Olympic weightlifting will present you with many challenges on your journey. While the clean & jerk is one of the two main lifts, it actually consists of two separate movements in and of itself. The jerk — when you send a barbell flying off your collarbones and to arm’s length — is considered one of the most challenging aspects of the sport.
The clean & jerk go together on the platform, but your jerk can have a mind of its own. There are three main styles of the jerk that are accepted in competition: the split jerk, the power jerk, and the squat jerk. They all share the goal of getting the bar overhead to two straight arms.
With the right technique and ample overhead strength, you should be able to jerk as much (or more) than you can clean.
If your jerk needs work, you’ve come to the right place. Nailing the jerk every time means having to practice different jerk drills. These nine exercises are the best for creating the strongest version of your jerk.
Best Exercises to Strengthen the Jerk
- Push Press
- Push Jerk
- Jerk With Pause
- Jerk With Slow Dip
- Tall Jerk
- Jerk Balance
- Jerk Recovery
- Jerk From Blocks
The jerk starts with a dip-and-drive motion from your legs, which generates the power that forces the barbell off your shoulders. It has to be precise, upright, and tight, which is easier said than done when you’re in the moment.
The push press is a strength-centric exercise that shares the exact same dip and drive pattern as the jerk itself.
Benefits of the Push Press
- Teaches you to correctly use your leg power in an overhead lift.
- Reinforces the full extension of your dip and drive technique.
- Lets you put more weight overhead than in the strict press.
How to Do the Push Press
Dip your legs to a quarter squat, then quickly straighten your legs and drive the barbell vertically off your shoulders. Fully extend your ankles, knees, and hips while you drive the bar. Press the bar overhead while your feet return to the floor. Your arms should be behind your ears at the top of the rep, with your elbows locked.
There are different styles of the jerk, but the upper body mechanics are virtually the same in all of them. The push jerk is a jerk with no “footwork” that encourages you to focus on your bar path. It challenges your stability and forces you to keep the bar extra close.
Benefits of the Push Jerk
- Catching the bar without moving your feet works your balance and patience.
- Helps you be more comfortable dropping under a bar.
How to Do the Push Jerk
Bend your legs to a quarter squat for a dip and drive. Vertically drive the weight off your shoulders to a tall extension while simultaneously dropping under the barbell. Your arms should lock out in one smooth motion. After you secure the barbell, stand back up.
You have to move at your maximum speed during the jerk while maintaining perfect balance. For the most stable lift possible, nailing all the positions is a must. Add a pause to the important positions of the jerk to get consistent and comfortable while building strength.
Benefits of the Jerk with a Pause
- It trains patience in the jerk.
- Helps you generate the most power in the drive phase.
- Identifies weaknesses or imbalances in your technique.
How to Do the Jerk with a Pause
There are two places that you can pause in the jerk, at the bottom of the dip, or after you’ve caught it. Start with the barbell in the squat rack and take it to the front rack position.
To jerk with a paused dip, bend your legs to a quarter squat and hold it there for 2 or 3 seconds. Then, drive the barbell vertically off your shoulders. Avoid a “re-dip” or continuing to move downward after the pause.
To pause in the catch position, simply stop moving once you’ve locked your arms overhead. Try to be as rigid as possible before you recover.
The dip and drive are a crucial part of your jerk. A thorough drive can only take place if you dip properly. The better your dip, the better your drive. The best way to improve the quality and posture of your dip is to add some tempo. Controlling the dip helps you stay connected to the bar.
Benefits of the Jerk With Slow Dip
- Teaches greater acceleration on the way up in the jerk.
- Allows you to focus on your center of balance while you dip.
- Encourages you to stay patient and tight in your dip.
How to Do the Jerk With Slow Dip
Take your barbell to the front rack position. Stand on two straight legs with your upper back tight.
Dip your legs to a quarter squat position similar to the jerk, but do it slowly and controlled, taking three full seconds. At the bottom, reverse the motion as you normally would and perform your jerk of choice.
You have to drop underneath the barbell as fast as possible to catch it in the right spot. The tall jerk is a segmental jerk exercise where you eliminate the dip and focus on just catching the bar.
Benefits of the Tall Jerk
- Highlights the downward movement required in the jerk.
- Teaches you to move your feet as fast as possible.
- Locks in the correct posture of your upper body.
How to Do the Tall Jerk
Start with the barbell in the front rack position and stand on straight legs. Once set, simultaneously push the bar overhead with your arms while you split (or drop) your feet to your catch position. Don’t dip your knees at all — move from the starting posture to the catch position in an instant.
Another way to practice the tall jerk is by starting with the barbell above your head. For this variation, do a strict press and hold the barbell isometrically over your head. Then, finish pressing the bar overhead while splitting or spreading your feet.
The jerk balance is specially designed for improving your split jerk. The split is a sport-specific position, so if you haven’t practiced it before, it likely feels unfamiliar. The jerk balance is a great teaching tool for developing the unique footwork you need to jerk well.
Benefits of the Jerk Balance
- Makes you more comfortable in your split stance.
- Catching quickly strengthens your jerk recovery.
