Key Issues of Jerk Technique

Yanko Rusev (Bulgaria) performs the Clean & Jerk
Figure 1: Yanko Rusev (Bulgaria).

This article focuses on Jerk technique, the second part of the competition movement known as the Clean and Jerk. In particular, the article discusses the conventional technique of the ‘Split Jerk’ which is employed by the vast majority of Weightlifters worldwide. While the author acknowledges that World Champions have used the ‘Power Jerk’ or ‘Squat Jerk’ techniques, the Split Jerk technique is recommended as the most effective and the safest.

From this point on, the Split Jerk technique will be referred to simply as “The Jerk”

Key Issues of Jerk Technique

The Jerk is a highly complex movement that many athletes in Weightlifting find harder to master than the Snatch. In the Jerk, athletes must overcome several key issues if they are to become good exponents of the lift. These key issues are:

Issue 1: The extreme heaviness of the barbell.

Exceptional performers in the Clean and Jerk will lift in excess of 80% of their best Back Squat. In addition to excellence of Jerk technique, the athlete will need great courage, will power and tenacity to complete a Clean and Jerk that is near to the limit of their strength capacity.

Issue 2: Achieving and maintaining a lockout of the elbows

If an athlete, for anatomical reasons, has a difficulty in maintaining an elbow lockout when the weight is overhead, then there is a likelihood that the performance potential of the athlete in the Jerk will be significantly reduced. Anatomical reasons include not only elbow extension but commonly shoulder inflexibility as a result of non-Weightlifting specific shoulder exercises.

Issue 3: Balance and stability

Even when both elbows are locked out, the athlete will experience significant difficulty in maintaining balance and control of the weight overhead. In the situation where the athlete has a barbell of twice body weight overhead, the combined centre of mass (of the barbell and lifter) will be situated at approximately neck height or higher (see figure 2 below). The higher the combined centre of mass, the greater the balance problem.

Combined Centre of Mass in Jerk Technique
Figure 2

Balance and Stability

The Jerk is a movement that is unforgiving of any weakness in the position of the body in the receiving position. An athlete may elevate the bar high enough, and have sufficient lockout strength in the arms, but if the rest of the body is not positioned correctly to support the bar, then the lift is likely to be lost. A common receiving position error as depicted by Figure 3 below, shows the athlete with a straight back leg, anterior pelvic tilt and a pronounced forward lean of the torso. As a result, the hips are clearly behind the bar and the weight of the bar toward the front of the base. These factors will cause the athlete to have significant difficulty in maintaining balance and stability of the bar overhead.

Forward Jerk Receiving Position Error
Figure 3

The receiving position as shown by Figure 3 also results in an unequal distribution of weight on both feet and a reasonable possibility of the back foot slipping.

The ideal situation as depicted by Figure 4 below, is a weight distribution over the centre of the base, and equal amount of force derived from each leg, and an equal amount of pressure through each foot.

It is important to have an equal amount of weight distribution on both feet.
Figure 4

Pelvic Alignment

Another all too common issue in the Jerk is pelvic rotation as depicted in Figure 5 below. Rotation of the pelvis in a forward direction necessitates hyper-extension of the lumbar spine to enable the athlete to stay upright. Any adverse or exaggerated curvature of the spine increases the risk of injury under heavy load. Anterior pelvic rotation will also exacerbate the balance and stability of the athlete when the bar the bar is overhead. For these reasons, it is a very high priority for beginners in Weightlifting to engage in exercises and skill drills that focus on awareness and control of pelvic alignment.

A straight back leg in the jerk is associated with pelvic rotation and increased lumbar curvature
Figure 5

As displayed in Figure 5, a straight back leg in the Jerk receiving position is a common cause of pelvic rotation. Few individuals will have sufficient range of motion in the hip to allow backward movement of the femur without some rotation of the pelvis. It is for this reason that beginners must be given considerable work to develop a split receiving position with the knee of the back leg well bent and femur more vertical. It is initially a difficult task for beginners but the reward in terms of position and stability in the Jerk make the effort totally worthwhile.

Learning Pelvic Stability in the Jerk

A skill drill as depicted in Figure 6 is a safe place to start teaching pelvic alignment.

A simple skill drill to start the beginner's learning of control of pelvic alignment in the split receiving position of teh Jerk.
Figure 6

Other exercises that should be prominent in the beginner’s program include:

It is important to take a long-term approach, from the very first moment that training begins, toward achieving total confidence and positional correctness in Jerk technique. Coaches should understand that the skill learning process should not be rushed. Errors that accumulate early in the learning process are hard to correct later. It is unfortunate that beginning athletes can often succeed with Jerks despite poor technique but as the athlete progresses to higher levels of qualification, the special issues described above will undoubtedly diminish the athlete’s performance potential unless appropriate attention is given.