Log Lift Champion Rob Kearney Breaks Down the Split Jerk

There’s no denying the fact that split jerking in a lot of cases can be considered a work of art. It requires perfectly dialed in concentration, coordination, balance, and strength to execute properly. This makes it one of the tougher lifts, but also the most rewarding.

If anyone understands earning a reward from a heavy split jerk it’s professional strongman Rob Kearney. He’s a 105kg competitor and log presses more than most professional heavyweight athletes. Check out his recent 207kg press below.

Is he an anomaly? Maybe. Yet, if you watch his perfectly executed split jerking technique, then it’s pretty easy to see he may be on to something.

The split jerk allows athletes to utilize their speed and momentum to move the bar – or log in this case – overhead. It also allows lifters to drop lower under the bar/log, which can earn even more poundage to a max. In fact, we’ve written on utilizing and understanding this topic before.

Michael Gill wrote a great article with pointers for strongman competitors interested in split jerking with a log and axle; check it out here.

In theory, split jerking seems to be the easy answer when it comes to moving more weight. The issue lies when you factor in an unbalanced log, which then makes the split jerk even tougher to perfectly execute. Below features Kearney taking first at the 2016 Log Lift World Championships this past May in Lithuania.

Log press split jerking isn’t terribly common in the strongman world, but should it be? To gain a better understanding on how to train and execute this underutilized method I reached out to Kearney himself.

1. When pressing the log, how did you decide that split jerking was best for you? Was it trial and error? A series of events?

I first learned how to split jerk with a barbell while training at a CrossFit Gym. I was never a good strict presser or push presser and my split jerk was always at least 50lbs heavier than those other lifts. So when making the transition to training strongman full time, it just seemed to make sense that I learn how to split jerk the log in order to become the best overhead athlete possible.

2. What are you methods for training the log split jerk? It’s obviously different than a barbell due to weight/balance/physics, so what steps do you take to prepare for it?

The biggest thing I see when athletes are not proficient in the jerk of a log, I notice their upper backs tend to be a weakness. Upper back strength is critical to being successful in split jerking the log. A lot of front squats helped build up my upper back strength as well as getting comfortable with the heavier weight on my chest.

Along with front squats, I like to do “touch and go” reps. So I will clean the log to my shoulders, split jerk the first rep, bring my feet back to parallel and then lower the log to my chest while simultaneously dipping and pre-loading for the next jerk. This engraves a perfect rack position on your shoulders as well as building the upper back strength necessary for the lift.

3. Besides being able to move more weight, are there any other pros to this style of lift? Can you train more often since you’re not grinding through a press?

I would say yes, to some extent. Training this style of log jerk definitely takes less effort on the pressing motion, but the jerk movement overall does take a lot of energy. I encourage anyone who uses this method in strongman to learn to use it under fatigue (especially when prepping for a contest).

4. Are there any cons someone should keep an eye out for with this style?

Biggest issue most novice athletes find when transitioning to this lift is anterior knee pain when performing the “dip” of the lift. Most people end up shooting their knees forward to initiate the dip of the jerk, when the athlete should focus on staying completely upright and moving their knees outward, just like the beginning of the squat.

Also, most athletes don’t realize how small the initial dip needs to be. All too often I see athletes performing a quarter squat when the weight gets heavy, which is completely counter productive. The initial dip should essentially be between 1-2 inches deep (just unlock your knees). Once the athlete gets comfortable with a smaller dip, they use less energy and can generate more force.

5. If an athlete is trying this movement for the first time, how would you advise starting to learn? At what point do you move from barbell to log and at what weight? Is there a ratio to bar:log weight you can use?

The first thing when learning the movement is getting comfortable moving your feet and dropping under the bar. For most athletes, dropping under the bar when getting it over your head is scary and a complete mind f*ck. Once the athlete gets comfortable moving their feet and finds their stance, you can begin loading the bar or log.

Youtube videos can be helpful, or hire an Olympic lifting coach to help learn the basics. The log and barbell jerks are two completely different movements, so there is no way to tell when to move from a barbell to a log. Jerking the log is harder because of the diameter of the log and your head positioning throughout the lift.

6. How often do you see your competitors using this style? Do you think more strongman athletes should?

This movement is certainly gaining popularity in the sport of strongman, and is used mainly at the lighter weight classes. The heavier guys are still resistant for some reason. While I understand it is difficult to learn and become proficient at, it really does make putting bigger weights overhead much easier.

The debate of “it’s not a press” really is complete bullsh*t because in strongman, it doesn’t matter how it gets overhead, it just has to get there. If the split jerk isn’t a press, then why allow any double knee bend in any press?

Log press split jerking isn’t incredibly common in strongman competition, but it’s gaining popularity. With athletes like Kearney crushing huge weight at lower bodyweights, then maybe we’ll see this method gain more momentum in the years to come.