Jerk liftis the final part of the second lift of two Olympic exercises (snatch and clean & jerk). An athlete drives the bar from the shoulders to the overhead position after the first part – the clean

As an accessory exercise for weightlifters, it improves the clean & jerk: the technique, strength, speed, and other essential qualities. As a separate drill, it can be used in other sports to enhance power, speed, coordination, mobility, and overhead strength.  

 

WHAT MUSCLES ARE INVOLVED IN JERK?

 

Since jerk movement is the second part of the competitive exercise, it involves most muscles. It all happens while one is holding the bar on their shoulders and preparing to jerk it after having already performed the clean.  

 

Primary muscles worked:

Glutes

Lower Back

Adductors

Hamstrings

Quads

Front Deltoid

 

Secondary muscles worked:

Lats

Trapezius

Forearm Flexors

Triceps

Lateral Deltoid

Calves

 

The clean and jerk develops speed, explosive strength, and power in the entire body.

 

TECHNIQUE AND PHASES

 

Starting position for weightlifting jerk.

The feet are around the hip-width apart and the toes are slightly out (5-10°). The center of gravity is on the mid-foot or a bit closer to the heels, the entire foot remains on the platform. Tight up the trunk and open the chest. The bar rests on the shoulders, the arms are relaxed, the elbows are slightly out and point to ‘3-4 o’clock’. 

 

Dip

Smoothly bend the knees, keeping the trunk vertical and the weight on the heels. Professional athletes dip approximately 8-12% from their height. Generally, the dip depth is usually up to ¼ from the front squat. 

 

 Drive

 After you have reached an optimal dip depth, switch to the drive immediately. Stretch your knees actively and powerfully, staying on the flat foot, keep the trunk tight and arms relaxed. Once you have extended your knees, push your arms against the bar, moving your feet to the split or power jerk position as quickly as you can.  

 

Catch position

Catch and stabilize the bar overhead before rising up. It is important to bring your legs together slowly and carefully in order to keep your balance. You better recover the front leg first and then the back one. Keep your trunk vertical all the time.  

In order to maintain the upper body tight, always pull your shoulders towards the ears. It is actually a prompt that coaches often use at competitions – «reach up». 

 

What jerk technique is better:split or power?

I suggest analyzing and comparing both exercises to make up a clear picture and understanding. It will help with the right decision. 

Let’s start with the main split jerk benefit – power efficiency. Athletes who use the power jerk are often forced to catch the bar very low, sometimes even in the full squat. Just imagine what it feels like to go to the full squat after the hardest clean and have to rise up again. Not everyone has enough capacity to do that. The split jerk benefits here as you catch the bar significantly higher and have a bigger bearing surface. Therefore, I guess, women use mainly the split jerk due to a lower “strength reserve”. It is also important to remember that first-class technique sometimes compensates for the lack of strength. 

Another significant split jerk benefit is the opportunity to finish the lift successfully even in case of some technical flaws. Athletes often fall short when driving the bar so it remains a bit in the front making an athlete try to “catch up with it”. Weightlifters often manage to do that in the split jerk but it is nearly impossible in the power jerk.

As to the split jerk downsides and power jerk upsides, we have to mention the catch amplitude. It is limited in case of the split by the ability to balance under a heavy barbell. Athletes from light and medium weight classes usually train the catch in the full squat in order to handle the heaviest weights. To tell you the truth, if an athlete sticks to the power jerk, they should be ready to squat with the bar overhead anytime and not only in theory. 

Another power jerk benefit is simpler mechanics and movement coordination: everything happens in the same plane. The angles and structure have a lot in common with the squats whereas the split jerk is more complicated with plenty of technical intricacies in terms of foot work and body coordination. 

All in all, if an athlete has enough leg strength, they can stick to the squat jerk. If your qualities are agility and coordination, you better focus on the split jerk. I wouldn’t definitely recommend the squat jerk to tall athletes. 

No one is likely to explain why a particular jerk style is better. There have been plenty of athletes who change their olympic jerk several times while already being seniors. 

For beginners, I give advice according to my experience and the Soviet weightlifting school (which is one of the strongest, in my opinion). The best way to understand what works best for you is trying everything. For a few years, novice athletes should use the power jerk, squat jerk, and split jerk for both legs. It helps with coordination, strengthens stabilizers, and boosts functionality. As time passes, your desire and feeling will push you toward the right decision. 

 

COMMON MISTAKES

Let’s talk in more detail about 3 phases of jerk movement that athletes tend to screw up:

  1. Rack Positioning
  2. The Dip & Drive
  3. The Catch & Recovery

 

Rack Positioning

Athletes often set up as if they are about to do the military press: the elbows are down and the bar rests “on the wrists”. In this case, an athlete can involve their arms at once but that’s actually all: leg muscles can’t pass the impulse to the bar. Therefore, the bar must be on the shoulders, elbows should be out and point to “3-4 o’clock”. 


The Dip & Drive

This phase has plenty of mistakes: 

Short dip – an athlete dips poorly and lacks power to accelerate the bar. This mistake is often a problem of those athletes who try to copy TOP weightlifters and forget that basic-level athletes should follow basic techniques, thus, dip ¼ of the front squat. 

Too fast dip – it mainly happens if an athlete worries and panics. Dip & drive is best described as “a spring effect” – smoothly down and powerfully up. In case of dipping too fast, the bar will press an athlete so that they can’t accelerate it anymore. 

Short drive – an athlete doesn’t stretch the knees, thus, “cuts off” their leg power. 

 

Displacement from the vertical has two variations:

- an athlete drives the knees too forward;

- an athlete leans their shoulders forward;

You can get rid of these 2 mistakes with one simple exercise – the wall squat. It teaches an athlete to work in the vertical plane. 

Drive forward happens in case of a wrong dip or the following mistake.  

Tight arms – if your arms are tight in the drive phase, it stops the bar from upward accelerating. 

 

The Catch & Recovery

This phase has 2 common mistakes: 

- in the split position, one puts their feet too close and can’t catch the balance;

   - one “springs out” of the split position and loses balance.

 

Variations

There are plenty of olympic lifting jerk variations. First of all, there are other styles: power jerk, squat jerk, pause jerk, jerk behind the neck, and so on. It is often performed in a complex with the front squats, push press, or pause jerk. As for functional fitness,  jerk crossfitwod can consist of the jerk combined with the most unexpected loads, for example, pulling, running, or even burpees. 

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