- Trains the consistency of your foot placement.
How to Do the Jerk Balance
To start, position your feet in a jerk split stance that’s slightly “shorter” than where you’d typically receive the bar. Stand on bent legs in the split with the bar in the front rack.
Once you’re set, do a dip and drive from this shortened split position. Catch the bar overhead while sliding your front leg out roughly an extra 10 to 12 inches. Recover as usual.
The success rate of your jerks depends on a patient and controlled recovery. This exercise lets you practice this part of the lift on its own to ensure you never miss a lift on competition day.
Benefits of the Jerk Recovery
- Helps you figure out what a balanced split position should be.
- It focuses on just the recovery for familiarity purposes.
- It strengthens your overhead stability.
How to do the Jerk Recovery
The jerk recovery has to be done out of a squat rack with adjustable safety bars. You can perform recoveries in a rack with a split, power, or squat stance.
Set the barbell high up in the safety arms at roughly the height it would be when you catch it in a real jerk. From there, assume your recovery stance underneath the barbell while it rests on the rack. Once set, push up against the bar and imitate finishing a real jerk.
The jerk recovery is an overload movement, so don’t be afraid to really push the weights you use.
At the end of the day, the best thing you can do to improve your jerk is simply jerking more. To get efficient, precise practice, you should jerk off blocks if you have them. Jerk blocks are large slabs of wood, steel, or foam that you can rest your barbell on around shoulder height
By working off blocks, you can simply let your barbell fall between reps and pick it back up when you’re ready to go again. If you practice your jerk out of a rack, you have to “catch” the barbell on your shoulders between every rep, which can sap you of energy over time.
Benefits of the Jerk from Blocks
- You don’t have to re-rack the weight on your shoulders between reps.
- You can practice your jerk without having to perform a clean first.
- Saves your leg strength by eliminating the clean or re-rack motion.
How to Do the Jerk from Blocks
You have to have a pair of blocks in the first place. If you do, ensure that they’re set at the appropriate height — a loaded barbell should rest at roughly chest height to begin the exercise.
Stand between the blocks to start and take the barbell to the front rack position. Perform your jerk of choice, and release the barbell from overhead back onto the blocks for the next rep. Keep your hands loosely on the bar as it falls in front of you.
Common Jerk Mistakes
Some coaches believe the jerk to be even more technically complex and demanding than the snatch. The movement has plenty of potential pitfalls that you should avoid if you want to improve your weightlifting.
Weak Overhead Stability
The jerk requires total-body strength. You may physically move the weight with your legs, but your arms and upper back have to be strong enough to catch it. If you can get the bar over your head but fail to stabilize it, your overhead stability might be underdeveloped.
In this case, you should add accessory exercises such as strict presses, push presses, and other shoulder work to your routine to power-up your delts.
Incorrect Dip and Drive Technique
The dip and drive is what makes or breaks your jerk. Even the smallest change in your positions or rhythm can greatly impact your power output.
Shifting your balance, losing tension in your back, or physically separating the barbell from your collarbones can all ruin the dip. If you want a perfect jerk, you have to start with a perfect dip-drive.
Poor Leg Drive
The drive phase uses the largest portion of your strength. To catch the bar high enough, your legs have to drive it to the right height. Whether it’s a technique or strength issue, your legs might simply lack the “juice” to elevate the bar adequately.
Being Too Far Behind (or Ahead of) the Bar
You have to stay with the bar and keep it close while it moves vertically (and slightly backward) off your shoulders. Any errant motion forward or backward while you dip can impact the path of your bar, causing it to end up in advance of, or behind, your midline.
A jerk that you catch out of alignment will be far harder to secure and stabilize than if you sent it straight upward.
Jerk Technique Tips
Before you get to work on your jerk technique, you should internalize these crucial technical elements. They may make the difference between a good lift or one gone wrong.
Use Your Legs
The jerk is (primarily) a leg exercise. Make sure to use your full leg power by driving the barbell as high as you can each and every time. Lower body strength usually outweighs upper body strength, so let your legs do the work.
Everything in the jerk happens fast, but patience is still a virtue — particularly in the dip. Complete the descent in a controlled manner, but accelerate hard on the way up.
Another critical place to practice patience is in the recovery. No matter which style of jerk you’re doing, take a beat to secure your balance before returning to a standing position.
Lock Your Elbows
For a jerk to be considered valid, your arms have to be locked when you catch the bar and stay that way until you bring your feet back together.
On the competition platform, any “pressing” motion during the catch or recovery will invalidate your attempt. As such, get in the habit of firmly locking your elbows any time you send a barbell overhead.
Lock It Up
Where there is a clean, there must always be a jerk (at least in competitions). Locking out a jerk overhead cements your placement in the rankings and also happens to be one of the most satisfying feelings in the sport of weightlifting.
Since the clean & jerk is made up of two distinct movements, there will always be debate about which of the two is the more difficult. Some argue that since the jerk is an overhead lift, it’s more complicated and difficult than the clean. Whether you agree or not, you should still strive to leave no doubt on the platform when you send your bar overhead.
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