3 Assistance Exercises to Improve Technique, Confidence, and Performance in the Split Jerk

The split jerk requires a great deal of explosive power from the legs, footwork speed and technique, balance and coordination, and overhead strength and stability.

Olympic weightlifters and functional fitness athletes know all too well the time it takes to develop the technique, power, strength, and confidence necessary to get under hundreds of kilos in the split jerk. The split jerk, when practiced and done correctly, can be a separating variable between intermediate and elite weightlifters, elite functional fitness competitors, and CrossFitters looking to lift maximal loads overhead.

In this article, we will offer three assistance exercises for the split jerk. All of the exercises can be used within a weightlifting program, or plugged into current training routines to assist in the overall development of a lifter. It is important to note that while these jerking movements can be extremely beneficial for lifters, they are not a substitute for continual split jerking: whether in the clean and jerk, off blocks, or from racks. Additionally, coaches and athletes should determine the best exercises (either from the ones below and/or split jerk variations) to assist and progress the technique and performance of their lifters, and systematically program them within training cycles.

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Split Jerk Warm-Up

Often, coaches and athletes jump to variations of the jerk without covering sound movement patterns and mobility, while still neglecting to address foundation movements and mastery. 

Generally, I recommend athletes to perform the following movements, two sets of 3-5 reps per exercise:

  • Strict Press
  • Front Squat
  • Squat to Press
  • Push Press
  • Behind the Neck Power Jerk
  • Power Jerk
  • Press in Split Jerk
  • Behind the Neck Split Jerk
  • Split Jerk

Prior to performing split jerk movements, coaches and athletes can perform mobility drills and the above standard jerking warm-up to prepare for jerks and assistance exercises.

Jerk Footwork

This basic yet highly effective drill is often overlooked as a lifter advances in their training. While the movement patterning may not change throughout their progress, I have found it beneficial to revisit these basics throughout warm-ups drills without a barbell, with a PVC pipe in the front rack, and finally with a PVC pipe in the overhead position. All drill variations help to increase footwork technique and speed in most lifters, and can be used to teach beginner lifters sound movement patterning.

Press in Split (Barbell of Dumbbell)

This is a great assistance exercise to help lifters develop strength, stability, and a further understanding of displacing loads overhead while in the split position. By pressing from the split stance, you further help athletes develop balance and confidence in an otherwise challenging position. Although maximal overhead strength is not the primary outcome of this movement, athletes and lifters can find it very beneficial for promoting a highly transferable pressing and overhead positioning.

Jerk Balance

Establishing proper footwork and speed following the drive of the jerk can make or break the lift. The jerk balance is a great assistance exercise to promote sound front foot mechanics and confidence under a loaded (lightly) barbell. Additionally, this exercise can display any tendencies to lock out the back leg, failure to get the torso under the barbell, or excessive horizontal displacement during the dip and drive phases of the split jerk.

Final Coaching Notes

Coaches and athletes have a magnitude of split jerk assistance exercise at their disposal. It is recommended that a clear understanding of the intended outcomes and technical solutions each may offer prior to programming them within a training program. Furthermore, while these lifts are a great compliment to a sound training program, it is advised to focus on performing split jerk primarily in time where training time may be limited due to time constraints or pre-competition cycles

Editors note: This article is an op-ed. The views expressed herein are the authors and don’t necessarily reflect the views of BarBend. Claims, assertions, opinions, and quotes have been sourced exclusively by the author.

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About the author

Mike Dewar

Mike holds a Masters in Exercise Physiology from Columbia University in NYC, USA. Mike is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS), USA Weightlifting Club Coach (USAW2), and Performance Nutrition Coach. Mike is a sponsored ReebokONE Ambassador specializing in weightlifting, barbell and powerlifting training, and sport-specific strength and conditioning. Additionally, Mike is an Assistant Coach of Strength and Conditioning at NYU and the Co-Founder at J2FIT Human Performance in NYC, USA. Mike is the Founder of The Barbell CEO, a lifestyle brand devoted to the strongest coaches, entrepreneurs, and minds. Additionally, Mike is a co-host on The Fittest League Podcast.