Selecting an Optimal Hand Spacing
Hand Spacing for the Snatch
Optimal hand spacing in the snatch is dependent on a number of factors, and, as stated earlier, there are trade-offs in the selection of a grip width. There are often “rules of thumb” given in various weightlifting manuals for selecting the width of the snatch grip. For example, one text suggests that the distance between the hands be equal to the distance between the lifter’s elbows when they are held out to the sides at a position level with the shoulders. Such rules of thumb are of very limited value because they take into account only the length of the lifter’s arms and the width of his or her trunk. They fail to consider an even more important relationship: the relationship between the length of the lifter’s trunk and the length of his or her arms. A more precise measure has been suggested by a number of Eastern European writers. They recommend a grip width in which the angle of the arms in relation to the bar is between 49 and 63. However, even such a measure does not take into account such factors as the length of the lifter’s torso in relation to the arms.
One simple technique that does take this relationship into account is to have the lifter hold the bar with straight arms while pushing the chest out and pulling the shoulders back but not up. Next the lifter should bend forward slightly at the waist (with the back arched) and bend the thighs several inches. The lifter then adjusts the width of the grip so that the bar contacts the top of the thighs or the crease of the hips (the area where the most solid bar contact will occur during the pull of most lifters). However, even this is just a beginning point for selecting a grip width. The lifter should fine tune the width of the grip by considering and experimenting with the following factors.
- Shoulder flexibility, strength and joint structure: A lifter with very flexible shoulders will be able to grip the bar comfortably at virtually any width (i.e., from shoulder width to a position in which the outside of the lifter’s hands touch the inside collar of the bar). As a general rule, the narrower the grip in the snatch, the smaller the strain on the shoulder muscles. However, a narrower grip in the snatch tends to place more of a twisting force on the shoulder joint than does a wider one. On the other hand, a grip that is extremely wide places an enormous strain on the shoulder muscles and the shoulder joints when they are supporting the weight. Lifters who have snatch grips that are either very wide or very narrow have tended to have more shoulder problems than lifters with more moderate grip positions. When experimenting with grip width, it is essential that the lifter make any changes very gradually. This is particularly true of more experienced lifters who have been using a particular grip for some time. They are strong enough to lift very heavy weights and are conditioned to handle a certain grip width. Any significant change can result in an injury. I know at least one nationally ranked lifter who virtually ended his career as a result of a shoulder dislocation that occurred when (on the advice of a well known coach) he widened his grip significantly after many years of lifting and tried a near maximum weight shortly thereafter.
- Elbow joint stability: The majority of lifters have arms that lock in a straight position when they straighten their arms to the greatest extent possible. However, some lifters are able to hyperextend their elbows (.e., to have an angle between the forearm and upper arm, measured at the crook of the elbow, that is greater than 180’) and others cannot straighten their arms fully. The lifter with the hyperextended elbow will need to exercise care in finding the arm position in which the elbow is most stable when the bar is overhead. If the grip is too narrow and the shoulder is rotated too much, a shearing force can be placed on the ligaments of the elbow, exposing them to injury if the bar becomes mispositioned while it is supported overhead. If, on the other hand, the grip is too wide, the arm can be placed in a position where the ligaments of the elbow joint are put under a great direct strain, and that can expose the elbow joint to injury.
Another factor affecting elbow stability is the position of the elbow in relation to the ground when the bar is overhead. If the crook of the elbow is facing directly up to the ceiling, there is more direct strain placed on the elbow joint than if the crook of the elbow points forward and up. However, if the crook of the elbow is rotated too much (i.e., the crook points only forward, or even down), there can be sufficient shearing force on the elbow to expose it to danger.
Fortunately, few lifters ever have any elbow problems, and it is rare for an elbow to act up without warning (so any such warning should be heeded). Moreover, elbow problems can nearly always be eliminated with appropriate corrections in technique. The only exceptions to this are some lifters who have some anatomical lack of stability in the elbows or shoulders, such as a significant hyperextension of the elbow. Even these lifters are likely to be able to minimize their physical limitations with careful experimentation.
It should be noted that perhaps the greatest risk to elbow and shoulder integrity arises out of the movement of the bar and body as the weight is received in the overhead position rather than the position of the elbow alone. If the bar has a long distance to drop in the unsupported squat under phase, it will pick up more downward speed and will therefore place more of a strain on the elbows. the wrists and the shoulders when it is caught. In contrast, if the distance over which the bar is brought to a stop in the supported squat under is lengthened, there will be less force at any particular point and the strain on the elbows and shoulders will be minimized. Similarly, when the bar and lifter are moving horizontally, in opposite directions as the bar is caught (e.g., the shoulders of the lifter are moving well forward and the bar is moving backward), strain on the arms and shoulders is increased more than when the movements of the lifter’s body and the bar are more vertical. Consequently, a large “swing” of the bar (i.e., a horizontal motion) and/or a significant movement of the torso forward when the lifter is executing the squat under place the lifter at greater risk. Grip width can affect the degree of relative horizontal motion of the body and bar, so the individual lifter will need to experiment to determine the best grip.
- Thigh contact and pulling strength: In the snatch most lifters make thigh contact with the bar at a point that is approximately one-third to one half of the way up the thigh from the knee. However, others do not have any contact until the bar is nearly at the top of the thighs. The bar loses contact with the body of some lifters about onethird from the top of the thigh, and others have solid contact until the bar reaches the height of the hips. Different lifters are more efficient with one approach or another (because of differences in the relative strength of their leg and back muscles and because of differences in the lengths of the body links and positions from lifter to lifter), Clearly, if the grip is so wide that the lifter does not contact the bar until it is above the level of the hips or the grip is so narrow that the bar contacts the thighs just above the knees and leaves the thighs before the bar reaches mid-thigh level, the lifter should at least try a more mainstream grip and body position.
- Achieving a correct starting position in the pull: Some lifters will note that if the grip is too wide, they will have difficulty maintaining an arched back when they take the bar off the floor. Since a correct starting position is important, lifters who find themselves in this situation should either become more flexible or narrow the grip.
- The height necessary in order to fix the bar: There is no question that the bar will not have to be lifted as high with a wide grip as with a narrower grip. All things being equal, a wider grip places the bar closer to the ground and to the lifter’s body. This lower position also gives the lifter greater stability (a lower center of gravity yields greater stability).
- Grip strength and hand size: Most lifters will find that the wider their grip, the more difficult it will be to hold onto the bar. With a wide grip the arms exert a horizontal as well as vertical force on the hands (in contrast with the more purely vertical pull against the fingers that occurs when the forearm is in line with the hand, as happens during the clean). This causes the outer fingers of the hand to open slightly and the forearm to be placed in a diagonal position relative to the hand. This position is somewhat less secure for holding the bar in the hand. The lifter with large hands will be less affected by this positioning because his or her fingers can grip the bar effectively even if they are opened slightly. The lifter with a small hands can experience a significant problem if the grip of the outer fingers is affected sufficiently Naturally grip strength is also a factor, as the lifter with a surplus of grip strength will have little difficulty in holding onto the bar even if the hands are placed at a less favorable angle. Any hand position that results in the lifter losing his or her grip (or loosening it sufficiently to cause the lifter to reduce the explosiveness of his or her pull) is too wide for the lifter at that point in time. The option is either to strengthen the grip or to move it in. The correct solution may be difficult to determine early in a lifting career as almost anyone can hold onto the bar with light weights (although even relative beginners may notice a grip problem stemming from the wide grip when doing reps).