There are a zillion assistance exercises that you can use to build your weak points for the deadlift and the other major lifts. (Note: I use “assistance” as a term for a second or third multi-joint exercise and “accessory” as one that is done for higher reps later in your session.) The key is to pick one that works for you and your weakness and to do the exercise properly. I have pontificated and shared programs with several options, including:

  • Deficit Pulls
  • Block/Mat Pulls
  • Opposite Deadlifts
  • Good Mornings

Today we will go over how to build your deadlift with the snatch grip deadlift.

This is an outstanding assistance lift if you have a weak upper back or erectors.

  • Do you miss the deadlift at lockout due to rounding your upper back?
  • Do you round your lower back excessively at heavy loads off the floor?
  • Do you initiate your pull with your back as opposed to STABILIZING with your back?

If you said “yes” to any of these, this might be the golden ticket for you. A nice benefit of the snatch grip deadlift is that it makes your upper back stronger and bigger, and your erectors too. This carries over to your squat and bench.

The Setup

The snatch grip deadlift is not a traditional deadlift, and many cues for it are contrary to the traditional pull. That’s what makes it work. It’s different. Grip width is the first thing to determine. You see many weightlifters with their grip all the way out to the end of the bars, but that is not where you should begin. If you’re new to this lift, be conservative and get the foundation down before going too wide. I suggest that you get your grip as illustrated in the photo below.

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Put your arms in this position and your grip will be this width. Simply extend your arms and keep the hands at this distance. You can always move them out later. Next, think about foot position. Stack your joints like poker chips (bone stack). Stand in front of the bar with your ankle, knees, and hips all in a straight line and point your toes out about 30 degrees.

Then take your grip. This is where it gets different from a regular deadlift in a few ways. You want to do what is called the tri-lat tuck here. Flex your triceps, tuck your lats together, and turn your elbows out. How do you tuck your lats together? Easy. Squeeze your shoulder blades together and up, and shrug up and slightly back. Keep those triceps flexed.

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In a normal deadlift, we do not shrug up — we pull the lats down.
Snatch grip is the opposite. This is an important point. Get those traps up and keep those triceps flexed with the elbows out.

Starting the Lift

Now it really gets weird. Make sure your shoulders are ahead of the bar. In a traditional deadlift, we want the shoulders over the bar. In the snatch grip, we want them slightly ahead. Drop your butt down lower than your hips if your flexibility allows. If it doesn’t, pull from blocks. As a matter of fact, start these on blocks and work your way to the floor over a few weeks. Seven-inch blocks are a good height for most to begin. Your knees should be ahead of the bar with a positive shin angle. This is different than a regular deadlift, where we look for a neutral shin angle, meaning pretty much straight up and down, close to 90 degrees to the floor.

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Knees too straight here.

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Knee angle better. Traps up.

For snatch grip, your knees should be ahead of the bar a little and your shins should be 10 to 20 degrees towards the toes. This is not an exact number, just a reference point. Now you are almost ready to pull. Right before you pull, take the slack out of the bar and your arms, shrug your traps as high as you can and pull your butt down a hair. Then lift. Keep the bar touching your body all the way up. Keep your back in the pull too!

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This means that you need to keep your shoulders ahead of the bar until your legs are almost straight. Finish by fully straightening the legs and body. Lower quickly and reset.

Build Your Deadlift: Set and Reps

This is entirely up to you or your coach, but I feel that to build your deadlift, sets of three are best here. If you are doing them as a third exercise, then go to maybe eight. A good starting point is five to six sets of three. These are not HEAVY triples. Focus on getting it right and keep the weight where you can maintain position. As you get stronger, obviously add weight.

I hardly ever use straps for anything, and that may be smart or really stupid, but I almost always use straps for snatch grip. You can hook grip if you are used to it, but since we are using this to build our regular deadlift, I suggest Spud Inc. Made in USA straps. It’s one less thing to think about. Your grip will usually be the limiting factor on these and you’ll move up in weight quickly. Another thing: there is some discussion on why deadlifts are so hard to recover from lately, and many feel it is due to the high amount of grip strength used. Whether it is or isn’t, use the straps.

That’s all for this week. Give these a try for a few weeks if you aren’t doing them and build your deadlift.

elitefts Deadlift Manual