Overcoming fear in the snatch

The snatch is a scary lift. For me, there are primarily three reasons why it is scary:

  1. The bar goes over your head (I find snatches and jerks far ‘scarier’ than cleans)
  2. The bar moves very, very quickly – this has scary consequences, including that it may sometimes feel psychologically that you don’t have a lot of control of it (you do); there’s also that big fear – or ‘dread’ – knowing that as soon you put your hands on the bar and begin the first pull (which is ‘slow’ in comparison to the rest of the lift) you know sure as hell that it’s going to get faster and that all you have is a second or two and then it’s over
  3. The bar can feel very heavy at the start – even though you can deadlift far, far more than you can snatch. This is because the snatch start position is a weak position for pulling, as opposed to the deadlift start position. This heavy feeling plays tricks with your mind. A bar that feels heavy at the start when it’s safely stationary on the floor makes you question how on earth you are going to get this over your head!

The snatch is a phenomenal exercise. When I think about it from an outside perspective, for example when I’m not lifting or as though I was an observer who didn’t know anything about weightlifting, it’s absolutely surreal that a person can lift such a heavy weight from the floor to overhead in a single second or two.

That’s the power of excellent technique and the reality of physics for you!

There have been a few things I’ve tried in order to combat the fear of the snatch. I will review these here.

Get a big overhead squat

There’s a common idea that a big front squat will equal a big clean and similarly a big overhead squat will equal a big snatch. Sounds logical and straightforward on the surface…

Hence I’ve gone through lifting periods where I thought to myself “So all I need to do is improve my overhead squat and all my snatch problems will be solved!!!”

So, during these periods, I’ve focused on overhead squats done inside the power rack. I jerk the bar up and proceed to overhead squat. Done inside the power rack, I am able to get up to some quite heavy weights for overhead squats. At my best, I got my overhead squat to around 120% of my snatch. But can you believe, being able to overhead squat this weight confidently ended up having very little carry over to any of my snatching problems! In fact, I don’t think my snatch weight improved significantly at all. The fear I had when snatching was still just as strong.

I understand now that the reason my big overhead squat didn’t help much at all with reducing the fear I felt when snatching is because the overhead squat part of the snatch is not that scary in comparison to other parts of the snatch. The part that is scary is actually getting the bar to the overhead squat point (the first and the second pulls in particular, and then some of the third pull). Indeed, any time I fail a snatch due to fear is usually when the bar reaches chest height or just as it approaches overhead.

At this point, I just lose confidence, get very frightened and stop! I don’t think I have ever felt frightened in the overhead squat position.

Get a big snatch balance

This exercise develops similar parts of the snatch to the overhead squat. It is used to help you to get down fast and confidently under the bar.

The main difference between working this and working the overhead squat is that the snatch balance trains you to get down very quickly, and the overhead squat is usually done far more slowly.

The times I’ve done lots and lots of heavy snatch balances (i.e. heavier than my snatch weights), I can say that they did reduce my fear when snatching more than the overhead squats did, but by far less than I’d have hoped. When snatching, the fear was still there.

As stated above, the reason that neither of these exercises are perfect in helping you to reduce the fear of snatching is that they only train the last portion of the lift. They teach you to get under the bar, but they do not teach you to get under the bar at the same time it’s coming up from the floor.

The key to reducing fear in the snatch

The only thing that has helped me to reduce my fear in the snatch is to… snatch more often!!!!

Seriously, that is the answer!

In terms of programming, you can be quite simple as to how you do this. My advice is to:

  1. Do lots and lots of reps at a comfortable weight (lots and lots of sets of single reps)
  2. Once you are no longer ‘scared’ of this weight, go up by a tiny increment such as 0.5kg or 1kg
  3. Repeat step 1

The more often you can snatch a weight well and consistently (i.e. without any misses), the easier the lift becomes psychologically.

Doing singles helps you to do things at your own pace and to truly have focus on each repetition.

Going up by such a tiny increment means you are less likely to notice the difference in how heavy the bar feels.

Doing lots and lots of sets builds confidence.

Overhead squats and snatch balances are excellent exercises and I would recommend they are used as they have lots of benefits but just be aware that they may not be the best choices to reduce fear of the snatch. In my opinion and experience, snatch balances are far better than overhead squats for reducing fear, but they are probably still not going to help you significantly with this specific ‘fear’ issue.

I hope the advice in this article gives you some ideas on how you may wish to combat your fear!

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