Rethinking Overhead: How to Fix a Stalled Split Jerk

Over the years I’ve found that athletes either love the split jerk or they hate it. There is no middle ground. Regardless of which side you fall on it’s a necessity in weightlifting and for most, always a work in progress. The following will break down a few ways to bring life back into your split jerk if and when it stalls.

1. Find the root of the problem

In my personal experience, I’ve seen both coaches and athletes that often look at the end result instead of addressing the initial problem that caused it. This is an easy category to fall in as the end result is the easiest to see and feel.

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For me, the hardest habit to break was finishing the jerk with a straight back leg instead of a bent back knee, and it was causing me to miss a lot of lifts. I was told this repeatedly by many different people, so I worked hard to add a bend in my back leg. The problem was as the weight got heavier, I was still reverting back to the straight back leg. When it came down to it, the back leg was the result of the problem, not the cause. As the weight gets heavier, I have a tendency to dip/drive the weight forward causing the weight to be out front on me. The straight leg is a result of that mistake, as I would try to lean into the lift to make the forward jerk.

Simple fix? No, not really, but I have a better chance of fixing the end result if I address the problem that caused it first.

2. Break it down

Once you find the initial problem, break it down into steps to fix it. No two athletes are exactly alike, so I don’t expect yours to be the same as mine, but it’s easiest to use myself as the example. My coach, Cara Heads Slaughter, used multiple different angles to address my problems with the dip and drive. We worked a lot on footwork drills to get comfortable with the finish position.

It’s hard to rewrite a motor pattern, so using different drills to constantly get your body to relearn where it wants to be when you split jerk is another way to get reps in. We used Drop to Splits and Jerk Recoveries to overload the weight of the jerk, but with correct ending positions. She also used Jerk Dips with a pause and Jerk Drives to practice meeting the correct positions.

Power Jerks to work on a straight drive and Behind the Neck Jerks were also programmed to help the transition into a full lift without negotiating the movement of the head. Of course, we also split jerked to tie it all together.

3. Stability/Strength/Comfort

Another consideration for the split jerk is if the root of the problem is related to stability, strength, or comfort. If the problem is overhead stability, address these using jerk recoveries, overhead holds, or any exercise that makes the core stabilize while maintaining weight overhead. If the issue is purely strength related, exercises could be as simple as a military press, push press, or if you want to change it up try press in split and push press in the split position.

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These can both be used as a warm up or primer for the split jerk, or they can be done heavier for strength work. I like them just to change things up some, and they also give you more time to get comfortable in that split stance. The problem could also be comfort in the split jerk. This could be addressed with mobility work if mobility is the issue, or as simple as moving the width of the grip in or out to allow for a more optimal position. The same position and corrections won’t work for everyone so take the time to try a few different things and see what works best for the current situation, but more importantly set up a game plan to work for the long run. If you need a wider grip to get the correct rack position or overhead position, then set up a mobility program to allow for a more appropriate grip.

4. Time

The biggest thing is to give yourself a little time. Permanent corrections won’t be made overnight, and in my case, the corrections I made also took extra time to work in a pressure situation on the platform. When the lights came on, I would revert back to what I was most comfortable doing, but as I got more reps in with Cara doing it correctly and at heavier and heavier loads, I began to trust those new positions and was able to call on them when I needed them. Bad habits, especially in intermediate and experienced lifters, are hard to break.

It’s always easier to create good habits in the early learning stages than to make corrections in athletes later on, but sometimes you aren’t given the option.

First, find the root of the problem and address it from multiple angles. There’s no magic solution for an athlete, so find what seems to be working and focus on that. After that point, give the athlete time to get the repetitions in and make the changes. Consistent reinforcement is key. If you can’t be there to watch every rep, have the athlete film the lifts and watch them back between sets. If they are reverting back to old patterns, repeat or lower the weight to something they can maintain that day. You want to have your body revert to the new patterns when the time comes so don’t allow it to use the old ones.

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

Featured image: @velagic.almir on Instagram