In the late 1800s and early 1900s strongmen and circus performers would perform one arm snatches to draw crowds and demonstrate their impressive feats of strength. Above is a very early photo of Arthur Saxon performing a single arm barbell snatch. Authur was officially recorded performing a 195lb right hand snatch, but it is said that he could do as much as 210lb at around 205lb.
These days’ single hand barbell snatches are very rarely performed, but in some strength and fitness programmes they live on in the form of kettlebell and dumbbell snatches. Kettlebell snatches are particularly popular with kettlebell and conditioning coaches for fitness, whereas athletic coaches often use them to help athletes to develop speed and power. They are rarely performed by bodybuilders along with other Olympic lifts as there are more efficient lifts at building mass such as deadlifts. However, don’t let that put you off as it can be easy to neglect speed and power.
Benefits of single arm snatches:
- Improves speed, power and strength.
- Unilateral movement that will improve balance and reduce strength imbalances.
- Compound exercise that works multiple muscles at the same time including the quads, glutes, traps and delts.
- Can be used to increase strength endurance and improve general physical preparedness (GPP).
- Genuine alternative to snatches and other ‘speed movements’ usually performed by barbells if you don’t have the equipment or space.
- Last but not least, they are great for lazy people – loading a bar can be a lot of hassle.
At first glance single arm snatches look quite hard to perform, even harder than conventional Olympic snatches (two handed), the good news is they are in fact much easier and after a few sessions getting to grips with the technique you should have it nailed and will be able to progress to heavier and heavier weights. I think there are two reasons for single hand lifts being easier, firstly getting into a good position to execute the lift is easier and more natural. Secondly it’s much easier for the weight to follow the correct path without being disrupted by the timing of your body. You will very quickly realise if you haven’t performed the lift properly.
If you’re already proficient at two handed snatches, expect to be able to lift between 55-75% of your 1 rep max. (The stronger you are, the harder it will be able to get your percentage up due to the final lockout.) If you’ve never performed either I would recommend starting with a dumbbell snatch until you are comfortable before moving onto a barbell. You should always ensure that you switch arms throughout training else you will build imbalances. (I personally switch arms every set.)
Below I will cover one arm barbell, kettlebell and dumbbell snatches.
Single Arm Dumbbell Snatches
Start by holding a dumbbell in front of you whilst standing with your legs shoulder width apart and your palm facing inwards. (The dumbbell should probably weigh around how much you comfortably dumbbell curl.) Next squat down between a half-squat position or until the dumbbell touches the floor, whatever you prefer. Explode up using your hips and avoid the temptation of pulling with your arm. Jump up, shrug and get until the dumbbell before finally locking out in either a conventional or split squat stance.
A simple explanation of how to perform the db snatch is demonstrated by Jonathan Jorgensen below:
One Arm Kettlebell Snatches
The technique to perform a kettlebell snatch is extremely similar to dumbbells. Notably, the kettlebell will flip as you switch your hand over to prepare to lock out. The video below makes out that they are difficult to master, which could be true compared to other kettlebell lifts, but in comparison to Olympic lifts these are a walk in the park.
One Arm Barbell Snatches
Start in a large open area and use large Olympic plates to set up a weight similar to what you use for dumbbell snatches. Grip the bar centrally and then explode using your hips as you would with a db snatch. Get under the bar but be ready to stabilise the bar from swaying and if you find the barbell moving too much use your other hand to steady it. You’ll noticed with barbell snatches that your wrists take quite a lot of pressure and your core is really worked hard as you stabilised the bar when locked out.