Mobility – Strength – Skill
To maximize your potential, capacity and efficiency for the Box Jump Over variations you must master its specific mobility, strength and skill demands: the three-headed monster every athlete must conquer. Let’s take on the monster one “head” at a time.
There are two key positions with high mobility requirements in the dumbbell snatch:
1) Hip Hinge | Palms on Ground
Because the radius of the head of the dumbbell is much smaller than that of a bumper plate, your hand ends up much closer to the ground during dumbbell movements, including the snatch.
This is exaggerated by the fact that typically the dumbbell snatch movement standard requires both heads of the dumbbell to touch the ground. With the radius of a bumper plate around 9 inches and the radius of the average 50/35 lbs dumbbell being 3 inches, it’s typically about a six-inch difference (see photo below).
Because of this, the requirement for a hip hinge are more aggressive. I recommend being able to place your palms flat on the ground with a slight bend in the knee.
Here are two simple stretches to improve your hip flexion…
• Forward Fold
• Supine Hamstring Stretch
2) Overhead | Arms Past Ears
At the finish of the dumbbell snatch it is important that you can easily lock out overhead. A stacked overhead position means that your wrist, elbow and shoulder are all in a perfectly straight vertical line. Any deviation or bending off this line will create inefficiencies. A good test for this is seeing if you can open your shoulders with straight elbows to the point where you can see your ears.
Here are a few of my favorite mobilizations to work on your overhead position:
• Kettlebell-Anchored T-Spine Stretch
• Elevated Cat Pose
• Chest Stretch
The great thing about movements where you move an external load is that you can manipulate the strength requirement. The same can’t be said for body weight movements, like gymnastics, where you are required to move your full body weight to complete the movement. In other words, you can pick a weight of a dumbbell that is appropriate and manageable for you depending on the rep scheme and workout specifics.
However, many functional fitness gyms only have so many dumbbells in given weights because those are the ones used for various qualifiers and online competitions, like the Open. Often members are encouraged to use Rx weights, which are 50 pounds for men and 35 pounds for women. Common scales are 35 pounds for men and 25 pounds for women.
When thinking about what weight is appropriate you are better off using caution. Start with a lighter dumbbell and build up throughout your warm-up. You can even go heavier in your rehearsal rounds and then go back down to a lighter dumbbell for the workout if the volume of total reps is high.
I highly recommend counting (if Rounds for Time) or estimating (if AMRAP) the total number of reps you will get through in a workout. Make sure that number isn’t dramatically higher than you have completed in the past. Otherwise, movement / form will begin to break down, putting you at a greater risk for injury.
Moral of the story… “start low, go slow.”
If you do not have all the Mobility and Strength requirements, time spent learning skill will be much less productive. Build the basics, then layer on top.
Technique Focal Points
(1) The Setup
The setup for the dumbbell snatch should be no different than any other loaded movement in the fact that you must “get tight” by creating a brace before initiating the lift.
The athlete is compressed at the start of the lift, having both knees and hips bent. The shoulders have a slight twist, which allows to a slight slingshot effect when the weight is lifted. This twist also allows for the athlete to make up the more Range of Motion throughout the system rather than one specific joint (like the hip). Notice how close her fist is to the ground while holding the dumbbell.
Which Way Should I Hold the Dumbbell?”
You can setup two ways, with the handle of the dumbbell pointing perpendicular or parallel to your toes. Virtually all elite CrossFit athletes I’ve seen prefer to have it parallel to their feet so that is how I demo it in all of my videos.
This is the case for a few reasons. First is that the dumbbell fits between the feet easier and tends not to graze the body as it moves through space during the pull. This is becomes increasingly relevant as the weight & size of the dumbbell increases. Good luck moving a 100 or 120lb dumbbell oriented this way.
The second reason athletes prefer to have the dumbbell parallel with the feet is the handle of a dumbbell does not rotate. A barbell snatch can be locked out quickly because the collars of the bar spin. Pulling the dumbbell thumb up allows for a slower, smooth turnover.
The final reason most elites prefer to hold the dumbbell this way is that at lockout the thumb is pointed back with this version meaning that the shoulder is externally rotated. This provides a stable environment to lock out the dumbbell.
