The Jerk

While most, if not all, competitors have experienced it, there may be no worse feeling, in all of weightlifting, than missing a jerk, especially after an 'easy' clean.  Two Time Olympian Wes Barnett, who only missed 4 competition jerks in his entire career can attest to the empty feeling that a missed jerk leaves behind:

Wes Barnett clean and jerks 220@108 to win Silver in the CJ and Bronze in Total at the 1997 Sr World Weightlifting Champs.

 
It is like you let everyone down.
— Wes Barnett

With this in mind and with the expert input of the USAW’s Coaching Education Curriculum the Idaho LWC would like to present thoughts on the Jerk itself.


Accepted Body Positions for the Classical Split Jerk


Donovan Ford

Donovan Ford

  • Body Position:
    • Straight and 'tight
    • Head is forward and 'neutral'
    • Feet are in alignment and in the 'pulling' position
  • Barbell Position
    • Bar 'rests' on the anterior deltoids
    • The grip is, actually, relaxed
  • The "Dip"
    • Drop Hips, as if sitting into a chair
    • The Dip is short, shallow, straight and quick
    • Maintain contact during the dip
    • Do not allow the bar to get 'separation' from the shoulders
  • The "Drive"
    • As soon as the athlete 'dips' and feels that they are 'flat-footed' (This is often referred to as Jerking "off the heels") The athlete drives upwards right back where they came from.
  • The Split
    • The feet move an equal distance fore and aft.
    • The front foot should move One and One half shoe lengths from the starting position
    • Both feet should land at the same time
    • The Knee of the front foot should be behind the tip of the shoe and the foot flat to the platform. (The shin should be perpendicular (90') to the knee joint)
    • The rear leg is slightly bent
    • The rear foot is on the 'ball' with the heel 'up
    • The original 'pulling position' lateral distance is maintained. This means that the feet drive straight forward and not 'wider' or more narrow in width then their starting position
  • Recovery
    • Front foot comes 'back' a half step
    • Rear foot comes 'forward' a half step.
    • Front foot comes 'back' into alignment with rear foot.

Key Points


Once the lifter has recovered from the clean, they should step their feet back into line until they are approximately in their 'pulling' position. This position, sometimes referred to as the 'vertical jump' position has been found to be most efficient for exerting upward force through the body and into the barbell. The barbell should rest on the shoulders and upper chest.

It is essential that the lifter GET SET for the jerk in the most methodical manner possible.  Many athletes take a deep breath before jerking so that they inflate the chest cavity providing a solid ‘platform’ that supports the weight during the dip and drive phase of the movement.

Arm position, prior to jerking is also ‘worthy to note’. The barbell should NOT be gripped tightly and, in fact a slack grip should be adopted  

IF the lifter grips the barbell tightly the arms and shoulders may tense up and the lifter will tend to push the barbell away from their shoulders which will cause a re-action of pushing themselves away from the barbell, ending up behind it and losing the jerk out in front.

A lot of discussion has been about exactly where to place the elbows and without getting into all the possible variations it is suggested that when the grip is relaxed, the elbows will go, comfortably, to where they should anatomically. Now this will cause each lifter to look different but if the basic Bio-mechanics that govern The Jerk are adhered to it will not create any concern.

WHAT IS IMPORTANT is that the elbows do not change position when the dip occurs. This is true for both 'fingertip' Jerkers or traditional Jerkers.

The DIP is, without question, the most important phase of the jerk.  When a jerk is lost it is usually lost here. This is when the lifter exerts maximum force on the barbell before moving into the receiving position.

Keeping the body completely vertical the athlete bends the knees. "Drop your hips as if you are sitting into a chair.” This makes you both flatfooted and 'sets’ the weight back and not forward. The athlete should feel the weight on their heels. The dip is quick and shallow. If the athlete dips to deep the weight will shift forward and a forward lean will result in a total disaster.

The speed of the dip is also of importance because if it is too fast the athlete will lose contact with the barbell. Too slow and the athletes knees will get driven forward and the barbell will follow right along.

As soon as the athlete dips they should 'drive out of it'. The result of this is similar to the process of blocking in both the high jump and the long jump. The quick turn around of momentum will cause that force to be exerted onto the barbell and assist in the lift being successful. (In jumping blocking helps turn horizontal momentum into vertical momentum.)

