In This Article:
- The Components of the Jerk
- How to Split Jerk
- How to Push Jerk
- How to Squat Jerk
- How to Learn to Jerk with Progressions
- Common Faults and Corrections for the Jerk
- Additional CrossFit Resources for Learning How to Jerk
Simply put, the jerk is a movement in which an athlete lifts a barbell from the shoulders to overhead.
It is the final component of the clean and jerk, which is part of Olympic weightlifting. In addition to weightlifting competitions, the jerk is used in workouts at CrossFit affiliates around the world. Depending on weight lifted, rep ranges, and style used, the jerk is effective at building strength, muscular endurance, and cardiovascular health.
We’ll go over the three styles of the jerk in this article: the push (or power) jerk, the squat jerk, and the split jerk.
Head Coach of CrossFit Weightlifting Mike Burgener has a few sayings when it comes to winning a weightlifting competition: “Snatch what you can, clean and jerk what you must,” and “Work the snatches, WIN with the clean and jerk.” Even if you can clean the world, it will do you no good if you cannot put the weight overhead. In other words, the jerk can make or break your success in the sport of weightlifting. In Olympic lifting, the jerk is the final movement. The lifter must take the bar from their shoulders and put it overhead to successfully complete a clean and jerk. The jerk itself consists of a dip, a drive, and a punch to launch the bar up and body down to allow the athlete to receive the bar overhead. The lift finishes with a recovery where the athlete stands tall with their feet brought back in line.
For many athletes, the snatch and clean get the most attention because of the technical beauty of the snatch and the outright grit it takes to get under, and stand up, a heavy clean. As impressive as these two lifts are, in this article, we take a detailed look at the often forgotten jerk.
The components of the jerk can be broken down as follows:
The dip is a positioning movement that primes the body to vertically drive the bar overhead. The dip is straight, smooth, and short. With the bar on the shoulders in the front-rack position, the lifter must be diligent to not allow the bar to pull them forward as they dip. The lifter can counteract the bar’s pull in two ways: The first is by taking a big breath, filling the stomach with air to provide added support to the torso — think “breath and brace.” Second, the lifter can shift the weight back slightly to the mid-foot/heels just prior to dipping, creating a more balanced combined center of gravity with the barbell and body. To hear Coach Mike Burgener cue the dip for athletes training the jerk, watch this video on the CrossFit YouTube channel.
The drive phase is vertical and straight. The lifter should imagine there is a pane of glass directly in front of them. They dip behind the glass, drive vertically behind the glass, then break the glass with their chest as they drive through and under the bar. During the drive, maximum velocity is achieved by using the lower body to “jump” the barbell overhead and create a moment of weightlessness on the bar.
As the bar clears the face and head, the lifter moves their body through the frontal plane and punches their body down into a strong, stable, and controlled receiving position. It’s important to note that a seasoned lifter never thinks about pressing the bar up. They dip straight, drive straight, and punch their body down into the receiving position.
There are three distinct styles of the jerk: the push jerk (or power jerk), squat jerk and split jerk, each with their own specific receiving positions. The push jerk has the athlete move their feet from a hip-width position to a shoulder-width position as the athlete punches into a power position (i.e., hip crease above the knee) to receive the bar overhead. The footwork for the squat jerk mimics the movement in the power jerk except now the athlete finishes in a deep squat position with the bar overhead. Finally, in the split jerk, the athlete jumps the feet and drives into a lunge position as the bar moves overhead. No matter which style is used, the feet must be brought back in line underneath the lifter (a normal standing position) to recover and complete the lift.
The Split Jerk
The split jerk is by far the most common jerk used by weightlifters at national and international competitions. Due to the large area of the base (defined by the feet), the split jerk allows for a larger margin of error and provides more stability than the push jerk or squat jerk. The area of the base for an athlete in a split jerk has the feet as wide as in a squat, but with a much longer distance front to back than other jerk variations. This increased area of the base gives the lifter the ability to make adjustments overhead if they become unstable. The split jerk is an excellent option for all athletes to learn and a split jerk from behind the neck will oftentimes be the best choice for maximizing the weight put overhead from the shoulders.
Points of Performance in the Split Jerk
- Feet in the jumping/jerk position (i.e., hip-width).
- Bar is on the shelf of the shoulders being supported by the torso (Elbows down and out at around a 45-degree angle, or elbows up at a 90-degree angle — both are acceptable.)
- Full grip on the bar with hands relaxed. The hook grip is released while performing overhead movements.
- A balanced dip that is straight, smooth, and short. (Coach Burgener often uses the Navy SEAL adage “slow is smooth, and smooth is fast” to remind lifters not to rush through positions.)
- Quick change of direction into an aggressive, vertical drive to get the bar moving up and off the shoulders.
- Once the bar clears the face and is momentarily weightless, the lifter PUNCHES their body down into a solid “lunge” receiving position.
- The feet land at the same time as the arms lock the bar out overhead. (In the jerk, fast hands lead to fast feet.)
- Recover with the front foot taking a half step back first. Then bring the back foot in line with the front foot.
- Once feet are in line and the lifter has control of the weight overhead, the lift is complete.
- Weight on heel of lead leg and driving back.*
- Vertical shin or slightly back.
