Coach Burgener on the Snatch Event

October 12, 2009 12:06 PM

Posted in The Games »
38 Comments » on this entry

Games09BurgCareySnatch.jpgThe Snatch event on day two of the 09 Games was the first of it's kind. Unlike USAW and IWF competitions, ten athletes took the stadium together, each with their own barbell. They were given ten minutes to reach a one rep maximum, taking weight from the ground to locked out overhead. If they achieved this in two or twenty reps, it made no difference.

Task completion was the focus of the challenge; the method by which they arrived was loosely dictated. It was a snatch, but without some of the specific requirements of traditional Oly-lifting meets.

"Press out, fine... knee touches the ground, fine," Tony Budding explained. Plus, beyond any of their own observations, the athletes were not made aware of the other competitors' attempts.

Coach Mike Burgener is the father and coach of Olympian Casey Burgener and owner of Mike's Gym. He is CrossFit's top Olympic Weightlifting coach, and his expertise is widely respected within the sport of lifting itself. He is a USA Weightlifting Senior International Coach, former junior World team (1996-2004) and senior World team coach (2005).

As both a CrossFit coach and a USAW coach, does he see the event as a bastardization of the snatch or as a legitimate alternative? "I think for what CrossFit stands for and what it's all about, it's great. In the military environment, the firefighting environment, the policing environment, and even the mother at home trying to lift something up, I think it's absolutely right on. I have no problems with it."

He made sure to highlight the need for consistency in judging, however, to differentiate the lifts from the clean. "As long as the judges understand that, it all becomes an issue of being in line with and in sequence with and consistent with (the standards). The judges need to be instructed that if it touches any part of the body, it's not a lift."

The best lifts were 240lbs by Jeff Leonard, and 145lbs by Tamara Holmes.

Snatch Event Trailer... [wmv] [mov]

Coach Burgener On the Snatch... [wmv] [mov]

38 comments on this entry.

1. Pat McElhone wrote...

October 12, 2009 6:36 PM

I have the highest level of respect for Coach Burgener, Greg Glassman and the CrossFit Games. But this event was not a snatch. It seemed more like some version of "2 hands, anyway".

The snatch is a move that combines at least 8 of the 10 physical fitness skills. This is true of the snatch, not the move done at the 2009 CrossFit Games. The move at the games required only strength. It was too slow to express any power and it required no expression of flexibility, speed, coordination, agility, balance, and accuracy.

I would love to see the snatch as an event in the CrossFit games. It would go a long way to show how balanced an athlete is in the 10 physical fitness skills.

2. zach wrote...

October 12, 2009 7:22 PM

3. gaucoin wrote...

October 12, 2009 7:51 PM

Holy crap, there's just no way to win, is there? Let's have a 10K road race next year but you can only run with POSE technique.

4. grambo wrote...

October 12, 2009 8:07 PM

Pat has a point, and it comes back to if CF games is going to test fitness by the broad CF definition, should it avoid skill based movements such as the snatch? A competent weightlifter, even 56kg, would have blown everyone away due to their efficiency in technique and speed-strength. If the games should encourage a high level of skill refinement/technique mastery, then maybe the IWF rules should be used (press-outs, knees touching -- I think knees touching should be no lift for safety reasons), but then you tend toward just having a conventional weightlifting competition which is not what the CF games are trying to be.

5. dan wrote...

October 13, 2009 3:54 AM

you'd lift more weight with better technique anyways. i think bad form is self-regulating

6. badnews wrote...

October 13, 2009 4:08 AM

Of course a weightlifting specialist would be a crossfitter at his or her event, "our specialty is not specializing."

It's all the other events + the snatch event that helps us define fitness.

7. Justin wrote...

October 13, 2009 5:00 AM

badnews, it is also the order of exercises that defines who is most fit, since people get eliminated from competition after certain rounds.

8. Tony Budding replied to comment from dan...

October 13, 2009 5:25 AM

Pat McElhone may have some ground to stand on in the debate about whether or not you could call this a "snatch" (really, that's just a purity debate), but he's dead wrong about this event only requiring strength. Even with "poor technique," these athletes were all generating significant amounts of power and speed.

