How to Perform the Snatch Grip Deadlift
The deadlift is a quintessential exercise in powerlifting for developing and demonstrating total-body strength and mental fortitude. The snatch is an Olympic lift that develops explosiveness, power, and challenges mobility.
The snatch grip deadlift (SGDL) combines the movement pattern of the deadlift and the grip used during a full snatch. This is a quick, explosive movement in which you pull the bar off the floor and lockout at the hips. This is a hip hinge movement commonly placed on back or legs days (if following a traditional bodybuilding split) and pull or leg days (if following a push/pull/legs split).
Compared to conventional deadlifts you’ll be taking a much wider grip, a slightly wider stance, and initiate the lift with slightly lower hips. As a result the snatch grip deadlift hits the upper back, traps, glutes, and hamstrings harder than conventional deadlifts. It primarily targets the erector spinae, which runs along both sides of the vertebral column. 
Most exercises target a muscle group using flexion or extension, but with snatch grip deadlifts the spinae erectors are isometrically exercised. This means the spinae erectors are contracted without significant movement. 
The snatch grip deadlift also utilize synergist muscle groups to assist the spinae erector in completing a movement.  These include the gluteus maximus, quadriceps, top half of the hamstrings, adductor magnus (inner thigh), and soleus (calf) muscles. 
The snatch grip deadlift also incorporates numerous muscles that act as stabilizers, so they contract without significant movement in an effort to maintain a posture or fixate a joint.  The bottom half of the hamstrings, gastrocnemius (calf), middle & upper traps, rhomboids (middle back), levator scapulae (rear neck) and abdominals (rectus abdominis and obliques) act as stabilizers during the snatch grip deadlift. 
The snatch grip deadlift strengthens all the muscles comprising the posterior chain and is an incredibly beneficial deadlift variation for powerlifters, bodybuilders, Olympic lifters, and weekend warriors.
MTS Nutrition CEO Marc Lobliner discusses proper form for the snatch grip deadlift.
How to Perform the Snatch Grip Deadlift
Begin by placing a barbell on the floor, selecting the appropriate working weight, and adding an even amount of weight to both sides of the bar. Don’t place 55lbs on one side and 35lbs on the other side of the barbell; doing so won’t improve your gains and will likely lead to an injury. If this is your first time performing the exercise then pick a conservative weight that you can safely lift for 8 to 12 repetitions.
The optimal starting bar height for the snatch grip deadlift is about mid-shin. Placing one 45lb plate on each side of the bar will typically achieve this height. If you’re not quite ready for 45lb plates and don’t have bumper plates for the smaller weight increments, vertically stack weight plates on either side of the bar so that the loaded barbell reaches mid-shin.
Once you’ve selected the appropriate working weight, approach the bar with a stance slightly wider than hip width. This typically feels more comfortable and allows the hips to start slightly lower compared to the hip-width stance commonly used for conventional deadlifts. Your toes should be pointing forward or slightly outwards.
It’s important to point your knees in the same direction at the feet throughout movement. Once you’ve set your stance, grasp the bar with a pronated grip (palms facing away from you) significantly wider than shoulder grip. The grip should be wide enough so at the top of the movement the bar is resting on or slightly below the hip bones. A good starting point is to make the Y in YMCA, turn it upside down, and then grip the bar.
After setting your stance and grip, take a deep breath, brace your abdominals for impact, begin lowering the hips and pushing through the heels. With the proper hip angle and heel push you’ll find a sweet spot where the bar begins sliding up the shins. Keeping your body tight and neck neutral throughout the entire movement pull the bar past your knees and drive your upper back backwards and hips forward.
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At this point you forcefully engaged the entire body to move the bar in an explosive, controlled manner to the lockout position where the bar is resting on or slightly below the hip bones, your spine is neutral, abs are bracing for impact, glutes are squeezed, and you’re standing tall. Make sure your back is contracted at lockout but resist the urge the hyperextend the lower back; for many the risk of injury is much higher than the reward.
