The Jerk: Tips & Technique
This is what I do when teaching the split jerk to make your brain commit to doing the dip and drive first, which is, by far, its most important movement:
- Show the body position right at the starting position and in the split.
- Explain to the lifter where the balance should be on the feet at the start and throughout the dip and drive and in the split.
- Not talk much at all about the split.
- Explain the split jerk as a down-up-down motion ONLY!
What I try to do is to take the forward movement out of the equation to allow the brain to have less to think about (and not allow it to go to its preferred movement).
Instead, I want the lifter putting effort into driving the bar upward quickly. My reasoning here is that a lifter is not likely to ever be as good at the jerk as he can be unless he makes the dip and drive the priority.
Now, just to settle a question you might have here: “Is there forward motion in the split?” Well… just a bit, but it’s not worth mentioning (so I won’t).
1. SETUP FOR THE JERK
This is how I set a person up for the jerk. In the split jerk, you start in the standing position. Your back is in a vertical position with the balance over the rear of your feet. The bar should be set in the natural groove created when you clean the bar. So it rests across your collarbone and behind the front deltoid. The hands are on the bar in a position wider than your shoulders, the bar is in your palms (if possible), and your elbows are pointed somewhere below horizontal. Your legs should be straightened but not stiffened at the knees. Your feet are under your hips and pointed slightly to the outside.
You need to be aware that your back is tightened and will travel on a perfectly vertical track down and up and down again during the dip/drive/split motions – as if the upper back between the shoulder blades and the tailbone are on that vertical track and can’t leave it. 1) Set, 2) Dip, 3) Drive. Oh, and take a breath in and hold it through the dip and into the start of the drive.
2. THE DIP
To dip, you ALLOW your knees to travel forward in the direction of the toe point. Keep your hips over the rear of the feet, and keep your back on the vertical track downward. (By the way: For most people, the dip is not an accelerating movement but almost a simple falling one). This needs to be controlled and separation of the bar from your rack is a common mistake. DO not allow this to happen or the weight will crash into you either at the bottom of the dip or during the initial portion of your drive.
3. THE DRIVE
After a few inches of descent, DRIVE back upwards, staying over the rear of the feet and delivering an explosive force up through your torso. A word here: DO NOT try to accelerate the bar upwards by a shrugging movement of the shoulders.
As the bar accelerates upward from your torso, you will punch your arms and shoulders upward and punch your feet downward. One foot is slightly forward, and one is slightly to the back, but downward is the thought you should have. The rear foot should be plantar flexed to a good degree in mid-air as this movement occurs, and the sole of the front foot should be kept rather horizontal.
The rear foot should touch down first. This touchdown of the rear foot actually starts a slight movement forward of the lifter, but it won’t be sensed. The front foot, immediately after the back foot touches down, will be driven forward and down. You should land with your force going downward through the heel and the shin vertical or slightly pointed back at you. (There is a One-Two or Bam, Bam sequencing here: back foot touching down first and front second)
So, the legs should be thought of more as stakes driven into the ground than limbs stepping, splitting, or lunging. The length of the split will be determined by :
1. how powerful the lifter is driving the bar and then moving his feet and
2. how technically sound the split is – NOT some arbitrary distance he is to step through. The bar’s position overhead will be determined by the correctness of your dip and drive technique. It should end up at arm’s length (wrists bent back, by the way) slightly behind your head and above your shoulders.
DRILLS FROM COACH BRIAN
JERK DIP SQUATS
Jerk dip squats are a great way of strengthening the musculature required to perform an explosive dip and drive.
To perform the drill:
1. load the bar with 90+% of your 1-rep max jerk. Place the bar in the rack position using a rack or blocks, (assuming the position that the bar would be in after being cleaned and set to jerk it).
2. Once the bar is in position, shift the weight towards the heels, squeeze your glutes, and tighten your abs as if you were about to get punched. You are now braced for a strong dip and drive.
3. Next, unlock the knees – allowing your knees to bend about six inches. Then drive the body up without letting the bar leave the chest.
Perform this movement three-five times before racking the bar. The body can handle upwards of 110% of its 1-rep max in this exercise. I recommend three to five sets of this exercise. This exercise is valuable for many reasons. It is great for strengthening the entire torso, a requirement for a great jerk. It’s also great for practicing the dip and drive. Last, it is a great way of overloading this movement to make 90-100% of an actual jerk feel attainable. Once again, if a weight feels attainable, the chances of making the lift go way up.
PRESSES FROM THE SPLIT POSITION
This movement is a great way of strengthening that split position. You can perform this movement from the front rack position or behind the neck. The key is to get into the perfect split position just outlined above. Performing multiple sets of five-eight reps is a great way of making the body stable in a good position. You will also be teaching the body where to go during the drive-under phase of the jerk. Muscle memory is a beautiful thing.