I think Dan has it right. In this event, there is no advantage to anything other than great technique. But, in the end, technique only matters to the degree that it creates a successful lift. The same is true for power, speed, strength, coordination, accuracy, agility, and balance. Get the job done.

Annie Thorisdottir had never done a barbell snatch before the day of competition. She ended up tying Jolie Gentry (both lifted 115lbs), who had been training the snatch for months with two specialist O-lifting coaches. I'm a huge Jolie fan. She has the best overall performance across all three Games of anyone (male or female), and she's an integral part of our traveling certification staff. But a 19 y/o girl with 10min of coaching from Burg combined with a ton of heart, determination, and raw athleticism was able to match her efforts in that arena.

Granted, Annie is 3" taller and 20lbs heavier, but in the end, what matters is who moved the barbell. CrossFit, like life, rewards those who complete given tasks. Good technique is a means to this end, not an ends in itself.

Would Annie snatch more with better technique? Yes, of course, but only if she applies that better technique to the same power, speed, and determination. Too much concern over technique in the heat of battle can have a negative effect on the practical application of force, which in the end, is what gets the job done.

9. Pat M replied to comment from Tony Budding...

October 13, 2009 5:50 AM


This is all based on watching videos of the 2009 games on-line. I was not there, if I am making judgements based on half observations, I apologize.

How did this event show power? Power=loadxdistance/time. The vast majority athletes shown on the web did a quasi power clean pulled to face level, then slowly pushed to lock out. The load was not pulled to full lockout (like a power snatch). The height of the second pull (less distance) and then the slow push out (more time) both caused a drop in power when compared to a full "squat" or even "split" snatch.

As for speed, I have seen one person actually pulling themselves under the bar (the third pull). This is element is what makes the snatch the worlds fastest lift. Where is the speed shown in this event?

If the point is that the athlete still pulled a lot of weight quickly from the ground to overhead, why use the term "snatch"? why not just call it "two hands anyhow"?

I do think these athletes showed a ton of raw strength to lift these loads in this manner. However, this event still seems more like some version of the power clean where the weight is caught at face level then pushed out, then a snatch event.


Pat M

10. Matt Solomon wrote...

October 13, 2009 6:10 AM


I understand that the CF Games are about eliciting who has the most work capacity across broad time and modal domains. But Greg Glassman wrote an article for the CFJ on Virtuosity a few years back. (I would bet that you know all about it!)

While it would almost definitely lead to worse outputs, and is much tougher to judge than weights, times, or reps, it is a bit of a shame that it is completely disregarded. Efforts like Annie's are impressive, but one lady bounces the bar off her head and then presses it out. That is hardly a snatch. They don't all have to look the same, or be pretty, but some standards wouldn't hurt.

Or if you are going to take any 'anything goes' approach, why not use the clean and jerk/press? And let people do what they need to but with a lot more weight!

11. Matt Solomon wrote...

October 13, 2009 6:17 AM

Another alternative, to add to my last post, is to enforce stricter rules on the snatch. That rewards people with good technique (which I feel the top crossfitter should have on both of the olympic lifts) and punishes those without good technique. This would be the same way that people got punished for not being able to use the sledgehammer. There is a video (I think it's Tony interviewing Glassman, but I'm not sure) that says something like "if you can't generate force to move a hammer/object and smash something, there is a major kink in your armor". (Not those words, but same idea.)

If you can't snatch, TOO BAD.

12. sevan wrote...

October 13, 2009 6:20 AM

During the "run", several people were crawling, sliding, falling - I saw a couple people laying down on the course, and even witnessed few summersaults.

Is that legit in a CROSSFIT run event ?

13. Jake B wrote...

October 13, 2009 7:06 AM

Good point Sevan.

There's being real and there's being ideal.

14. Bill B wrote...

October 13, 2009 7:11 AM

The dude dropping the bar on his head doesnt look good in the video nor the other shots of extremely poor form and near disastrous lifts.

To me, this does nothing to make people want to do Crossfit but again, that's just my opinion. That being said, people have died or become seriously injured and paralyzed by dropping heavy loads on their heads. That lift just looks wrong in this video.

