Monday, March 8, 2021

Secrets of The Squat Snatch, Part One - Lawrence Barnholth and Dr. Peter George


by Dr. Peter George
About Pete George
Dr. Peter T. George is an Olympic Gold Medalist in weightlifting. At the time of his retirement from competition he had accumulated more international gold and silver medals than any other athlete in the history of the sport. He and his brothers, George T. George and Dr. James D. George were, at the time they were competing, the most successful brothers in the history of weightlifting. In fact, if they alone had represented a separate nation, they would have been ranked 4th in the world in terms of obtaining international medals between the mid-1940s and early 1960s. The three of them were trained by Lawrence Barnhoth in the ACMWL [American College of Modern Weightlifting] style as presented in this book. 
Peter is a Columbia University trained orthodontist, but his list of interest and achievements range well beyond dentistry. He invented and reported in the New England Journal of Medicine the first intraoral device to prevent severe obstructive sleep apnea and common household snoring. His patented inventions to treat medical and dental disorders are used worldwide.  
Google Scholar listing of papers and articles, Peter T George:  

He served as an assistant clinical professor at the University of Hawaii, John H. Burns School of medicine, and has lectured internationally. His findings and commentaries on various topics have been published in leading national and international medical and dental journals [see link above]. He is a founder of the American Academy of Dental Sleep Medicine. 

His recent article, "The psycho-sensory wake drive - a power source for power naps and other sleep-wake phenomena: a hypothesis," was published in Sleep and Breathing, known as "The international journal of the science and practice of sleep medicine." 

This article has provided the answer to one of the most perplexing mysteries in sleep science: how power naps and meditation can immediately restore alertness. He is currently working on a new book with the working title, Napitate: Recharge Your Brain. 
A Weightlifting Classic (foreword to Vintage Edition written in 2017)
This small but powerfully enabling book, Secrets of the Squat Snatch, by Lawrence (Larry) Barnholth, is one of the classics in weightlifting. It has empowered weightlifters throughout the world - with and without a coach - to quickly master one of the most elegant movements in all sports. 
In 1950, my older brother, George, and I printed 1,000 copies of this book in the print shop we operated out of the basement of our parents' home. We turned over the entire production at a little more than cost to Larry Barnholth, the founding coach of the American College of Modern Weight Lifting (ACMWL).  
When word got out via the weightlifting media that the books could be purchased through him, orders came in from around the world. The distribution of those 1,000 copies profoundly affected the way weightlifting is practiced and contested today practically everywhere on earth - in at least 187 nations.  

The original printing has long been sold out and Larry passed away in 1975. For several decades now I've been getting inquiries about where copies could be bought. I could see that there was a growing demand for the book from weightlifters around the world. The need for a reprint was long overdue, but my brother and I had more pressing demands on our time. In recent years, however, the need for it has grown exponentially, thanks to the phenomenal growth of CrossFit, Inc., the organization that is enabling fitness across the globe. We finally realized that republication of this book had become imperative - hence this Vintage Edition.

