Are you feeling like a jerk today?  Do you have so much energy and you are not utilizing it in the gym?  Then I may have the exercise that is perfect for you jerks out there.  This is an Olympic lift and it just so happens to be called a Jerk.Olympic lifts have been around for a long time.  I get asked all the time, “how come we are doing Olympic lifts, aren’t they for athletes?  I tell people all the time, they are for everyone.  Olympic exercises help increase speed, strength, power, flexibility, coordination and overall health.  In my opinion, the jerk is the easiest to learn out of the 3 lifts.  This does not mean that it should not be taken seriously.  This exercise is a complex movement that should be taught by a professional.  Take your time, and work slowly, preventing the risk of injury!

How to Perform the Jerk

Preparation

Before we even begin to think to lift the weight, we need to know how to stand and where to put the bar.  There are a couple ways you can grip the bar.  I like to have my arms slightly past shoulder width apart.  The reason I do this is because when we are in any sport, how many times are your hands wider than shoulder width apart.  If I was going to block somebody in football, I am going to keep my arms in tight.  This helps me give out more power against my opponent.  I keep my hands the same distance apart as my clean grip.  Give the grip a couple tries and just do a regular shoulder press and see how comfortable it feels. Then you are going to place the bar along the front of your shoulder, in line with your collarbone.  Next you are going to lift the bar off the rack.  This part is very important.  You are going to keep your core as tight as possible, shoulder blades are locked in place and your chest is up.  The weight distribution should be in the middle of the foot.

Dip

The dip is where the power comes from.  We want to make sure that our body asymmetrical.  The dip is a partial bend of the knees. As we bend our knees, our weight should slightly move to our heels.  Too much on our heels and you will fall backwards and too much on your toes then you can fall forward.  As you are bending your knees, your hips and glutes should shift backwards.  This will create a nice stretch in your hamstrings.  When the hamstrings are activated, this is similar to cocking a gun.  This is what I like to call the “power position”.  Make sure that your spine is in line, core is tight and your chest is up. Now we can move to the drive position.

Drive

Now that we have our knees bent, hips are back, then we can begin the upward phase of the lift.   The drive is the extension or jump. As we are coming up, our knees extend and then our hips drive forward.  Once we have fully extended our body, then we can begin the arm movement. It is important and will happen occasionally that you will hit your chin on the bar.  You want to slightly move your head backwards so you can clear the bar.  If your chin hits the bar, do not worry, it happens to the best of us. As we lift the bar you are going to get up on your toes and push up the bar as quick and as powerful as possible.

Split

As you are pushing the weight up, at the same time, you are going to jump slightly and spread your feet out into a split squat position. How I like to teach people on how far their split squat stance is I have them get down on the ground in a lunge position.  I am not really concerned about which legs comes up front, what ever leg you feel comfortable with that’s what leg comes out.  The purpose behind this stance is to allow you the weight to be centered and evenly distributed throughout the body. Your front leg will be bent at 90 degrees or slightly above and your back leg will be partially bent.  The front leg’s shin needs to be vertical.  Too many times I see people lunging to far forward and their knee is coming way over their toes.  The position of the shin will help you maintain that stability when the bar is above your head. As soon as your feet land, your arms should be locked out.  To successfully complete the lift, you need to be able to hold the split with the arms locked out for 2-3 seconds.  This is called “stick”.

Who should do the Split Jerk?

The Split Jerk can be performed by anybody.  If you are someone who needs to improve on the coordination, strength, power, agility or overall performance, this is the perfect exercise for you.

Common Mistakes

  1. Squatting too far down, this is going to decrease your power and explosiveness. (Remember, just a slight knee bend).
  2. You are using too much arms instead of driving with your legs.
  3. Your elbows are push out too far instead of being tucked in. (Keeping your arms tucked in will help you maximize your drive).
  4. Not having a wide enough base. (If our base is too short, this could lead to a failed lift).

How to Begin

I cannot stress this enough, practice this lift with a broomstick or just with the bar.  Even though I stated that the jerk is the easiest to learn out of the 3 lift (snatch, clean, jerk), The split jerk can be deceivingly trick and complex, so time, patience and focus needs to be applied.  Add this exercise to the first lift you do in the training session so you can maximize your effort and improve your abilities.

Reference:

  1. Daniel J. Cleather, Jon E. Goodwin, and Anthony M. J. Bull, “Intersegmental Moment Analysis Characterizes The Partial Correspondence Of Jumping And Jerking,”  J. Strength and Cond. Res., 27(1), 89-100 (2013).

Written by Chris Barber, CPT