Special exercises series - No.11 The power drop snatch
When people think about the Olympic lifts’ benefits for athletes they most often see the increased capacity to produce power, and rightfully so!
The Olympic lifts, especially the “power” variations with a shortened range of motion to create acceleration (power snatch from hang, power snatch from blocks, power clean from hang, power clean from blocks) are great choices to increase power output, especially when loads of around 70-75% are used.
But people tend to forget about another key benefit of the Olympic lifts, and as someone who works with athletes I would go as far as to say that it’s one that is even more important than increasing power production: the capacity to absorb force; to create tension and rigidity when a load is imposed on your body suddenly.
Whether you are a competitive athlete or serious lifter, never underestimate the importance of being able to create torque and tension to stabilize your body. This is one of the most important elements to being able to lift heavy weights.
So, before I present my new special exercise, allow me to discuss the concept of creating tension and torque to stabilize and strengthen.
Strength leaks, tension, spiral tension and torque
The first thing you need to know is that there is a thing called “strength leaks” (thank you Chris Duffin). Imagine that your body is a pipe in which you are pouring water. If the pipe is solid the same amount of water that your pour in comes out at the end. But if that pipe has holes in it, water will leak out. The result is that you have less water making it to the end of the pipe vs what you poured in.
The same thing goes with a barbell when you are squatting. You apply force against the floor and it moves through your body to be transferred to the barbell. At first, the amount of force “moving up” is the same as what you applied to the floor. But if you have weak spots, strength will leak out and less strength “makes it” to the barbell which greatly limits your performance.
What you need to do is create tension to prevent strength leaks. The main areas of concern to us (potential strength leaks) are:
– Shoulder girdle / Upper back
– Hips / glutes
There are other potential strength leaks, of course. But these are the main ones and those that can have the biggest impact on your performance.
Let’s start with the easiest region to understand: the “core”.
To create optimal tension, you must…
Brace your trunk. Do not hyperextend the lower back. Create a “big belly” then contract your abs hard. Basically, imagine that you are about to get punched in the stomach. Maintaining that tension is very important to maximizing performance and safety.
The second area where you can create tension, specifically spiral tension loading, is the hip joint. To do so you must…
Root your feet into the floor to create spiral tension at the hip. This means trying to externally rotate your hips while your feet are planted on the floor. A good coaching cue is to try to screw your feet into the floor.
That creates the strongest foundation to squat, jump or absorb force and creates torque at the hip which will make you a lot stronger are more solid. Note that what creates the tension is the fact that you are trying to rotate your hips while you are anchored to the floor.
This goes along with the feet. You should…
Grab the floor with your toes. This will help increase quadriceps and hamstrings tension via the principle of irradiation. Few people understand how important it is to keep the bottom of your feet solid if you want maximum force transfer into the floor. There’s a reason why many sprinters actually train their feet (feet in the sand, do grabbing motions).
And finally the most important joint of all: the shoulder! You must do something very similar to the hip.
Grip the bar hard to increase tension in the forearm, biceps and triceps because of the irradiation principle. Then try to externally rotate the shoulder while maintain maximum tension. This will create a spiral tension that will stabilize the joint and fix any potential strength leak.
The capacity to establish tension like that, and maintain it during the whole lift if key if you want to lift heavy and have good longevity.
The drill I will present today is aimed at training the capacity to quickly establish tension in all 4 zones. It will also get your shoulders jacked!
I call it the Power Drop Snatch. It is a variation of the drop snatch, which is an assistance/learning exercise for the snatch. The power variation is both easier to do and more specific to what we are trying to accomplish.
What is the Power Drop Snatch good for?
- It gives a perfect opportunity to work all four tension zones simultaneously and to work on being able to create tension in a fraction of a second when the body rapidly becomes loaded by an external source. You learn to immediately create tension in the four zones to absorb the force.
- It will help improve shoulder mobility during an overhead press, teaching you to hold the barbell behind your ear line.
- It is a very effective exercise to increase the strength of your shoulders. This is done either by doing higher reps or holding the weight in the overhead position several seconds per rep.
- It strengthens the “athletic position” and develops the capacity to absorb force.
- Even though it might seem counterintuitive, it is a great way to strengthen the shoulder external rotators (if you create spiral tension at the shoulder joint), as well as your capacity to recruit them and make them fire fast. A lot of people have enough external rotator strength but can’t bring it into action fast enough, which leads to injuries.
- It is a great drill to improve the catch position of a power snatch and work towards being able to do a full snatch. Most athletes catch the power snatch too high and never learn to move under the bar.
Pulling the bar high is only half the battle, while moving under it quickly and precisely is the true key to success in Olympic lifting. This is a great drill to learn to transition rapidly from the end of the pull (full extension) to moving under the barbell.
How is it done?
- Place the barbell on your shoulders as if you were going to do a back squat. The grip width should be wide (snatch grip). To know how wide a snatch grip is watch the following video:
- Walk out of the rack and get properly set-up. Create torque at the hips, contract your abs and establish spiral tension at the shoulder joint (which will have the elbows move directly under the barbell instead of pointing back slightly.
- Take a short dip down as if doing a push press. When you dip down you only want to go down a few inches and maintain an upright torso. Since we don’t want to let the knees shift forward too much we’ll have to push the knees out a bit, but it will happen automatically if you properly established tension at the hip joint.
- Quickly transition into an upward motion to get the barbell moving up and off your shoulders. This is not a push press; only push hard enough so that the barbell travels a few inches. You are actually not pressing up with your arms much, it’s the lower body drop that does most of the work.