However, there is nothing wrong with the perpendicular orientation if that’s what’s comfortable. The video below is a example of it this way. The athlete who finds this way comfortable often tends to have less shoulder / overhead mobility.
This is because the shoulder is unwound to a greater degree (internally rotated) which allows for easier accessibility to the immobile athlete. Typically people who hold the dumbbell orientated this way switch on the ground rather than in the air.
So to sum up my thoughts on which way to hold the dumbbell…
Parallel to Feet | For a strong, mobile athlete who plans on stringing touch-n-go reps
Perpendicular to Feet | For an athlete who struggles with overhead mobility and plans on switching hands on the floor as an opportunity to provide passive rest
There are very few workout scenarios where this would be a preferred version of the movement. I’m sure Julie Foucher wouldn’t actually do her workout with this technique.
(2) The Pull
Should I Use My Legs or My Back?”
The trajectory (path) of the dumbbell is largely determined by an athlete’s setup position. Changing the setup position will change the trajectory of the implement (this is true for any lift).
For beginners little inconsistencies in a setup will make the dumbbell snatch much harder to learn and more difficult to control the trajectory.
However, for experienced athletes the same little differences can be intentionally adopted to gain a competitive advantage.
Subtle Differences: The Squat versus The Swing
One of these small differences is setting up and pulling to produce a “squat” versus a “swing.” While the differences in the setup and pull are relatively small, they feel very different and engage different muscle groups.
This makes both skills worth developing depending on the factors of the workout, such as duration, snatch rep volume, loading, movement pairing, etc.
I know athletes who use both as a point of preference, but I believe as an athlete you need degrees of freedom to be able to express your fitness optimally. Looking at the side-by-side image below, we can tell based on setup differences what muscles will be taxed in the pull.
Variation #1: The Squat
The squat is slightly more upright and as a result the knees get pushed forward toward the toes. This means that there will be more quad and calf engagement and less work done by the posterior chain (hamstring, glutes, low back). The differences here could be compared to a deadlift vs. a clean pull. The dumbbell starts directly between your feet and the pull is very vertical without much forward and backward travel at all.
If a workout isn’t partial to any particular variation of the movement you should pick the one with which you are most comfortable and sustainable.
However, if the workout is taxing on the posterior chain because it is paired with something like deadlifts, cleans, rowing or kettlebell swings this version will be most appropriate.
Finally, this variation can be more taxing on the arms yet less taxing on the shoulders. Therefore, with exercises that are paired with upper body pulling or pressing you may opt for the Swing variation.
Variation #2: The Swing
The swing is more bent over (back angle) and as a result the knees get pushed back . This means that there will be more hamstring, glute and low back engagement while the work of the quads and calves is minimized.
The dumbbell starts slightly behind the feet (much like a kettlebell swing) so you can use the stretch of your posterior chain to quickly change directions in the bottom of the swing. The path of the pull is arced and moves in a big sweep, hence the “swing.”
It’s important to note that while the squat variation can be done using a power snatch (see CrossFit’s video) or muscle snatch (see video of me above) the swing must be muscled. Trying to re-dip under the dumbbell only works well with a vertical trajectory.
The swing is most useful for workouts that are taxing on the anterior of the body, mainly the quads. If a dumbbell snatch is paired with any squatting movement, you will want to do the swing variation.
Finally, you will notice with the swing the arm stays fairly straight the entire movement. As a result, the prime movers at the lock out in the movement are not biceps (“pull”) and triceps (“punch”) but the shoulders.
(3) The Turnover
Just like a barbell snatch, a strong turnover is needed to transition from pulling to pressing. A helpful cue for many athlete is, “pull-punch.” The faster and stronger you can turnover the wrist the more efficient you will become. The speed and strength of the turnover will vary based on the dumbbell snatch variation you are choosing. There are three choices that will affect the turnover in the dumbbell snatch:
1) Dumbbell Orientation: Parallel versus Perpendicular
The less commonly used perpendicular orientation of the dumbbell requires a more aggressive turnover, but also allows for one. When holding the dumbbell parallel with the feet, the turnover must be slower because you can’t let go or re-grip the dumbbell. The outer head of the dumbbell must flip all the way over the top, which in nature is a more time consuming process. For this reason, some athletes adopt the perpendicular hold for dumbbell squat snatch, which require a quicker turnover and greater overhead mobility.
