very good man to accomplish this. On the other hand, there are many lifters who can bent press their own bodyweight. Yet these same fellows are not actually as strong or athletic. It is merely that they are suitably constructed for this lift, having certain favorable leverages. Professional strongmen of years back used to thrill vaudeville audiences by lifting heavy poundages in the bent press style. Any weight over 200 pounds lifted in this manner represented a tremendous lift, at least as far as the general audience was concerned. If the same strongman were to lift 200 pounds by snatching it with one arm according to the rules of the lift his audience would not have been half as impressed. Yet it would have been a far superior feat. This is evidenced by the fact that there are and have been few men who have been able to snatch 200 pounds or over with one hand.

The greatest amount of weight ever lifted with one hand in the snatch is 252 pounds. The lifter who performed this very outstanding feat was none other than the great Frenchman, Charles Rigoulot, former Olympic and World’s champion. To my knowledge this figure currently represents the highest official poundage ever lifted. The highest poundage anyone in this country has been credited with lifting in an official one-arm snatch is either 198 or 203 ½ pounds, with the credit going to Bill Good of Reamstown, Pennsylvania. Bill was a comparatively light man as heavyweights go. He probably weighed not more than 190 pounds when he made this record. One of the masters of the one-hand snatch was Richard Bachtell of York, Pennsylvania, who was many times national champion in the featherweight class. At a bodyweight of 136 pounds or less, Bachtell one-hand snatched 154 pounds. He is a powerful little man with unusually strong and well-developed legs. No doubt the power of his legs contributed largely to his excellent performance. However, Bachtell employed tremendous speed in doing this lift. Without such speed he never would have been able to lift what he did. This only serves to illustrate that in lifting, speed is most essential. No matter how strong a man might be, not even the strongest will be able to lift to his potential without speed and skill.

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