Why You Can’t Split Jerk – And What To Do About It
Written By: Josh Daniel, Head Coach
Are you someone who, when you attempt a split jerk, it turns into more of a push press that you lose your balance on, leaving you scrambling to get your feet back together? If so, I have some bad news – the split jerk is extremely technical, and is possibly the most under coached movement in weightlifting. The good news is that you can fix it! More bad news, though – it’s not going to be fixed immediately with some magic cue. You are going to have to go back and retrain your body on how to effectively get weight overhead.
When considering how athletes get weight overhead, methods fall on a spectrum. On one end of the spectrum is pure strength and on the other is the ability to use muscle elasticity to set the bar into upward motion. To figure out which end of the spectrum your body favors, stand near a wall that is painted a dark color. Dip your fingertips into some chalk and face the wall. Do a full depth squat and explode out of the squat, jumping as high as you possibly can. At the peak of your jump, reach up and touch your chalked hand to the wall. This should leave a few chalk finger marks. Re-chalk and repeat. After you have done that, scoot about a foot or two down the wall and chalk your fingers up again. This time, rather than doing a full squat, you will do more of a jump rope jump. Load your hamstrings and send your hips slightly back and explode up jumping as high as possible. Slap your chalked hand against the wall at the peak of your jump. Once again, re-chalk and repeat. Now take a step back and compare the height of the chalk marks. If the marks from the full squat- jump are higher, you are a strength jerker. If the marks from the short dip-jump are higher, you are an elastic jerker. A strength jerker is going to be someone who relies on increased muscle contraction over a longer period to get momentum on the bar for their jerk. This type of person will need a lower dip and a longer drive out of the bottom of their jerk dip. For the person who got higher with the short, springy jump, a shorter dip and faster turnaround into the drive will be more beneficial, and will allow the athlete to get the maximum amount of upward momentum on the bar. Keep in mind that what I’ve described is two opposite ends of a spectrum; you may not be entirely one or the other. However, if you are someone with a really fast and shallow dip, and you found that your chalk lines on the squat-jump were higher, then you will likely want to start working on your jerks with a deeper dip.
Now that you know your most optimal dip depth, it is time to start drilling your nervous system to maximize your ability to move weight from that new position with ideal turnaround speed. Start by doing push presses at the new depth. The push press requires similar movement to put momentum on the bar, but with a more prolonged drive into the bar at the end of the press. Once you have developed a feel for your new dip depth and turnaround speed with the push press, try some pause jerks, using a weight that is well under your one rep max. To do a pause jerk, load the bar into front rack and dip down to your new depth, pausing at the bottom of the dip for a moment before changing direction to drive the bar back up into the jerk. Another movement that will help train your body for your new jerk style is jerk drives. Load a barbell with a weight relatively close to your one rep max. With the bar in the front rack position, dip into the bottom of your dip and drive out forcefully putting as much momentum on the bar as possible. Reach full hip extension at the top of the drive, but do not follow through with the arms. Let the bar fall back down and land back in the front rack; load up and go straight into the next rep. This drill is great for teaching your body to get the maximum amount of force into the bar to drive it up into a push press or jerk. Lastly, back squat jumps are a great tool for developing the power needed to set a bar in motion. Back squat jumps will be done at a low weight, 20-25% of your one rep max. With the bar in back rack, squat to the bottom of a back squat and stand up forcefully. Continue driving up at the top and jump off the ground. The goal is to begin moving the bar at the bottom and continue accelerating the bar until you reach the top of your stance and follow through pushing into the bar until you jump off of the ground.
Now that you have the skills needed to improve your ability to set the bar in motion to get it overhead as efficiently as possible, it’s time to dial in the press and footwork. The press is simple. For elastic jerkers, the press will begin during the drive. Strength jerkers will begin pressing the bar after they’ve reached full hip extension. Play around with pressing. If you have begun using a shorter dip, try pressing a little earlier than you are used to. If you are a strength jerker with a long dip, wait a little longer than you are used to and press after you reach the top of your extension, focusing more on pressing yourself back down under the bar rather than pushing the bar up. This will give you more time to get your feet set under you before the weight of the barbell drives your feet back into a grounded position.
Two things will need to be developed for footwork in the jerk: foot placement and speed. The jerk balance is a great drill to work on both of these. It can be done at a light weight and should be used regularly in warm ups on days you plan to split jerk. To do a jerk balance, hold the bar in front rack and set your feet in the landing position for your split jerk. Take a slight dip and drive the bar to overhead without letting your feet move. If you struggle with your front foot landing in the same spot on every jerk, modify this exercise by starting with your front foot slightly behind where you want it to finish. Drive the bar up and set your front foot forward into the desired landing position. If you have good footwork but are struggling with balance when you catch the bar, doing split squats will help develop balance and comfort in the catching. You can also try doing split jerks, holding at the top of each rep for 3 to 5 seconds before recovering. That usually requires your body to make some minor adjustments that will put your feet into an ideal position at the bottom of the split. Lastly, work on tall jerks with very light weight to develop the speed needed to get under your jerk quickly. Start with the bar held in front rack, standing on the balls of your feet with an upright chest. With no dip, punch the bar to the roof and push yourself quickly under the bar. This is a great final touch to master feet placement after you have developed the dip, drive, and balance needed to catch your jerk in the proper position.
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