3 Simple Cues For A Successful Jerk

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The jerk is sort of the middle child of weightlifting (this coming from a middle child). Snatches and cleans get a lot of the attention because of the complex dynamics of pulling a weight from the floor and getting underneath it. But jerks win championships. At the 2014 Asian Games, Sa Jaehyouk of South Korea was in second going into the clean and jerk. He stood up with every one of his cleans, but failed to complete a single jerk. Had he hit his last jerk at 210 kg, he would have beaten champion Tian Tiao on body weight.

So, here are some simple cues I think of after I stand up with a clean.

Squeeze your glutes

By squeezing, or activating, my glutes, I’m able to bring my hips into a straight line with my back and legs. Your power is going to be best transferred into the bar if your shoulders, hips, knees, and ankles are all in line with your center of gravity (or as close as possible). If you think of yourself as a piston dipping and driving with the bar in order to get that ever-beneficial bar whip, it is probably best that the piston isn’t full of crooks and bends throughout it. A lot of athletes end up in a state of hyperlordosis (an excessive curve of the lumbar spine, due to tight spinal erectors and tight hips). How to work on hyperlordosis is an article for another time, but by squeezing the muscles of your butt, you can mitigate this problem and deliver the most power into the bar.

Drive through the entire foot

Usually, this cue is given in the form of a coach yelling, “Heels!” It makes up one of the monosyllabic coaching cues shouted at weightlifting meets: Heels! Legs! Tight! Drive! etc. The best way to teach something is often to exaggerate it. When I coached wrestling, I would talk about shooting a double leg “through” the opponent in order to teach wrestlers that the drive doesn’t stop when they reach their opponent’s legs. “Heels!” is a good cue because it helps lifters keep their heels down when the temptation is to lift them early. It is sometimes hard for lifters to conceptualize that the leg drive of a jerk is not the same as a jump, when jumping might be the only activity they’ve done that requires generating a large amount of force through the legs.

You’ll notice that with Lydia’s jerk (starts around 1:15) as opposed to the vertical jump that she keeps her entire foot down even as the knee re-straightens whereas the jumper begins loading onto the balls of his feet even as he’s coming up from his partial squat.

Breath

Given my last article, you might deduce that I think breathing is pretty darn important. It is especially important when you’re putting well over your bodyweight above your head. The key here is not a long breath like I described in the previous article, but a quick breath into a tight core. Kelly Starrett gives a good analogy in his book Becoming a Supple Leopard: an air compressor doesn’t work by building a container around air—rather, air is pumped into a solid container. Your abdominal wall is the tank; it should be tight and the breath should fill the available space. This will ensure that your spine is supported through intra-abdominal pressure as well as giving you the oxygen to hit the lift without passing out.

There are many finer points to the jerk, but those details are best pointed out by a coach during training. When it comes time to lift big weigh, you want to keep it simple. For me, this is a simple checklist: glutes squeezed, weight in mid- to rear foot, quick breath, and I’m ready to lock in that jerk.  

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