What your Snatch to Clean and Jerk maxes tell you

I like to watch weightlifting competitions, such as the British Weightlifting Championships, which is on this weekend. Something interesting about these competitions are the results tables. Results of each lifter individually are often more interesting to me than seeing the overall results. I will explain why.

Snatch weight to bodyweight ratio

There is a saying that goes, “You’re not truly Olympic lifting until you’re lifting more than your bodyweight”.

The Snatch uses a lot less weight than the Clean and Jerk but ‘elite’ lifters ought to be still be snatching weights greater than their bodyweight. It can be interesting to look at results tables and notice that some lifters lift less than their bodyweight in the Snatch (example from table above – Charlotte Davies weighed 82kg and snatched 81kg).

There are a few possible reasons for this, including:

  • The lifter is quite new to lifting and is not used to the technique of the Snatch, or hasn’t yet built enough strength generally
  • The lifter finds the technique of the Snatch very difficult
  • The lifter may have a higher bodyfat to muscle ratio
  • The lifter may be very tall – and consequently heavier – and likely to have longer limbs (which is a disadvantage in Olympic lifting)

Something quite interesting to note is that the lifters in the heavier weight classes often snatch a lot less than their bodyweight (example from table above – Emily Campbell weighed 108.10kg and snatched 90kg). Relatively speaking therefore, these lifters are physically less strong than lifters in the lighter weight classes who lift over their bodyweight.

Snatch to Clean and Jerk ratio

It can be interesting to look at the ratio of the lifters’ lifts. The ‘ideal’ has been determined to be that the Snatch is somewhere roughly between 78 and 82% of the lifter’s Clean and Jerk.

When a lifter’s Snatch is below 78% of their Clean and Jerk

This generally suggests that the lifter is strong, but hasn’t got the speed, explosion and technical ability that is required to Snatch that heavy weight they are capable of. It could also mean that the lifter struggles with mobility (for example, mobility of the shoulders, or poor Snatch bottom position mobility).

It can also mean that the lifter’s bodyweight is high for their height. If they lost some bodyweight, they would perhaps be able to get under the bar faster and more explosively.

In the table above, Emily Campbell has a very low Snatch to Clean and Jerk ratio (90/132 * 100% = 68%). Laura Hughes’ is a little bit low (91/118 * 100% = 77%).

Programming that may be helpful for a lifter with a low Snatch to Clean and Jerk ratio

I would advise that the lifter needs to focus on the technique of the Snatch. This could happen by increasing the frequency of Snatch training in their programme.

Exercises that may be helpful to incorporate include: snatch balances, overhead squats, tall snatches and snatches from the power position. These all develop speed and explosiveness under the bar, and develop mobility in the bottom squat position. Most of these exercises require less weight to be lifted than can be lifted in the full Snatch, hence they promote speed and explosion.

When a lifter’s Snatch is above 82% of their Clean and Jerk

This generally suggests that the lifter is very capable technically and very fast and explosive, but is not particularly strong.

It can can also mean the lifter is a light bodyweight for their height. If they put on some muscle and got a bit heavier, they are likely to get stronger.

It could also mean the lifter has poor Clean and Jerk technique. Even if somebody is very fast and explosive, their technique can still be ‘off.’

This ratio also sometimes occurs for people who do a lot of aerobic/cardiovascular training, in which their legs don’t get enough recovery between heavy lifting to build strength.

In the table above, there are quite a few lifters who have a high Snatch to Clean and Jerk ratio, including: Ray-en Cupid (82/97 * 100% = 85%) and Kathleen Spears (84/98 * 100% = 86%).

Programming that may be helpful for a lifter with a high Snatch to Clean and Jerk ratio

I would advise that the lifter needs to focus on getting stronger. This generally means they need to prioritise squatting – either by squatting more times per week, or by focusing on lower rep/heavier weight squats. Heavy squats develop all-over strength, but in particular leg strength. The squat is a very efficient exercise.

If strength is not an issue and the lifter has a good, strong squat, it could mean that their technique on the Clean and Jerk needs looking at it. The Clean and Jerk is more of a ‘strength’ exercise, so if a person has strength but lacks technique, their Clean and Jerk weights will be lower than their potential.

Exercises that may be helpful to incorporate into their programme include: heavy squats, front squats, deadlifts and pulls. These exercises all use far more weight than in the Snatch. Pulls can be done from the floor at max-Snatch or above max-Snatch weight.

If strength is deemed not to be a problem, the Clean and Jerk technique probably needs looking at and more of that ought to be included in the programme.

Things to note:

  • These ratios are most helpful to experienced lifters who have been lifting for a long amount of time. For people who are new to the sport, who are still learning, or who haven’t yet developed a good overall base of strength and muscularity, these ratios won’t be much use
  • You can check the lifters’ ratios when you are watching them compete and use the information to work out what their areas of weakness must be. This is quite an interesting activity to do for people who are interested in the technique and coaching of the Olympic lifts! I often have a little think to myself about which exercises I would prescribe a lifter whose lifts are not within the 78-82% range
  • These are rough guidelines and of course do not disregard a the natural anatomy and physiology of the individual lifter (for example, a lifter who has unusually short arms or short legs). However, in the majority of cases when a lifter has ‘normal’ proportions, these ratios are helpful
  • If the ratio is off, it probably means the current programming/coaching is off and suggests that this needs to be re-evaulated
  • Olympic lifting takes a lot of time and requires a lot of repetitions in order to make seemingly ‘simple’ corrections – therefore always remember that it can take a long time for these ratios to change even if the lifter is doing all the work!

Even if you’re not thinking much about your own ratios, knowing and understanding these ratios is something quite interesting to think about next time you are watching any Olympic weightlifting competitions!

You can see which/how many lifters are lifting within the ‘ideal’ ratio and whether it shows in their Snatch and Clean and Jerk techniques (their lifts will probably look far more ‘elegant’ than those whose ratios are ‘off’ and therefore no doubt either or both their Snatch and Clean and Jerk will probably look difficult or messy!!).

A lifter who is lifting within the ideal ratio is probably very technically efficient and it ought to show in how they move!