PR Clean? No Jerk = No Lift
Far too many lifters walk away from a PR clean shaking their heads because they missed the jerk. They know deep in their hearts that until the jerk is dropped from weightlifting competition, they haven’t done anything to brag about. The jerk gives a lot of lifters fits for good reason: it is every bit as technically demanding as the snatch, but the technique of the jerk is usually given much less attention. I’ll try to fix that in the next couple posts.
Let’s start with the jerk drive. You probably know most of the standard cues for the dip and drive: bar set deep, behind your front delts, on your collar bone; chest up; weight on your heels; elbows down; etc. The goal is to get the bar to move straight down and drive straight up, or, ideally, back a little bit. A detail too often missed that I’d like to address is the depth of the dip and its effect on the drive. But a little digression is in order, first.
The quality of weightlifting bars is sometimes a hot topic of discussion among lifters and coaches. Experienced lifters know the feel of good “whip” in a bar. They can feel it coming out of a clean or the bottom of an ass-to-grass squat. Very good lifters can tell in the clean, how the sudden acceleration of the center of the bar at the top of the pull causes the bar to “jump” up the front of the body. There is good reason that people like Glenn Pendlay put so much thought and research into getting the whip of the bar just right. (Pendlay bars) But using those elite bars properly in the jerk is an art not often taught.
So how in the hell does this relate to the depth of the dip in the jerk? Stay with me. There are two ways of thinking of the jerk: you can launch the weight up or let the bar react off of you. I prefer the second. I can tell when a lifter is trying to do the first. They either think a deeper dip will help them get more legs in the jerk drive or instinctively dip deeper when they are trying to get more drive on the bar. There are a few ways this can hurt you. First is the deteriorating mechanical leverage you have as you dip. The more acute the joint angle at the knee and hip, the weaker you become. The deeper you dip, the more acute these angles become. That makes it harder to turn the bar around fast at the bottom of the dip, which equals slow turnaround. And as we all know, slow is bad. Second, the deeper you dip, the greater the tendency to let the hips slide forward and get the weight too far to the front of the foot. The bar drops forward and down, then goes more forward and up, the bar path looking much like a check-mark. Finally, and I think most important, the slow, weak turnaround at the bottom of such a dip does not allow you to get the proper bar reaction, thus destroying the timing going under the bar. The lifter is forced to drive up too long and drive down under the bar too late.
Here is a still taken from a familiar Youtube video of Alexi Yufkin. He takes a short dip, gets good bar reaction and nails the jerk:
(Here’s the original video)
The short dip allows him to stop suddenly and instantly turn around the center of the bar, the bar bending around his shoulders and jumping off of him as it straightens out. This enables him to finish his jerk drive nearly flat-footed and begin driving under the bar. He does not waste time adding more upward drive to the bar because it has used his body as a base to react against and launch itself off of him. I consider this perfect timing.
Here is another still from the man I consider to be the best jerker in the world, Khadzhimurat Akkaev, at the bottom of his jerk dip:
The bar is wrapping around Akkaev as if dropped on top of a concrete column. His short dip allows him to hold a strong position at the bottom of the dip, keeping the bar over the middle to back half of his base.
As in the snatch or clean pull, the jerk drive is finished when the hips are finished. That means no driving high onto the balls of the feet before you begin driving your body down. In the still below, from the same video of Yufkin, you can see his right leg is blurred. That is because it is beginning to move backward. Notice that his left heel is barely off the floor, if at all. He has finished the jerk drive and is transitioning DOWN.
Same thing below. Akkaeve is done driving the bar and his left foot is blurred, beginning to move backward. His hips are done driving and he is transitioning DOWN, but his heels are barely off the floor.
So, a short dip that uses the whip of the bar to launch it off of your shoulders, a short drive that ends when the hip is finished and rapid transition under the bar. If you get the jerk dip and drive right, the rest of the jerk is a lot easier to master. And as long as Pendlay and Eleiko and Usaka, et al are going to put so much work into making elite level bars, a smart lifter will use that to his or her advantage. And last I checked, no one uses $70 bars at national and international meets–not unless they want 200+ muscled-up men and women chasing them through the streets.