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The Power of Progression, Part 1: Push Jerk

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ByCrossFitSeptember 15, 2019

High-level CrossFit trainers consistently use movement progressions to break down a complex movement into more manageable pieces. These pieces act as building blocks for the critical skills needed to successfully execute the full movement.

In the end, the goal of any progression should be to reduce the time taken to reach proficiency. By taking a deliberately incremental approach, a progression simplifies and allows for focus on one or two critical elements of the full movement. This accelerates the learning process by drilling and building upon correct execution of the primary points of performance. A good progression allows an athlete to develop the full movement more quickly, which in turn allows for more quality, full repetitions and creates a positive feedback loop.

The PUSH JERK progression uses three introductory steps before the athlete experiences the full movement:

  1. Jump and land with hands at side
  2. Jump and land with hands at the rack
  3. Jump, punch, and land
  4. Push jerk (no load/PVC pipe)

Each piece of the progression should serve two purposes: to simplify the full movement and focus the athlete on one or two of the movement’s critical elements.

For example, the action of the hips during the push jerk is as follows: Begin extended, flex during the dip, rapidly extend to drive the bar overhead, quickly flex to retreat under the bar, then extend one final time to lock out the lift. At best, an athlete focusing on the totality of this complex and lengthy explanation is likely to miss the timing of the lift. At worst, the athlete may become overwhelmed and frustrated, further convinced that the movement is unapproachable.

To combat this, the trainer’s job is to distill the movement to its essence — simply jumping and landing (Jump and land with hands at side) will accomplish the same gross motor pattern as the lengthy explanation above with less opportunity for information overload. Once the basic movement pattern of jumping and landing is comfortable for the athlete, the trainer can refine the athlete’s movement by focusing attention on fully extending the hips and legs before landing (i.e., “Make your body completely straight before you land”).

For the next step, the hands are brought to the rack and the athlete practices the same basic skill of jumping and landing (Jump and land with hands at the rack). Since we’ve already drilled the gross movement pattern of the hips and the concept of full extension, the focus for this step can be attention to the correct rack position and practice on the depth and position of the dip — i.e., the torso should drop straight down and the dip should not be too deep.

Third, the timing of the press is developed. This is where most athletes will struggle, as it requires coordination and timing between the upper body and lower body. However, because we have already practiced and refined the movement for the torso, hips, legs, and feet, we can more easily teach the timing of the catch. As we’ve seen already, an emphasis on simple, direct language is key. Instead of “extend the arms only after the full extension of the hips and legs, but before reaching the landing position,” the directive becomes, “Jump, punch as you become airborne, and land.” Or, simpler still: “Jump, punch, and land.”

Finally, once the athlete is familiar and comfortable with all of the above elements, little or no load can be added to simulate holding the bar. The travel path of the bar can now be emphasized in addition to the elements from the previous steps.

It is important to remember that a progression is a means to an end. For example, no one should be interested in becoming or training the best “jump-and-land-er” without ever arriving at the full push-jerk. Of course, if the basic skill can’t be performed generally well, more time may be warranted at that step. However, the progression should offer a bridge to the full skill. Once the essential elements are in place, the trainer should keep moving forward, knowing that the process of progression training can be used over and over again to refine the movement for athletes of all levels.


Additional Reading


To learn more about human movement and the CrossFit methodology, visit CrossFit Training.

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