Programming Notes | Snatch Complexes

Quite some time ago, I wrote a rather extensive post outlining how we were going to start shaking up our existing workout programming template. In it, I laid out the plan to have a dedicated snatch or snatch assistance day each week that would consist of “snatch and snatch variants, overhead squat, snatch balance, and immature jokes.” While the overarching ideas set forth in that post are still maintained there have been, as predicted, tweaks and changes made between then and now. One of these changes that I did not foresee is the somewhat extensive uses of complexes during snatch days.

A snatch complex is a combination of any number of snatches and/or partial snatch lifts strung together. In olympic weightlifting programs worldwide, the use of complexes as a training tool varies greatly. A traditional Bulgarian protocol, for example, will use virtually none relying on a high volume of full lifts and squats. A lifting program you may find at a US weightlifting center may have a much higher reliance on complexes. If you follow enough weightlifters on Facebook, I’m sure you see a variety of lifters going through a variety of complexes – many of which are done “for fun” or as an exhibition of skills more so than as part of a training program.

While there are obvious merits to practicing and training the full lifts, we find that complexes offer a lot of benefits for our group training classes.

kerry snatch

  • Easily Identify Flaws. Our trainers all have a great handle on the important part of our Olympic lifts. That being said, in our group setting they have roughly one minute to devote per person to start identifying and fixing errors. In a full lift most people – especially beginners – will have multiple errors that need to be addressed. As a result, it’s usually the first or the most obvious that gets addressed. For example, if you’re a chronic butt lifter (initiate the lift by sticking the butt straight up in the air), you’ll get hammered on that until it’s better. If you’re also catching improperly, this may get glossed over so we’re not giving you a flood of information to focus on. By isolating elements as you’d see in a complex, we are able to identify other components that need to be cleaned up as well. This way we won’t start developing bad habits while the other more important pieces are being fixed.
  • Introduce Duress Without More Weight. Weight on the bar does a lot for us. It’s makes us strong. It gives a sense of accomplishment. But it also stresses the joints, makes us sore and requires more balance, accuracy and precision. In a complex, we are stringing multiple movements together in succession. In doing this, we are fatiguing the body then asking for one more lift. This will place similar demands on focus, balance, and accuracy without necessitating the weight on the bar. That means we can get similar neurological results without the extensive warmup times needed for the full lifts. It’s also a great way to cause us to focus on speed rather than raw strength. As our body fatigues, we are less likely to rely on our bodies to “muscle” the bar than if we were fresh. Olympic lifts are all about power, and there is no power without speed.
  • Crack Kills. We’ve noticed in our classes that with the snatch – moreso than with any other lifts – people always want “one more” attempt. While squats, presses, and even cleans are typically strength limited, the snatch (especially for novices) is very technique dependent, which leads the athlete to think with a few minor tweaks, they can totally get it this time. The trainer will frequently oblige, because we like to see you succeed! But one more turns in to eight more and our carefully crafted class time line is sent out the window. Complexes tend to wear you out a bit more, and people are typically a little more eager to move on.
  • PR More Often! SSSSHHHHH, don’t tell nobody, but… You like to PR, I like to PR, we all like to PR! And by throwing in a few complexes that we repeat from time to time, we are getting more lifts that we can PR at. Which means we PR more often. This is the beauty of a high-variety program like CrossFit; there are always more little steps that you can be taking. This goes hand-in-hand with the point above. For most people, we are doing enough strength, flexibility and balance work that you should be improving your snatch by 5-10 lbs every month or so. However, if we were to hit the full lift every week or multiple times a week, you’d go multiple sessions without setting PRs. Which is perfectly fine and expected, but everyone likes to see that you’re getting better day by day, so we incorporate complexes, identify flaws, practice the partial movements and hit PRs on those movements and then every 4-6 weeks… BOOM, we unveil your new PR. Pretty slick, eh?

Ultimately, we have found this to be a fantastic approach for our group CrossFit classes. It allows people to continue to improve their snatch and technique while also being able to focus on everything else we have to work on. There’s a lot to cover in a given week in our CrossFit classes, and making use of complexes has been very effective given our time constraints. However, if you are interested in absolutely maximizing your olympic lifts, you will likely need more than a once-a-week focus on them. This is where our Open Gym and Personal Training options come in awful handy.