8 variations for the snatch and the clean
In the past we’ve looked at variations that are commonly used for the three powerlifts. Now it’s time to give Olympic weightlifting the same treatment. In this first part of two we look at variations for the snatch and the clean. A separate article will be posted later with suggestions of variations for the jerk.
I would assume the vast majority of you already perform the power variations. They’re so common that even the ultra minimalist Ivan Abadjiev didn’t remove them from his training programs. They help teach explosion, allow for faster recovery than the competition lifts, and for most people have direct carryover.
Personally I consider everything caught above parallell to be a power snatch/clean. I think the traditional definition is actually slightly higher than that but why bring out your tools to measure? Oh, there’s one huge caveat, and this is 100% a universal rule that can never be broken: if you have to ask “power or nah?” in your social media posts it’s not a power snatch/clean. There, good we could clear that up!
Hang variations are useful for teaching and training the explosive phase. In Bulgaria we would have beginners do almost exclusively hang snatch and hang clean in order to drill that specific part of the lift before moving on to training from the floor. Advanced athletes can also make use of them of course.
In almost every case I will have the athlete start the bar just above the knees. A distinct pause should be made there before performing the lift. Sometimes you will see an athlete fully deadlift the bar, hold it there, drop it down to knee level and immediately perform the lift. I don’t commonly use that variation as it creates a stretch-shortening reflex that’s not present when doing the competition lift. You can occassionally do low hang snatch/clean, in that case the bar start just below the knees.
No feet snatch/clean
I was hesitant to include this variation because it’s how some people actually lift in competition. But for those of you who don’t it’s a valid variation to try, especially if you have an issue with the bar path after the explosion.
The only difference from a regular snatch or clean is that you’re not allowed to stomp or otherwise rearrange the feet when you catch the bar. Due to this factor you might want to start with your feet slightly wider than you normally would. I like this variation for enforcing a good pull after the explosion.
This variation teaches good position. In practice it’s a very low hang snatch/clean. I usually combine it with a snatch/clean deadlift and a controlled lowering phase as I feel it helps train position better than not doing so, and again, that’s the main purpose of this variation.
I will explain the full deadlift/lowering/floating combo. In either the snatch or the clean, deadlift the bar to the top position, lower under control to about 1-2 cm above the ground, pause, then snatch/clean. A more cruel variation is to do it off a platform, that way you can lower the bar to where the ground would actually be but still have it “floating”.
Touch & go snatch/clean
A touch & go snatch/clean can be seen in CrossFit boxes but the variation I’m about to describe shouldn’t be confused with what you typically see. It serves a similar purpose to the floating variation in that it teaches position if done the way I’ll describe it.
Perform the snatch/clean as normal, keep hold of the bar and lower it to the hips (a full deadlift position) instead of dropping it on the ground. Next lower the bar under control and have the plates “kiss” the floor like you’d kiss your significant other, meaning don’t bang the plates to the floor, they should touch gently. Immediately perform the lift again.
A Polish snatch/clean is essentially a very high hang snatch/clean. It’s meant to teach quickness under the bar and is therefore of most value for beginners. I haven’t felt much need to incoporate it with intermediate or advanced lifters but it could happen.
To perform this variation, deadlift the bar to the top position but not so much that you stand leaning back with locked knees commonly seen today (this is a position I never want to see personally). Instead have very slightly bent knees, shoulders still over the bar, and bounce just a tiny bit like an old cartoon character and quickly throw yourself under the bar.
The muscle clean is fairly common these days, I think it was popularized in modern times by the Chinese weightlifting team but it’s been around for longer than that. It’s performed like a regular snatch/clean but you’re not allowed to dip under the bar whatsoever when catching it. In theory it should help lockout as it teaches the lifter to actively “push out”. You can do it with a hit like you would your regular snatch or “no touch”, either way is fine.
The muscle clean is not so commonly seen despite being a tremendous lift! It’s done in the same manner, muscle the bar up without any re-bending of the knees but obviously to a clean rack position. I almost always prefer to do this variation with “no touch”. It’s a great lift, I don’t prescribe it to weightlifters very often but if you’re someone who’s just looking to get bull strong I suggest you try it!
Clean Grip Snatch
This might seem like an odd one because it doesn’t seem very specific to the competition lifts at all but bare with me. The Clean Grip Snatch is a snatch performed as the name suggests with a close grip (typically what you would clean with). Due to this peculiarity the bar will touch lower on the legs than in the regular snatch.
Perhaps you assume this is a variation for the snatch but I’ve primarily used it as a teaching tool for the clean. Done correctly it will train the lifter to keep the bar close and make sure the bar goes upward. Try to do a few light sets of it and then try a clean right after – be careful to not knock your teeth out because that bar will fly! The Clean Grip Snatch requires quite good mobility so if you can’t do a regular overhead squat with a clean grip your best bet is probably to start there and build up your mobility.
A variation is no better than its carryover to the competition for the individual. Always be cautious of their effect on the main lifts. If they improve the skill of the snatch or clean they’re doing their job. If they don’t make a difference then it makes no difference if you use them or not. And finally, if they actually mess up your technique in the competition lifts you’re better off ditching them ASAP.