Training the Jerk

Receiving position for the Jerk (side view)

The reality of the maximal Clean and Jerk

Imagine the situation of the elite Weightlifter attempting a maximal Clean and Jerk. The barbell weight might be as much as 80% of their best back squat, it’s horribly heavy to lift from the floor and if the athlete should successfully rack the bar on the shoulders in the bottom of the Clean, all out effort is required to stand up. At this point, a great deal of energy has been expended and the Jerk is still to go! It is an indescribable and desperate feeling standing there with an enormous weights sitting on the shoulders.

No matter how good the athlete, the dip and drive will elevate the bar at best to the top of the head at best and at worst maybe just to the eyebrows! To succeed, the athlete has only one option and that is to drop fast into low receiving position and prey for a lockout in both arms. Then, if a lockout occurs there is a monumental moment in which the structural integrity of the body has to resist the extreme downward pressure of the bar.

The reality of the maximal Clean & Jerk is that, for the duration of 10 seconds or more, it is sheer courage, hard work and commitment to fight to the bitter end.

Preparing for the final competition lift

Training is not simply the athlete’s day-to-day effort to complete the intensity and volume of work set by the program. Though it may never cross the athlete’s mind, training is about developing the ability to succeed with the final lift on the competition platform, the lift that is beyond heavy. To be a great lifter, it is a matter of succeeding in those moments when others fail. Yes, it’s a matter of developing technique and strength but training needs to be a rehearsal of how to deal with that ultimate lift, when all of the athlete’s tenacity is required.

It’s not good enough, therefore, to practise the Jerk in a way that will not be realistic with the ultimate lift. Here is what is not realistic for heavy Jerks:

  • Attempting to dip and drive harder or faster to make the bar rise higher.
  • Allowing the bar to fall before finishing the lift with the feet in line as required by competition rules.
  • Moving quickly out of the receiving position to recover to finishing position.
  • Practising the Jerk with anything less than the athlete’s very best lockout.
  • Failing to practise the depth of receiving position needed for maximal lifts.
Illustration of a low receiving position for the Jerk

As can be seen from the illustration above, maximal lifts often require low receiving positions to be successful. The illustration portrays a receiving position in which the femur of the front leg and the shin of the back leg are almost parallel to the ground. It pays therefore to practise such a position in Split Squats, Jerk Balances and Jerks to build capability for the ultimate lift.

Rehearsing for the ultimate lift

Let’s now try to envisage exactly what the athlete should regularly rehearse to be ready for the ultimate lift.

The athlete must:

  • ‘Fully commit’ to the movement. This commitment requires speed of movement
  • Perform the dip and drive without expectation that the bar will go any higher than the top of the head.
  • Perform the dip with the torso completely vertical
  • Practise dropping to a low depth as required for heavy weights.
  • Work to perfect the elbow lockout of the bar overhead. This includes specific training of the shoulders
  • The athlete must “stick” the receiving position, that is practise holding the receiving position completely still for 2-3 seconds, as the ultimate heavy weight cannot be rushed
  • Maintain structural integrity of the body to resist the downward pressure of the bar. Training the jerk is very much about this.
  • The athlete must practise slowly recovering to the receiving position and maintain control of balance until the referees’ down signal.

If practise of these aspects of performance is absent or substantially lacking, the athlete’s training is not preparing them for the ultimate maximal lift.

Don’t take short cuts

The common issue for athletes is that as they warm-up in the jerk taking successively higher weights, there is no practise of that final moment of intense pressure. As a result, warm-ups are characterised by an inadequate practise of the depth required for a maximal jerk, a lack of attention to structural integrity (perfecting receiving positions), and complete oblivion to the need for balance. This occurs because the weight is light and they can get away with any indiscretion. Then at the moment of near-maximal or maximal attempts when every aspect of technique is required, it has not been practised and is therefore undeliverable.

This concept of practising the skill that is needed at a maximal weight applies equally to the Snatch and the Clean. It is not a good strategy to practise one set of movement characteristics when weights are relatively easy and then to try to adopt a different set of movement characteristics when the weight is heavy.

A possible reason why athletes tend to take ‘short cuts’ in technique as they warm-up is that Weightlifting is so much a psychological sport. It is a natural disposition of the athlete to want every warm-up weight to feel as easy as possible.  Making a concerted effort to extend the time duration of the lift so as to practise receiving low positions, work on structural integrity and balance incurs an energy cost. As far as the athlete is concerned, this does not work towards making warm-ups feel as easy as possible. Therefore athletes tend to cut corners only to suffer the consequences of what they have not practised.