The jerk is an incredible movement for full-body power development, overhead strength and stability, and you’d think since it involves throwing a huge amount of weight above your head, that people would pay WAY more attention to it. Strangely though, the jerk is often looked at more as an afterthought for weightlifters and athletes, resulting in missed lifts and a tonne of benefits being left on the table.
In this guide, we’re going to go through a step by step technique breakdown, look at some of the major jerk variations, and conclude with some practical examples of jerk workouts for different training goals.
Let’s get started, shall we? Below is a quick 2-minute tutorial, but keep reading for a detailed breakdown of each phase.
Split Jerk technique (step by step)
1) Jerk start position
As with all the olympic weightlifting movements, a good start position can make or break the lift. We’re looking for you to have the barbell in the rack position, with your elbows up and the bar resting across your shoulders. Your posture should be upright, with your core braced. For comfort, you’ll want your hands just outside of shoulder width.
You’ll notice that this is pretty much the same position as your front squat start position. With that said, some people might prefer to position their elbows slightly lower, so that instead of only pointing forward they point forwards and ever so slightly down (whilst still allowing the bar to rest on the shoulders).
Learning Drill: 6 sets of 10s position holds
2) The Dip
I like to visualise the dip as compressing a spring so that it’s ready to aggressively recoil later (in the drive phase).
From your stable rack position, you’re going to initiate the dip by bending at your knees whilst keeping your torso upright and your core braced. You’ll dip down into a quarter squat position, very similar to the position you would find if you wanted to perform a vertical jump, only slightly more upright.
There are three key things to notice here…
- First, notice how the back and hip angle doesn’t change. The dip is NOT a squat. If you let your hips go back you’ll end up shooting the bar forwards in the drive phase.
- Second, notice the tempo, the dip is fairly fast, but also controlled. It’s not so slow that you lose power, but it’s not so fast that you lose control of the barbell.
- Third, notice how the core remains braced throughout. A loose core makes it much harder to transfer power.
Learning Drill: 5 sets of 5 dips
3) The Drive
Once you’ve completed your dip, you’re going to change direction and aggressively extend at the knees to launch the bar upwards. Your core should remain braced, and your posture should remain upright.
Learning Drill: 5 sets of 5 drives
4) The Receive Position
The receive position for a split jerk is fairly unique to the sport, and the best way to describe it is like a high lunge or high split squat position.
They key things I’m looking for when I coach this are…
- Your front shin is vertical
- Your back knee is somewhat bent
- Your torso is upright (which should happen automatically if the first two points are followed)
- The barbell is securely above (and slightly behind) your head, with your elbows locked out.
To get into this position, you’re essentially using the time that the bar is ‘weightless’ (because you’ve launched it up in the drive phase) to split your legs and push yourself down under the barbell. I know that sounds complicated but I promise that all it takes is a bit of practice.
The video below has a little footwork drill that I use with the athletes…
I tend to have them do 4-6 sets of 6 reps when they’re first learning, and then after they’ve learnt the movement I’ll have them do a couple of sets before their heavier jerks as a technique primer.
Learning Drill:4 sets of 6 footwork ‘splits’
5) The Recovery
The last phase of the split jerk is the recovery, which involves bringing both feet back in line with one another. In a weightlifting competition this is required for the lift to pass, and the lifter must hold the barbell securely overhead with their feet in line until they receive the ‘down’ signal.
As you can see in the video above, to perform the recovery, start by bringing your front foot back towards you, and then your back foot, all the while maintaining constant active pressure on the barbell.
The reason we recover front foot first is that it is more stable. You CAN recover back foot first, but you risk your balance coming forwards and losing control of the bar. As a weightlifter, there’s nothing more tragic than performing 90% of your lift correctly only to lose it at the last moment.
Learning Drill: 4 sets of 6 recoveries (keep a light bar or stick locked out overhead)
The push jerk is a variation of the split jerk that removes the split, making it far easier to learn for most people. You still dip the same, you still drive the bar up and you still have to reposition under the bar, but your feet remain in the same place.
The Push Jerk in Crossfit
The push jerk is frequently used within crossfit competitions that require high repetition jerks. Since split jerking requires loads of extra foot movement it is a slower process, making it far less suitable for quickly completing reps. Push jerks on the other hand require no foot movement, making them faster to execute.
Check out this link if you want to learn more about the benefits of weightlifting vs crossfit.
The Push Jerk vs Split Jerk
The drawback of the push jerk is that it isn’t as stable. The split jerk position provides you with a much wider base of support and so gives you more room for error. The push jerk on the other hand has a much narrower base, making it easier to lose balance forwards or backwards.
Another drawback is that it requires you to push the bar higher than the split jerk in order to successfully get under it, meaning that most people typically lift less weight in the push jerk.
However, the push jerk can be used as a training tool for weightlifters, allowing them to practice the timing of getting under the bar, as well as reinforcing a more vertical and precise upwards drive.
The power jerk is a split jerk variation that removes the split footwork, making it simpler to learn. However, unlike the push jerk, in which your feet don’t move, in the power jerk your feet can move slightly outwards.
The Power Jerk vs Split Jerk
The power jerk shares the same drawbacks as the push jerk in that it provides a narrower base of support, and requires the bar to be driven higher in order to successfully make the lift, both of which mean that most people lift less in the power jerk than in the split jerk.
With that said, the power jerk is often used as a training tool for weightlifters as it allows them to practice precision, balance and a more aggressive upwards drive.
Split Jerk Muscles Worked
The split jerk (and all jerk variations) are full body movements, utilising the…
Quadriceps: As the prime mover in the dip and drive phase
Calves: To add extra force right at the end of the drive phase
Shoulders: To drive the bar overhead and support it there
Upper back: To help support the bar overhead
Triceps: To maintain locked out elbows
Core: To maintain rigidity and tension
Glutes: To maintain an upright posture, and to help in split jerk recovery.
Jerk Workout Examples
The way you set up your jerk workout really depends on the goals that you have for your training. Here are three jerk workout examples based around common goals…
1) Maximal Jerk Strength for Competition
- Split jerk footwork, 3 sets of 6
2) Jerk Technical Practice and Power Development
- 3×3 @ 60% 1 rep max
Split Jerk Footwork
- 3 sets of 6
- 4×3 @ 70% 1 rep max
3) High Rep Jerks for Crossfit
- 1×10 @ 40% 1 rep max
- 1×8 @ 50% 1 rep max
- 1×6 @ 60% 1 rep max
- 1×8 @ 50% 1 rep max
- 1×10 @ 40% 1 rep max
Wrapping everything up
The jerk is a great exercise for full body power and explosiveness. Most people lift the most weight in the split jerk, but variations like the push jerk and power jerk can be used for different goals such as crossfit competitions or addressing technical components of the drive phase.
If you’re keen to give it a try, follow the learning steps outlined throughout the article, and aim to practice the movement 2-3 times per week to learn the technique.
‘Til Next Time
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Alex is the Owner and Head Coach of Character Strength & Conditioning, and specialises in strength & power development for athletes.
He currently works as a Tutor & Educator for British Weightlifting, and has previously delivered S&C support to gymnastics and swimming talent pathways.