The Jerk is F@#%ing Hard!

by coachdanbell

Clean? Tough. Snatch? Tougher, for sure. But the jerk? Now we are now talking about the most difficult feat in weightlifting. I know, I know, snatches drive a lot of lifters, especially newer lifters, batty. But the split jerk is as technically demanding as the snatch, maybe more so, and comes after a heavy-ass clean. It requires as much attention as the snatch.

Getting a good rack position and then learning to dip and drive properly is hard enough. (Check the last couple posts below) Now comes the mind-fuck: arms punch up, at the same time punching the hips down, and the feet move in opposite directions, perpendicular to the movement of the body. How do we coordinate all that? One piece at a time.

Let’s start with the feet. First, we do not jump into a split and land both feet at the same time. I know some coaches teach it that way. I do not, and for a very good reason: most of the best jerkers in the world land their back foot first. I consider that vital to the way I teach the jerk. So start by drawing a tic-tac-toe grid on the floor in chalk. Make a mark at your heel, the tip of your toe and the inside edge of your foot. Draw lines through those marks and you’ll end up with this:

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The squiggle in the middle is the “no-go” zone. I tell clinic attendees it’s a rattlesnake, so don’t step on it. That keeps the lifter from “tight-roping” the split.

Now you’re going to move your back foot first, lightly dragging your toe or ball of the foot–yes, keeping it in contact with the floor. You’ll land the ball of your foot just behind the heel line, dropping your hips as straight down as you can manage while doing so, landing the foot with a tight ankle, heel off the floor. Then step off from that anchored back foot and punch the front foot heel in front of the toe line. The whole thing should look like this:

Jerk Footwork Drill

That’s Kat Lee doing the drill. She’s doing pretty well for someone who’s been lifting for about three months. I recommend that you do this drill for ten reps, ten times per day, wherever you happen to be. (I’ve done it while standing in line at the grocery store. Check for onlookers before proceeding to kill time like this. Someone may call in a mental health professional) Do this for ten days in a row and this foot movement will start to become natural. That’s important, because you don’t want to be thinking about it when you move.

Now, what to do with the arms. Remember that good rack position we looked at last time, with the elbows down but still slightly forward of the wrists:

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We want the elbows in front of the wrists to encourage punching up and back, to the back of your head or back edge of your ears. In the following photos of Alexi Yufkin, mid-jerk, you’ll see that very good jerkers maintain that elbows-in-front position throughout most of the arm action in the jerk:

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When you do this with the back foot anchored, pushing back on the bar drives your torso forward and down, under the bar:

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Here’s a couple more pics illustrating this anchored-back-foot, punching-up-and-back, torso-driven-forward-and-down movement:

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In the photo above the lifter is picking up that front foot more than I’d like (keep it low and fast) but it’s a great illustration of the concept of getting the back foot down first.

I like to land the back foot first because the combined anchored back foot and fists-punching-back action puts the lifter in proper position under the bark automatically, rather than by an effort to “push the head through” that can lead to a forward lean and the bar too far behind the lifter. Punching to the back edge of the ears or back of the head emphasizes the drive of the hips and torso DOWN, not through, but still places the bar in the strongest position over the lifters shoulders.

Watch great split jerkers like Yufkin or Akkaev and you’ll see these principles in action. This is far from the last word on the jerk and I’m sure I’ll get a lot of questions. Fire away. Yeah, the jerk is f#$%ing hard. But when you hit a PR clean and nail the jerk, there are few better feelings in the world.

(Again, thanks to Nat Arem of Hookgrip for the use of his great photos)

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