Learning to Jerk

by Bill Starr (2001)

In recent years there’s been a renewed interest in the Olympic lifts in high school and collegiate strength programs. Coaches have figured out that if their athletes do one or more of the quick lifts, they become quicker, more coordinated and, of course, stronger. They’ve also discovered that the strength gained from performing these dynamic movements transfers quite readily to any sport. Those of us who have backgrounds in Olympic weightlifting can only smile because we’ve always preached that gospel. Unfortunately, our message generally fell on deaf ears. The change has come about because a large number of world-class athletes in such high-profile sports as basketball, baseball, tennis and volleyball have stated how much the quick lifts have enhanced their skills. That’s all well and good, but most of the zealous coaches who decide to insert a quick movement into their strength programs don’t take the time to learn the technique involved. As a result, their athletes end up using meager weights, which have little positive influence on building athletic qualities. Even worse, they get hurt. That’s often the case with the jerk. Typically, coaches will attend a convention and hear an authority recommend including jerks for the reasons I mentioned above, but they make no effort to learn how to do the lift correctly, and add it to their programs before their athletes are physically prepared to do this complicated movement. The act of jerking a weight from the shoulders to a locked-out position is a natural movement. I can teach anyone, even an eight-year old, how to do a technically correct jerk in a single session. That may sound as if I’m contradicting myself – Is the jerk a simple lift or a complicated one? It’s both. It’s rather easy to perform jerks with light to moderate weights but an entirely different matter to do one with a maximum weight on the bar. Trying to jerk maximum poundage is extremely difficult. If your intent is to include the jerk as a fitness exercise, to add some spice to your workouts and enhance a few athletic attributes, then it’s fine to use token weights. Serious strength athletes, however, have to load up the bar because jerking 135 isn’t going to bring the same results in terms of strength as handling 300 pounds. In other words, people who include jerks in their programs for the express purpose of improving overall power have to pay close attention to form. While it’s true that trainees can learn to do jerks rather quickly, they need some preliminary work to prepare them for the exercise. I want to make certain that my athletes’ shoulders, arms and backs, especially their upper backs, are all strong enough to handle the stress of

That easily accomplished by simply elevating your shoulder girdle to form a ledge of muscle. So it’s smart to improve your triceps strength because you’re going to need it. you know how to fix the bar firmly on your shoulders. If those areas aren’t developed enough. not your clavicles. not seated ones. you set them in between. You drive the bar upward with your powerful hips and legs. The bar has to rest o your front deltoids. Cocking or moving your wrists during the flight of the bar causes you to generate less power into the bar. When you learn how to press a weight. An easy method of finding it is to extend your thumbs on an Olympic bar until they barely touch the smooth middle. Supporting heavy weights overhead forces the muscles of the rotator cuff to work. You perform the press more deliberately and it’s more of a pure strength move than the jerk. Holding a heavy weight overhead involves every muscle in your body. Pressing helps with the jerk by establishing the correct line in which the bar must travel upward. Always do standing presses. then finish with your shoulders. The reason should be obvious. the locking-out part becomes critical. they won’t be able to use any amount of weight on the jerk and could easily harm themselves. when done correctly.jerking. I should add that doing any form of overhead work is one of the best ways to eliminate rotator cuff problems. triceps and upper back. The tape takes much of the stress off those delicate joints and reminds you to keep them straight. . from your feet to the top of your upper back to your wrists and abs. That fits most trainees. The arms do little until you finally lock out overhead. doesn’t involve the arms to a great extent. When you’re attempting heavy weights. One of the more difficult parts of jerking is controlling the bar once it’s locked out overhead. A jerk. and those are good points when you’re building a firm base. unless they happen to be unusually small or large. You must strengthen those groups before you can handle a heavy weight successfully. however. The best grip spacing for pressing a barbell is shoulder width. You don’t set your elbows high or low. It requires strength in the shoulders and back and also in the arms. You have to keep your wrists locked throughout the lift. and it’s also useful for beginners to tape their wrists when doing overhead lifting. The best exercise for establishing a solid foundation from which to jerk is the overhead press. I’ve found that it’s much easier to teach people how to jerk after they’ve learned to press than it is to start them off with the jerk without any prior overhead work. Knowing how to rack the bar for a press is a key point. The repetitions enhance strength in your deltoids. and in the process they become stronger.

you’ll find it’s much more difficult to accelerate the bar upward and drive it in the correct line. which means you don’t want to press it out at . The big difference in the push jerk is that you drive the bar upward with your hips and legs rather than your shoulders. That teaches you how to forcefully drive the bar off your shoulders. Then you can start doing some heavier triples. causes the bar to float forward. People do that because it makes it easier to maintain balance. you weaken your base and place an uneven stress on your hips and back.) They place one foot behind the other. but since all you have to think about is driving the bar upward. and planted firmly on the floor. The other mistake. That’s a push jerk. Once you lock the bar out. looking up at the bar. It should almost touch your nose. shoulder width apart. Here are the two most common mistakes I see people make when performing presses: 1. over your spine and hips. Your entire body has to be rigid as you dip. the more muscles they can involve in the start. and it will come in handy once you start jerking. With practice you’ll be able to explode the bar upward. foot position and the bar’s line of flight. I have them clean the weight before pressing it. doubles or singles. and when the bar moves forward. rack. The push jerk is exactly what its name implies. Of course.) They look up at the bar as it passes their heads. powerful stroke. the next step is to start doing push jerks. When it moves past your head. The dip is a short. guide your head into the gap you’ve created. Dip slightly and explode the bar to arms’ length. Whenever you press a weight with one foot well behind the other. it’s not quite as simple as that. Everything is the same for push jerks as it was for presses: hand spacing. On the final rep of each set of presses hold the bar overhead for five or six seconds. the leverage goes against you. however. Your feet should always be in line. That’s most useful for building supporting strength in your back and shoulders. You must drive the bar upward extremely close to your head. but it’s incorrect. it’s easier to do. Once you’re satisfied that your form is good. use the five-sets-of-five formula.When my lifters are learning the basic form of the press. There’s a tendency for beginners to dip too low. They think that the lower they dip. position it so it’s fixed over the back of your head. The movement is exactly the same as it is for the split jerk. That allows you to keep the bar directly over your power base. As soon as they display good technique. If you dip too low. While learning proper form. and 2. It makes sense on paper but not on the platform. I have them take the bar out of a rack rather than clean it. and you cannot lean even slightly. That’s your strongest overhead position.