2) Variation: The Squat versus The Swing
The trajectory of the pull will also affects the turnover. With the Squat variation, the vertical path of the barbell requires a more aggressive, quick turnover. With the Swing variation, the turnover doesn’t exist…rather it is replaced with the long, looping action of the arm.
3) Lock-Out: Power versus Muscle Snatch
In the muscle snatch the dumbbell continues to move through space vertically the entire movement, which is why it is a faster (and potentially more taxing) variation. Since it is always moving vertically, it is more challenging to have an aggressive, fast turnover.
Conversely in the power snatch (& squat snatch) the dumbbell is suspended in space for a moment of time while the athlete “organizes” underneath it to be able to stand it up with a locked out arm.
It’s about moving from a position of high stability to another position of high stability. This concept is illustrated very well with a slow motion snatch where the athlete moves from a position of high stability (power position) to another high-support position (bottom of overhead squat).
Between those two positions the bar “hovers” as the athlete moves around and under it. The same concept applies to a dumbbell, allowing you to converse energy and move heavier loads.
(4) The Lock-out
Should I Power Snatch or Muscle Snatch?”
As we just discussed, you can either power snatch or muscle snatch. The power snatch will be more time-consuming because the dumbbell stops moving vertically for a fraction of a second, but this doesn’t always mean that it will be slower for a workout. The technique that allows you move faster through the rounds of the workout is best, even if the individual reps are slightly slower.
The last factor to consider when deciding whether to power or muscle in a particular workout is if the movements pairing includes primarily upper body (pressing) or lower body (squatting) movements. Since you lock out a muscle snatch without using the legs, it becomes much more taxing on the triceps and shoulders, especially when it begins to move rather slower.
Therefore, the muscle snatch is appropriate for leg heavy workouts, such as squats, bike erg or box jump overs and not appropriate for workouts that are upper body-dominant with movements like Handstand Push-ups, Shoulder-to-Overhead or Muscle-Ups.
Conversely, the power snatch is appropriate for upper body focused workouts and less appropriate for movements that have significant quad engagement.
Here is an example of the alternating power snatch. Here I show it with a heavier dumbbell where most people will benefits from the power snatch instead of a muscle.
(5) Cycling Reps
Do I Switch Hands on the Ground or In the Air?”
This is where I insert my two cents. Unless you are doing dumbbell snatches as a purely strength exercise (aka. you don’t care about efficiency) you should alternate in the air if possible. It saves your back and allow breathing to fall into a steady rhythm.
Yes, it takes time to practice and a bit of coordination and timing, but it is well worth the investment.
When watching this video, pay attention to the amount of time I spend bent over (tension on back) when alternating on the ground versus alternating in the air.
Here is another method of cycling reps if you are 1) worried about meeting the standard of switching above your head or 2) the weight starts to pull you forward.
What is the best way to learn to alternate in the air?”
Learning to cycle reps in the air can be intimidating at first. Start with a light dumbbell that won’t pull you out of position as you catch it.
Once you form is dialed in and consistent rep-to-rep begin slowly climbing in weight until you are back to your workout weights once again?
Sore No More
…or at least that is the goal by the end of this section.
Does the thought of Open Workout 17.1 / 21.2 bring back memories?
Many people, even those who were incredibly fit and are used to high volume workouts, got extremely sore. Why?
Why Do You Get Sore?”
To start, soreness is largely caused by muscle damage.
Muscle damage as a result of exercise mostly occurs during eccentric contractions. Eccentric means that as the muscle is contracting as it lengthened (e.g. the lowering portion of a squat). It is the reason you will get much more sore from Touch-N-Go Power Cleans than if you did all singles and dropped each rep from your shoulder.
What About the Dumbbell Snatch Causes Soreness?”
So it’s simple…the lowering of the dumbbell back to the ground during the snatch is what causes the soreness. Yes and No. It certainly contributes to some of the soreness you are experiencing, but it’s not the entire picture.
There is another, sneakier, eccentric component to the Dumbbell Snatch. In the split second you initiate your first rep and pick up the dumbbell off the floor, your legs begin to drive while your upper body including the Dumbbell do not move. Your lower body is moving and your upper body is not. That body segment in the middle (your back) is where the movement happens.
