The Big Five: One Arm Snatch

Sorry for the delay in this weeks post, I cought a cold in the beginning of the week, and took me out for two days.  But I am back on my feet now and ready to drop some knowledge bombs.

The one-arm snatch is one of the biggest, baddest exercises in your arsenal. It is a cross between Chuck Norris and bacon.  And yet, I do not see many people doing them… ever.  I don’t know if it is because people don’t know much about them, or if they just think it is not useful to their goals. But either way, it is not the best idea to skip power exercises.

4 Reason

s to One-Arm Snatch

1.  Power Development

I do not think many people see power as a beneficial thing in the gym. Strength is your ability to move a weight, we all know that and we all want that.  But power is the ability for you to move weight, with speed, and this is very advantageous to almost any goal; jump higher, run faster, bigger squat dead-lift and bench.

To explain why power helps in strength as well is in other power exercises, first let me explain the size principle.  The size principle, definition from the NSCA CSCS textbook, “motor units are recruited in order according to their recruitment thresholds and firing rates, which results in a continuum of voluntary force in the agonist muscle.” In Lamen’s terms, we have different types of motor units that help us contract muscle.  Type I, which are slow twitch fibers, they have a lot of endurance and are good for long distance events.  Then we have Type II a and b motor units.  Type II a, are the intermediate fibers, they are between Type I and Type II b motor units, and some studies show they can be converted to either Type II b or Type I depending onthe type of training one is doing.  And finally Type II b, are the fast twitch fibers that are used only in anaerobic exercises and are responsible for our strength and power production.

Okay, now that I bored you to death, let me explain to you why I wrote all that boring nonsense.  When it comes to strength, you can only recruit the lowest fiber types first.  If you never lift heavy enough, those big muscle fibers will never get any love, and you will never get strong. Also power exercises, and it will take much practice before you can get this good, show that you can skip these slow twitch fibers and go straight to thefast twitch.  This is because the slow twitch fibers take longer to activate then the large Type II fibers. So if you can move the bar fast enough in your power exercises, you will be training your fast twitch fibers, and therefore, your strength can go up along with your vertical jump and sprint times. Plus this exercise will help you burn fat as it is highly metabolic; it is a big winexercise no matter how you look at it.

2.  Unilateral Shoulder Stabilization

This exercise, if and only if you have good enough thoracic spine mobility, is great for a healthy shoulder.  You can do this with both dumbbells and kettlebells.  Kettlebells having the slight advantage in shoulder health because of the irradiation factor since the center of mass of the kettlebell isn’t directly in your hand.  I tend to switch off on dumbbells and kettlebells, when I am going heavier I use the dumbbells,and when going lighter I use kettlebells.

The fact that you need to stabilize all that weight overhead, especially unilaterally, will cause the rotator cuff to work hard as well as all the other stabilizers.  After doing this exercise consistently for a month or two, your shoulder will feel healthier than ever.

3.  Core Strength

Nothing will build your core better than a one arm snatch.  You are holding a weight in one arm straight over head, and you need to keep your body looking like a plank.  That means, scap packed, both glutes locked, no shifting of the hips, ribs down, the whole nine.  Your core has to fire on a whole new level for you to have good technique with this exercise.

4.  First of the O-Lift Progression

This is the first Olympic lift, in the progression to all other Olympic lifts.  It is the easiest one to learn, and sets up the ground work to all other O-Lifts from here on out.  You will get to learn triple extension of the ankles, knees and hips.  You will get to feel the explosiveness that comes from the hips and legs.  You start to learn how to get the weight to float up and how to catch your weight in a half squat.  And it is very easy to learn.  Even the most uncoordinated people can pick this up after a handful of sets.


  • Start with feet hip width apart (should be a bit closer to together then in squats, this is your power position).
  • Pull the ribs down, glutes tight.
  • Fill your brace with air.
  • Hinge at the hips (similar to doing a dead-lift, not a squat).
  • Explode through your hips getting full triple extension of the ankles, knees and hips.
  • Shrug the shoulder holding the weight while going exploding through the hips (this will allow the transfer of force from the lower body to the upper body).
  • Let the weight float as high as it can.
  • Drop under the weight in a half squat and punch the ceiling in order to catch the weight.

Was this post helpful, enlightening, the purest, greatest thing you ever read? Do you do any power exercises? If so, what do you do? Let me know; leave a comment below!

5 responses to “The Big Five: One Arm Snatch

  • Frank LaTerra

    Nice job, Joey. Great information. I love Chuck Norris, bacon and on arm snatches!

  • danpboston

    So I have a sumo stance when I deadlift, should I try to bring my stance closer together when I do single snatches? As long as I keep my form and pop the hips, does stance width make a difference?

    • Joe Gambino

      Dan, thanks for asking the question.

      When it comes to stance in power exercise, the stance does matter. In simplest form think about when you are about to jump. Your feet are relatively narrow compared to a sumo dead-lift. You will be able to get more power production out of the hips this way.

      Also something to wrap your brain around to give some thought, is that if you are constantly doing every exercise in a sumo style, you are building instability within your hips. As that wider stance takes the stabilizers role out of the equation.

      I would do my power exercises at about hip width, and you can land a bit wider, about shoulder width. From experience those who catch there O-Lifts from a very wide stance lack stability either at their core or within their hips.

      Make sure you also add in single leg work if you haven’t already, that will add a large stability component to your sumo style.

      I hope I answered your question, let me know if I need to elaborate more.

  • danpboston

    See, when I have my stance at hip or even shoulder width my knees start bowing out. My squat stance is normal width but feet maybe 20 degrees out from center. Only reason I sumo stance when I dead is bc I find it easier to activate the glutes/retract scaps. I’ll tinker around next time with my stance, see what feels good.

    • Joe Gambino

      Try thinking more about pulling down like a deadlift and engaging the core more. Should help keep the knees in line. You may not be extending your hips enough. And trying to create false distance by spreading the knees.

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