George T. George, Peter T. George, James D. George

Who Needs This Book?
When this book was first published in 1950, the only people it attracted were teenage boys, young men and their coaches. Today, it also has appeal for many teenage girls, young women and their mothers. Olympic-style weightlifting has exploded in popularity as a participant sport. Thanks for the rapid influx of participants into this sport to to Greg Glassman, founder of CrossFit, for his decision to include the Snatch and the Clean & Jerk in the list of required exercises. CrossFit believes everyone should be physically fit. His concept has shown tremendous appeal to people of both sexes and all ages, first in the U.S. and now worldwide. 
So, whether your goal is to win an Olympic Gold Medal as a weightlifter or just to improve your all-around fitness and health through the CrossFit program, this book will speed you toward that goal. If you're serious about either of these objectives, you must master the squat Snatch. Glassman's decision to include the Snatch in the CrossFit list of required exercises was very well thought out. There's no better measure of anaerobic athletic ability than that provided by this lift. It measures strength, speed, bodily coordination, but more importantly, it further develops these qualities in all who practice it.
Many world class weightlifters and Olympic coaches have benefited from this book but, I will assume that you're a rank beginner to weightlifting and you've seen someone correctly perform a squat snatch either as a competitor in a weightlifting meet or as an exerciser in a gym. The usual reaction from most first-time observers of this lift properly performed is one of awe and admiration. If the observer is contemplating becoming a weightlifter or a CrossFit exerciser, his of her usual thoughts are something like, "Will this lift make me more muscular?" "How dangerous is it to throw heavy metal over your head?" "Will I be able to master this technique" These are important questions, and I will answer them directly below. 
Muscularity in Weightlifters
Most people assume that the athlete with the biggest muscles is the one who can lift the heaviest weights in the Snatch or Clean & Jerk. Not necessarily true. The most important requirement for success in weightlifting is the ability to recruit a larger percentage of the muscle fibers that could be included in the lift.
Because each muscle is made up of many fibers, the more of them you can contract over time, the more weight you can lift. All of us have learned through experience the percentage of them required to smoothly lift various objects from pencils to full shopping bags. Similarly, you have learned the percentage required to smoothly lift an empty bar as well as one loaded to various poundages. When you break a personal record on a lift, you have just learned (at least temporarily) how to recruit a larger percentage of the fibers in the required muscles. 
Consequently, training for Olympic weightlifting should more or a neuromuscular learning process than a muscle building program. This form of training enabled me to outlift much more muscular and larger athletes. 
For example, in 1948 in London, Steve Reeves and I trained in the same gym. He was there to compete in the Mr. Universe contest while I was there to compete in the Olympics My bodyweight was about 160 pounds and his was about 220, yet I could lift overhead nearly 100 pounds more than he could.
So, how did my training differ from that of Reeves?  
I did mostly single attempts with my near maximum weight while he used a weight with which he could perform 10 or more repetitions working to near exhaustion on a rotation basis the individual muscle fibers. So his muscles grew larger, but he couldn't lift as much as I because he hadn't learned how to contract as many of the individual fibers in a single attempt. 
Therefore, when training for Olympic-style weightlifting, after you have performed the necessary muscle conditioning exercises, your training should mainly be heavy single attempts. That is, at each training session after warming up with repetitions on a lighter weight you should work up to the highest weight you can snatch that day. Only by attempting to lift your maximum weight do you learn how to recruit the maximum percentage of your muscle fibers. 
Mental attitude is also extremely important in Olympic-style weightlifting, but that's a subject for another book. 
Although not to the extent of bodybuilders, Olympic-style weightlifters do develop larger muscles, but the greatest increase in their strength and power comes from training to neurologically contract more muscle fibers per contraction. In plain language, this means continually attempting heavier singles in training rather than pumping more reps. 
Except for the heaviest bodyweight class, most of the men and women that I've seen in international competition have trim athletic bodies that are highly appealing to the opposite sex.
Is It Safe? 
All physical activity can be dangerous, but statistics show that Olympic-style weightlifting is one of the safest of all sports. In fact, an article that appeared in the peer-reviewed Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research reported that for injuries per 100,000 hours of participation, weightlifting had only 0.0017 injuries. That's one of the lowest rates in all active sports - several times lower than badminton! I'm sure the founders of CrossFit were aware of these facts before encouraging ordinary men and women to regularly practice this lift.
No barbell that you can lift overhead can injure you as long as you are hanging on to it, regardless of how heavy it is. That's because even though it's too heavy to hold overhead, as long as you hang on to it, you can push your body away from its falling path. That's why you practically never hear of a snatched barbell falling on a lifter. If you have a weight that you can't hold up, your reflexes automatically try to push the weight away from your body. But on very heavy weights, you'll actually be pushing yourself away from the weight.
This book teaches you how to safely miss snatches. 
Can You Master It? 
I can assure you that, if you don't have any unusual physical disability, you can master the squat snatch. This little book alone - without a coach - has enabled weightlifters around the world to proficiently perform this lift in competition. Obviously, if you have access to a good coach, take full advantage of him or her in conjunction with this book. It will make your coach's work a lot easier and your progress faster.
In all sports, there are rule books. Athletes are constantly trying to find the best technique that will allow them to achieve the best results in competition while staying within the letter (if not the spirit) of the rules. Just as in track and field, there are several different legal techniques of performing the high jump, e.g., scissors kick, straddle, western roll, Fosbury flop, there are two legal techniques of performing the snatch, i.e., the squat, and the split. According to the track and field rule book, practically any high jump that takes off on the one foot is legal, and according to the weightlifting rule book, practically any snatch that takes the weight from the floor to arms' length overhead in one continuous motion is legal.
What's the Object? 
Originally the object of the Snatch was to see who could haul up the most weight overhead on one motion. At first, lifters would simply bend down and heave the weight up with very little shifting of the feet or flexing of the knees. Then some found that they could elevate a lot more weight if, while pulling on the barbell, they would simultaneously jump forward with one foot and backward with the other. That is, when they split their feet apart front to back after pulling the bar as high as they could, their bodies would be lowered so they didn't have to pull the weight as high to get it to arms' length overhead. This was all within the rules, since the only other requirement of the Snatch is to stand upright with feet in line about shoulder width apart after lifting the barbell to arms' length overhead. This technique of performing the snatch was then named "the split style" and for many years it was the most common method of snatching in weightlifting competition.
Other lifters found that if, instead of splitting their feet from front to back, they would squat while continuing to pull the bar upward, they could drop their bodies into an even lower position enabling them to snatch heavier weights. This then became known as "the squat style" of snatch.   