- Upright torso.
- Back knee slightly bent.
- Weight on ball of the back foot driving forward, heel off the platform. *Both feet can be slightly turned in.
The Push (or Power) Jerk*
In the push jerk, the athlete dips, drives, and punches their body into a parallel or above parallel squat stance as they receive the barbell overhead. The push jerk, a movement performed in the Jerk Skill Transfer Exercises, trains an aggressive drive because the bar needs to be driven higher to achieve lockout overhead. The push jerk can be a good option for lifters who are able to drive the bar high and maintain a stable overhead position. As an aside, during a metabolic-conditioning workout, CrossFit athletes often perform a push jerk without moving their feet. This allows for cycling the barbell quickly from the shoulders to overhead when speed is a priority.
*Note: Coach Burgener and CrossFit Weightlifting differentiate between a power jerk and push jerk in terms of the footwork, with a power jerk including movement of the feet from hip width to shoulder width as the bar moves overhead, but no movement of the feet in the push jerk. In general in CrossFit, the push jerk and power jerk are synonymous and movement of the feet is specific to the context and individual preference.
The Squat Jerk
In the squat jerk, the athlete dips, drives, and punches their body into a full-depth squat, as they receive the barbell overhead. The main advantage of the squat jerk over other jerk variations is that the squat jerk requires less elevation of the bar in the drive phase. However, because the squat jerk necessitates that the lifter hold the bar overhead in a deep squat with a relatively narrow grip on the bar (as compared to a snatch), this lift requires significantly more mobility than other types of jerks. The squat jerk is an extremely precise movement as the bar must stay within the area of the base defined by the feet. If the bar moves outside of the feet, the athlete will be unable to stabilize the heavy weight overhead and recover from the lift. The recovery of the lift is in essence a pause, narrow-grip overhead squat, immediately following a heavy clean. These factors make the squat jerk a technically challenging movement. The squat jerk is a good option for lifters who possess above-average mobility, technical precision, and leg strength.
Jerk Skill Transfer Exercises
- Push Press Behind the Neck
- Push Jerk Behind the Neck
- Split Jerk Behind the Neck
- Push Press
- Push Jerk
- Split Jerk
From there, we use a handful of other assistance and accessory drills to dial in technical efficiency:
- Pause Dips
- Heavy Dip + Drive
- Tall Jerks
- Jerk Balance
- Press in Split
Common Faults and Corrections for the Jerk
Common Fault #1: The lifter presses the bar out to complete the lift.
- Improper or weak dip and drive.
- Lifter does not punch the body down.
- Slow hands/bad timing.
One of the most common errors seen at the beginning to intermediate level is a press out to finish the jerk. Not only does this not qualify as a successful lift in competition, it’s extremely inefficient. If a new athlete doesn’t understand the concept or sequencing of an aggressive drive, they are likely to cut the drive short, which limits the velocity and elevation of the bar, resulting in a press out. When a lifter receives the bar in a jerk, the arms should lock out at the same time the feet hit the ground. If the lifter doesn’t understand how to “punch” the body down or has a weak lockout, similar to slow turnover in the snatch, the feet will hit first, and the arms will follow, causing a press out. Effective cues to address a press-out fault are “fast hands, fast feet,” “PUNCH!” and “jump the bar up.”
Jerk Dip and Drive: Performing just a dip and drive takes footwork and receiving the barbell out of the equation. The movement helps strengthen the dip position and trains an explosive and aggressive transition into the drive. The dip and drive can be done with bands as well.
Tall Jerk: Performing a tall jerk is the sister movement to the jerk dip and drive. It takes the dip and drive out of the movement and focuses on punching the body down, footwork, and the receiving position. There are a few variations to the tall jerk but all are partial movements to the jerk that help develop aggressiveness, timing, and accuracy in the jerk.
Common Fault #2: The lifter drives the barbell out front.
- Dipping forward.
- Driving the body away from the bar.
- Dropping the elbows during the dip.
The two most common errors for why a lifter misses a jerk out front are:
- The athlete dipping with the weight on the toes, which causes the torso to pitch forward.
- The athlete driving their body back away from the bar, instead of through the frontal plane.
Maintaining balance in the dip is absolutely critical. A great sequence that we teach to fix a forward lean in the dip is “breath and brace, shift, dip.” Breathing and bracing gets the athlete set and stable, shifting the weight back to their heels helps maintain balance, and dipping straight and smooth sets the athlete up for a nice vertical drive.
Pause Dip Jerks: Performing a jerk with a pause at the bottom of the dip is a great drill to teach balance and posture in the dip.
Jerk Balance: The jerk balance is a training exercise used to teach an athlete how to drive through and under the jerk. In essence, it’s a split jerk with the back foot in place. It’s also effective in teaching how to lead with the front foot, while maintaining an upright torso.
While traditionally done with a barbell, jerks can also be performed with dumbbells (watch this movement tutorial for The Dumbbell Push Jerk) or kettlebells (learn more in our article Double-Kettebell Push Press and Jerk, or download the original CrossFit Journal PDF.)
To learn more about the jerk and other Olympic weightlifting movements like the snatch and clean, find a CrossFit Weightlifting course near you or seek out a local CrossFit gym and work with a credentialed coach.