The Athletic Shoulder – Part 1: Implications for The Snatch


The shoulder is a dynamic joint with huge range of motion capacity in all three movement planes. It’s actually a combination of three separate joints which explains all the mobility. Many muscles act to stabilise this free moving and diverse structure. A stable shoulder can contribute to the success of multiple sporting outcomes. In the Olympic Games, gold medals are won in discuss, hammer and javelin because of shoulder stability. Success in various other money spinning sports such as Baseball, Cricket, CrossFit, Water Polo, American Football, Rugby, and Tennis all hugely relies on strong shoulders too.

Before we “throw” ourselves into discussing how we make the shoulder joint a free ranging stability machine, let’s first discuss some basic shoulder anatomy and biomechanics.


The Human Shoulder

The main joint of the shoulder is the Glenohumeral Joint (ball and socket). This joint connects the humorous (arm bone) to the scapula (shoulder blade). These structures are then hinged to the body via the clavicle (collar bone) which is quite a small bone to be doing all that work! This is why the muscles are so important. Shoulder muscles need to create movements (and lots of them) as well as stability.

Shoulder Functions:

  • Abduction
  • Adduction
  • Flexion
  • Extension
  • Internal Rotation
  • External Rotation
  • Elevation
  • Depresion
  • Protraction
  • Retraction
  • Medial Rotation
  • Lateral Rotation
  • Plus all manner of combined movements!!!

As you can see there’s a traffic jam of structures and functions. We all know that when you have traffic without control you get crashes, so it’s important that traffic control works to create a safe system (stability) for the road users (the brain) to prevent crashes (injuries).

Let’s look at how traffic jams around the shoulder can occur during the Snatch, but more importantly how we can prevent them and improve performance.

The Shoulder During The Snatch

The Preparatory and Early Phases

The cervical spine is neutral. The scapula is retracted, depressed, and rotated downward to aid shoulder flexion and horizontal abduction.

The Pull Phase

During the initial part of the pull phase, shoulder extension occurs. Once the bar has cleared the knees, the shoulders abduct. The Scapula elevates and rotates upward supporting this movement.   In the late phase the shoulders externally rotate allowing for the passage of the bar overhead.

Catch Phase

In the early phase the shoulders further abduct and externally rotate.  They remain in this position stabilising the overhead weight isometrically. The scapula remains retracted, elevated, and upwardly rotated, to support the position.

It is glaringly obvious from the anatomy and functions listed above that the shoulder is pretty important during the snatch. Multiple muscles are pulling across multiple joints to perform multiple functions. Not to mention the explosive nature of the Snatch! No wonder this flowing traffic of muscle function can so quickly fall apart.

Shoulder Injury Potential During The Snatch

The shoulder is the second most common injured site during the Snatch. Injuries occur through improper technique and/or shoulder instability. Because of its anatomical structure, flexing the shoulder into an extreme over head position increases the risk of injury. Such a motion results in extreme external rotation and flexion of the shoulder aka dislocation city.

The most common injuries to the shoulder via the Snatch lift are:

  • Dislocations
  • Labral Tears
  • Rotator Cuff Tears
  • Impingement

So we absolutely need to create stable shoulders for the snatch. Assuming coaching and correction of improper technique, let’s look at some stability exercises.

Banded Shoulder Stability Circuit

Now we know that we need to stabilise the scapula in depression, elevation, retraction, and downward/upward rotation. We also need to strengthen the shoulder in extension, flexion, abduction and external rotation. In the video below you can see a number of exercises to improve your shoulder stability, and how they could fit into your current program. All you need is some Theraband.

Banded Shoulder Circuit Video (below):

  1. Banded Depression
  2. Banded Elevation
  3. Banded Downward Rotation
  4. Banded Upward Rotation
  5. Banded Extension
  6. Banded External Rotation

Good Luck!


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