Lead Photo Credit: James Nachtwey

Here's what you need to know...

  1. The snatch-grip deadlift can pack size onto your traps, upper back, hamstrings, and glutes.
  2. A wider grip is the most obvious difference. Most lifters can master it after just a few workouts.
  3. The snatch-grip deadlift can carry over to increased strength off the floor with conventional deads.
  4. Use the 4-week deadlift specialization program to learn technique, increase flexibility, and build overall strength.

Big Effort, Big Results

Many lifters, especially those with mobility issues, prefer shorter range of motion deadlifts. And that's if they even deadlift at all.

But if you're willing to put in a little extra time and work, you can learn one of the most under-rated exercises in barbell history and reap the muscular benefits.

4 Reasons to Snatch-Grip Deadlift

There's a certain kind of walk you end up with after your first few workouts with snatch-grip deadlifts. It tells people from a distance "my entire back from my neck to my knees is sore."

If that's not enough proof that they're great for hitting a lot of muscle at once, here are a few more reasons:

1. Upper-Back and Trap Development

Olympic weightlifters have very impressive back development. Other than pulling from the floor with insane frequency, something they do that most others athletes don't is make many of those pulls with a wide, or snatch, grip.

If reverse flyes aren't exploding your rear delts and shrugs aren't make your upper traps grow as planned, consider adding in snatch-grip deadlifts.

2. Posterior Chain Development

Conventional deadlifts are better known for developing a muscular back than for developing muscular legs because, overall, there's not a big range of motion in the hips and knees.

With a snatch-grip, even though you're using less weight, it's actually more of a leg exercise because your hamstrings and glutes begin in a much deeper position, which is what packs on size.

3. Great Assistance Exercise for Conventional Deadlifts

Deficit Deadlift

To improve strength from the floor on a conventional deadlift, many lifters will increase the range of motion by standing on a pile of plates or an aerobic step in order to do "deficit deadlifts."

While this does work to increase the ROM, it also increases the risk of injury if the plates or step slide while you're lifting.

The snatch-grip deadlift works as a deficit pull because it forces you to start lower, so you can get all the benefit of deficit work while standing on solid ground.

4. Increased Vertical Jump

A great vertical jump comes from hip extension, which comes from the glutes and posterior chain. The snatch-grip deadlift hammers the glutes and posterior chain.

The starting body position of a great vertical jump very much resembles the starting position of a snatch-grip deadlift. The carryover is there, definitely.

Mastering The Snatch-Grip

Because the wider bar grip stresses the upper back more, it's that much more important to stay rigid and keep that whole area in tact. Problem is, the upper back is a congregation of many smaller muscles that aren't nearly as strong as we might like.

When the upper back fails, the shoulders and eventually the lower back will round and cause potentially dangerous failure. Because of this, master a comfortable weight to ease the upper back into the lift.

This is why it's best to increase volume before weight. If your conventional deadlift is above 350 pounds for reps, it's best to learn the snatch-grip deadlift using 225 pounds for sets of 5. If you deadlift less, adjust accordingly.

The weight on the bar should only be ramped up after you've built the mobility to use maximum grip width and have built the upper back strength to support a good position.

The Stance

Foot Position 1
Foot Position 2

Start with the bar close to the shins and lined up over the mid-foot, similar to a standard deadlift. Your feet shouldn't be as wide as your normal squat stance, but also shouldn't be as narrow as your normal deadlift stance either.

Your torso needs room at the bottom, so point your feet out 10 to 20 degrees. If you were standing on a clock, that'd be left toes pointing between 11 and 12, right toes pointing between 12 and 1.

This angled foot placement makes getting into the bottom position easier and will encourage your lower back to stay rigid.

The Grip

This is obviously the biggest difference and newest "technique" compared to standard deadlifts, so it deserves the most attention.

A lot of people try snatch-grip deadlifts but bail out after their first set because holding the barbell wider-than-usual has mangled their hands into an awkwardly-cramped claw. But there are solutions.

Most Olympic weightlifters use the hook grip in competition and prefer using straps in training to save their hands from literal wear and tear. The hook grip is when the thumb sandwiched between their other fingers and the bar, instead of being over the fingers.

Hook Grip

The hook grip can be as painful as it is useful, so it's not really meant to be done for long duration (moderate to high rep) sets. It's much better for just singles or doubles.

So it's fine to use straps with snatch-grip deadlifts. But skip them on any warm-up sets and save them for the real work sets.

When people think of taking a snatch grip, they automatically picture grabbing the bar from collar to collar, like many (but not all) Olympic lifters do. However, the widest grip I advise is with the index finger just outside the barbell's last ring.

The narrowest I'd consider for a snatch-grip deadlift would have the pinky around that last ring.

Deadlift Grips

Most people will be comfortable somewhere between these two positions, based on height and limb length. To find your most comfortable, most effective, and most powerful grip position, you'll have to do a little testing.

First, grab the bar one thumb-length away from the smooth part, probably very near or just-slightly wider than your standard deadlift grip.

Thumb Width

Do two easy reps to check your form. If everything feels good, move each hand about an inch further out, do another rep or two, and see how you feel.

Repeat this process, going wider each time, until you're unable to keep your lower and upper back in a good position. When you hit that wall, note where your hands are because that's the grip you'll use until you become flexible enough use an "optimal" width.

If you get your pinkies inside the last ring, you won't actually need much more work. In fact, if you're a shorter person, don't even worry about going wider. Most people, however, do best with at least their ring finger on that last ring of the barbell.

Most people perform best with certain grip positions relative to their height:

  • 5'6" and shorter   Pinky on or just inside the last ring
  • 5'7" to 6'1"   Index, middle, or ring finger on the last ring
  • 6'2" and taller   Index finger on or outside the last ring

Consider these as rules of thumb (no pun intended), rather than strict guidelines.