I think people have to use some common sense on knowing your max load. If you know you can snatch say 160 but decide on the games day you're going for 200, you're making a unsafe and quite frankly dumb choice.

Other then that, the event is awesome. Coach B is awesome and I'm looking forward to more. Bring it.

15. Bill B replied to comment from Bill B...

October 13, 2009 7:12 AM

FYI, I was referencing the video on the main site which I assumed was attached to this article.

16. josh everett wrote...

October 13, 2009 7:15 AM

I thought the "snatch" event was outstanding. keep in mind that the games are also put on for the spectators/fans/community as entertainment. in my opinion there were not enough qualified judges to run a true snatch competition without drastically slowing down the event and the excitment. Also a relatively un educated crowd (in o-lift rules) would not have undertstood why many lifts were not counted. The event was perfect for the crossfit games and a legitimate test... be prepared for anything...clearly define the standards(which they did) and 3,2,1 go.

17. Bob G wrote...

October 13, 2009 8:28 AM

I gotta be honest, as a relatively new CF Trainer (1 year), who looks to the o-lift standards as the height of achievement for myself and my athletes, I would cheer and jump up and down if one of my athletes achieved what those folks did that day. I wouldn't nit-pick anything. I'd save that for skill work. Like Josh said, the standards were defined, and off we go.... it's the beauty of the CF Games.

O-lift competitions are the place to display that finely honed technique that few CrossFitters will ever attain. O-lifting is a pure sport, something that amazes me when I watch it now because I have a small understanding of what it takes. CF pulls from these lifts, uses them for their production of power and their ability to produce adaptation. To ask CrossFitters to meet the high standards of an O-lift competition, in the midst of that brutal day, would undoubtedly result in a long event with many missed lifts.

Just my .02 as a trainer and spectator.

18. Jeff Leonard wrote...

October 13, 2009 8:37 AM

I think the snatch was a great event in the games. Its the most dynamic movement you could do with a barbell, in my opinion. The person who has worked the hardest on improving technique will be rewarded. You can't muscle snatch your potential. Your Personal best is going to be limited naturally by your form. Since the games I have seen many Crossfitters working very hard to improve their Olympic Lifts, even have seen crossfitters doing Olympic Lifting Competitions.

To me its all about improving yourself as an athlete and person. The snatch carries over to so many things. Why not have it?

19. Tony Budding replied to comment from Bob G...

October 13, 2009 8:46 AM

I love the debate here. These discussions are the among the best of what we do online.

We didn't use USAW/IWF standards because that sport already exists. CrossFit is not the international sport of Weightlifting. We were not worried about CrossFitters' ability to perform the lift to international standards. If those had been the standards for the event, the athletes would have met them. Would the numbers have been the same? Who knows? Probably not, though.

This is also one of the main reasons we don't have a track, don't do free throws, put the shot, throw the discuss, or play racket sports. Those competitions already exist. We also don't judge aesthetics.

Virtuosity is an ideal goal. It is what the best of us train for and work toward in all we do. To suggest that this event completely disregarded technique or virtuosity is completely wrong. Technique and virtuosity were rewarded when they delivered better results.

As to the lifter who pushed the barbell with her head. There were 32 athletes lifting for 10min each. I only saw that once. Videos can be deceiving, but if in fact the bar touched her head, that lift should not have counted. If it did, it was an error by the judge.

Finally, Pat M, you are correct that these athletes did not generate the same speed and power as top Oly lifters. But to suggest that there was only strength required to make those lifts is a misunderstanding of the terms. Try getting any significant weight even to your chest height slowly. It can't be done, at least not to a load significant to what can be done quickly. These athletes surely demonstrated speed and power, even if wasn't optimal speed and power.