Contrary to popular belief athletes do not drive the barbell up very far, nor should they try to. What they should strive to do is STEP THROUGH THE JERK. The lifter drives, with leg extension, up into the toes before splitting the legs both fore and aft. The athlete should not push with their arms against the bar (because in reality MOST athletes are jerking weights that are in excess of their body-weight) as this will result in them being pushed away from the barbell. To jerk well the athlete must drive with their legs and wedge themselves under the barbell. Once the athlete lands and is in proper position then they push against the barbell with their arms. This action is swift and dealt with authority and as such will accelerate the lifters descent under the barbell into the final receiving position with the hips and shoulders in alignment and the elbows locked out.

When the feet land they should not stamp hard onto the platform. If this does occur the force is transferred back into the lead leg and causes it to straighten. This will, in the domino effect, cause the rear leg to be pushed out of its correct position and now the athlete is scrambling forward to try and save the lift.

The recovery should be controlled and unhurried. IT IS important the athlete recover front foot back first. When the athlete does this it pushes the barbell back into the shoulder girdle and onto a bone support position. If the athlete recovers back foot forward, first, the jerk can be lost forward after all the work has been done.

Jerking weights is an extremely complex skill. More and more in elite competition we are seeing vital, if not critical, jerks lost. There are many theories as to why. One way of thinking is that the athletes are finding it very hard to hold weights overhead in the split with the shoulders, hips and arms in one line. Developing shoulder strength proportional to the athlete’s hip and leg strength is a challenge that coaches and athletes must meet.


Teaching Progressions


Zygmunt Smalcerz 1972

Zygmunt Smalcerz 1972

When Zygmunt Smalcerz first became the Coach of the Resident Program he noticed that the athletes needed a lot of attention on the area of the jerk and developed a very effective set of teaching progressions that have become an integral part of the athletes training

The Jerk Progressions begins with the Press followed by the Push Press which is the press with a dip and drive. The third progression is the Push Jerk. The lifter begins the power jerk with the bar held on the chest and shoulders similar to the front squat. From this position, the legs are bent smoothly. When the athlete has lowered the bar slightly, the downward “dip” ceases crisply and the lifter drives the bar upward with the legs. As soon as this impulse is delivered to the bar, the lifter descends and the arms push upward against the bar, driving the body downward under the bar and locking the arms out rapidly.

A series of footwork drills, developed by Senior International Coach Artie Dreschler, have been developed to assist the athlete in progressing to the Split Jerk. These drills teach correct positioning and balance for receiving the bar.  While practicing the footwork drills, the athlete can become comfortable with driving the bar over head by practicing Push Jerks.

The footwork drills contains four stages:

  • Split without Dip (pre bend)

Purpose: To ensure that the athlete is driving from the dip in a balanced position and not traveling forward in the split.

The athlete begins by standing with their hands on their hips and feet in the proper position. From this position, the lifter bends the knees slightly and pauses. The lifter then drives up and into the split position. The coach should ensure the lifter is properly balanced with weight distributed evenly.

Dip without stick

Dip without stick

  • Split with Dip (counter movement)

Purpose: To ensure that the athlete can mimic the dip, drive and receiving position.

The athlete begins by standing with their hands on their hips and feet in the proper position. From this position, the lifter dips and drives into the split position. The coach should ensure the lifter is properly balanced with weight distributed evenly.

  • Split without Dip with Stick Overhead (pre bend)

Purpose: To teach the correct torso position and bar placement overhead.

The athlete begins by standing with the bar overhead. From this position, the lifter bends the knees slightly and pauses. The lifter then jumps into the split position. The coach should ensure the lifter is properly balanced with weight distributed evenly and the bar properly placed overhead.

Dip with stick

Dip with stick

  • Split with Dip with Stick Overhead (counter movement)

Purpose: To teach the correct torso position and bar placement overhead.

The athlete begins by standing with the bar overhead. From this position, the lifter dips then drives into the split position. The coach should ensure the lifter is properly balanced with weight distributed evenly and the bar properly placed overhead.

Once an athlete has mastered the fundamentals they may use more of Coach Smalcerz advanced jerk movements to address more complex technique issues.

The most common Jerk Exercises used by the Resident Team are charted below: