This was the question posed to me on “O-Lifting Saturday” at CrossFit OKC by Kim S. I hate answering that question with “because it’s good for you,” so I did a little research. CrossFit is all about functional fitness. This made me think about defining functional fitness. Is it different for each person? I don’t really think so. I think if you were to ask 10, 20 or even 1000 people what qualities they see in a “fit” person, the same adjectives would come up over and over. Words like “strong, healthy, coordinated, fast, lean” etc. CrossFit makes the case that a “fit” person is a person who is able to perform a wide variety of physical tasks and do these tasks quickly. An athletes’ training involves taking everyday “functional” movements and perfecting them, in a wide variety of ways, making the individual stronger and faster in the process. So, specialization is not really evident at a CrossFit gym. I think what is evident is people working hard to achieve a broader type of fitness…a fitness that will help them in their outside-of-the-gym activities, whether sport or just life in general.
So, this brings me back to the functionality of the snatch. Other lifts are easy to see the function in:
Deadlift—Mark Rippetoe says “The deadlift teaches function, because there is no more functional a movement than picking up something heavy.” I can’t argue with logic like that! Some of you guys may be deadlifting just to see how heavy you can get, but for me, deadlift is all about picking up something heavy. I want to be that 70 year old woman who can pick up a 40 lb. bag of dog food from the bottom grocery shelf and move it over to my grocery cart without having to look around for some strong person to do it for me. Now that is functional! Clean (and jerk)—again, what could be more functional? There are so many times we need to pick something up off the ground and put it someplace over our heads. Shoulder press, push press, push jerk—all build strength in getting something overhead. Overhead squat and squat? While I don’t really expect to hold something above my head or on my back and squat down and then back up again with it, I can definitely see the use of balance and core strength necessary to pull off these movements, not to mention the strengthening of the legs, and I can see the functional carryover there.
So, that leaves the snatch. What a completely odd feeling movement! But, when performed correctly, the snatch has a beauty to it unmatched by other lifts. My husband is a golfer. I can watch him hit 100 golf balls on the range and it all looks the same to me, but to him—when he hits one just right, and it makes that “sound” when he hits it in just the right spot…he has this moment of satisfaction, a moment he strives to repeat. I think those who have good, solid technique on the snatch feel this same thing.
Okay, so it is beautiful, takes lots of practice and technique, but is it functional? Yes. The snatch uses almost every major muscle in your body. The snatch is a ballistic lift, it pushes and pulls your muscles in multiple ways. Ballistic training forces the body to recruit and trigger fast twitch muscle fibers, developing explosiveness. This type of training requires the central nervous system to coordinate and produce the greatest amount of force in the shortest time possible. The power and speed you can develop translates into almost any other activity.
The snatch is one of two Olympic lifts. From the CrossFit Journal:
Olympic weightlifters have been found to have higher vertical leaps and quicker 25-meter sprint times than any other athletes, including Olympic high-jumpers and sprinters. The technical explanation for this is that the weightlifters have better “speed strength” than any other athletes. Speed-strength is defined as a combination of starting strength (ability to fire many muscle units instantaneously) and explosive strength (ability to keep these motor units firing once turned on). The more useful explanation as to why they can out sprint and out leap all others is, quite simply, because they weightlift.
The snatch develops explosiveness and makes use of the overhead squat, about which Greg Glassman (founder of CrossFit) says, “the overhead squat is the ultimate core exercise, the heart of the snatch, and peerless in developing effective athletic movement. This functional gem trains for efficient transfer of energy from large to small body parts – the essence of sport movement. For this reason it is an indispensable tool for developing speed and power.”
But explosiveness, or muscle power (force over time), has benefits that go beyond building strength, size, and athletic ability. A 2000 study published in the Journals of Gerontology states that the main cause of declining functional capacities, such as climbing stairs and lifting objects, is the loss of muscle power, not muscle strength. The most effective way to reverse the decline is through power training. Furthermore, in a study comparing strength gains in inactive elderly women and inactive young women found that while the older women gained strength at about the same percentage as the younger women, power increases were significantly less (10% vs. 50%). Muscle power is more important than muscle strength in the prevention of falls.”Power is more important than strength for recovery from loss of balance or walking ability,” says Dain LaRoche, assistant professor of exercise science at UNH and lead author of the study, published in the journal Medicine and Science in Sports & Exercise. 40% of elderly people will fall, and 20-30% of those will suffer injuries that reduce mobility, independence and longevity.
While I may feel completely awkward and uncoordinated doing the snatch, I have to admit it has functional value. It is also important to note that we need to get started on building muscle power NOW, not later, because our bodies have greater ability to do so at a younger age. Who knows, maybe one day I will become proficient enough at the snatch to have that moment of satisfaction that comes from doing it well. In the meantime, however, I just need to work on it…because it’s good for me.