Snatch vs Clean and Jerk: The Differences Explained

clean and jerk vs snatch

The snatch and clean and jerk are two staple Olympic lifts best known for their explosiveness and snappy technique, with which lifters and competitive Olympic weightlifting athletes use to maximize their physical development.

Because of the visual similarity between the two exercises, many novice lifters will often confuse one with the other, making it essential for them to understand the minute differences.

The snatch and the clean and jerk differ in terms of their individual form cues and mechanics, with the snatch being a single smooth pull upwards while the clean and jerk is separated into two phases instead.

What is the Snatch?

The snatch is a classic Olympic weightlifting exercise that makes use of a barbell and set of weight plates to activate practically every muscle group of the body in a single compound movement.

woman performing the snatch

It is most often performed as a competition lift, or as part of an athletic training program wherein it builds strength and power throughout the entire kinetic chain.


The set-up to the snatch begins with the exerciser placing a barbell at ankle level atop a weightlifting platform with their hands wider than shoulder-width apart along said barbell. This, in turn, changes the starting position of the exercise in comparison to the clean and jerk.

The torso will be less upright, with a greater curve in the cervical portion of the spine, as well as a somewhat greater usage of the internal shoulder rotation biomechanic prior to beginning the exercise.

Key Form Cues

The main cues of the snatch involve a snappy and simultaneous extension of the knees, ankles and hips at the first pull of the movement, followed by an elbow extension and subsequent execution of a full squat movement as the bar moves into the overhead position.

How to Perform the Snatch

To begin performing the snatch, the exerciser will enter a deadlift position with a wide space between their knees and their hands gripping the barbell somewhat wider than shoulder-width apart.


In a single fluid motion, the lifter will then pull the bar upwards by simultaneously extending their back, legs and chest, thereby producing enough explosive force to move the bar up to approximately clavicle height.

Once the bar has achieved this level of elevation, the exerciser will once again bend at the hips and knees, effectively squatting beneath the bar as they lock out their elbows overhead, completing a repetition of the snatch.

What is the Clean and Jerk?

The clean and jerk is an Olympic weightlifting competitive lift that is often considered the more power-based counterpart to the snatch, wherein it is performed as a method of maximizing possible strength output of an athlete or as a method of remedying a sticking point in order explosive compound lifts.

woman performing the clean and jerk

Much like the snatch, the clean and jerk is performed with a barbell and a set of weight plates – and makes significant use of a number of biomechanics, requiring high mobility and no history of injury in the lifter.


The set-up for the clean and jerk is quite similar to that of the snatch, wherein the exerciser places a loaded barbell on a lifting platform and enters a deadlift position prior to beginning a repetition. 

The sole difference in this case is that the exerciser places their hands shoulder-width apart instead of further away, altering their torso tilt.

Key Form Cues

Much like in the case of the snatch, the clean and jerk involves the exerciser entering a state of full ankle, hip, back and knee extension as they initiate the first pull of the exercise – of which is followed by 

How to Perform the Snatch

The snatch is performed with the lifter entering a squatting position with their hands approximately shoulder-width apart, ensuring that their core is braced and their lower back is at a neutral angle.

clean and jerk

Then, much like the clean and jerk, the exerciser will extend their knees and hips as they pull the barbell upwards, dropping into a squat position once more as it reaches sufficiently high enough elevation. 

As they do so, they will extend their elbows and turn their wrists, pushing the barbell overhead while they exit the squat position once more, the barbell still overhead. This completes a single repetition of the snatch.

Muscles Worked by the Snatch and the Clean and Jerk

The snatch and the clean and jerk train much the same muscle groups, with the difference in fact being to what extent these muscle groups are activated, and not which muscle groups are activated.

In the snatch, the exerciser recruits their deltoids and glutes to a greater extent due to the power-based nature of the movement alongside its overhead press portion. 

While these same muscle groups are indeed recruited during the clean and jerk, it is not to as significant a level and as such makes the snatch superior for developing these muscles.

As such, the snatch is the superior exercise for lifters seeking greater development of their muscles.

Difficulty and Complexity Differences of the Snatch and the Clean and Jerk

In terms of relative difficulty and the actual complexity of either exercise, the snatch is considered to be the worse of the two due to its greater mobility requirements and more unstable form – making the clean and jerk the more suitable exercise for novices or those with poor coordination.

However, once a lifter has begun to become more confident in their own physical strength and has a solid grasp on olympic weightlifting mechanics, the clean and jerk can be quite beneficial to the improvement of their lifting technique.

In short – the snatch is more suitable for novices, while the clean and jerk can be used by more advanced weightlifters.

Range of Motion and Weight Differences of the Snatch and the Clean and Jerk

Because of the wider grip utilized during the snatch, the total range of motion involved in the exercise is somewhat shorter than in the clean and jerk. 

This can result in less time under tension being placed upon the muscles of the body, though the explosive power required remains the same.

Consequently, the wider grip will also require the lifter to bend lower during the snatch, requiring greater strength in the glutes and hamstrings than in the clean and jerk.

These two differences – range of motion and initial starting position – can lead to moderate distinctions in the total amount of weight one can move during either exercise, with the majority of individuals being able to lift as much as 0.5 times more during their clean and jerk than in the snatch.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Which Lift is Used in Olympic Weightlifting Competitions?

Both the clean and jerk as well as the snatch are competition lifts featured in Olympic weightlifting meets, requiring any prospective Olympic weightlifting athlete to master both so as to be successful in their endeavors.

Why is the Snatch Harder Than Cleans?

As mentioned previously, the snatch is considered to be somewhat more difficult due to the biomechanics and exercise mechanics required to execute it correctly – with a lower starting position, an overhead press and a more horizontal torso tilt all contributing to the difficulty of the snatch.

Should a Newbie Lifter do the Snatch?

Though the snatch is perfectly safe when performed correctly, it is advisable that novice lifters first practice with the clean exercise so as to build confidence with moving large amounts of weight in an explosive manner – especially since the snatch is performed within a single fluid motion.

In Conclusion

As one can see, both the snatch and the clean and jerk are equally effective at building athletic strength or inducing muscular hypertrophy.

However, for Olympic weightlifters or those wishing to master the Olympic lifts, mastery of both exercises is a must.

If you lack the confidence to successfully perform these exercises with a high amount of weight, or are otherwise having trouble learning their various mechanical complexities, seeking out the advice of an Olympic weightlifting coach will likely help.

  • Bartonietz, Klaus E. PhD. Biomechanics of the Snatch: Toward a Higher Training Efficiency. Strength and Conditioning: June 1996 – Volume 18 – Issue 3 – p 24-31
  • Ulareanu, Marius & Potop, Vladimir & Timnea, Olivia & Cheran, Cosmina. (2014). Biomechanical Characteristics of Movement Phases of Clean & Jerk Style in Weightlifting Performance. Procedia – Social and Behavioral Sciences. 137. 64-69. 10.1016/j.sbspro.2014.05.253.