Prior to World War II most of the German lifters used the squat style while lifters in most of the rest of the world claimed it was too precarious and used the split style. The squat style never became commonly used internationally, and practically all the world snatch records were performed in the split style until after the first publication of this book.

Lawrence Barnholth is the world's foremost authority on squat lifting. He saw the possibilities in the "sit down" technique when most American lifters looked upon it as a method of lifting too precarious to be of practical value. Through his pupils Larry has proven the advantages of the squat style. 

Lewis Barnholth, head coach at the American College of Modern Weightlifting, played an important role in the development of the modern squat style. He and Larry, along with their brother Claude, who moved from Akron to work with the Veteran's Administration, worked hand in hand to make the squat snatch a positive style of lifting. 

Barnholths Stabilize Split Style
In the late 1930's Larry Barnholth was able to observe the German lifters perform when they visited the United States. He concluded, as did most of the rest of the lifters around the world, that the squat style was potentially superior since it would enable the lifter to catch the weight at a lower position, but that it was precarious, requiring great balance and precision placement. 
After returning home to Akron, Ohio, Larry, with the help of his brothers Lewis and Claude, thoroughly analyzed the technique and determined how it could be stably performed with reliability. 
The Barnholths then began to teach the squat style to all the trainees at their gym, the American College of Modern Weightlifting (ACMWL). The ACMWL was actually an expanded garage with a weightlifting platform.  
More here: 
But, the Barnholths chose that stately name because they took a very studious approach to weightlifting and considered all who trained there as their students. Starting in the early 1940's when practically all the world weightlifting records in both Snatch and Clean & Jerk were performed in the split style, their team began to win many Ohio State Championships wherein they were the only lifters to use the squat style.
I enrolled at the ACMWL while in elementary school and the Barnholths taught me, as they did all their students, the correct style of squat lifting on both the snatch and clean & jerk. At about that time the lifters from our team began bringing home medals from regional and national championships. In 1947 while a senior in high school, I won the world's lightweight championship. During the 1948 Olympics as a middleweight, I won a sliver medal and set Olympic records in both the snatch and clean & jerk. The following year in the USA national championships, my brother George, and the then current Olympic champion. George Spellman, were both in my class. This time Spellman took the silver medal and George the bronze. Unfortunately for George and me, at the time there was a third Olympic lift - the Press - on which we performed relatively poorly. We have a younger brother Jim, who was also not stellar on the press. But while in Melbourne for the 1956 Olympics, he broke the worlds record in both the snatch and clean & jerk as a light heavyweight.
Demand for the Secrets
Weightlifting magazines began to write articles marveling about how the lifters from the ACMWL were snatching heavy weights in the squat style with a precision equal to or superior to that of lifters using the split style. Lifters and coaches began to accost Larry at weightlifting meets and through the mail inquiring about the "secrets of the squat snatch." I then urged him to write a book on the subject. He couldn't seem to find the opportunity to do so. Then in 1950, I told him that I would write the book, George and I would print it, and list him as the author and the ACMWL as the publisher. 
At the time I was a journalism major at Kent State University (I later switched to pre-med) and had been operating out print shop since taking a printing course in high school. The main reason for listing Larry as the author was because, at the time, the rules of the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) and the International Olympic Committee prohibited using an athlete's name on any book endorsing a training method or technique. In actuality, using Larry's name as the author was not really stretching the truth. All the secrets of the squat snatch that I knew at that time I had learned from him. 