Your back is contracting, but rather than lifting it is getting twisted and stretched, even if it’s subtle. Multiply that subtle eccentric contraction over the 150 reps in 17.1 and you get incredible muscle damage.
How Can I Stop Soreness from Dumbbell Snatches?”
But there’s good news. That sneaky eccentric component isn’t required on every rep. Unlike other barbell movements, this time your saving grace is Touch-N-Go. Switching hands with the Dumbbell on the way back down to the floor nearly eliminates the eccentric twisting and stretching that occurs on the first rep of a set. It is much easier to gather and maintain a brace (top down) than it is to start each rep by gathering it (bottom up).
Recipe for Success
Hook Grip or Nah?
One of the decisions you need to make when cycling dumbbell snatches is whether or not to use a hook grip. The hook grip is the same technique that you use for a barbell. Yet, a dumbbell is not a barbell so the forces are different. And – as I will discuss – so is the object itself that you are grasping.
One difference is when lifting a barbell in CrossFit, the hands are always pronated (palms facing towards you). With a dumbbell most athletes use a neutral grip so which means the athlete must battle the dumbbell sliding forward and back in your grip, not just straight down.
Basically dumbbell can grind or slide through your hands much easier than a barbell. A hook grip directly places your thumb in a position where it can get chewed up by the knurling (metal texture) of a dumbbell as it moves.
Therefore, if you want to hookgrip a dumbbell, I recommend taping your thumbs, especially if using a heavy dumbbell.
Even if an athlete holds the dumbbell with the handle perpendicular to her feet the heads of the dumbbells do not rotate, while the bearings and sleeves of barbell collars allow for rotation. This means a quick turnover is weightlifting with a barbell can be achieved while holding onto the bar tightly the entire movement. This is not true for dumbbells.
If an athlete holds the dumbbell perpendicular she will be loosen her grip to allow the dumbbell handle to rotate in her hand. Holding the dumbbell parallel with your feet sidesteps this issues because you can maintain a grip the entire movement since the turnover is end-over-end and much slower. In the parallel version you can maintain the hook grip (if you choose to use one) through the entire movement, while in the perpendicular version you a best suited to release it each rep and reclaim it as you alternate hands.
The second consideration is the thickness of the dumbbell handle. Barbells have regulated thicknesses to make them official, which is exactly 28.5mm for men and 25mm for women.
This is because there is a sport (weightlifting) that needed to have standards to make it a level playing field. CrossFit is the first sport (that I know of) that used dumbbells in competition. The only regulations were a maximum diameter for the heads and a certain weight. There was no regulation for handle thickness.
Therefore, different dumbbell have different handle thicknesses. For whatever reason, dumbbells with rubber-lined heads tend to have thicker handles than ones with metal heads.
Further, the thicker handles are not one thickness for the entire handle…they are thinner towards the ends.
Therefore, it is much easier to claim a hookgrip towards the top of the handle. This is great except that there often isn’t any knurling on the top of the handle, and many athletes hands aren’t big enough to claim a hook grip in the middle of the dumbbell.
For this reason, I personally opt for a metal dumbbell when doing snatches. Yet, for movements like thrusters or cleans where my body supports the heads of the dumbbell, I prefer the rubber-headed dumbbells.
For athletes with small hands and short fingers, especially women, dumbbells can prove very challenging to hook grip, especially ones with thicker handles. Where women’s barbells have smaller handles, dumbbell are unisex so handle size typically does not change even as the dumbbells get lighter.
The Bottom Line: If you can claim the hook grip with relative ease, without the dumbbell tearing your thumbs, do it.
Breathing in DB Snatches
Listen to my breathing during the dumbbell snatch. In the bottom portion, I shortly hold my breath to create a brace and tension throughout my core. I exhale during the top half on the way up and inhale on the top half on the descent. That is one breath cycle (inhale and exhale) per rep, or a rep to breath ratio of 1:1.
You can also do a breath ratio of 2:1, which is two breaths per rep. The dynamic (moving) part of the db snatch remains the same. You simply add another full breath cycle (inhale & exhale) with the dumbbell locked out overhead. While this is time under tension, if you have good mobility your bone structure will support the load. You are better off taking the extra breath than moving frantically through reps.
