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A Lifter’s Guide to the Jerk Technique

There are two parts to a clean and jerk lift; the clean, which gets the bar up to the shoulders, and the jerk, which raises it all the way overhead. This guide looks predominantly at the jerk part of the movement and the different techniques adopted by lifters to complete this difficult manoeuvre. But first the clean.

The clean

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In order to understand the jerk more fully, it is helpful to examine the clean, which precedes it. The clean is the lifting of the barbell from the floor to the shoulders and the following is the most widely used technique:

  • Squat with your feet beneath the bar and grasp the barbell with an overhand grip, slightly wider than shoulder-width. Your chest should be up and your back should be arched.
  • Keeping your chest up, drive your hips backwards, standing up on your heels and drive the bar upwards.
  • Once it passes your knees, fully extend your hips, shrug your shoulders and stand on your toes, pulling the bar higher.
    When it is as high as you can lift it, drop under it, catch it across the top of your chest and front of your shoulders, and hold in that position, with your elbows pointing outwards and parallel with the floor.

The jerk

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The jerk is the second part of the lift and entails moving the barbell to an overhead locked-out position. There are several techniques for doing this, but generally it involves the following steps:

  • Put your weight on your heels, dip slightly at the knees and then drive your legs upwards to drive the bar off your shoulders.
  • Drop below the bar, either into a split or semi-squat position and extend and lock your arms beneath the bar to catch it.
  • Adjust your footing, assume a standing position and hold the bar under control to complete the lift.

Styles of jerks

There are three main styles of jerk and these are the split jerk, the power jerk and the squat jerk. The split jerk is the most widely used of the three, because it tends to provide the most stable support for the barbell.
A split jerk entails moving one leg forward and the other leg back before performing the jerk, so that the bar is centred above your spine and then recovering after the jerk by moving the front leg back to the centre and the back leg forward again. Watch a pro at it in this video:

A power jerk is like a split jerk, but without moving your feet. This can be a fast and smooth way of completing the jerk, although it is not as stable and requires very good shoulder and back flexibility. Watch a pro complete this lift in this video:

As its name suggests, a squat jerk involves getting under the bar and all the way down into a full squat and then standing back up again from there. This can be a smooth manoeuvre if performed well, but it requires a good deal of leg strength to achieve. See it done in this video:

Jerk variations

While split, power and squat are the three main styles of jerks, there are subtle variations on these themes which lifters often adopt to suit their own particular lifting styles. These include:

  • The oscillating jerk – this involves using the oscillations (swinging movements) of the bar to aid with the lift. This practice is against the rules in Olympic competition.
  • The push press jerk – this entails dipping gradually and then at the bottom of the dip, tensing the quads before driving upwards into the jerk. This makes the legs shootout into the split position.
  • The low power jerk – this is similar to the oscillating jerk, except the lifter only dips slightly and only waits for one oscillation of the bar before dipping.

The jerk is a difficult manoeuvre for many lifters and the key is to find a method that works best for your particular style. Hopefully this guide has touched on the main techniques in use and pointed you in the right direction for some further research.

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