Learning the Technique of the Jerk – Key Objectives

Take a long term approach

It is important to take a long-term approach, from the very first moment that training begins, toward achieving positional correctness, speed of movement and total confidence in the Jerk. Coaches and athletes should understand that learning the technique of the Jerk is a process that should not be rushed. If technical errors accumulate early in the learning process, they are hard to correct later. For example, a beginner athlete may miss crucial steps that teach pelvic alignment in the Jerk. As a result the athlete acquires a receiving position with a straight back leg and significant hyper-extension in the lumbar spine. Any such deficiencies in the technique of the Jerk will significantly diminish the athlete’s long-term performance potential.

It is therefore recommended that coaches and athletes pursue the following teaching/learning objectives:

Step #1: Teach/learn the Split Squat

Split Squats (see Figure 1 below) are a crucial exercise that should be implemented at the first instance that there is any intention to learn the technique of the Jerk.

Illustration of the Split Squats exercise
Figure 1: Split Squats

There are three key learning objectives in performing the Split Squat:

Objective 1:The athlete develops strength and confidence to take weight on their ‘back leg’ while the knee is bent. In the initial stages of learning, it is often easier for the beginner to jerk with a straight back leg but if this is not corrected, it usually leads to significant issues in performing the good technique of the Jerk with limit weights.

Objective 2: The athlete learns to maintain pelvis in normal alignment (without forward tilt of the pelvis). This is greatly important in avoiding an awkward hyper-extension in the lumbar spine. Not only is the hyper-extension an injury risk but also it usually results in the hips being behind the bar, rather than directly beneath the bar. This make it hard to stabilise limit weight overhead.

Objective 3: The athlete learns to keep front shin completely vertical at all times in the split position. It is often necessary for a coach to use hands on coaching to physically prevent the knee going forward during the split squat movement. The athlete must be able to sense their shin being vertical and that is why the coach must assist.

The actual amount of downward movement of the body while performing the split squat need only be 10-15cm. There is no need to touch the back knee on the ground. However, as can be seen in Figure 1 above, the back knee should move vertical downwards. Importantly, the athlete should practise holding the low position for 2 seconds before rising. This is an important strategy for preparing athletes for limit weights in the years to come.

Step 2: Teach/learn the Jerk Balance

After the Split Squat has been practised for around 3 sessions and the learner is achieving the above objectives, the next step is to incorporate the Jerk Balance. This exercise is a progression of the Split Squat.

The Jerk Balance Exercise illustrated
Figure 2: Jerk Balance

The main difference is that instead of practising the split position with the bar on the shoulders, the learner raises the bar overhead with arms fully locked out. The starting position in the Jerk Balance is the same as the starting position for the Split Squat. To facilitate the movement of the bar from the shoulders to above the head, the athlete uses an upward push from the legs while the feet are in the split position. During the action of raising the bar from the shoulders to overhead, the athlete purposefully drives their front foot forwards 10-15 cm. After a 2 second pause in the receiving position, the bar is lowered again tom the shoulders and the front foot is retracted back to it starting point.

This exercise has the same learning objectives as the Split Squat but also two more:

Objective 4: The athlete demonstrates the ability to hold the bar directly above the head, and furthermore the bar, head, shoulders and hips should be in vertical alignment.

Objective 5: The athlete demonstrates the ability to rapidly move their front forwards, keeping the foot very close to the ground. A common error is that in moving their foot forwards, the athlete substantially raises the foot  (see Figure 3 below) and it travels in an arc instead of a straight line. This is detrimental to fast foot speed. In the example below (Figure 3), the athlete’s heel raises 17 cm which is is nearly as much as the foot moves forwards (18.5 cm).

High foot lift in moving the foot forward in the Jerk, is not good technique.
Figure 3: High foot lift in moving the foot forward in the Jerk, is not good technique.

Step #3: Teach/learn a smooth and vertical ‘dip and drive’

This step is about teaching the following two objectives:

Objective 6: The athlete learns to “dip” with a vertical torso. This can only be achieved if the knees travel forwards during the dip. It is unfortunately very common for athletes to demonstrate a forward ‘lean’ of the trunk during the dip and this results in forward movement of the bar which is very hard, if not impossible to deal with when the bar is a near limit weight.

Objective 7: The athlete learns to control the speed of the dip, keeping the chest up and spine braced. If the athlete dips too fast it is likely that at the instant there is a change of direction of the bar (from downward movement to upward movement), the athlete will lose postural control, the chest and elbows drop and the athlete ‘buckles”. If this happens, it would be usual for the Jerk to be unsuccessful. It is often the case that perceptions of barbell heaviness tend to cause athletes to lose composure in the dip, drop too fast and buckle.

The Dip and Drive phase of the Jerk
Figure 6: The upper body must stay perfectly upright (vertical) in the dip.

Step #4: Teach/learn rapid movement under the bar

This step is about ensuring that the athlete learns to rapidly move into the ‘split’ receiving position in a fast and efficient manner. This is a significant aspect of acquiring good technique of the Jerk. There should be a focus on moving feet very fast into the split position and it is necessary for the trajectory of the foot movement to be as close to the floor as possible. To achieve the learning of fast foot movement, it is necessary for the beginner athlete to practise with light weights.

Objective 8: The athlete understands the need to practise speed of movement, particularly foot movement, into the receiving position for the Jerk. The athlete should also be guided to appreciate that this speed of movement under the bar is a key factor for success in the jerk.

Step #5: Teach control and balance in the receiving position

Many, many Clean and Jerks are lost at the very last moment. The athlete appears to have succeeded only to rush the recovery and lose control of the weight. It should be appreciated that a maximally heavy weight overhead is a very difficult balance issue and athletes must practise control and balance in the receiving position at all training intensities.

Objective 9: The athlete practises a slow and controlled recovery from the receiving position to the finish position, moving their front foot first. This is a very important, often overlooked aspect of the technique of the jerk.