Larry's Wisdom
As you may assume, I'm very familiar with the contents of this book. Reexamining them after many years, I marvel at the wisdom of Larry's teaching, and I'd like to emphasize several points in it. As the book's title indicates, there are secrets to becoming proficient in the squat snatch. Perhaps the most important of these is that you can't successfully execute a squat snatch if you don't have sufficient flexibility in your shoulders, hips and ankles. Most beginners are surprised when they learn that weightlifters have to be flexible. They associate power with rigidity and, therefore, weakness with flexibility.
The Snatch is the Real Power Lift
The scientific definition of power is strength times speed. The term "power lifter" therefore is a misnomer. Those who compete on the bench press, squat and deadlift should be called strength lifters because they lift their weights slowly. Also, those who compete on the snatch and clean & jerk are the real power lifters because they lift their weights rapidly Power, as developed by practicing the snatch and clean & jerk, is much more important in practically all sports and in real life than is brute strength as developed by the so-called sport of power lifting As an example, a boxer who has trained to move weights rapidly as required in the snatch or clean & jerk will be able to throw a much more powerful punch than one who has trained moving weights slowly as in the bench press. That is not to claim that the three lifts performed in power lifting competition are worthless as exercises. Beginners should start with such exercises, and then incorporate speed and flexibility as required in the snatch and clean & jerk into their exercise routine.
To perform the snatch, you have to shift your body and limbs rapidly to keep propelling the bar upward. Also, joints that are rigid can't quickly shift into the proper position. Many beginners who are not made aware of this fact can't seem to get their body into the position that enables the weight overhead to feel comfortable and solidly placed. Joint tightness has caused would-be lifters to give it up and claim that the squat snatch is a precarious balancing act that they can never master. The paradoxical fact is that the more flexible are your joints, the more secure is your lift. As you'll learn, when your joints are flexible you're better able to quickly readjust your body and limbs to stabilize the weight into a solid position.

The Correct Position

To get a better idea of what the correct body position is when performing the snatch as taught by Larry Barnholth, carefully study photos of the ACMWL lifters with those of some of the other lifters. Note the flexibility of the body positions of the ACMWL lifters compared to the rigid upright positions of the latter group. Also, study photos of me IN THE BOTTOM POSITION, and carefully note the explanations later for why this position is so solid.
Next, reexamine the book's cover. We wanted an illustration that exemplifies the ideal position as taught by Larry. George suggested a silhouette of one of my snatch photos, which he carved on a linoleum block. (Remember, in those days printing was usually done by transferring ink from typefaces to paper). However, a very significant part of the cover is represented by green diagonal lines. They weren't placed simply to make the cover more attractive. They were placed to clearly show that the correct squat snatch position is not a vertically upright one that requires precise balance. The correct body position is one diagonal to the floor that allows a quick reflex response from your ankles, hips, shoulders, and head to reposition your body relative to the weight. 
Yes, You Can Master It 
I hope you are now reassured that you will be able to quickly learn the ACMWL body position without a coach - and even quicker with a good coach. (But make sure he or she has seen this book.) After performing all the preliminary exercises indicated in this pithy little book, you will find that you have become more flexible, allowing you to quickly shift your body into the most stable position. The ACMWL position is one which your body will automatically assume when doing this lift after your joints have been loosened by the preliminary exercises. Your body will also automatically shift to the most stable position to capture and hold the weight overhead.

