Snatch vs Clean: Major Differences Explained

published by: Debbie Luna
Last Updated:
September 6, 2022

The snatch and the clean are two Olympic Weightlifting exercises that are often confused due to their kinetic and mechanical similarities. 

However, the two present several distinctions that make differentiating between each one quite important - especially for prospective olympic weightlifters aiming to maximize the effectiveness of their training.

The snatch and the clean primarily differ in regards to the position of the bar relative to the exerciser’s torso during each repetition, which subsequently leads to a number of distinctions in terms of muscle growth and technique usage.

What is the Snatch?

The snatch is an explosive and highly dynamic free weight exercise of the compound variety. It is most often performed either as a competition lift or as a method of developing athletic strength and power wherein it may carry-over raw strength and technique into any other sport.

barbell snatch

Benefits

The greatest benefit of the snatch lies in its capacity to develop full body muscular strength and power, aiding in the development of sports-specific actions such as high jumping, sprinting or tackling.

Even in the case of non-athletes, the snatch is capable of inducing significant developments throughout the entirety of the body, both in skeletal muscle tissue and in connective tissue alike.

Furthermore, due to its low equipment requirements, the lifter need only have access to a barbell and a relatively small amount of weight plates in order to be able to perform the snatch.

Key Mechanics

The main kinetics and mechanics to pay attention to when performing the snatch are the initial dip of the knees and hips as the exerciser assumes a basic deadlift position, prior to an explosive upward extension of the entire body and finally ending with a full overhead elbow extension at the end of the repetition.

Proper core bracing and the maintaining of a neutral spinal tilt throughout the entire exercise is also of significant importance, and must be viewed as a key mechanic as well.

How to Perform the Snatch

To begin performing the snatch, the exerciser will lower themselves into a conventional deadlift stance as they grip the barbell in a double overhand grip, ensuring that their chest is pointed outwards, their feet are approximately shoulder width apart and the hands are sufficiently spaced away from one another.

Then, the barbell is drawn upwards by the exerciser pushing their hips forward and extending the knees and ankles simultaneously, all the while utilizing their deltoids and trapezius to aid in developing momentum.

how to barbell snatch

Once the barbell has achieved a sufficiently high enough elevation, the exerciser will then drop their body beneath the barbell while maintaining their grip upon it, allowing the barbell to remain at approximately neck level.

As the lifter drops their torso beneath, they will simultaneously press the barbell upwards, achieving full overhead extension and completing the repetition.

It should be noted that this entire movement is performed in a single smooth act, leaving little time for transition between each kinetic phase. 

As such, the exerciser is advised to first practice the motion with an empty barbell so as to better ingrain the movement pattern into their musculature.

What is the Clean?

The clean is an explosive free weight exercise best known for its capacity to develop significant strength and power throughout the majority of the exerciser’s body - wherein its main mechanics are divided into two phases, each of which make use of significant levels of resistance.

power clean

It is an exercise that is more often chosen over the snatch due to its significantly easier to learn form cues and relatively lower level of stress placed on the connective tissues of the body.

Benefits

The clean’s main advantage is in its development of bodily strength and power in a single smooth and efficient movement, resulting in significant improvements throughout all aspects of fitness or sports.

Furthermore, unlike the snatch, the clean allows for a higher amount of weight to be lifted per repetition, thereby resulting in increased resistance during the exercise and subsequently greater muscular hypertrophy over time.

Key Mechanics

The clean shares quite a number of kinetics and mechanics with the conventional snatch, wherein the exerciser begins in the deadlift position with significant hip, knee and lower back flexion prior to executing a full body extension and finally ending with the barbell resting atop the clavicles, foregoing full elbow extension.

How to Perform the Clean

To begin performing the clean, the exerciser will assume the standard conventional deadlift stance as they grip the barbell in a double overhand grip. Then, just like in the snatch, they will push their hips forward and fully extend their knees and ankles simultaneously.

power clean muscles

If performed correctly, the barbell should launch upwards, with the lifter aiding in its momentum with their deltoids and trapezius. 

Once the barbell reaches a high enough elevation, they will then drop their body beneath the barbell and “rack” it upon their clavicles or chest shelf, with the elbows flaring forwards and the lower body being fully extended.

Muscle Activation Differences of the Snatch vs Clean

The largest difference between the snatch and the clean is in the muscle groups each exercise recruits, as well as to what extent said muscular recruitment occurs. 

The snatch activates practically every muscle group throughout the body, though it focuses most on the posterior chain and the deltoid muscles at corresponding points of the movement. 

During the full elbow extension biomechanic at the end of the repetition, the exerciser recruits the triceps brachii and all three heads of the deltoids to their fullest extent.

It is in this difference that the clean loses out, as the clean does not involve a full extension of the elbows and therefore only recruits the deltoids in a stabilizing capacity, and the triceps practically not at all.

