The split jerk, when executed properly, is an incredibly fast and efficient work of art. A good lifter has a finesse that makes an athlete look beautifully powerful and leaves no room for doubt about whether a jerk was made. Even before they begin the jerk, the focus and intensity in a lifter’s eyes reveals their passion and nine times out of ten, when I see that look, I can accurately predict if an athlete will make the jerk before they even begin the dip.
However, when performed incorrectly, jerks can incredibly awkward. There is no middle ground here. Either the jerk is strong and fast with the athlete locking out overhead instantaneously, or somewhere something goes wrong during the movement and the athlete must fight bad positioning and gravity to earn white lights. At best, they put in a good fight, defying the odds and making the lift. At worst, the judges red light the lifter, citing a press out (when the elbows don’t lock instantly) as the reason why the athlete is not credited with making the lift.
There is nothing more frustrating than getting a barbell overhead during the jerk than to be told that the lift does not count because of illegal elbow movement. In fact, when a lifter is able to perform a jerk where the lock out is fast and undisputed, the jerk is actually much easier to execute than when an athlete must fight to finish overhead. So, in fact, a more difficult lift to make which requires an athlete to expend greater energy, can actually earn an athlete no credit according to weightlifting rules.
What a case for doing things right in the first place!
I’m sure that many CrossFitters reading this article have relaxed already because the rules are different in CrossFit. In that sport, the athlete is credited for a jerk so long as they eventually show that they have locked out overhead and finish with the bar directly over their center of gravity. It does not matter, in CrossFit, whether the bar is pressed out or if the lockout occurs in one swift movement. In both cases, the athlete will be given the rep.
It would seem that CrossFit athletes don’t need to worry about whether they press out or not, but this is entirely untrue. In CrossFit, efficient movement is key as it saves the athlete time and energy. Athletes who move well are faster and will be credited with more reps.
Thus, learning proper jerk form is in the best interest of both weightlifters and CrossFitters.
Tuck Your Hips Under You and Pull Your Rib Cage Down
A common error is relaxing one’s hips and abs before the jerk. This causes a backwards “C” curve in the lower back which is inefficient and unstable. Instead, a lifter should tuck their hips under them and squeeze their butt. Then, they should make a conscious effort to pull their rib cage down. This, effectively, makes the body straight like a board so that no energy is lost during the dip and drive. The lifter’s core is tight and stable which allows the energy created during the dip to transfer into driving the bar overhead rather than into trying to stabilize the core during movement.
Inflate Your Chest, Squeeze Your Glutes, and Lean Back
Once the core is tight, the lifter should breathe into the chest to inflate it. After the chest is inflated and the lifter locks the breath in, they should ensure that their weight is shifted back into the heels if not already there and that their glutes are squeezed tight. To do this, the lifter should shift their whole body back from the ankles to the shoulders in one solid movement while keeping the glutes activated.
Leaning back so that all of the body’s joints are all stacked over the ankle allows for the most preservation of energy. This way, the force generated during the drive is applied to pushing the bar overhead rather than being lost due to soft, lazy joint movement.
Squeeze Elbows, Keep them Up, and Keep Your Hands Loose
Keeping the elbows up during the dip and the drive ensures that the bar is stacked on top of the lifter’s chest. When the elbows drop, the bar shifts slightly away from the center of gravity and in lifting, even a tiny hundredth of a millimeter forward makes the weight feel heavier than it actually is.
When the elbows drop significantly, the lifter also runs the risk of driving the bar out in front of them rather than directly over head. So, a lifter needs to focus on keeping the bar against the chest by maintaining high elbows and squeezing the elbows tight to reinforce this position.
Be careful not to squeeze the hands tight as that will stunt the generation of force against the bar and hinder the athlete’s ability to push straight overhead. Instead, relaxed hands will allow the lifter to drive the bar up.
Dip Intentionally and Drive Straight Up
Newer lifters tend to dip very low- so low that they cannot keep their core tight in the bottom of the dip and they lose some of the generated force. A low dip can also result in a lifter shifting their weight forward into the balls of their foot during the drive up. When this occurs, the lockout often happens in front of the body and the athlete can not hold the weight overhead. This means that the first two steps, tightening the core and stacking the joints on top of one another, were all for nought. Instead, a dip should be short and intentional.
It is key that a lifter commits to the dip before actually beginning it so that they do not “bottom out,” losing the force they have created by stopping before the drive. When a lifter dips with intention, the dip is tight and the change of direction into the drive happens without hesitation. Dipping this way allows the lifter to generate force to drive up aggressively. This is what a lifter wants.
Split Wide, Bend the Back Knee, And Turn The Toes Inward
A lifter must create a stable foundation to ensure that they can stabilize the bar overhead. To do this, it’s important that the athlete split so that their feet end up wider than they were when the athlete set up for the dip.
In the split, the athlete should bend their back knee, turn the foot inward, and rest on the ball of the back foot. This allows the leg to absorb some of the force when the athlete locks the bar overhead so that they athlete is stable in place.
The front foot is completely on the ground and the toe is also turned inward. This keeps the hips from opening up which would allow the lifter’s body to move out of the stable position.
Of course, the split must be completed in one swift motion and the athlete must practice proper foot placement so that it becomes automatic.
Front Leg Back and Back Leg Forward
To finish the jerk and earn credit, a lifter must bring both feet together while holding the bar steady overhead. Pulling the front leg back and then bringing the back leg forward is the safest way to get into this position. The back leg is stabilizing the entire body so it should never be moved first. Practice recovering the jerk this way every time you are in the gym so that it becomes habitual for when it counts on the platform.