If you're shorter and want to use an extra-wide grip for even deeper ROM, go for it. But if your form breaks down before getting to these wider positions, you'll need to work on your flexibility.

The Big Pull

Once you've found a grip you can work with, you're ready for action. Set your feet, grab the bar, and lock your elbows.

Think about pulling the bar apart, sideways, with your hands. This cue will keep the elbows and upper back tight. Allowing slack in either of these key areas is a recipe for hunching forward and losing safe, strong spinal position.

With your hands and feet in place, have your shoulder blades directly above the bar, not behind it like some Olympic lifters prefer. Bend your knees until your shins barely hit the barbell. Once that light contact is made, lift your chest, settle the lower back into a neutral position, and start the pull.

Drive the bar off the ground using your legs first. Keep a constant back angle during the initial leg drive without leaning back too soon, but as soon as the bar passes your knees, drive your hips forward for a strong lockout.

For the sake of your lower back, keep the bar close and sliding up the body, basically scraping skin off your shins. Don't let it float forward.

And guys, fair warning: Be sure to keep your shoulders up and back at lockout. Otherwise, there's a good chance that the new wide grip will have the bar settling right across your junk.

After one successful rep, break at the hips until the bar reaches the knees and place the bar on the floor. Reposition yourself after each rep to ensure you're staying in a good position.

Snatch-Grip Stretching

Deadlift Start Position

Here's a trick for building specific snatch-grip flexibility.

Load a bar with 315 pounds, or whatever weight will absolutely not budge when you try to lift it. Then get into your snatch-grip deadlift starting position as if you're going to do a rep.

Instead of starting the pull, rotate your pelvis forward while lifting your chest up. Use the bar to pull yourself into the ground. You should feel it most in your lower back and hamstrings.

Hold the position for 20-30 seconds before standing up for a rest. Then go back, take a slightly wider grip and stretch for another 20-30 seconds before taking a break. Go back a third time with your "optimal" or target grip width and do another 20-30 second stretch.

If you're already working with your optimal grip width, go wild and take a true collar-to-collar grip and hit the stretch for one set to build a kind of safety net of flexibility.

Do this stretch series as often as you can, but it's especially effective after lower body lifting days.

4-Week Deadlift Program

When learning the exercise, it's perfect for a light lower body day. You can also incorporate snatch-grip deads into your conventional deadlift warm-ups.

If your conventional deadlift work sets are over 350 pounds, you should be able to do snatch-grip "warm-ups" with 225. As a bonus, the extra ROM will make your conventional deads feel easier.

This 4-week intro cycle is a great way to gradually learn the snatch-grip while working on any flexibility issues.

Week One

Day 1 – Light Day

  Exercise Sets Reps
A Back squats 3 6
B Snatch grip deadlifts * 3 5
C Glute-ham raises 3 8
D Ab wheel rollouts 5 8

* 3 sets of snatch grip stretching after

Day 2 – Heavy Day

  Exercise Sets Reps
A Power cleans *    
B Conventional deadlifts * * 2 3-5 * * *
C Good mornings 3 8
D Bulgarian split squats 2 8
D Band hip rotations 2 10

* done as a warm-up to deadlifts
* * 3 sets of snatch grip stretching after
* * * done Reverse Pyramid style (work up to a 3-5 RM for the first set, drop the weight by 10% for the second set and hit same number of reps as first set +1)

Week Two

Day 1 – Light Day

  Exercise Sets Reps
A Back squats 3 8
B Snatch grip deadlifts * 4 5
C Glute-ham raises 3 10
D Ab wheel rollouts 5 10

* 3 sets of snatch grip stretching after

Day 2 – Heavy Day

  Exercise Sets Reps
A Power cleans *    
B Conventional deadlifts * * 2 3-5 * * *
C Good mornings 3 10
D Bulgarian split squats 2 10
D Band hip rotations 2 10

* done as a warm-up to deadlifts
* * 3 sets of snatch grip stretching after
* * * done Reverse Pyramid style (work up to a 3-5 RM for the first set, drop the weight by 10% for the second set and hit same number of reps as first set +1)

Week Three

Day 1 – Light Day

  Exercise Sets Reps
A Back squats 3 10
B Snatch grip deadlifts * 5 5
C Glute-ham raises 3 12
D Ab wheel rollouts 5 12

* 3 sets of snatch grip stretching after

Day 2 – Heavy Day

  Exercise Sets Reps
A Power cleans *    
B Conventional deadlifts * * 3 3-5 * * *
C Good mornings 3 12
D Bulgarian split squats 2 12
D Band hip rotations 3 10

* done as a warm-up to deadlifts
* * 3 sets of snatch grip stretching after
* * * done Reverse Pyramid style (work up to a 3-5 RM for the first set, drop the weight by 10% for the second set and hit same number of reps as first set +1)

Week Four – Deload

Day 1 – Light Day

  Exercise Sets Reps
A Back squats 2 5
B Snatch grip deadlifts * 2 5
C Glute-ham raises 2 10
D Ab wheel rollouts 3 10

* 3 sets of snatch grip stretching after

Day 2 – Heavy Day

  Exercise Sets Reps
A Power cleans *    
B Conventional deadlifts * * 2 * * * 5
C Good mornings 2 10
D Bulgarian split squats 1 10
D Band hip rotations 2 10

* done as a warm-up to deadlifts
* * 3 sets of snatch grip stretching after
* * * use these sets to retest your grip

Related:  The Best Grips for the Big Lifts

Related:  How to Murder the Deadlift