Clean and jerk is one of the Olympic weightlifting exercises that is performed after the snatch at competitions.
Olympic clean and jerk is a complicated movement in terms of technique. It consists of two separate exercises. First, athletes clean the bar and then jerk it. There are three different jerk techniques:
- Split jerk - an athlete jerks the bar off their chest driving one leg forward and the other backward. After fixation and stabilization, they put the feet in line with each other again;
- Push jerk - an athlete jerks the bar off the chest driving the legs approximately to the shoulder width apart and slightly squatting. After that, they recover with the bar fixed in the overhead position;
- Squat jerk - an athlete jerks the barbell off the chest and goes down to the full squat balancing the bar. Then they recover to the standing position and fix the bar overhead.
To get a ‘good lift’, an athlete must fix the bar overhead, lock out the knees and parallel their feel.
The weight for barbell clean and jerk is almost always higher by 15-28% than the snatch result.
Due to technical difficulty, mainly experienced athletes include clean and jerk workout into their plans. However, a lot of beginners also try to do this exercise.
The methodology of clean & jerk learning is especially critical to minimize future injury risk.
Olympic weightlifters perform the clean & jerk at competitions and try to lift the highest possible weight.
Clean and jerk exercise is also very popular in crossfit training. It often has different goals there. The most important is to increase workout tonnage and intensity. Clean and jerk crossfit sets are nearly the hardest due to high weight loads and technique requirements. If you read the general workout tonnage, you will see a huge number there.
Clean and jerk weightlifting involves quads, glutes, spine extensors and trunk muscles, triceps, and delts. Therefore, it is crucial to distribute the load properly within a week. There should be a balance between intensive clean & jerk workouts and pulls and squats. If you fail this, your muscles won’t manage to recover and you will face overtraining. It will cease the progress and cause muscle pain and soreness, constant tiredness, sleep disorders, and central nervous system fatigue.
Clean & jerk technique
The clean & jerk is complicated in terms of technique so it’s better to reach out for an adequate and experienced coach. I will try to describe everything in detail but remember that only a look from the side can reasonably judge the technique, point out the mistakes and help to reach a desirable result. If you have no one to give you a hand, at least record your workouts and analyze them afterward. The best angle is 45°.
Clean jerk is a difficult exercise in terms of technique so even professional athletes hone it year after year. It has a huge range of motion and consists of several stages:
- starting position;
- standing up;
- dip and drive;
- split fixation or the power jerk.
Each stage should be practiced separately to deep into the movement biomechanics. Do not rush. Work with a wooden or plastic PVC pipe till your coach is satisfied with the technique. Then, get to the clean & jerk starting with light weights.
The main purpose of the starting position is strong and effective angles which are critical for pulling the bar to the knee level and preparing for acceleration. It is important to understand that speed and explosive strength aren’t a priority for the starting position.
The main points:
- shoulder-width stance;
- hands slightly wider than the shoulders, the hook grip;
- toes slightly out, the center of gravity on the mid-foot;
- flat back, a natural arch in the lower back;
- look straight ahead;
- bar over the mid-foot, shoulders over the bar;
- shins lean forward so that you can move the knees in the first pull and get firm vertical support when the bar is at the knee level. The bar can touch the shin or be as close to it as possible.
An athlete must lift the bar off the platform with a powerful leg and back drive and accelerate it in order to perform a clean.
The explosion is when the trunk and knees are slightly bent, an athlete is flat-footed, the bar is pushed towards the trunk, the shoulders and knees are in line and slightly over the bar. The explosion as a result of leg and trunk muscle cooperation provides reasonable spring mechanics and power.
The absence or improper explosion usually causes these mistakes:
- stiff hands;
- the bar drifts away;
- low speed;
- lack of power;
- improper move structure.
Turnover and catch:
After the full trunk extension, the bar is at the solar plexus level and you should switch to the downward movement at once. You must rotate your elbows as fast as you can and catch the bar in the deep squat.
Elbows Rotation is an important element in the clean turnover that is very often overlooked by novice athletes when learning about the clean progression. Find out more HERE.
After catching the bar on the chest in the deep squat, an athlete should rise back to the upright position. An important technical element in the recovery phase is the instantaneous switch from eccentric to concentric muscle work. Basically, this is the muscle/strength switch from going down into the bottom of the deep squat position to immediately rising back into a standing position. An athlete needs to train the spring skill to swiftly get up from the deep squat position. As the weight gets heavier, the barbell oscillation can either help or hinder an athlete as it can create additional load.
After rising up from the deep squat, an athlete has a few seconds to pull themselves together and get ready for the jerk.
Getting ready for the jerk.
Keep the elbows out so that the bar rests not on the chest but on the shoulders. Tense the trunk, open the chest, and relax the arms. The center of gravity should be on the mid-foot or closer to the heels.
The quality of the dip and drive phase is very important for the high clean & jerk result. Athletes tend to make the dip too quick and short or don’t drive powerfully enough shrinking the amplitude.
These mistakes can stem from several reasons:
- misunderstanding the movement;
- insufficient technical and coordination work;
- weak muscles that are responsible for these elements.
Here are my TOP-3 exercises for stabilizers and the dip & drive phase.
The dip is a crucial jerk phase for accelerating the bar. The depth of the dip should be 8-12% of an athlete’s height. The trunk should be vertical and tense, arms relaxed. The center of gravity must be on the mid-foot or slightly closer to the heels.
Drive + split fixation.
Push the bar upward with a powerful leg drive (knee extension) and go to the split position. Some athletes do the power jerk but the split jerk is usually more beneficial for most people due to their anatomic peculiarities. It is easier to learn and allows them to lift heavier weights. Spring up powerfully driving one leg forward and the other backward. The movement reminds split squats. As soon as you catch the balance, start putting your legs together – the front one comes first and then the back one. Fix the bar and lower it on the platform.
Typical novice mistakes:
- Jerking the bar is more about leg effort but not arm power. Still, the delts and triceps are responsible for stabilization.
- Don’t wear regular sneakers for performing the clean & jerk. Spend some money to buy high-quality weightlifting shoes which will help you to keep the trunk in the proper position while dipping.
- Reach out for an adequate coach. It is difficult to learn the proper technique on your own. However, a look from the side will help you correct the movement taking into account all body peculiarities.
- Pay special attention to the wrist and elbow warm-up. When the bar rests on the chest and the elbows are pointed forward, our joints and tendons are under great tension. Use statdynamic exercises to strengthen them additionally.
How to make progress in the clean & jerk?
Honing separate phases and doing accessory exercises are the secrets of the powerful clean & jerk.
Use the following exercises:
-power jerk to concentrate on directing the bar over the head;
- overhead and front squats to empower the dip;
- split squats to train rising up from the split position;
- pause jerk with a 1-3-second stop in the half or full squat before finishing the exercise;- clean pull from blocks, hyperextension with some weight, and your favorite ab and oblique muscle exercises to keep your trunk firm while standing up and avoid lower back injuries.