but it’s also the reason the lift is so beneficial for enhancing those athletic abilities. you’re ready to do split jerks. Which foot you move forward is purely an individual matter. The push press is another exercise. Just don’t do a complete press workout and then proceed to push jerks. a quick follow-through with your arms and you lock the weight out. It’s a matter of applying athletic attributes such as timing. Another key form point is that both your feet have to hit the platform at exactly the same instant. Use the one that feels more natural. in contrast. Otherwise. That’s what you must do when you jerk. coordination and speed. Your front foot should only travel a short distance. moves much farther because your rear leg is your lever leg. Timing it so your feet slam down simultaneously comes with practice. There can be no pressing out of a jerk. when you reset it on your shoulders. After a month to six weeks of pressing and push-jerking. After you recover from a full clean. It’s best to do push jerks right after you do some presses. That’s a common mistake and will eventually have an adverse effect on the jerk.the top at all. After a few workouts you’ll find a rhythm to doing these: a powerful drive. your wrists take too much stress. you can concentrate on your feet – which happens to be the most difficult part of the exercise. Before you start the jerk. guide it through the correct line and lock it out solidly. like performing a squat or deadlift. You need to learn early on to land on your rear foot on your toes and not plant your foot flat on the platform. you should be in the same mechanical position as if you were doing a lunge but not quite as deep. It takes an instantaneous switch in mental keys to plant your feet in the exact position on the platform after you’ve driven the bar upward. roughly the length of your foot. with your toes pointed straight ahead. Since you already know how to drive the bar off your shoulders. Jerking a heavy weight isn’t a matter or raw strength. and they also warm up your muscles thoroughly for the heavier weights you use on the push jerks. When you hit the bottom of your split. it will affect the lockout on any heavy attempt because it makes your base shaky. you must make certain that your feet are on a line. and doing a shorter set will keep it from too far out of the correct rack. Do push jerks in threes. Your rear foot. at shoulder width. If one hits after the other. your feet will be . Your lead knee is out over your toe and your rear leg is locked. That’s too much until you become more advanced. It’s like being left-handed or right-handed. It’s permissible to bend your knees when locking out a heavy weight. The bar has a tendency to slip out of the ideal rack after each rep. That’s the primary reason it’s so difficult to master technique on the jerk. The presses help establish the groove. The push jerk is really a drill to help you learn to drive the bar upward dynamically and then extend it to lockout instantly.

Take a moment and reset your feet. In many instances technique improves when you use heavier weights because you’re forced to drive the bar harder off your shoulders. There’s a good reason for doing that. It’s a three-phase process: You take a baby step with your back foot. and time is an essential factor in jerking a heavy weight. They’re excellent for any serious strength athlete and also useful for fitness advocates who want to include a high-skill exercise in their routines. the reason for doing threes – or sometimes even doubles – is that the bar will always move out of the ideal position after each rep. but once you feel confident that you’re doing the lift correctly. You can do fives for a couple of warmup sets. There are different opinions about how to recover from a split. If you’re more comfortable and confident moving your front foot first. Lots of beginners get in the habit of staying in the split for too long after they’ve jerked the weight and locked it out. If it gets too far out of position. and your toes will be pointed outward. Give jerks a try. I recommend doing jerks in threes for the same reason suggested lower reps for push jerks. the swinging motion takes time. move your feet faster and concentrate better. your foundation will be adversely affected. you aren’t slamming them hard enough. though. used to concentrate on only one key before he jerked a weight: slamming his front foot into the platform. recover. Other coaches teach lifters to move the front foot first. either forward or backward. If one or both swing inward or outward. Again. stay with threes. Then you can hold it for a time if you like. He knew that when he did that. with your feet on a line once again. Bob Bednarski. by all means do it. certainly one of the greatest jerkers in American weightlifting history. It’s better to limit the reps and add a few extra sets if you want more work. a baby step with your front foot and finally. a baby step with the back foot. but this is how I teach it. It’s all right to stay with light-to-moderate poundages while you’re learning the form points. What’s more. you can’t use proper form and your wrists will take a terrible beating. but I believe that leaves the bar dangling without a strong base. You may discover that you have a natural aptitude for them. On a correctly done jerk your feet move in a direct line. Once you have the weight under control. That isn’t a good idea. .wide. don’t be afraid to load some weight on the bar. but once you put any amount of weight on the bar. If your feet aren’t making any noise when they hit the platform. it helped him move his feet faster and ensured that he’s have a solid base when he locked out the bar overhead.

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