3 Ways to Improve Your Jerk

There are a number of things that go into making a successful split jerk, arguably the most technical of the three lifts in weightlifting, but I’m going to highlight just three of them today – posture, rhythm, and foot movement. Over the past number of years coaching these lifts, I’ve found these to be very common errors, especially amongst more novice lifters:

 

1. Posture – the rule here is simple, your torso MUST remain vertical throughout the entirety of the dip and drive phase of the jerk. Shoulders stacked over hips and hips stacked over ankles as the body dips down and then back up is the most efficient manner to transfer power from your hips and legs up through the midline of the body and into the bar. We so often witness people shoot their hips back, no matter how slight the movement, which then causes the bar to go forward when they drive back up to put it overhead, causing them to leave the bar out front. That, or the elbows drop way down when they dip. In either case, when done with a lighter weight (sub maximal), we see one of the following happen: the athlete is typically strong enough to pull the bar back over the midline of the body after lockout OR rushing the recovery of the feet to “run underneath” the bar. Sometimes, both of these things happen. Remember, we want the bar to stay over the center of mass (mid-foot) during the dip/drive phase, and having vertical posture is the way to achieve this.
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As you can see, the two ladies on the end both had their hips shoot back rather than staying stacked. And even though the angle isn’t as good in the middle frame, the shoulders, hips, and ankles are all in line with each other.
2. Rhythm – like a well choreographed dance, the split jerk relies on your ability to be smooth during the dip/drive phase so as not to disrupt the connection between bar and body (rack position on the shoulders). As the weights get progressively heavier, we often see people either: cut their dip too short in an effort to “get under” the bar earlier OR they increase the depth of their dip because they want to “use more legs.” In both cases, they are doing precisely the opposite of what they think they’re doing. One reason a well executed dip/drive works is because of the power of the stretch shortening cycle. Without getting too science-y for you, think of your lower legs as rubber bands – when stretched to the proper length (i.e. your ideal dip position), they become very powerful when let go – aka when you drive back up. If you go too short or too long, you reduce the effectiveness of the stretch shortening cycle. If your dip/drive feels a little herky-jerky, segmented, or like the bar is crashing onto you when you dip, as opposed to nice and fluid and smooth, then your rhythm is likely off. Remember, the dip/drive functions to unweight the bar off your shoulders so you can push yourself underneath the bar. Here’s video of probably the best weightlifter in the world performing a perfectly rhythmic split jerk. Once he stands up and recovers from the clean, you can count the number of oscillations that the bar makes (three) before he begins the dip and drive. And he does this with EVERY SINGLE LIFT. Go ahead, check out some more…the number of oscillations is always three.

3. Foot Movement – keeping the bar over your center of mass is not only the most effective means for supporting the bar via being in a “stacked” position, it also helps massively with your balance. Improper foot placement can absolutely break a well postured and rhythmic jerk. More often than not, I see people shoot their back foot out way too far with a front foot that barely moves an inch. Since we want the bar to always be over our center of mass, then we need to be sure that both back and front foot move the same distance. In my earlier example of a front foot that barely moves, what we see there is someone who misses their split jerk out in front of them. The reason this happens is because they’ve put the vast majority of the load on their front foot, as opposed to being directly over their torso, or rather their center of mass. When is the last time you lost a split jerk behind you? Exactly.
As I mentioned above, poor foot placement can wreck and otherwise well executed jerk. Case in point, I missed this lift!
As I mentioned above, poor foot placement can wreck and otherwise well executed jerk. Case in point, I missed this lift!

As you can see in both cases, the front foot is much closer to the center line than the back foot, leaving the majority of the weight supported by the front foot.
As you can see in both cases, the front foot is much closer to the center line than the back foot, leaving the majority of the weight supported by the front foot.

I hope these three points have provided you with something that you can use to improve your split jerk. Just for fun, go back and watch the video of Ilya Iliyn again – watch how well he does all three things I discussed: posture, rhythm, and foot movement. If you have any questions please don’t hesitate to reach out. Good luck and happy lifting!
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