Taking a closer look at the Jerk…
We have been working on Jerks lately, so I thought giving it a little love on the blog made sense! Check out this little bit of advice from Catalyst Athletics on the jerk.
You have to remember that jerking is a leg lift, not an upper body lift. When people see the jerk being performed, their first thought is that the arms are ramming the bar overhead. Actually, the power of the legs is the main factor in successful jerking. The arms obviously have a role in it because they extend and lock the bar overhead. But that bar comes off the shoulders because of the explosiveness and accuracy of the dip-drive phase. This is why it’s possible to clean and jerk heavy weights without having buckets of upper body strength.
Most of the best lifters in the world use what we’ll call a “medium-split” position when they do jerks. If you watch a lot of world championship footage, you almost never see any deep-split positions. When I say “deep-split,” I’m talking about what you would see from somebody doing a lunge exercise, where the front thigh is almost parallel to the ground and the back knee is a few inches from it. Elite lifters don’t do it this way because the key to better jerking is driving the bar higher, not splitting deeper. With the depth of your split, there’s a limiting factor. You can only split so low before your knee hits the floor. However, there is no limiting factor in how forcefully you can drive the bar off your shoulders. The sky has no boundary, at least not one you’re going to hit with a barbell. So once a lifter has established a consistent, solid medium-split position, the main emphasis should be improving and strengthening the dip-and-drive phase, because this is what will ultimately determine the skill of the jerk.
Having a lot of upper body strength is a good thing in weightlifting, but it can also be a hazard when the athlete is learning the jerk. If the lifters have the type of shoulder/arm strength that will allow them to “muscle” the bar over their heads, they’ll be able to successfully complete jerks even though they’re using shoddy technique. The easiest people to teach the jerk to are often those who don’t have an abundance of pressing strength, because they’ll be forced to rely on their legs to execute the movement.