In the previous blog I discussed what my choice of exercise would be if I could only choose one lift to have my athletes perform. I discussed my reasoning for choosing the Clean & Jerk in detail regarding the Clean portion of the lift. In this writing I will discuss how the Jerk fits into those plans and why.
If you took a survey of strength coaches and athletes and asked what their number one choice for an upper body pressing movement is, they will likely respond with the Bench Press. I have and still use the Bench Press as my primary movement in workouts. Like most folks I believe that Bench Press variations are solid upper body developers. So, what about the Jerk? Well, the title of the article was, “if I could only choose one lift to train my athletes,” and although it is comprised of two movements, the Clean & Jerk is considered one complex lift. Also, in the right setting I use it as a primary upper body pressing movement (although technically you do not press the bar overhead).
What is the “right setting”? The safe one! Most times, in a team training setting doing any explosive overhead movement such as the Jerk or the Snatch is a safety concern. Often the lifting area is tight on space and there are large numbers of young athletes moving around. Even when you stress paying attention to your surroundings and safety, young athletes just do not understand and will walk right under or behind another athlete performing an overhead lift. That is an accident waiting to happen! However, when you have designated and outlined platforms (8’ x 8’), performing explosive overhead movements is much safer, and these are lifts I include in my programming. If I do not have the luxury of said platforms, I will work with athletes individually or in a small group setting outside of the athletic period where I can more easily monitor and ensure safety.
Now let us talk about the positives the Jerk brings to the table when added to the training program.
- As mentioned in part 1 of this blog, research from Dr. Garhammer showed that the Jerk developed higher power outputs than the Snatch, Clean, Squat, Deadlift, or Bench Press.
- In addition to the explosive nature, the Jerk is also a ground-based movement performed on your feet.
- The Jerk requires triple extension (ankle, knee, and hip) as well as absorbing force on the reception at the top of the movement.
- I believe because of the aforementioned benefits the lift translates well in football, especially for offensive linemen and all defensive players, and in track to the Shot Put.
Though I have no research data to support it, based on anecdotal evidence from utilizing the Jerk in the training programs of all three of my sons from a young age, I believe it had a strong influence on their success in football and especially in track & field. All three were district champions in the Shot Put from 7th grade through their entire high school careers. None of them weighed more than 205 lbs. during their high school careers, were almost always significantly outweighed by their opponents, and two of the three were also district champions in the 300m hurdles and 400m as well. And none of the three had great Bench Press or Squat numbers; however, they all Cleaned and Jerked well. Again, that is all anecdotal, but the results are fact.
The Jerk is a more advanced movement, and therefore we need to build strength and a technical progression prior to adding it to the program. First, we need to build overhead shoulder pressing strength and coordination of movement. My preference is to begin with the Standing Two-Arm Dumbbell Press and Standing Alternating Dumbbell Press. Using the dumbbells helps build unilateral strength and coordination before progressing to the barbell Military Press. Personally, I do not use any Behind the Neck Pressing movement with sport athletes due to excessive external stress on the shoulder girdle.
From a technical standpoint, when performing any overhead pressing movement make sure the athlete is looking straight ahead with the neck in a neutral position. When in this position, the dumbbells or bar should follow a path straight up, finishing directly over the head and spine. This is referred to as a stacked position. Often, I see athletes looking upward as they press the weight. In doing so the weight finishes in front of the athlete instead of in the stacked position over the head and spine. The result is that, in attempting to complete the movement in the stacked position, the athlete compensates by hyperextending the lumbar spine. If the athlete is having to hyperextend through the lumbar spine, they likely have a mobility problem in the thoracic spine and/or their latissimus dorsi muscles of the back are tight and restricting the upward overhead movement of the arms. Additionally, if a lack of stability occurs in the locked-out overhead position, this issue may stem from weakness in the posterior rotator cuff and/or the scapular stabilizers (the lower and middle trapezius muscles). If any of these issues are present, they must be addressed and corrected prior to progressing to the next level movement. A good resource I have found to be extremely insightful in providing information on diagnosing such issues and then providing a plan on how to correct them is from Dr. Aaron Horschig on Instagram (@squat_university) and two-time Olympian Chad Vaughn (@olychad and @vaughn_weightlifting).
Once an athlete is comfortable and competent with non-explosive overhead pressing movements, the next step in the progression is the Push Press. This teaches the athlete how to initiate the movement with the hips and legs in a semi-explosive movement. Learning to drive with the hips and legs explosively is the key to successfully progressing to the Jerk.
While working to perfect the Push Press, we will begin implementing footwork drills for the Push Jerk and the Split Jerk. These drills do not require weight and must be consistently executed with good technique prior to adding weight to the bar for the Jerk. Once the athlete becomes comfortable and technically sound in performing the Push Press and the Jerk drills, we will be implementing both Jerk movements into the program.
In programming for sport, I prefer to utilize both the Push Jerk and the Split Jerk in my routines. I will program whichever Jerk movement I’m focusing on during a particular training phase as a stand-alone movement one time per week and then as part of a complex such as a Clean variation + Front Squat + Jerk on the second day. As part of a complex, the percentage of the Training Max (TM) I use will generally be lower as the focus will be technical refinement and bar speed.
I hope you have found this information of benefit to you and an answer to any questions or concerns you may have regarding implementing the Jerk into your athletic strength program. As always, remember, “what you do in training is not nearly as important in determining success as how you do it.”