To understand this automatic reflex action, think about what your arms would do if you attempted to cross a chasm on a suspended pipe 2 inches in diameter. Both arms would automatically rise horizontally to shoulder height and then individually go up or down depending on whether you are leaning to the right or left. That's because the farther they are away from your midline, the more effective their slight up or down movement is in stabilizing your balance. Your arms would therefore operate reflexively. You certainly wouldn't have time to think, "I must raise my right hand one inch and lower my left hand the same amount." The reason tightrope walkers carry such as long pole is because it gives them a lot of leverage so that a tiny amount of leverage on one side while lowering the other quickly stabilizes their balance.

In the ACMWL snatch position, you try to place a lot of your body and limbs to the front and back of an imaginary line dropped from the center of the bar through the balls of your feet. This is the way to position your body and limbs rather than trying to arrange them in an erect upright pile under the bar. When you throw a weight overhead and assume and ACMWL position, your hips, knees, shoulders and head should reflexively shift back and forth and up or down the proper amount to stabilize the weight, just as your arms do when you try to walk on an elevated thin beam. Just as you would never attempt to walk a tightrope with your hands vertically above your head, you shouldn't attempt a squat snatch with your body vertically upright.

If you follow the instructions as presented in this little book, the flexibility of your muscles and joints will allow you to reflexively assume the position that is most stable, and you'll be able to reliably snatch all the weight you can pull high enough to squat under.

I'm sure you've noted the heavy emphasis I've placed on the need for flexibility in learning the squat snatch. As a final tip, I believe your progress in learning the squat snatch will be accelerated if you supplement the instructions in this book with those in Bob Anderson's book, Stretching

Preface (first edition, 1950)

The ability to correctly execute a squat snatch is by no means easy to acquire, but once learned it becomes an automatic pattern which allows the lifter to utilize his power to the best advantage. This style as Lawrence Barnholth teaches at the American College of Modern Weight Lifting, and as he explains it in this book is not a precarious hit or miss affair, but is a positive style of heavy lifting.

The squat style of lifting did not originate at the American College of Modern Weight Lifting, but it was here that it was developed into the polished form that is used by the members of this club. Larry Barnholth, along with his brothers, Lewis and Claude, became interested in the squat style over two decades ago. At that time it was employed by the German lifters, but was noted for its uncertainty. The Barnholth brothers realized at the time that if the precariousness could be removed from this lift it would be the most advantageous style in competitive lifting.
After many years of experimentation and scientific reasoning Larry and his brothers inserted into the squat style the elements of grace and certainty while even improving it as a channel for power.
Naturally almost all the lifters at the American College of Modern Weight Lifting use the squat style. This club has won the Ohio State Championship every year since 1943 and has more champions than all the other clubs in the state put together.
As other lifters began to hear of the remarkable progress made at the ACMWL with squat lifting, letters began to pour into this club from all parts of the world. Everywhere Larry Barnholth would go he would be surrounded by enthusiastic lifters anxious to learn the secrets of squat lifting. Since one can not learn all the details of this complex style in one meeting, and since more letters were being received than could be answered, Larry decided that the information that is now in this book should be available to anyone who may desire it.
Although the text of this book is not long, it is packed full of very essential material necessary for the complete mastery of the squat snatch. The book is not intended to be read through like a novel. It should be studied very thoroughly. Every sentence should be thought over to receive the complete meaning. Since the material is short, read it over several times, and refer to it often while learning the squat snatch. 
Enjoy Your Lifting!  




  1. I would like to use the photograph of Larry Barnholth in an article on "The Brothers George" which has been accepted for publication in Ohio History. The editor requires that I identify the photographer. Do you happen to know the origin of the photo? Thanks--John Fair

    1. Hello John! I scanned the photos on the blog from the George/"Barnholth" book back there. They can be found online with a search easily now. The extent of my copyright issue involvement is typing things out, scanning photos, and waiting to see if the owner wants them taken down at any point.

    2. Thanks very much for your help! John


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