- As soon as the barbell is off of your shoulders you “jump down” under bar explosively. It’s not jumping up and moving down. As soon as you are on your toes aggressively move downward. Go watch my “catch drill” video to understand this action. Your feet should move laterally a bit when jumping down. The catch position is a half squat: the knees are about 90 degrees (which is why it’s called a “Power” drop snatch)
- At the same time as you are jumping down you must “punch the ceiling” as explosively as possible. The goal is that the elbows are locked before your feet hit the floor (since you are moving them laterally slightly).
- The key thing is what happens at the moment of contact: when your feet hit the floor and the barbell loads your body. As soon as your feet come back to the floor you must establish tension by screwing your feet into the floor.
Simultaneously you must establish tension at the shoulder joint by externally rotating the shoulder. Coach Mike Burgener would say: “bring your armpits to the ceiling”. You must also tense up your abs as if you were going to receive a punch in the stomach.
Are there any different variations?
The main one would be the actual drop snatch where you receive the barbell in a full squat position. It can help you create tension in the bottom position of a squat, but honestly, if you are not planning on learning (or improving performance) in the full Olympic lifts they are probably not worth doing. For our purpose of learning to create tension and rigidity, the power variation is a better choice and it’s easier to master.
However, the full squat variation (drop snatch) is a great drill if you want to learn to master the full snatch. It will make you comfortable and efficient at receiving the bar directly in the low squat position.
What do you need to avoid?
- Do not stay soft in the starting position. You must tell your brain what you are trying to accomplish by creating spiral tension at the hips and shoulders, tensing your abs and grabbing the floor with your toes in your setup. Creating that state in the setup, which is controlled, is much easier than doing it during a movement. But pre-establishing it will make it easier to do it again upon “landing”.
- Do not press the bar too high. At the most, it should reach the height that the top of your head was in the setup. Most people press the bar up too much when they start to do this movement because moving under a bar that is resting on your shoulders is intimidating. But if you press it up too high it defeats part of the purpose of the drill.
- Avoid landing soft then tensing up. The whole purpose of the drill is learning to establish tension as fast as possible. The slightest delay will lead to strength leaks. I always teach my client to be more aggressive on the landing than on the projection. Attack the floor and try to break the bar in half.
- The no.1 mistake is catching the bar high then squatting down into the 90 degrees position. That’s again because people are intimidated by the thought of jumping down under a weight.
You must “stick the landing”. Meaning that the position you receive the bar is the position you stay in, you are not allowed any movement down when you receive the bar. At first you will catch it high, but work on it. Look at the following video to see what I mean.
- Don’t stay upright when catching the bar. This goes along with the preceding point. If you stay upright you can’t go down into a half squat, especially with the barbell held over your head. Look at the catch drill video again: the hips are shooting back and the torso is slightly angled forward.
This will allow you to “get under the bar” in the catch position. Of course, if you have no shoulder mobility you will have to work on that before being able to do the drill properly.
What are the best loading parameters?
This drill can be used different ways and thus many training parameters will apply.
Its first use is an activation drill to prepare your body for the workout. For example, it can be used prior to an overhead press or a squat session.
In the case of an overhead press session it could go something like this:
Shoulder Workout Prep
Shoulder “dislocates” with resistance bands supersetted with light DB lateral raise (thanks Dr.John Rusin) for 3 sets of 10 + 10
Single arm, half kneeing KB bottoms-up press for 2 sets of 10 per arm
Band pull-apart for 2 sets of 10 reps
Power Drop Snatch, 2 warm-up then 3 work sets of 6 reps with 2 sec hold in landing position (focusing on tension)
And for a squat session…
Squat workout prep
X-band walks 3 sets of 10 reps per side
Bodyweight squat with Hip Circle around knees, 3030 tempo, for 3 sets of 10 reps
Shoulder dislocates with resistance band 2 sets of 10
Power Drop Snatch 2 warm-up then 3 work sets of 6 reps with 2-sec hold in landing position (focusing on tension)
The second way to use it is as an exercise to improve your capacity to absorb force in a key position. In that case, we would see it more like a regular strength drill and do sets of 1-6 repetitions depending on your level.
Here are some simple sets/reps schemes you can use:
4 sets of 6 reps
5 sets of 5 reps
6 sets of 4 reps
Advanced (can use all the preceding schemes too)
7 sets of 3
NOTE: Every time you receive a rep you should hold the position for 2 seconds, focusing on maintaining maximum tension.
If you are someone who practices the Olympic lifts, for example for Crossfit, moving under the bar in a snatch is a skill that is difficult to master. Most people who do Crossfit (not the competitive athletes) catch the bar too high, almost with straight legs. They never learn to get under the bar. As a result they must pull the bar about 12 inches higher than they really have to. How can you snatch heavy weights like that? You can’t.
Utilizing the Power Drop Snatch either as your first exercise in a snatch session (to teach your nervous system where to go when catching a snatch) or doing a complex of PDS and Power snatch are great ways to improve your lifting.
4 sets of 3 Power Drop Snatch + 1 Power Snatch from the hang + 1 Power snatch
This is a great complex to improve your power snatch. Of course you have to focus on receiving the power snatch in the same position as the power drop snatch.
While it’s not a common exercise, the Power Drop Snatch has a lot of value for those wanting to improve performance and longevity. If you have the mobility for it, it would be a great addition to your program, at least as part of your workout preparation routine.