Jerks: From the Rack or Blocks
Having our new jerk tables delivered this morning made me think of a common question—when and why do you use jerk blocks or tables and when do you just take the jerk from a rack and bring it back down yourself? This of course is an opinion sort of question, so don’t take the following as some kind of weightlifting fact.
Plenty of great jerkers have never once done a jerk workout with blocks. They are not a requirement to having a jerk of any certain caliber. That being said, they’re a great tool to have at your disposal and allow a lifter to train a bit differently than he or she could without them.
Blocks should generally not be used with weights that a lifter can lower back to the shoulders. This is an opportunity to both get a bit more strength work in the upper body, build more elasticity and the ability to absorb and arrest downward force in the legs, and some general coordination practice. An exception to this of course would be in the case that the athlete is experiencing some kind of injury or problem that makes lowering the weight painful or in some other way problematic while doing the jerks themselves does not cause a problem.
What blocks are extremely useful for is allowing a lifter to perform multiple reps with heavier weights than he or she is capable of lowering safely at any given point in his or her life. If you have a lifter who can’t lower anything more than 80% of his or her best jerk, for example, you’re limited to doing singles at 80% and above, even if it’s clear that the lifter would be able to do maybe 2-3 reps at that weight. Obviously this gives the coach a lot more options for program design, and for an athlete whose jerk is a weak point, this can allow some dramatic improvements to be made. Jerks often respond very well to volume.
For heavy singles or max attempts, I generally don’t like a lifter to use the blocks. The primary reason is simply that the presence of the blocks often makes lifters change the way they dip because they’re hyperconscious of hitting the blocks at the bottom. While dropping the weight after each rep, stripping the bar, cleaning it back to the rack and reloading it is a lot of work, doing max jerks from a rack is usually a better idea.
As a coach, the blocks are also problematic for the reason that they prevent me from seeing the athlete’s feet from any angle except essentially head-on. Usually I want to watch from the side or at least an oblique angle, and solid wood blocks obscure the view (just to rub it in, the new jerk tables I had built are metal frames I’ll be able to see through so I can still see the athlete’s footwork from the side).
Another handy use for jerk blocks that I picked up from Bob Morris is to use them as a depth gauge for the dip. That is, when you have a lifter who tends to dip too deep, he or she can jerk from the blocks set at a height just below the depth to which they should be dipping. This forces them to keep the dip shallower so they don’t hit the plates on the blocks.
The bottom line is that if you have access to jerk blocks, take advantage of them, but don’t let yourself or your lifters get lazy and weak by becoming reliant on them.