20. Torg replied to comment from Matt Solomon...

October 13, 2009 9:13 AM

The reward for good technique is bigger numbers. The core concept behind the Crossfit Games is to bubble up the fittest men and women not the best Crossfitter. Because of this small difference it is my opinion that the games would not benefit by regulating certain movements to align them with more technical specifications. The example Tony provided of Annie Thorisdottir is perfect since it exposes that small gap between a strict crossfit regular versus someone who has achieved elite fitness through other means not defined as pure Crossfit. Lastly, I would prefer to see more unique "unknown" tests of fitness at the games in attempt to minimize this gap. I didn't love this event but didn't hate it either. My favorite event in concept was the pick up the sandbag and get the F* up that hill. I have started running hills after watching that event and man is that some brutally fun stuff. Running hills helped when I was carrying my backpack up the steep hillsides steps all over the islands off Croatia's Dalmation coast. My snatch practice helped when I was putting my bag in the overhead bin on the ferry, but having my arms bent and the bag touch my head did result in me being penalized. Just my thoughts and opinions. Having wrote all this I should point out that I can only be fairly certain that I can be certain about nothing.

21. Kat wrote...

October 13, 2009 9:17 AM

Those were some ugly snatches. I watched the clip cringing at each of them. At first, I was disgusted that these snatches counted as good lifts. But not so much after I sat there and thought about it...
I think we all agree in that not a single one of those snatch shown in the video was very pretty or technically correct.
These people were at the CF Games on day two after 5 intense workouts. Most of them could not bend their legs to catch the weight in a full squat. And if they could catch in a squat... good luck standing up out of it.
Is there a better technique to perform these lifts than what was shown in the video? YES. If these competitors were capable of performing the snatch that way, I am 100% certain they would have done so.
We are all CrossFitters here... as Glassman has said many times, MEN WILL DIE FOR POINTS! These competitors did everything they possibly could to get that weight above their heads in pursuit CrossFit Games Champion. Some were more dangerous than others (ie: nearly trapping your face on the ground with the barbell), but in the end these people did anything they could to further themselves in the competition and I'm pretty sure all of us would have done the same if we were in their shoes.

22. RO wrote...

October 13, 2009 11:07 AM

Hey guys, here is the accompanying interview video with Coach B.

23. Pat M wrote...

October 13, 2009 11:09 AM

Coach Bergener and Josh Everett (the 2 CrossFit Olifting gurus) both expressed support for the snatch event at this games, but I think it will encourage people to not learn the full squat snatch. Bob G, comment 17, makes this point.

The snatch is a difficult move to learn and it is probably impossible to master. But, the snatch aka "squat snatch" is arguably the best thing to do with a barbell. The fact that it is hard to learn or teach, should not mean it should be abandoned in favor of the power version or the version performed in the snatch event at the 2009 CrossFit Games.

Double Unders are hard, but they too offer something unique that doing tuck jumps or single unders do not, so we take the time to learn them. Muscle-ups are hard, but they have more benefit then just strength which is why at the games, an athlete could not sub 4:1 pull-ups and dips.

I see the snatch, double unders, muscle-ups all being unique movements whose benefits are far greater then the obvious. We fail at the margins of our experience, we train to soften those margins. Learning to do a heavy snatch, muscle-ups and double unders go a long way in softening margins.

CrossFitters look at the games as "the standard" for movement. I fear that this event legitimizes poor form on the snatch, encourages affiliates to teach a sub par version and actually hurts the overall development of an athelte.

24. Bob G wrote...

October 13, 2009 11:25 AM

My comments were poorly worded, and are being taken out of context I think.

Tony, I support what CF did at the Games. I was trying to convey that skill work is a great portion of CrossFit training, but that doesn't mean you're going to be tasked to ever do a full squat snatch in competition. Is there still merit in learning it the correct way? Of course there is.

Pat M, if trainers quit teaching the full squat snatch because they saw the standards at the '09 Games, then bad on them. In my limited experience, it's best to learn ALL the oly movements properly.... mechanics, consistency, then intensity. I know CF can get a bad rap for this sometimes, but I for one strive to teach the movements correctly, and I think most CF trainers do as well. Coach B and Josh both are faces of Oly-lifting in CF, and both are incredible technicians.

What we saw at the Games was what you can do when you go all out, just get that weight up, don't touch the body like a C&J and lock it out. Intensity.

25. gaucoin wrote...