At this point you should still be holding a full breath. Some lifters choose to exhale at the top of each rep while others breathe in between in each rep. Regardless, ensure you have a full breath and your abdominals are bracing for impact before slowly lowering the bar back to the starting position on the ground. The lowering portion of the snatch grip deadlift is the exact opposite of the lifting portion; these means you’ll move your hips backwards first and once the bar passes the knees you can hinge at the knees.
This exercise can be performed using straight sets, drop sets, rest-pause sets, supersets, trisets, giant sets, paused reps, partial reps, or slow negatives. Because snatch grip deadlifts are extremely taxing on the muscles and central nervous system, forced reps are not advised as the likelihood of injury dramatically increases.
As with any exercise, the two most important components are high-quality form and progression. Progression can take a variety of forms (e.g. more weight, sets, or reps, decreased rest period, improved rep quality, etc…) but strive to improve every time you walk in to the gym.
Snatch Grip Deadlift Form Tips
Grip Width is Key – The primary difference between conventional and snatch grip deadlift is the grip width. While conventional deadlift requires a grip between hip and shoulder-width you’ll be taking a much wider grip for the snatch grip deadlift.
The grip should be wide enough so at the top of the movement the bar is resting on or slightly below the hip bones. Too narrow of a grip takes the stress of the upper back.
Mixed Grip is a No-No – While many prefer a mixed grip when pulling conventional or sumo deadlifts, it’s not comfortable or advantageous for snatch grip deadlifts. The internal rotation of one shoulder and external rotation of the other shoulder, with such a wide grip, places exceptional unnatural stress on your rotator cuffs. Supinated (palms facing towards you) isn’t going to help you pull more either.
If you oppose straps and find the bar slipping out of your hands using the traditional pronated grip, try using hook grip. Set up with a hook grip by wrapping the thumb around the bar first, then wrap your remaining fingers around the bar.
You’ll find that the index and middle finger will wrap around both the bar and thumb. This is a more secure grip; as gravity attempts to pull the bar down your grip will actually tighten because of where your thumb is located in relation to the rest of your fingers.
Strap Up – If your grip gives out before your back and posterior chain then don’t be afraid to use straps. Even the strongest and most experienced Olympic lifters use straps when performing multi-rep sets of snatch grip deadlifts. The focus of this exercise should be to work the posterior chain and appropriate supporting muscles.
Popular strap options Versa Gripps, Valeo, and Spud Inc.
Watch the Hips – A common mistake with conventional, sumo, and snatch grip deadlifts is to allow the hips to shoot up extremely quickly after initiating the lift. Compared to conventional deadlifts, you should expect to start with slightly lower hips that will rise slightly faster to allow the bar to get past the knees as quickly as possible.
This doesn’t mean your hips should shoot up to the point where your back is parallel to the floor and you’ve turned the snatch grip deadlift in to a snatch grip Romanian deadlift.
Change Shoes – For some, achieving the hip depth for conventional deadlifts is a challenge. If you fall in to that category then snatch grip deadlift will further challenge your hip and ankle mobility. You should never be deadlifting in traditional tennis shoes or crosstrainers. Opt instead for lifting barefoot or using flat, hard sole shoes like Chuck Taylors or Vibrams.
If you still have issues achieving the appropriate start position or are looking for the more direct carry over to the Olympic lifts, consider using hard, raised-heel shoes designed specifically for Olympic weightlifting. This raised heel increases ankle range-of-motion and mobility.
While Olympic shoes aren’t the cheapest option they’re an excellent investment that can last decades if you take care of them. Ask any weightlifter who has a pair; although they may have been skeptical at first, they’re a game-changer.
1) “Barbell Deadlift.” ExRx (Exercise Prescription) on the Internet. N.p., n.d. Web. 12 Oct. 2015.
2) “Kinesiology Glossary.” ExRx (Exercise Prescription) on the Internet. N.p., n.d. Web. 12 Oct. 2015.