The Jerk

Helpful tips from CrossFit 7220’s Olympic Lifting Trainer Coach, Don Robbins.

1.  The Rack

The arms are far too weak to support the weight that is to be jerked.  The bar must be positioned well back and on top of the shoulders and clavicles. In fact, the bar actually presses into the front of the throat, and you might notice that your sternocleidomastoid muscles get sore from muscular exertion after doing jerks.  The idea here is that the bar should rest on top of the spine in order to minimize the torque that the bar applies to the spine.  Of course, it is impossible to actually center the bar over the spine, but we try to get the bar back as far as possible without cutting off our breathing.

In most people, shoulder flexibility is the limiting factor in trying to achieve a strong rack position.  The hands should not grip the bar tightly since this will cause the elbows to drop and the weight to be pulled forward and off of the shoulder platform.  Instead, the hands should only loosely grip the bar or even be open with only the fingers touching the bar (not the palms).  The idea here is to keep the elbows high and the bar resting on the shoulder platform.

2.   Torso Rigidity

Throughout the dip and the drive, your torso must remain completely rigid and completely vertical to provide a solid foundation for transferring leg drive to the bar.  Any deviation from a completely rigid and completely vertical torso will result in a loss of power that is transferred to the bar.   Visualize – your torso is a thick, rigid, completely vertical, telephone pole that the bar is resting on.  Torso rigidity is maintained by engaging all of its supporting muscles and by using hydraulics (taking and holding a breath to pressurize your torso).   Especially important are the supporting muscles of the upper back, i.e., those muscles that can put backward curvature in your upper back and prevent the upper back from rounding forward and letting the weight slip off of the shoulder platform.

The torso must remain completely vertical (no leaning forward) during the dip and the drive.  Any buckling of the torso or forward inclination of the torso will result in a loss of power that is transferred to the bar.  Throughout the dip and the drive, the weight is positioned over the heels, not the balls of the feet.

3.  The Dip

During the dip, the torso must remain completely rigid and completely vertical and the weight must be kept centered over the heels; consequently, the dip must occur by bending the knees, not flexing the hip joint.  The dip should be shallowIf the torso is correctly kept vertical and the dip is performed by bending the knees (not flexing the hip joint) and the weight is positioned over the heels, then you can only dip a short distance before you reach the point of diminishing return (you quickly lose mechanical advantage).  Throughout the dip and the drive, the weight is positioned over the heels, not the balls of the feet.

Aside:  I see many of you that are dipping all the way to the level of a quarter squat or even lower.  This depth is only possible if you incorrectly flex at the hips, allow your torso to lean forward, and allow your weight to shift to the balls of your feet.

In the jerk dip and drive, we use the stretch reflex to its full advantage.  The shallow dip should be performed as fast as possible, but without losing contact with the bar.  So, you cannot dip any faster than the rate that gravity causes the bar to fall.  In order to make maximum use of the stretch reflex, you have to dip rapidly, but the muscle stretching (quads and glutes) must occur under tension, so the dip is a controlled, fast dip with tension in the quads and with all the torso supporting muscles engaged.  When we hit the bottom of the dip, the legs fire immediately and violently, driving the rigid, pressurized torso vertically into the bar.  Visualize – you are attempting “to bend the bar” when you hit the bottom of the dip and initiate the jerk drive.

4.  The Drive

The dip is arrested and reversed by explosive contraction of the quads.  The drive must be completely vertical.  The legs drive the rigid vertical torso upwards into the bar.   Actually, it is OK for the drive to be very slightly backward, but never slightly forward.  Almost all missed jerks are lost forward, not backward.  One of the primary causes of a forward miss is a jerk drive that is slightly forward of completely vertical.  The drive should result in complete vertical extension.

5.  The Finish

As the lifter is hitting maximum vertical extension, the arms and shoulders finally come into play by driving the lifter straight down under the bar.  Here we have to mentally commit to the idea that we will drive ourselves downward to “whatever depth is necessary” in order to get a complete, snappy lockout underneath the weight (easier said than done).  If we are unable to achieve this level of commitment/confidence, then the jerk usually fails because of one of two reasons:  1) the lifter simply fails to drive himself low enough to achieve lockout, or  2) the lifter drives himself slightly backwards instead of straight down (much safer to bail out from the lift that he already anticipates missing).

Note that it is possible to miss a jerk simply because the lifter does not drive the weight high enough off the shoulders (especially after fatigue from a really hard clean), but it is far more common for the jerk to be missed due to lack of commitment (i.e., not wanting to put yourself in harm’s way) even though the bar is actually driven high enough off the shoulders.

Putting it all together with Visualization:

After standing up from the clean, here is the sequence of visualizations and focus concepts that I use for the jerk.  These work well for me, but you may have to develop your own visualizations and focus concepts that work best for you.

Setting up for the dip and drive….    be the “Telephone Pole”

  1. Stand up tall and erect with the racked bar, and try to make it feel light.
  2. Rock backward and make sure the weight passes through your heels, not the balls of your feet.
  3. One last quick attempt to remove any doubt and mentally commit to making the lift.
  4. Take in a breath and use all of the torso supporting muscles to hydraulically pressurize my torso.

 Dip and Drive…   attempt to “Bend the Bar”

  1. Keep the torso completely rigid and completely vertical while making a relatively shallow dip with your weight maintained on my heels.
  2. Explode with quads (enough to bend the bar), and follow thru with complete vertical extension

 FINISH…   “commit to putting yourself under the weight”

  1. Drive yourself straight under the weight to whatever depth is required to achieve a complete and snappy lockout under the weight.