October 13, 2009 12:55 PM

Well when I hear Burg and Tony saying things like that about CrossFit Calgary I just break out in goose bumps. Love it.

If anyone can watch that video and hear an Olympic Lifting Coach say performing the snatch in this manner under the confines of this competition is fine with him and still kick up a stink then it's time to chill out. You can't be a hard-line purist in CrossFit, that's it.

26. Lindsey Smith wrote...

October 13, 2009 2:42 PM

Haha, anyone else notice Mikko walk by in the background and briefly pretend like he is sleeping??? Classic.

27. Craig Massey wrote...

October 13, 2009 4:34 PM

I like Coach B.
Dude's got his head screwed on straight.

28. grambo wrote...

October 13, 2009 9:48 PM

One thing I'd add about power versus squat - in competition you can power snatch/power clean if you are strong enough, you don't have to catch it in a squat. If you watch amateur competitors, many power snatch because they can handle more weight that way than squat (while learning technique). I would not expect to see anyone full snatching PRs at the CF games on a hot/slanted concrete pad after the misery of the previous WODs, but I didn't expect as many press-outs.

29. Kris Kepler replied to comment from grambo...

October 14, 2009 7:28 AM

"I would not expect to see anyone full snatching PRs at the CF games on a hot/slanted concrete pad after the misery of the previous WODs,".....

funny thing about that statement, and this is not an attack on you, but quite a few PR's were accomplished during the snatch event.

30. badnews wrote...

October 14, 2009 10:07 AM

As a garage crossfitter I appreciate the event and the supportive comments of of people in this discussion. I learned the snatch in my garage, without mirrors or video tapes using only information from the website.

Is it ugly? Yes its probably really ugly, but i've never gotten hurt and continue to to put up PR's. I am not interested in ever competing in a usaw event, but i do love the power output on snatch. by training the snatch in whatever ugly and limited capacity i have i still feel it helps me and improves my ability as a crossfitter, and the snatch event at the games helps to show why that is possible.

31. Aaron wrote...

October 15, 2009 10:52 AM

I'm late getting into this, but oh well.

Technique is useful to the extent it allows increased work capacity across broad times and modal domains. It is not an end in itself. One could make the argument this shouldn't be called the snatch, but that's semantics. The point is it was ground to overhead without touching another part of the body. Set the standard and let people figure out the best way to do it. For those people in that circumstance, they figured out how to lift the most weight.

That said, I think this standard should apply to more events. I think it's silly that would be the rule for the snatch but a kipping HSPU is against the rules or that a step up would be disallowed since it is not a box jump (maybe you could define box jump as feet leaving the ground at the same time and landing at the same time, but was that really the standard or was it "I'll know it when I see it" standard that I don't like). We allowed walking on the run, we allowed muscle snatch/OHS for the couplet, bouncing on the deadlift. It seemed really weird and arbitrary that HSPU kipping wasn't allowed. How do you even measure what a kip is?

Anyway, I know I'm late, but Tony if you have any thoughts on that last part I'd be interested to hear?

32. Tony Budding replied to comment from Aaron...

October 15, 2009 6:19 PM

In sport, the standards are set and athletes compete within those standards. In the 08 Games, we required chest to bar pullups. In the 09 Games, we required chin over the bar (really mid-neck to bar height). One is not correct, except to the degree that it was required for that competition. There is nothing wrong with the kipping HSPU except that for that competition it wasn't allowed.

I wrote about the relationship between capacity, standards, and sport at length in a Journal article before the 08 Games:

33. Kenny Powers wrote...

October 15, 2009 9:12 PM

So let me get this straight...

If you over/under shot that ridiculous 10 foot wall ball banner, that rep didn't count. If you did a kipping hand stand push up, that was against the rules. If someone didn't quite get their chin over the bar, they had to re-do the pull up, right?

Now here comes the Snatch event, and all the standards to which you hold your 'elite' athletes just disappear? People can catch the snatch with their arms bent, they can press it out, they can fall on their knees and stand up with it or they can bounce the barbell off of their head? You don't have to have USAW standards, but come on guys, seriously? Some of that stuff was just plain dangerous and I find it pretty amazing that Tony and HQ have taken this stance on the event. You don't hold them to USAW standards for the snatch, but you have strict policies on almost every other lift? That doesn't seem the least bit silly to the crew over there at HQ?

