The jerk is, in my opinion, the hardest aspect of the Olympic lifts to teach besides the snatch. Most of my newer athletes experience the majority of their errors occurring on the jerk portion of the Clean & Jerk. I had to come up with an easy way to break down the jerk into smaller segments just like I did when Streaky worked on her snatch.
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The system I came up with is broken into 4 simple segments. Each segment should take about 5-7 minutes to complete.
1. The Dip
If your dip is crap, your lift will also be crap. My little brother is one of my athletes, and his clean is great, but too many times he fails the lift because his dip needs improvement. The things to watch out for on the jerk are the butt, the knees, and the chest. Many athletes pitch their knees forward and towards each other, causing the bar to pull forward and the heels to come off the ground.
To fix this the athlete should spend 5-7 minutes working on the dip with an empty barbell, focusing on sending the butt back, keeping the chest up, and pushing the knees out. It should feel like the first few inches of a descent into a front squat. Remember to avoid too deep of a descent, as power is wasted if the athlete descends too far or lingers in the bottom of the dip. A wider grip on the bar will also help ensure that the shoulders don’t round forward, some athletes maintain a grip where the hand is right on top of the shoulder, and that is less than optimal.
2. The Split Squat
The next piece to the jerk formula is the split squat. The split squat is somewhat of a combination of a lunge and a squat. The great thing about split squat is it build confidence in the bottom of a jerk, something newer athletes can struggle with for longer than normal.
In the video above, Anna and Zach have bars on their back, and are focusing on getting as low as possible while keeping the back knee from touching the ground. It’s not a lunge, so the back knee shouldn’t drop straight down. Rather, the athlete should assume an almost exaggerated split jerk position.
The athlete should work for 4 sets of with each leg in front for 3 reps. Most women should use 85lbs, while most men should use 115lbs. Consider this a technique exercise and confidence builder, rather than a strength builder.
3. The Split Press
The split press, like the split squat, is another confidence builder for the bottom of the jerk. The athlete should assume a deep split position, the goal being that the athlete will hit this same position when the time comes for the jerk.
While solidly holding the bottom of a deep split, the athlete will then perform my strict (or shoulder) press, returning to the shoulder each time. Ideally the athlete will maintain flexion of the glutes to avoid unnecessary hyper-extension of the lumbar.
3 sets of 5 reps will be sufficient with this movement, keep the weight light, the goal is to maintain stability in the split and build confidence with the bar overhead.
4. The Jerk
Now it’s time to put the previous 3 pieces together to make the jerk. The movement should feel much more comfortable to the athlete after completing the previous assistance exercises. You can see in the video that Anna and Zach still have some work that needs to be done, but large improvements have been made. Anna’s feet are now positioned on a gangplank instead of a tightrope, her head has driven farther through her arms, and her back knee is now soft. Zach’s split could be a little longer, but his rack position has improved and is no longer putting most of the weight in his front foot.
It’s great to see that this little sequence can have such a big impact on your jerk. I tried it on 11 athletes with jerk problems and every single one of them showed remarkable improvement, especially Suzi and Brent. Their changes were like night and day. Try this 30 minute sequence in your gym, and see if your jerk doesn’t improve tremendously.