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Squat Jerk: Strength, Mobility & Technical Mastery at its Finest

squat jerk by chinese olympic weightlifterSource: chinese weightlifting
The Squat Jerk

The lift that always gets an audience’s attention and a cheering response is the squat jerk, a full, deep squat with the barbell directly overhead.  Done 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 and your feet widen just a little.

It’s very spectacular and dramatic because it involves two full squats with maximum weights. 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. The squat jerk is not to be confused with the power jerk where you don’t split your legs but drop into approximately a quarter squat position, as Pyrros Dimas and Kakhi Kakhiashvili did winning three Olympic gold medals each.  However, whenever they went below parallel they missed their jerks!

“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 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…pretty tough. Ankles, hips, shoulders – it’s all gotta be pretty 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 c&j 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.


Taking a look at the lifters that use the squat jerk, it becomes clear why it is also called the “Chinese jerk”.

Zhan Xugang (69 kg and 77 kg) won the 1993 and 1994 Junior Worlds, the 1995 Senior Worlds, and the 1996 and 2000 Olympic Games. Besides winning two Olympic gold medals, Zhan also set world records in the clean and jerk, topping out with 207.5 kg (457 lb.) in 2000—Probably  he was the first really successful squat jerker.

Shi Zhiyong (62 kg) was the next successful squat jerker, winning the Junior Worlds in 1997 and 1999 and the 2004 Olympics in Athens.  He won the Worlds in 2005 with his best clean and jerk performance with 190 kg (418 lb.) at 67.98 kg (148 lb.) bodyweight.  Shi’s squat jerk technique wasn’t as perfect as Zhan’s—Shi leaned forward some and didn’t go to rock bottom as Zhan did.

Zhang Guozheng (69 kg) may be the second best squat jerker, as he won three World Championships (2002, 2003, and 2007) and the 2004 Olympic Games.  Zhang’s best clean and jerk was 192.5 kg (424 lb.) in 2002 and 2007, but his squat jerk was anything but pretty.  He would be twisted and looked very unnatural in his bottom position, and he didn’t go to rock bottom, but he made a lot of lifts with his unorthodox position.

Lu Xiaojun (77 kg).  Lu won the 2009 Worlds, setting a world record in the snatch (174 kg / 384 lb.), and then squat cleaned and squat jerked 204 kg (450 lb.) for a world record total of 378 kg (833 lb.). Lu is another picture-perfect lifter with beautiful technique: rock bottom squat and upright body position.

Now more and more lifters from countries other than China, such as Armenia and even the USA, are doing the squat jerk.  The first U.S. lifters to really do it were Cassie Clark, Stephanie Bodie , and Cara Heads, and they all had good success winning national titles and competing at the international level.

Cara Heads placed seventh at the 2000 Olympics in the 75-kg class and her best squat jerk was 122.5 kg (270 lb) done at the 1999 Worlds.

USA’s Kendrick Farris has a very unorthodox squat jerk.

His is somewhere between a split jerk and a squat jerk and he doesn’t really go into a full squat (but it’s close) with his maximum weights.  Kendrick did 202 kg (445 lb.) at the 2008 Olympics in the 85-kg class, where he placed eighth.  His coach, Kyle Pierce, calls Kendrick’s jerk a “splat,” as it is somewhere between a split jerk and a squat jerk.

5 ways to improve your Split Jerk Technique 

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