This video first shows the 1:1 breath ratio, followed by a 1:2 breath ratio.
Dumbbell Snatch Variations
Double Dumbbell Snatch
Double Dumbbell Snatches have always existed, but they came to popularity in 2018 in when Wodapolooza announced that they would be in a couplet with box jump overs. The workout was programmed by Street Parking (Julian & Miranda Alcaraz) who are known for creating tough workouts with limited equipment.
The same thing happened when Street Parking programmed the Wodapolooza Online Qualifier, which featured the Devil’s Press (see below). Both movements existed before this, but this was the first time they were seem in an event that featured a ticket to the Games.
The best technique to execute the double dumbbell snatch is using the Swing variation. Because you can’t accelerate the dumbbells in the double version using the twisting of your torso like you can in a single, you must use the stretch of your hips and the structures around them.
The double dumbbell snatch requires much more of the hips and back, both with regards to strength and mobility. The movement itself isn’t very technically challenging (not harder than an American kettlebell swing) but the capacity to an Rx weight (2 dumbbells at 50/35 lbs) is challenging for most people to say the least. My recommendation would be having 50+ Touch-N-Go alternating Dumbbell Snatches with a single Rx dumbbell before attempting a double.
The Devil’s Press is basically a burpee (where your chest must touch the ground) into a double dumbbell snatch. I talk about it in this video…
DB Hang Split Snatch
This is a variation of the dumbbell snatch that we say showcased at the 2019 CrossFit Games event “Split Triplet” (Start at 11:00).
While the strength demands of this movement are no greater than the traditional power snatch, the coordination requirement increases. The opposite foot must move forward in the split, or you will be required to repeat the rep on that side, similar to a pistol “no-rep.”
The key to success in this variation is consistent, rhythmic footwork.
Also, make sure you deadlift the dumbbell to your hip (hang) and don’t go straight into that first rep (power). One of the subtle things that will help make the first rep easier is deadlifting the dumbbell to your hip and resting the head on your hip so it is slightly in front of your body. This allows a little horizontal momentum to carry the dumbbell back (into your hips) and makes that first rep easier because it resembles a Kettlebell Swing.
Lastly, as is the case with any “Hang” movement, it’s advantageous to cycle more reps without setting the dumbbell down. This is because you avoid having to deadlift the dumbbell to the hip as the “Buy-In” to the hang movement.
Obviously, there is a sweet spot between the number of unbroken reps and the elevation of heart rate and fatigue that accompany it.
DB Overhead Squat
The Dumbbell Overhead Squat is the most difficult of all the squatting variations, besides maybe double dumbbell overhead squat. It is common to see athletes failing to reach depth, lifting their heels, twisting like a pretzel or all three.
Without excellent hip mobility to allow an upright torso squat, combined with great shoulder flexion & thoracic rotation, this movement is nearly impossible with a prescribed weight.
Holding a dumbbell overhead is even more challenging than a barbell because you can’t create tension through the object to the other hand.
In addition, the arm must be straight overhead (vertical) while with a barbell overhead squat the hands are typically much wider.
Here are some tips for improving your overhead mobility with the dumbbell.
My other tip for learning to Dumbbell Overhead squat if you are close in the mobility but not quite there yet is using a kettlebell. Because the dumbbell has two heads the weight is even distributed in front and behind your hand.
With the kettlebell, there is a single ball of weight and it is almost entirely behind your hand. This means that your hand can be two to three inches further forward, reducing the need for shoulder mobility. The bigger the kettlebell (see exhibit A), the further forward you hand can travel.
DB Squat Snatch
Much like the double dumbbell snatch is much like the single, but requires significantly more strength, the squat snatch is much like the power/muscle snatch but it requires way more mobility.
Therefore, I would only recommend the dumbbell squat snatch when it is mandatory, even when the weight is heavy, unless you are an outlier (strong, very mobile shoulders – a weak hinge – & a strong squat).
Often athletes will opt to set the dumbbell down between reps to grab an extra breath or two and ensure the movement is as consistent rep-to-rep as possible.
However, if the workout is a short sprint, you will be forced to do the reps Touch-N-Go, so I recommend it’s something you at least practice at some point.
Also in the Movement Library: Pull-Ups & Chest-to-Bar Pull-Ups
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