The Jerk, comes after the clean or sometimes it’s taken out of the rack or off a set of blocks. The third component of the Olympic style lifts is as much of a skill as the snatch but is often bullied around like the clean when going for heavy load. What a lot of folks don’t realize, is that if you took the time and focused on a few key aspects of the jerk, this lift can be a great tool in getting stronger and
All Legs, All The Time
When performing the jerk there is one common misconception that hinders people from being successful with consistent heavier loads. When an athlete is performing a jerk the coach needs to make sure the athlete understand that the jerk is a lower body movement. Before you start scratching your head let me say that having upper body strength definitely helps with the catch and stability over head, but the force and generation of such force comes from the hips and legs. Often times you will see the guy or gal with a strong overhead stand up with a clean and turn the jerk into a push press type jerk movement and get a round of applause form their peers. This is not correct and should be treated as such. Proper completion of a jerk is when the athletes stands with straight legs and the bar resting on the shoulders and clavicle. The athlete then dips to an almost quarter squat position and immediately changes direction drive the bar up overhead and catching on straight locked out arms. Any bend or re-bending of the elbow on the catch and this is technically a no lift. So why wouldn’t you practice like you play? If you have weak legs, completing a jerk after standing up with a clean can be a nightmare. So if you lack leg strength you better address that issue first. A while back we posted an article on a good squat program that you can check out here. Back to the topic at hand, when performing a jerk the arms (as with the lifts) are there to guide and catch the bar. If you start to push with the arms early in the drive you will most likely get called for a press out or catch with soft elbows creating a lock out issue. This takes the legs out of the lift completely and unless you are bench and biceps type of person, your legs are stronger than the arms. The best cue for lifters to not engage the arms to early is to keep them relaxed, more specifically keep the hands relaxed, in the dip and drive. Bottom line, the jerk is a lower body movement. Generate all the force you need to get that bar overhead with the legs and hips, not the arms.
Keep It Even
The next thing to keep in mind in relation to the jerk (this applies more to the split but is similar in the other variations as well) is weight distribution with the feet. When you are dipping, driving, and catching the bar the weight distribution in the feet needs to be 50/50. Most of the time when an athlete goes to catch all their weight ends up more in one foot then the other. The most common is all the weight ends up in the front foot and that back leg is stiff as a board. This will cause the hips, torso, and therefore the bar to be pushed forward potentially leading to a missed lift. In the catch you want to be as stable as possible, to do this the bar needs to be as in line as it possibly can with your center of gravity. By keeping the weight distribution to a 50/50 relationship, it allows to bar to stay right overhead in line with your most stable position. When dipping, driving, and catching it is important that the hips also stay in line with the body’s center of gravity and are not shifted too far forward or back.
Another tip to keep in mind with the jerk is that the athlete should make contact with the back leg first. A lot of athletes focus on the front leg and let that back leg float in the catch position. This can also lead to a stiff back leg causing a forward weight shift. Make sure to drive that back leg hard into the catch and create the most stable position possible. The more stability with the legs the more stable the body can be in the securing the weight.
When training the Jerk the only thing that is going to get you better at the Jerk is practicing it more. It’s as simple as that. There are plenty of variations of the Jerk you can work on depending on the weakness, but nothing will replace performing the movement itself and getting the work in. A solid Bench Press or triceps strength can help in the overhead stability and lockout but it won’t necessarily make you a better at the Jerk. The Push Press is another lift that a lot of folks will always carry over to a better jerk. This is not always true, while the Push Press has a higher carry over to the Jerk than say the Incline Bench Press, replacing one with the other will not make you better at the Jerk. Instead use these assistance movements as accessory work to the jerk. You can never bee too strong overhead or have more shoulder stability, but if you aren’t regularly practicing the Jerk so you can work these movements then you need to reevaluate your priorities. To be the best you can at something you have to practice it over and over, even when you don’t want to.
Taking a look at accessory work doesn’t have to be limited to overhead strength. What about your catch position? How can you strengthen this position without actually performing a Jerk? There are too many ways to list but let’s name a few. Two favorites of ours to use with athletes are press and jerk from a split. Full video on these movements can be found here. While these require you to still go overhead, it forces an athlete to maintain their catch position while stabilizing the bar overhead with lighter loads. These drills are great to warm up with if you are training Jerks only on a particular day. Another great accessory movement to build a better catch position is a Jerk Ladder. Probably the single-handed best accessory to overload and reinforce the catch position without going overhead. Just like with all accessory movements, these need to be performed after your main work is done. Accessory work is simply meant to reinforce what you just spent the past hour working on, doing these before the main work can fatigue the muscles and cause poor mechanics and movement patterns to be reinforced. So load up on accessory movements, but after the work is done.
In The End
When it comes to training, everyone has differences in how they get the job done. Whether it’s time/equipment restraints, limb lengths, mobility issues, etc. sometimes an athlete has to do things slightly different from the next person. But when it comes to perfecting a skill like the Jerk everyone can focus on these three things and show significant improvement: Derive the power for the Jerk with the legs not the arms, catch in a balanced, stable position, and reinforce the catch position with solid accessory work AFTER the main work is done. Now get to work and let’s see some Jerk PRs!