Otherwise, both exercises are equally effective at training such muscle groups as the lower back, core musculature, quadriceps and the rest of the posterior chain - all due to their shared starting position.

Intensity and Complexity Differences of the Snatch vs Clean

As was previously mentioned, the snatch is somewhat more mechanically complicated than the clean, meaning that individuals with less knowledge of weightlifting and proper exercise mechanics will be better off performing the clean until they become more familiar with such matters.

This is simply due to the secondary phase of the snatch wherein the exerciser presses the barbell overhead, requiring that the exerciser do so with correct form so as to reduce risk of shoulder injuries during this particular portion of the movement.

However, the snatch loses out in terms of exercise intensity when compared to the clean - of which allows for greater resistance to be used as there is no need to press the barbell overhead, thereby limiting the total weight that may be lifted.

This is a considerable trade-off, as the clean does not otherwise contract the deltoids in a dynamic fashion, leaving it up to the exerciser to decide on whether deltoid recruitment or greater resistance is more important.

Mechanics, Kinetics and Form Differences of the Snatch vs Clean

Though muscular recruitment is the primary difference between the snatch and the clean, such a distinction is due to the difference in mechanics and form between each individual exercise.

While the two may appear similar from an external perspective, there are small changes in how each exercise is performed that can make all the difference in terms of safety and results.

Hand Placement Mechanics

A major point of distinction between the two exercises lies in the distance of the exercisers hands from one another, with the clean featuring a more narrow grip as there is no need for a wider hand placement as would be the case in the snatch.

This is a natural requirement of the overhead press portion found in the snatch, as the shoulders are at higher risk of dislocation or tearing when exerting force with a narrow hand placement.

End Point of Repetition

The most obvious difference between the clean and the snatch is the end point of the repetition, wherein the exerciser presses the barbell overhead or otherwise ends the movement with the barbell resting atop their chest in the clean.

This causes several changes in the mechanics of the movement, such as the exerciser leaning somewhat further forward during the initial phase of the repetition for the snatch, whereas the clean will feature a more upright torso.

Isometric vs Dynamic Contraction of the Deltoids

Though the deltoids are activated regardless of which exercise is performed, it is the snatch which induces the greatest level of deltoid muscle hypertrophy, as this particular muscle group is otherwise relegated to a static role in the clean.

As such, for individuals who wish to develop their deltoids further, the snatch may be the more advisable option.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

What’s Better, the Clean or Snatch?

As one can see from the information presented in this article, neither the clean nor the snatch are superior across the board - although it does appear that the snatch is better for technique and sports development while the clean is better for raw muscle mass development.

What are the 3 Olympic Lifts?

The snatch and the clean are two exercises known as “competitive lifts” in Olympic weightlifting, wherein their performance is the entire focus of the sport and as such are what Olympic weightlifters aim to perfect.

The snatch, the clean and press, as well as the clean and jerk are the three competition Olympic weightlifting movements.

Should You Jump When Snatching or Cleaning?

Yes - jumping maximizes the explosive power released by the lower body, maximizing momentum and allowing greater amounts of weight to be moved within the repetition. Once the exerciser has begun the repetition by pushing their hips forward and drawing the barbell up, jumping will only further push the barbell upwards.

In Conclusion, Which is Better?

As one can ascertain from the mechanical differences between the snatch and the clean, neither exercise is entirely better than the other, and the best choice depends on the lifter’s own training experience and needs.

Regardless of whether you choose the more complex and lighter snatch or the heavier but more simplistic clean, the exercise must be performed with proper technique so as to avoid injury and ensure that proper training stimulus is developed.

References

1. Sandau I, Granacher U. Effects of the Barbell Load on the Acceleration Phase during the Snatch in Elite Olympic Weightlifting. Sports (Basel). 2020 May 8;8(5):59. doi: 10.3390/sports8050059. PMID: 32397110; PMCID: PMC7281229.

2. Häkkinen, K., H. Kauhanen, and P. V. Komi. "Biomechanical changes in the Olympic weightlifting technique of the snatch and clean & jerk from submaximal to maximal loads." Scand J Sports Sci 6, no. 2 (1984): 57-66.

3. Takano, Bob C.S.C.S.. CLASSIC COACHING TECHNIQUES: Coaching Optimal Technique in the Snatch and Clean and Jerk — Part I. National Strength and Conditioning Association Journal: February 1993 - Volume 15 - Issue 1 - p 33-39

Debbie (Deb) started powerlifting and Olympic lifting in High School as part of her track team's programming; She continues to train in order to remain athletic. Inspire US allows Deb to share information related to training, lifting, biomechanics, and more.
Inspire US serves as an informational hub for people looking to start their fitness journey.
The information on this website has not been evaluated by the Food & Drug Administration. The content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. The information being shared is for educational purposes only. You must consult with a medical professional before acting on any content on this website.
Copyright © Inspire US 2022