Athlete

Olympic Weightlifting – Comparing the Jerk: Split, Squat or Push, Which One is Right for You?

In weightlifting and functional fitness, the Jerk is an essential movement that requires focus, technique, mobility and strength.

It is the second part of the Clean and Jerk, and an essential exercise for all athletes involved in these two disciplines to master. For functional fitness athletes, stronger more stable shoulders will also lead to better inverted movement for handstand holds, push ups and walks.

RELEVANCE FOR OTHER ATHLETES

The Jerk can be a great way for other athletes that do not participate in Olympic Weightlifting or functional fitness to develop upper body, core and overhead strength and mobility.

Jerk olympic weightlifting

Lifting time

© Squats & Pixels

For strength work and hypertrophy training, it can be utilised as a highly effective accessory exercise. For example, bodybuilders can add push Jerks into shoulder day and the change in stimulus under load will help to stimulate adaption and growth. They also develop power and explosive force, allowing you to lift more weight when it comes to movements such as the overhead press or seated dumbbell press.

In a similar way, rugby players can use Jerks to develop stronger shoulders for tackling, or even for building functional strength for overhead work such as holding players up in the line out. The Jerk transfers well to other sports such as swimming and gymnastics.

SO WHICH JERK IS RIGHT FOR YOU?

Of these three variations, the split Jerk is the most common. You should always work on this lift, but if you ignore the other two then you may miss out on a technique that you prefer, or that suits your body type more effectively. Additionally, bringing the squat or push Jerk into your training is a way to switch up the stimulus and test your body in new ways in order to determine if you weak or ineffective (in terms of strength and mobility). Also make sure that you choose the right footwear to enhance your lifting.

OLYMPIC WEIGHTLIFTING FOOTWEAR

Wear proper Olympic Weightlifting shoes such as the adidas Leistung 16 II as this will allow you to support and enhance your performance. 

adidas leistung

Optimise every performance

© adidas

These shoes provide:

  • Micro-adjusting Boa® Closure System for ultimate, consistent hold
  • Flat, flexible forefoot for the transmission of power
  • Strong TPU midsole for a perfect foothold; Weightlifting-engineered chassis with lightweight injected polymer for structured strength
  • Rearfoot cradle ensures superior lockdown stability
  • Flat outsole for maximum surface area
  • Heel lift: 24.8 mm; Heel height: 37.8 mm (size 9)

THE SPLIT JERK

The Split Jerk is a movement that requires immense amounts of power and technique and in contrast with the push or power Jerk, is used to lift the most weight. If you want to push your clean and Jerk PR through the roof, perfect this technique.

Split Jerk Technique

Look for a nice straight line between the bar, shoulders and hips with an even distance between the feet. This allows your legs to take the weight rather than your lower back or joints.

Use these simple positioning cues:

  • Is the shin of the front leg vertical?
  • Is the back leg bent?
  • Is the back foot on the toes and correctly aligned with the knee?

Sound is Important

A quiet or a ‘pitter-patter’ split Jerk is usually an indication of the lifter being too slow or not giving the bar enough float in order to move the feet into the right position.

At the top of the Jerk drive the feet need to slide out as opposed to lifting up and out, many people are slow because they try to lift the legs in an arc, as opposed to a skim across the surface. Perfecting this will take time.

It is common at the beginning to be able to push press more than you can Jerk. Split Jerk refinement takes a lot of patience, but when perfected, the Jerk drive will become snappier. This will allow your well-crafted split to be ready to receive the weight BEFORE the weight starts falling and you will be able to slam that bar in triumph.

If you are struggling to feel stable in the split Jerk I recommend engaging in some single-leg strengthening exercises such as alternate leg lunges and overhead split squats.

Routine to Improve Your Split Jerk

This simple Jerk routine will improve your strength, stability and balance:

  • 3 sets of 5 Push Press,
  • 3 sets of 3 Power Jerk and
  • 3 sets of 1 Split Jerk

THE SQUAT JERK

The squat Jerk is an impressive and technically difficult lift, but if you aren’t scared to challenge yourself and love to learn new things, then read on.

Athletes Jerk lift

Constantly push your limits

© Squats & Pixels

Performed after a full squat clean, you dip and drive the barbell up, and instead of splitting your legs, you drop into a full squat with the barbell directly over your head whilst your feet widen a little.

This lift requires tremendous shoulder flexibility.  You know how hard overhead squats are with a snatch grip; now imagine doing an overhead squat with a clean grip.

“In theory”, you should be able to lift more weight with a Squat Jerk since you don’t have to lift the bar as high (this is why, outside of masters athletes, you basically never see split cleans/snatches anymore). The reality is much more complicated though, as the squat Jerk does have some issues:

  1. The mobility requirements. Getting into a clean grip OHS with a limit load is tough. Ankles, hips, shoulders – all joints must be supple.
  2. It’s much harder to save. You basically have zero margin for error in technique…any deviation front-to-back and you’ll lose it. The split position provides a much more stable base.
  3. You have to stand up from a squat again, this time with the bar overhead. At snatch weights, this is basically never an issue. But at clean and Jerk weights, after having already stood up from a heavy clean, this seems far more exhausting.

Even with basically unlimited training time to develop the requisite mobility, technique, and strength – 90%+ of elite lifters still split, and that should tell you something. For the average the split is almost certainly going to allow you to move more weight.

THE IMPORTANCE OF A SOLID BASE

The adidas Leistung II has a specially designed flat, flexible forefoot for the transmission of power during the Jerk. This is essential because the Jerk MUST be explosive in its execution.

adidas leistung 16.2 weightlifting shoes

Built for excellence

© adidas

The new synthetic woven material is much more flexible for the toes and natural bend of the foot, making it perfect for stabilising the back foot during Split Jerks. This gave me more flexibility throughout every lift and I had a much lighter impression in general in comparison to the previous model. The shoes felt responsive and sensitive to the movement of my feet.

All weightlifting shoes take time to break in, but the new upper of the adidas Leistung 16 II provides a decent amount of flexibility right from the start.

THE PUSH JERK

This movement, also one of the key exercises in Olympic weightlifting, is a powerful overhead movement that requires both raw strength and expert technique.

olympic weightlifting jerk

The lift in action

© Squats & Pixels

When performing the push Jerk, it is imperative to keep your body upright and core tight. The movement of the Jerk involves a dip and drive. While dipping down, make sure to keep your body upright and drive the bar directly overhead.

Push Jerk Technique

  • Hip width stance
  • Hands just outside of shoulders
  • Elbows slightly in front of the bar
  • Full grip on the bar
  • Torso dips straight down
  • Hips and legs extend rapidly then press under
  • Receive the bar in a partial overhead
  • Heels stay down until hips and legs extend
  • Bar moves over the middle of the foot
  • Complete at full hip, knee, and arm extension

Finally, some other key points to address is the importance of having active shoulders, and a small dip to facilitate the drive of the load upwards. The drop under the bar makes it so the load doesn’t have to travel as far to make the catch easier. Note that the dip is not so low as to be a front squat, which takes away the stretch that helps drive the force up enough to pull underneath it during the catch.

It is also common to “jump” the legs from hip width into a squat stance, where the hips are about shoulder width apart.

WHICH ONE IS RIGHT FOR YOU?

The split Jerk is most commonly used, and in most scenarios will allow you to move the largest amount of weight. However don’t rule out the other forms of Jerk because they can be great ways to challenge yourself and improve your strength and mobility as well.