My favorite exercise for the jerk is pausing in the dip and/ or the catch. I use this exercise sub-maximally at first, so that I can focus on proper positions and movement. Once the athlete starts to figure the movement and positions out, I will use the exercise as a max effort movement. For example, I will work up to a 1-rep max with a three second pause in the dip and the catch.
I also like to build the drive and overhead strength with a select group of assistance exercises. Here are some of the exercises that I use: PUSH PRESS The push press is my go-to movement. Push presses are superior to standing strict presses because they teach the athlete to initiate the movement with the dip and drive as opposed to pushing with the arms. However, there is a lockout portion that will help strengthen that overhead position. Once again, if the weight feels light overhead, you have a much better chance of completing the lift.
DIPS PAIRED WITH PULL-UPS
This is one of the pairings important to upper body muscular balance. Muscular balance leads to stability overhead. It also leads to lower risk of injury.
VERTICAL PRESSES PAIRED WITH UPRIGHT ROWS
This is another of the muscular balance pairings. I prefer to use kettlebells or dumbbells for the presses. This way the body doesn’t get used to pushing a barbell with the arms off of the chest.
HORIZONTAL PUSH PAIRED WITH ROW
The final pairing that I use for upper body muscular balance is a horizontal push with a horizontal row. You can use bench press with bentover rows, but I prefer weighted push-ups. Push-ups keep the serratus anterior muscle engaged, which leads to better scapula health. However, the bench press is fine for athletes that have healthy shoulders and functional scapulae.
Carries of all types are great for jerks! When the spine is completely stabilized along with the hips, more force can be distributed into a barbell. If there is a weakness, force will be lost. Nothing is better at strengthening the true core than heavy carries. These drills can help one improve the mysterious jerk. Some people are simply born able to Jerk just about anything,. The rest of us need some work. Practicing the technique while using some of these drills can help you all solve the mystery of the jerk.
Q: Should you try to get low or long in the split?
Q:Should you even think of the split during the lift?
Q: Should you try to land both feet at the same time?
Q: Are there other parts of this lift that you didn’t go over?
A:YES… but this movement and position are the most important things you have to know to be successful at the jerk. I will guarantee that if you get the dip and drive correct, you will have a high percentage chance of making the jerk, even if it isn’t pretty.
Q: Should the feet in the split stay at least as far apart horizontally as they were at the start of the movement?
A: YES. The feet should never split and move toward a center line creating a tightrope position but mark the diagonally opposed corners of an imagined rectangle on the floor.
Q: Should the feet be turned inward or be straight?
A: They should both be turned inward for most, especially the front foot. Remember the front and back legs are driven down as stakes in the ground to stop movement, not as legs and feet going for a walk or lunge. People walk with their feet pointing forward or even outward. Turning them inward tells the brain that this is NOT a walk.
Q: Should you tighten the quads primarily to stiffen the split upon landing?
A: NO. Squeeze your butt cheeks together as the split is completed. This will hold your torso in a vertical and centered position in the split and not put the whole job on the legs. This, in turn, allows your legs more easily to start the recovery to the final standing position with the bar overhead.
Q: Isn’t that one-two landing of the feet in the split too much to think about rather than just having them both land at the same time? Do you walk every day or do you hop? One-two is the way we move. Should I walk forward pushing off my back foot to recover?
A: The answer for almost everyone is NO. Recover from the split from the front foot by slightly straightening the leg, although not to a locked knee position and pushing backward off the HEEL, not the front of the foot. This should make you lift the front of your foot. Quickly do one or two of these push back steps until you have risen enough to comfortably bring your back foot up to be even with your front. These questions come up all the time.
Q: If I think drive down with my legs rather than forward and back, won’t the split be too short – and won’t I fail to step through enough?
A: NO, it won’t – and NO, you won’t. Your arms will punch upward against the bar and will drive you downward to the level you need – and your feet will split to the natural distance they need as well. By the way, I never tell lifters to get under the bar or step through during the split jerk. Rather I tell them to get tall and drive up at the start of the jerk. I know, in fact, that they will move both downward and just slightly forward. But in my mind, emphasizing those things won’t improve the split jerk. Driving the bar upwards and getting the feet back on the platform quickly will. So, I emphasize that in my cueing.
Q: Shouldn’t I just DROP my back knee to keep it under the hip in the split?
A: NO. The knee is not just dropped to a position in the split but driven to it with accelerating movement. Your back knee may or may not end up vertically under your hip, but it is not an absolute necessity by any means. If you doubt this, check the many videos of world-class weightlifters on YouTube. The knee position in the split is determined by overall leg length, femur and tibia relative length, flexibility in the hip/knee/ankle, and the weight on the bar.
So, those are some of my ideas about how to look at and perform the split jerk. But to me, the concept of it being a down-up-down movement is the one that will eventually make you a successful split jerker, not a teaching emphasis on an image of striding into the split.