Split Jerk Technique Issues

Yanko Rusev was a master of the Jerk. He lifted 195kg at a bodyweight of 67.5 in 1980.
Figure 1: The Jerk performed by Yanko Rusev (Bulgaria)

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

Issue #1: The extreme heaviness of the barbell

Although Weightlifters are masters of ‘heaviness’, an exceptional performer in the Clean and Jerk will lift in excess of 80% of their best Back Squat. In addition to excellence of 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 with the weight overhead

If an athlete, for anatomical reasons, has a difficulty in maintaining an elbow lockout, then the likelihood of reduced performance potential in the Jerk increases significantly.

Overhead lockout issues are very often not a result of elbow anatomy but poor training of the shoulders. In particular, athletes are introduced to Olympic Weightlifting long after they have begun weight-training exercises such as Bench Press, Tricep Dips and Lat Pulldowns. The effect is that muscles that depress the shoulder are strong and tight whereas muscles that elevate the shoulder (such as the Trapezius) are weak. The athlete loses mobility in the shoulder and cannot achieve a lockout of the elbows as a result.

Issue #3: Maintaining balance and control of the weight overhead

Even when both elbows are locked out, the athlete will experience significant difficulty in maintaining balance and control of the weight overhead. This is a matter of physics. In the situation where the athlete has a barbell of twice bodyweight 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.

Illustration of balance issues in split jerk technique as a result of a high centre of mass.
Figure 2: The heavier the barbell the higher the combined centre of mass rises

Issue #4: Structural integrity of body in receiving position

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 weight of the bar toward the front of the base with hips are behind the bar and a pronounced forward lean of the torso. The greater the lean of the upper body, the more the athlete has to exert greater effort to resist being bowled over by the weight overhead.

Illustration of forward lean in split jerk technique.
Figure 3: Forward lean in the Split Jerk receiving position.

The receiving position as shown by Figure 3 above is very likely to result in forward movement of the bar as the athlete struggles with the receiving position. This occurs not only because the weight is distributed toward the front of the base of support, but also because there will be an uneven amount of force emanating from both legs. 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.

Stability in the split jerk technique requires keeping an equal amount of pressure on both feet.
Figure 4: Stability in the Split Jerk receiving position requires an equal amount of force from both legs.

Issue #5: Pelvic rotation

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 results in a hyper-extension of the lumbar spine, or Lordosis. Under heavy load (with a barbell overhead), it is ideal for the spinal shape to remain normal. Any adverse or exaggerated curvature of the spine increases the risk of injury. The cause of such pelvic rotation in the Jerk can be: (1) As a result of errors in the learning process for the Jerk Receiving position and/or (2) Tightness in hip flexors.  These issues are described later in this article.

Illustration of pelvic rotation in split jerk technique caused by a straight back leg
Figure 5: A straight back leg in the Split Jerk is associated with pelvic rotation and increased lumbar curvature

Coaching Advice

Balance and instability issues in the Split Jerk receiving position can largely be avoided if beginners thoroughly practise exercises such as Press in Split Position, Split Squats, and Jerk Balance before attempting to learn the Jerk. Attempts to learn the Jerk without such preliminary training are likely to result in poor receiving positions, and a lack of confidence in the Jerk. There is no advantage to the beginner at all in hastily learning the Jerk or in thinking that problems can be solved with strength.