Sunday, August 29, 2010

The Squat Snatch, Part Two - Bob Hoffman

The Squat Snatch, Part Two
by Bob Hoffman

After you have developed some shoulder flexibility, next you must learn the correct low position. The toes should be pointed outward somewhat and the legs kept fairly wide. Every lifter is built differently and so there will be at least moderate variations in style. There have been two-hand snatchers in the past who squatted with a comparatively close grip, the feet not far apart, and the body nearly erect. This is not a good style because too often the lifter tends to raise his heels and lose balance. Yet it is the squat style that the Germans used many years ago when they were the only ones using this method in international competition.

Way back in 1924 I first saw Henry Steinborn trying to snatch 250 in the style described above. It was a world record attempt. The same night, due to a mistake in loading, Steinborn clean & jerked 375 thinking it was 350. But better lifters today average about 70 to 80 pounds more in the clean & jerk than they do in the snatch. For example, in the featherweight class, the snatch and jerk records, which were both held by the Russian, Tchimiskian, until very recently, 242 and 315, respectively, show a difference of 73 pounds. In the lightheavyweight class, where the records are held by Jim George at 303 and 388, the difference is 85 pounds.

In attempts at world records 10 tries are allowed, and so a man can miss repeatedly and fall all over the floor as the Germans did with their style years ago and still make one good lift and set a record. But in regular competition where only three attempts are allowed, a lifter had better learn to be sure. Of all the German squat snatchers of the prewar era, I believe that Rudi Ismayer, who held the world record in the middleweight class in 1932 at 253 pounds, had the style used by the majority of today’s lifters. Ismayer had a good position.

In tracing the history of lifting, I can not tell for certain who had the modern style of squat snatching first. Bill Good was using the present style in 1935, and so was Gord Venables. In fact when Venables snatched 242 in the Olympic tryouts in 1936, the lift was considered to be quite a wonder of the day. But from that time until the middle 1940’s, all of our champions were splitters. Then in 1945 along came 14-year old Pete George to win the Ohio state title using the squat technique. The next year he was junior national champion. In 1948 at the London Olympic Games he set a new Olympic record with a snatch of 270 as a middleweight. Pete was the only squatter on our American team in ’47, ’48, ’49, and ’50. But then in 1951 Dave Sheppard made the team and squat snatched 280 to tie Pete for the world title at Milan. The next year Tommy Kono made the grade at the Olympics, and he was also a squatter. That made three squatters on the team. In 1954 Chuck Vinci made it four, and the next year Paul Anderson and Jim George added two more squatters to the list. Isaac Berger made it unanimous when he joined the squad in 1956, and somewhere along the line even Joe Pitman changed from the split to the squat snatch. All the members of our victorious Olympic team in 1956 were squatters.

Without a shadow of a doubt, Pete George as a competitor and Larry Barnholth as a coach are the ones to whom the most credit goes for popularizing the squat style snatch throughout the world. And credit too must be given to Dave Sheppard, whose startling world records using this style did much to encourage American lifters to try the squat style.

Both the squat and split methods of snatching have proven their merits. The world records are pretty well evenly divided between the two. Vinci, a squatter, holds the bantamweight record at 231 pounds, but this lift has been equaled by Stogov, a splitter. The Italian lifter, Mannironi, recently snatched 244 as a featherweight in the split style, but then Isaac Berger made 245 in training, and Ike is a squatter. No lightweight squatter has come within 10 pounds of Kostylev’s magnificent 275½ record in that class, and we had the pleasure of seeing him make 281 in his impeccable split style while weighing just a fraction of an ounce over the class limit. Duganov, a squatter, holds the middleweight record, and Jim George, also a squatter, has the world record in the lightheavyweight division. In the next class, Vorobiov, a splitter, has done more than anyone else in the world, and although Schemansky, a splitter, officially owns the world record in the heavyweight class, a record which should fall to either Ashman or Medvedev soon, Anderson, a squatter, has made 336 for the U.S. record.