Why didn't you guys just come out and say "If there is a snatch event next year, we will enforce stricter policies?" It's fairly obvious you guys are just trying to backpedal over you're own screw up. God forbid you guys be accountable for your own mistake. But I guess when you dominate all other athletes in the realm of fitness, you don't really have to be held accountable for anything.

And honestly? Why didn't you guys post video of, I dunno, some of the good snatches? You mean to tell me out of that whole event, with all those competitors, you guys didn't get a shot of one good snatch? Have a little pride in your sport. These videos are just embarrassing. I reckon they're also one of the reasons CrossFit is so widely ridiculed all across the internet.

34. Wasatch Damon wrote...

October 16, 2009 6:29 AM

For sure, I can barely stand the ridicule of all those gurus who have redefined fitness, taken their vision worldwide, and invented a new sport while reviving flagging ones like O-lifting. It hurts......

35. Tommy UteCrossFit wrote...

October 16, 2009 6:53 AM

My thoughts on Snatch Event:

If the standard was "no press out" I probably would have done 10 less lbs. No big deal.

If I was good at snatches and could catch it in a squat I probably would have snatched 15-20 more lbs. That would have given me about 4 more points...I believe I came in 2nd by 3 or 4 points. Do any of you guys think I'm not going to be working the sh*t out of my snatch technique this year??? Hell yeah I'll be working on it, and not because I'm worried that there might be a snatch next year with strict standards, but because it cost me big time, just like Strict handstand push-ups below full depth. Train weaknesses.

Athletes don't debate standards. They take the task at hand and find a way to get it done. I'll be working on snatches this winter and Josh Everett will be swinging a sledge.

Nice Fran time Mikko!

October 16, 2009 7:20 AM

Kenny Powers (aka small man too insecure to post under his real name, but links to funny videos),

For some reason, I don't think that you are just a troll. I'm sorry that you don't like our standards for the 6th event. As I said before, I think a purist could make the point that we shouldn't call this a "snatch" event. I'm ok with the term, but see how others wouldn't be.

There's no part of me that thinks this event was a mistake, nor are we backpedaling in any way. There were strict standards of ROM (range of motion) and there were a few key rules that limited how the movement could be performed (essentially prohibiting a clean). This is similar to requiring chin above the bar on a pullup but not caring about the grip or the path of motion (ie kip).

If we have a snatch event next year, it's just as likely to have these rules as strict USAW rules. Which, for that matter, is just as likely as a sandbag snatch, a one arm DB snatch, or a KB snatch.

It's clear that you don't understand the difference between work and technique. Tommy's point was outstanding. Athletes don't debate standards, they get it done. In the 5th event, athletes had to squat snatch, but we permitted a muscle-snatch with an overhead squat if they wanted. It was less efficient, but that was their choice.

Tommy also made the perfect point about why this event was legit. The ability to perform a beautiful snatch by international standards was a huge advantage. If Josh Everett had been in the competition, he would of won it easily.

Finally, I agree with you about the video. There were indeed many beautiful snatches performed. I can't say why they weren't included in the trailer, and wish at least a couple were.

37. mike parker wrote...

October 18, 2009 4:46 PM

hmmmm...... in the heat of battle.,under the pressure of time.,persued as prey by other competitors.,fighting for your life in the arena of life. through these challenges any human being will find his or her own true does not care how much you think you know. what matters is what you can pull off and win or that you can persevere and survive.nothing worth having is gotten easily.and "being fair" has nothing to do with it.

October 26, 2009 1:01 PM


I'm not sure if you are following this thread, but I would rather see 2 hands anyhow from ground to overhead on a max effort event, which would enable the largest possible loads to be lifted, with no rules about how to do it. That would be a true test of who is the most powerful athlete.

As far as using snatch-like movements is concerned, I would rather see max load from ground to overhead in X time using Y load, assuming the load was appropriate (say 155 for men) Snatch ability would be rewarded (like Josh Everett's sick Elizabeth).