The One Arm Snatch (OAS) is one of those strength building exercises that has been lost through the years. Once a lift that was one of the tests of overall body strength, the OAS was part of the weightlifting program of the Olympic Games in the early decades of the 20th century. It was eventually dropped in favour of minimizing the weightlifting program to only two-hand lifts (the Press, Snatch and Clean & Jerk) with the reason being that having one-hand lifts delayed the lifting competitions for too long. Despite it no longer was a competition lift, the OAS continued to be trained well into the 50’s by weightlifters and bodybuilders alike as it built tremendous strength and muscle. With the advent of steroids and the “Venice beach” physique culture in the late 60’s and beyond, lifts such as the OAS dropped in popularity as they required training with an emphasis in strength, a training aspect that was not favored by those who preferred to focus on sole “muscle shaping”.
As promised, it is today that I want to show you this little trick I have and which is a lost treasure of strength. The OAS is a great exercise for those who want to build overall body strength and introduce an explosive element into their training. The basic motion of the exercise is to lift a weight from the floor to overhead in a single fast and powerful movement. The lift can be done with a barbell, dumbbell or kettlebell and it resembles the motion of the Olympic snatch, as practised in Olympic weightlifting, only that the OAS is performed precisely with one arm: the barbell/dumbbell/kettlebell is grabbed with one arm and lifted fluidly overhead with the same arm. The Olympic snatch is, instead, performed with both arms pulling the barbell.
The benefits of the OAS are great: it teaches the body to utilize all of its muscles in order to explode in unison, builds strength in the Posterior Chain (PC) muscles (hamstring, glutes, back and shoulders), develops muscle mass in the PC (special emphasis in the upper back region), enhances whole body coordination and also builds stamina and endurance as the lift has a cardiovascular stressing component to it. What’s more, you only need the aforementioned lifting objects to perform the OAS, even the bicep curl barbell can be used (I have used this one when I was training in a very limited gym). No fancy equipment, just yourself and something to lift overhead.
Now, the OAS can be performed in its classic form or in its muscled form. I will describe both forms but they both share the main concept of pulling the weight from the floor to overhead in a single explosive motion with one arm. I will use a barbell and myself to illustrate the technique although the same advice also applies if you are using a dumbbell or a kettlebell.
“ Classic” One Arm Snatch
1) Approach the barbell on the floor with your feet spaced about shoulder width apart. The barbell should be over your mid-feet when looking down at it and you should be in the middle of the barbell’s length.
2) Squat down and grab the barbell at the center with one hand. Some barbells have a knurled mark in the center which helps to identify where to grab it. If not, trust your instinct as to where the center is, it should not be difficult.
3) Place the forearm of the non-lifting arm on your upper thigh. It should be resting solidly on your upper thigh at the start of the pull. You may rest your hand instead of the forearm, it is up to you.
4) Straighten your back while keeping your upper thighs just above parallel to the floor, this is the set up prior to lifting the barbell off the floor.
5) Take a big gulp of air in.
6) Pull up with all your might as you explosively push your hips forward to stand erect.
7) As the barbell is going up and passes shoulder height, squat under it by splitting your feet sideways and extend the lifting arm up so as to catch and lock the barbell overhead.
8) Stand up.
9) Lower the barbell in a controlled manner to the shoulders by also raising the non-lifting arm to grab the barbell. Once the barbell is lowered close to the shoulders, you can drop it.
10) Now repeat the lift with the other arm.
I recommend you to use a weight which allows you to catch it with your thighs higher than parallel to the floor as illustrated. While going into a full squat in the OAS is possible, it requires you to use much lighter weights than you’d otherwise use and it increases your risk of injuring yourself as it can put you in an awkward position if you don’t have sufficient flexibility.
“Muscle” One Arm Snatch
1) Do just as in the classic OAS from point 1 to 6.
2) As the barbell is going up and passes shoulder height, rapidly press the weight with the arm as the barbell is slowing down from the initial explosive pull. The aim is to continue the vertical travelling of the barbell up.
3) Fight the barbell: it will want to stop so you need to transfer all the strength and power from your shoulders and triceps onto the barbell.
4) Lock it overhead with the lifting arm extended.
5) Lower the barbell in a controlled manner to the shoulders by also raising the non-lifting arm to grab the barbell. Once the barbell is lowered close to the shoulders, you can drop it.
6) Now repeat the lift with the other arm.
Remember, this is a single fluid and explosive motion. You should be fast in incorporating your pressing power as the barbell starts to slow down from the inertia of the initial explosive pull. This lift requires less balancing to catch the barbell and is ideal for those who prefer to not risk losing balance and have the barbell dropping and possibly damaging the floor.
Both the classic and muscled forms have the same benefits. The only difference is the less balancing emphasis of the muscled OAS and the fact that this variant doesn’t allow you to use as much weight as you’d use with the classic form. I coach both forms but for those who come to me with just wanting to go to the gym to build a better physique and strength, I have them do the muscled variant, if anything because most commercial gyms tend to give you crap if you start doing lifts which are explosive and build power. Instead they tell you to do lateral raises and leg curls to build your posterior chain muscles, the irony being that such gyms tend to be called fitness centers yet the last thing they encourage is developing fitness and vigour while charging you 60 bucks per month for smiling staff with colourful badges.
Normally you can do in the classic OAS about 25 to 40lbs more than in the muscled OAS. Some good weights to shoot for in the long term which will build solid strength and power are:
– Classic One Arm Snatch: ¾ of your body weight. Body weight and beyond would be reserved for those who want to be beastly strong.
– Muscled One Arm Snatch: ½ of your body weight. ¾ of your body weight is super strong. If you can do more than body weight in this exercise then you should stop reading right now, there is nothing I can teach you or tell you other than to seriously consider having a career in football or contact sports.
You will not see anyone in the gym doing this lift but that is because it is a hard lift which requires training like an athlete. By working hard at this lift you will be improving your athleticism and working towards building a great body that not only looks the part but does the part. If I had to pick someone to be on my side if I happened to be involved in a fight with some drunken punks, I’d choose the dude muscling One Arm Snatches with half his bodyweight like he is eating popcorn instead of the pretty boy who leg presses a house while sitting comfortably in the machine’s seat.
Train the One Arm Snatch like you mean it, the rewards will be incredible. And remember, you heard this all first at Manly Curls, because we are pioneers in giving solid advice for the 21st century better man!
All the best,
P.S: If I have sparked your interest on the sport of Olympic weightlifting, check out my article on the sport here at Manly Curls! Before reading that next article though, don’t forget to spread the word and Like this article below if you enjoyed it!