Snatch vs Clean: Which One Is Better for Athletic Performance?

tall snatch

The snatch requires more shoulder strength and stability. 

The snatch and clean, both modern Olympic lifts, can significantly improve your strength and performance (1). While often confused due to their similarities, with this comprehensive snatch vs clean exercise guide, you’ll learn to distinguish between the two and execute them flawlessly. 

Doing both the snatch and the clean is a great way to condition your body and improve power output. Both exercises also use much energy, increasing your metabolic rate and ultimately leading to fat loss (2). Below, we discuss the snatch vs clean movements and their benefits and then compare them.  


The snatch is one of the Olympic weightlifting competition lifts popular in CrossFit; to do it, you use a barbell with a wide grip, intending to take the barbell from the ground to overhead. This exercise works on your glutes, shoulders, adductors, back, quads, traps, calves, forearm flexors, abs, and hamstrings. It’s a full-body exercise excellent for improving explosive power

How to

  1. Step before a barbell so it’s over the middle of your feet shoulder-width apart.
  2. Hinge at your hips to lean forward and grab the bar with a wide overhand grip. This is your starting position.
  3. Holding your breath, brace your core, and drop your hips a bit to the floor.
  4. Lift the barbell quickly but smoothly by extending your knees and legs simultaneously.
  5. At the fastest point of the lift, squat and catch the bar with your arms straight overhead. 
  6. Once the barbell is in control in this position, stand up straight.
  7. Lower the barbell to return to the starting position and complete the rep (with control). 


Better Balance & Coordination

You’ll need balance and coordination to do the snatch, as this helps prevent injuries. You’ll be balancing the heavy load and require your coordination for the lift and catch. Doing this exercise over time makes you more aware of your body, improving these metrics. 

Stronger Posterior Chain Strength & Better Posture

The snatch targets the muscles in your back and posterior chain. As a result, it strengthens and builds them over time. Your posterior chain muscles are responsible for your posture, so strengthening them improves posture, too. 

Greater Force & Power

Doing the snatch involves using explosive force to lift a barbell. The more you do this exercise, the better your power will be, especially if you progress your weights. Your threshold capacity for the amount of weight you can use will also increase, leading to greater strength. 

Improved Athletic Performance

You’ll need power, skill, and finesse for the barbell snatch. This exercise will carry these skills to other routines as you develop them. You’ll see a higher performance on the field if you’re an explosive athlete, such as a linebacker. 


The clean is a great power and strength exercise many athletes use as complimentary training. Like the snatch, this is a full-body movement, targeting your glutes, shoulders, back, adductors, traps, biceps, quads, forearm flexors, abs, hamstrings, and calves. Your grip will be narrower and won’t require moving the barbell overhead. This exercise can be a bit tasking, so learning and doing it properly is crucial.

How to 

  1. Step up to the barbell to get it over the middle of your feet. Your legs should be shoulder-width apart.
  2. Hinge at your hips to lean forward and grab the bar using an overhand grip. Your grip should also be at shoulder-width distance. This is your starting position.
  3. Bracing your core, lift the barbell quickly but ensure smooth motion. 
  4. Squat down to receive the bar at the front of your shoulders.
  5. Extend your legs and knees to stand up.
  6. Then, lower the barbell with control to return to the starting position and complete the rep. 


Improved Power 

To do the clean, you need explosive power and strength. Exploding through your hips, lower body, and upper body will utilize your fast-twitch fibers to improve your power output. 

Bigger Back

The clean targets and builds the lats and traps in your back, leading to size increases over time. This exercise will also improve your upper body strength by strengthening your back muscles.

Higher Pulling Height

The clean works on the muscles you’ll use to pull and lift the barbell. The more of this exercise you do, the stronger and bigger these muscles will become, resulting in a higher pulling height and better athletic performance

Better Coordination

The clean is a technical movement, so including it in your routine will require lots of coordination. This could lead to an overall improvement that’ll carry over to athletic events and other lifts. This research, which looked at athletes doing a variation of the clean, discovered that they had better muscle coordination than those who excluded the movement (3).

Snatch vs Clean

So, who wins the snatch vs clean debate? Now, while the snatch and the clean are similar movements, they’re also quite different. The snatch takes the bar in one fluid movement overhead, while the clean takes the barbell to shoulder height. Therefore, the snatch requires more shoulder stability and strength. The grip width is also different as you use a narrower grip with the clean, which can help you control the weight better and use heavier loads. 

Both movements are, however, highly technical and require lots of strength and power, especially in the lifting part of the movements. You’ll also need stable shoulders; your knees, ankles, and hips play a role in both exercises. Many athletes find the clean heavier and slower, but the snatch is more challenging to learn for beginners as the grip width initially feels unnatural. 

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  1. Comfort, P., Haff, G. G., Suchomel, T. J., Soriano, M. A., Pierce, K. C., Hornsby, W. G., Haff, E. E., Sommerfield, L. M., Chavda, S., Morris, S. J., Fry, A. C., & Stone, M. H. (2023). National Strength and Conditioning Association Position Statement on Weightlifting for Sports Performance. Journal of strength and conditioning research, 37(6), 1163–1190. 
  2. Storey, A., & Smith, H. K. (2012). Unique aspects of competitive weightlifting: performance, training and physiology. Sports medicine (Auckland, N.Z.), 42(9), 769–790. 
  3. Santos, P. D. G., Vaz, J. R., Correia, P. F., Valamatos, M. J., Veloso, A. P., & Pezarat-Correia, P. (2021). Intermuscular Coordination in the Power Clean Exercise: Comparison between Olympic Weightlifters and Untrained Individuals-A Preliminary Study. Sensors (Basel, Switzerland), 21(5), 1904.
Terry Ramos
As a personal trainer and writer, Terry loves changing lives through coaching and the written word. Terry has a B.S. in Kinesiology and is an ACSM Certified Personal Trainer and ISSA Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist. He enjoys playing music, reading, and watching films when he's not writing or training.