The Best Snatch Exercise You’re Not Doing: Trap Bar Snatch
Dr. Joel Seedman, Ph.D.
Yes I know what you’re thinking. Here’s another one of Dr. Joel’s crazy demented trap bar tricks. However, before you write this off as a useless circus act, allow me to explain why performing snatches with the trap bar (essentially more of a hang muscle snatch) is actually one of the most effective Olympic lifting variations for improving speed, hip drive, and explosive power.
Still not sold? Here are 13 reasons that may help convince you.
1. During Olympic lifts many individuals lack proper hip drive, oftentimes shortchanging the final phase of hip extension. Due to the awkward nature of this lift, the trap bar snatch requires the lifter to produce more violent triple extension (in the hips, knees, and ankles) in order to launch the weight overhead. In fact, incomplete hip extension or excessive muscling of the weight without driving the hips through will inevitably produce a failed snatch attempt. With that said, the trap bar hang snatch is one of the most hip dominant movements I’ve ever used.
2. One of the very unique features of the trap bar snatch is that the bar literally has to flip in order to catch it. Now at first this seems very unnatural and awkward. In reality it’s not only quite natural but it’s also one of the single most effective tools I’ve used for ingraining hip extension and hip drive. In fact the only way to flip or rotate the bar in mid air is to fully extend the hips violently. That’s because flipping the bar requires an anteroposterior force vector or hinging pendulum motion. Too vertical of a setup and position, which is a common problem when performing Olympic lifts often associated with quad dominant motion or lack of hip drive (i.e the lifter is too upright and allows the knees and hips to shift too far forward too soon), will not allow the bar to flip but only to elevate. Another way to think of this is that lifter can feel the impact the hips have on flipping the bar as the rotation of the bar tends to mirror the pivoting and pendulum nature of optimal hip hinge and hip extension.
3. Producing a proper hip hinge position in the bottom or eccentric portion of an Olympic lift is critical. Without this hip flexion-dominant position it’s impossible to create maximal hip extension on the pulling phase. Fortunately the trap bar dip is perfect for instilling this hip hinge position as the only place for the weight to sit at the bottom of the motion is in the crease of the hips. If you don’t hinge the hips and drive the butt back with significant hip flexion there will be no place for the bar to sit.
4. The conventional barbell snatch is a great power movement. Unfortunately it can cause shoulder problems for many lifters due the combination of a wide, pronated grip. The trap bar snatch is actually much more shoulder friendly not only because of the narrower grip position but also because of the neutral grip. The neutral grip is more conducive for packing the shoulders and stabilizing the scapula thereby making it much more joint friendly.
5. Another unique benefit of the trap bar snatch is the more unstable overhead position as a result of the instability of the trap bar. Besides requiring greater levels of motor control it also demands that the catch and overhead slot mechanics be spot on or the lifter will lose control of the volatile overhead position.
6. The trap bar snatch also involves a degree of eccentric deceleration when bringing the bar back to the hips/starting position after completing each rep. That’s because there’s no simple or easy way to lower the weight back to the hips. Instead the lifter must use their hips to cradle the weight and absorb the force created from the dropping trap bar. Besides acting as a solid hypertrophy stimulus for the upper back and hips, this also reinforces proper hip hinge mechanics as the lifter is forced to drive the hips back when catching the weight below their waist.
7. The trap bar snatch not only taxes the legs, upper body and core, but it also crushes the grip and forearms. In order to maintain control of the semi-awkward load the lifter will have to use max effort grip and forearm activation throughout while still relying on their hips to launch the weight overhead. And no this intense grip activation does not act as a breaking force on the barbell as it typically would with a standard barbell snatch.
8. Many lifters focus too much on trying to jump when performing Olympic lifts rather than emphasizing hip extension. In fact, trying to implement an exaggerated jump and stomp, as is commonly employed by many coaches, is one of the worst cues you can implement when performing Olympic lifts, as it minimizes force output and hip extension. The trap bar helps eliminate this as the only way the barbell will drive into the catch position overhead is by using the hips, not by jumping. In fact if you attempt to jump during these you’ll lose control of the bar and dump the weight. Simply put you’re rewarded for staying on the ground and pushing into the floor for as long as possible as it creates the strongest impulse and torque on the bar.
9. When it comes to Olympic lifts the name of the game is quick and violent power, emphasizing explosive movement. Unfortunately, many lifters rely so much on smooth mechanics and dropping under the bar that they forget to be as explosive and as violent as possible on the pulling phase. Because the lifter won’t be able to drop under the weight more than several inches (as a narrower grip won’t allow for a deep squat catch) this forces the lifter to focus on launching the load up with extreme aggression as anything less will result in the weight stalling out before the lift is completed.
10. The trap bar snatch relies slightly more on brute force and sheer aggression rather than perfectly timed sequencing of events. If you’re an Olympic lifter nailing every component of the sequence is critical. However, most athletes aren’t interested in becoming professional Olympic weightlifters, therefore relying a bit more on sheer power rather than precise execution of each and every individual sequence is something to consider when programming Olympic lifts for athletes.
11. The trap bar snatch is one of the most effective Olympic lifting variations I’ve ever used for teaching proper catching positions and explosive finishes. That’s because the individual can’t simply rely on gravity or dropping under the bar to complete the finish but must aggressively snap the weight into position immediately after the hips have launched the bar up. This aggressive snap and finish at the top is a very important yet oftentimes underrated aspect of Olympic lifts particularly when training athletes.
12. Proper bar path and balance are two other critical factors when it comes to Olympic lifts. Many lifters often allow the bar to get too far out in front of them rather than keeping it as close to their body as possible. When performing traditional Olympic lifts the lifter can make up for lack of proper bar path by chasing after the bar when catching it. However, the trap bar snatch requires perfect bar path and balance as it’s impossible to chase after the bar or make up for faulty positioning. You either catch it perfectly as a result of proper mechanics, hip extension, and proper bar path or you miss the lift entirely. There’s no in between.
13. If you’re looking for an Olympic lifting variation that’s also quite intense on the surrounding musculature and effective for inducing a hypertrophy stimulus, look no further than the trap bar snatch. You’re entire body including the upper back, low back, traps, shoulders, hips, core, and arms must work overtime to aggressively dominate this movement.
Training Protocols and Recommendations
Ironically once you become proficient at using your hips you should not have to drop more than 20-25% from what you would typically use during a traditional barbell hang snatch. In the video above I’m using 125 pounds for the trap bar snatches. During traditional hang snatches I’ll use anywhere between 135-165 pounds. Due to the intense physical demands of this exercise I recommend fewer reps with more total sets. I suggest 3-6 sets of 2-4 reps for this movement.
It’s also worth pointing out that a football bar or multi grip Swiss bar can provide somewhat similar effects as the trap bar. However the benefits are not as pronounced as the lifter can still get away with similar faulty mechanics as they would typically employ on traditional barbell snatches. The trap bar is much less forgiving and forces greater hip emphasis making it incredibly unique. Simply put you can’t replicate the stimulus with any other loading implement including a football bar or log bar.
On a final note, I want to quickly address the issue of the bent arm position. Although there is a small amount of arm action needed to hoist the weight up, this is predominately a hip emphasis movement. Although there is significant arm bend, the arms are not all that activated in the bottom position as the flexed elbow position is simply a result of keeping the bar set at the crease of the hips rather than actually pulling on the barbell. In other words the flexed arm position does not create a deceleration force as it typically would during a standard barbell Olympic movement.