Method of Performance

It behooves any lifter to try both styles and to determine for himself which method he can do best. One thing in favor of the squat style is that you can not do it at all unless you learn to be reasonably proficient in that method. On the other hand, a great many lifters who use the split style are very bad lifters, making their lifts with atrocious style. It has been proven that the splitter can get just as low as the squatter if he masters the style. But few lifters learn the correct style of split snatching and as a result their performance records suffer.

Even the best exponents of the squat technique in the world make a lot of misses. I have seen the very best, Kono, George, Duganov, even Sheppard, miss one or two lifts in an important competition before they are successful. There is more range of movement in rocking under a split snatch than the squat method allows. The squatter has less range of movement, but the real star at this style of lifting have managed to run forward or even step back if necessary in order to fix the weight overhead. The squat style is a good method if a man can do it, and, as I’ve said before, every lifter would be wise to practice it enough to see if he can perform if surely enough to use the method in competition.

When you have mastered the preliminary exercises we suggested previously in Part One, you must practice going through the motions almost endlessly. When I was an active lifter I went through the motions at least three times before I lifted in either practice or competition. In this manner you teach yourself to assume proper positions, just as you teach yourself to balance on your hands, to ice skate, to ride a bicycle, to swim, or to dive. Once you have taught yourself to do these things, you will never forget them. Make sure that you learn the correct procedure from the beginning. Once I stood watching a group of young high school lifters practicing. Hardly one in the group had even fair style. I said to the instructor, “Why don’t you teach these boys correct style?” He replied, “Bob, they have only been lifting for eight weeks; it takes time to learn.” And I said, “Yes, and the longer you go on with faulty technique, the more difficult it is for you ever to become proficient or a champion lifter. You can learn the correct position in a few minutes.” When a body learns faulty habits, poor technique in any sport, lifting included, it is practically impossible to teach it to perform correctly. That is why we have always made it a rule in our gym not to miss more than twice in a row. When a lifter does miss twice, I want him to drop back in weight and come back up again. That way success becomes a habit. Too many misses develops habits of missing just as successes develop habits of success.

You may find the correct positions with moderate weights, but it is just as likely that you can handle these weights in faulty positions too. That is why we have always asked York lifters to handle respectable poundages in training, at least heavy enough to force them to go into proper positions. Much of our lifting is done with good poundages. If you miss, drop back five or ten pounds, and if you succeed, move up five pounds. Muscles once taught never forget. My championship canoe racing days are 30 years behind me now, but I can get into a canoe, ride the gunwales, balance, jump and paddle in this position, just as I did in my racing days. I had not rowed in a racing scull since 1926, but recently I had the opportunity to row such a boat, and I got into it and maintained balance just as I did more than 30 years ago in the same kind of boat. So my advice to you is to learn to do it right. Keep striving for perfection as you develop strength and speed, and you will become a better lifter. So often I say, anything worth doing is worth doing well, yet still I often see fellows who have been lifting with the same poor form for the last 20 years. Just think how much farther they would have gone if they had learned to lift properly!

Correct squat style is so absurdly simple, yet a lot of ambitious lifters never learn. You simply perform a high dead lift, and when the weight is as high as possible, you go into the lowest possible position under it, then rise from the low position as you maintain balance.

Proper stance is the first thing to be considered in the squat snatch. You approach the bar and stand with the feet on a line, a comfortable distance apart. This should be the position from which you can make a standing broad jump. There are exceptions to this rule. Jim George stands with his heels together and his toes and knees turned far out. This is not a natural position, for it is awkward, and maximum leg strength can not be exerted from it, but Jim holds the world record in his class at 303, so it must be all right for him. But other men who have set records, notably Vinci, Berger, Kono, Sheppard, Duganov and thousands of others, start with their feet in the position I prefer and recommend.

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