Weightlifting Techniques up Close – Squat & Split Snatch

Article #1 Squat & Split Snatch

In this series of articles I’m going to look at different weightlifting techniques and assistance exercises from the modern widely used squat style to the old school split style, including all round weightlifting and maybe even a bit of strongman.

In this first article I’m going examine the pros and cons of the squat and split style. Specifically when performing a snatch movement to determine if there is really much difference in each technique and whether one is better than the other.

Introduction

I’ll start with a bit of background to both styles. Split style has been around for many years and is still widely used in Allround Weightlifting (even by myself), but it was ultimately dropped in Olympic circles in favour of squat style. Of the most notable was Norbert Schemansky - the last of the split technicians - who continued to use split style until the end of his career in 1972. He did indeed dabble with squat style, with mixed results, but the domination of the squat style saw the end of that. It’s a shame really, as he would have been a shining example of the benefits of split style.

Figure 1: An Appreciation of Norbert Schemansky (Source: BSAG Back-Hang Gazette) Split style

Split style

Looking at split style in more detail, one of the main factors/ advantages of a split snatch is the low failure ratio, which is attributed to the position of the feet e.g. the split stance and the ability for the lifter to manoeuvre him/ herself if he/ she becomes off balance thus saving the lift from failure – not so easy with a squat. To explain this further I have created the diagram below to illustrate this.

Put simply if you imagine drawing a box on the floor the leading foot would be in the top left corner and the trailing foot would be in the bottom right hand corner of the box providing perfect stability. If the lifter becomes off balance weight can be shifting from front to back or vice versa. Equally, the extremely flexible lifter can achieve great depths in a split receive with the trailing knee almost touching the platform. I’ve witnessed it myself, as a young lifter and it’s very impressive what can be achieved.

Another main difference between both the techniques, which I can see why the squat style has become more favourable, is that you have to pull the bar higher to get under it. The reason you have to do this is that your leading leg has to move forward in front of the barbell to avoid coming in contact with your knee on the way up - a bit like threading a needle – but on the plus side, the split technician has greater overall stability on the receive.

Squat style

Squat style has a lot of plus points, but its main downside is the high failure rate. The reason it has such a high failure rate is due to the receive position that the lifter must adopt, this leaves very little room for adjustment. Now I’ve had my fair share of experience of this lift and its pitfalls and as someone said to me (and I’m paraphrasing here) that the snatch (squat technique) is a cruel mistress!...... and I agree with him. When you’re in the zone it’s great, but when you’re out of it, it takes no prisoners. It’s full commitment or nothing.

Figure 2: Paul Anderson in full squat style (Source: BSAG, Back-Hang Gazette)

That being said the pros for squat style would seemly outweigh its pitfalls. The squat receive allows for greater mobility to enable the lifter to perform extreme degrees of hip flexibility to get under the barbell. The other great aspect of squat technique is, not having to pull the barbell as high, which again helps to achieve extreme acts of receiving the bar in the overhead position from shorter pulls.

The one aspect that both split and squat technique share is that to maximise there potential the lifter requires good flexibility in the shoulders, hips and ankles. Without increased mobility it makes it very hard to get into the receive position using either technique comfortably and confidently.

Conclusion

In conclusion, both techniques require excellent mobility to perform them with ease, but the biggest difference in both is the high failure ratio on the squat style, this is a gamble in favour of greater overall poundage. However, I firmly believe that the failure ratio in the squat snatch can be overridden by muscle memory e.g. performing the movement and teaching the body not to bail the barbell backwards by using assistance exercises such as tall snatch, snatch balance and muscle snatch etc. But as I mentioned earlier the squat snatch can be a ‘cruel mistress’, but when you’re in the zone anything is possible.

Finally, from a personal point of view I don’t see that either technique is better than the other, as I use both split and squat movements in my training and at competitions. I agree that both techniques have their pros and cons, but executed correctly they are both equally deadly to your opponent.

Next Article

In the next article I’m going to look at the jerk from behind neck, specifically in terms of a strength building assistance exercise for the front jerk. It’s also something I use in my own training.

4 thoughts on “Weightlifting Techniques up Close – Squat & Split Snatch

  1. Just wondered if Matthew used the split clean as well and also what was the difference in poundages between his best split and best squat Snatch. I decided not to change over. It looked too difficult and dangerous for me.I had to have the broader base, Cheers

  2. I have and still use split cleans, as my front squat sucks at the moment. Never really took a split snatch to max, but I would say it’s only between 5% – 10% of 1rm difference – give or take.

  3. Thanks for your reply Matthew, I feel that allowing the squat method into Competitions was a grave error of judgement. The only benefit it had was when competing against the splitters at that time. That would only be of benefit now in Masters Competitions which includes splitters.
    . There are far too many red lights being shown now, all due to the narrow Based squat. I feel that there would be much better audience appreciation with the more successful split lifting. In my minds eye I can still see Julian Cruise and Jim Halliday doing split cleans and snatches, all in full control. Cheers Gwilym.

    1. I agree with you Gwilym. Train in a cross fit gym and squaring is the norm. For this that can’t splitting is a suitable if not just as effective. The weighlifting organisation that I’m a member consists of alot of masters who are still splitters. It may be a dying art form, but it’s not forgotten.

      Matt

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