It's been mentioned here before, but the amount of attention the jerk is given by the internet weightlifting world with regard to technique is almost non-existent compared to the snatch and clean (Apparently it’s tougher to make up names for things that everyone’s already doing and pass them off as new ideas in the jerk). I didn’t learn how to jerk correctly until I had already spent so long developing bad habits that I’d basically become a lost cause. That doesn’t stop me, however. I rely on the puncher’s chance paradigm of jerking—any time I try a jerk, there’s some chance I’ll actually make it, just like a knockout punch to turn around a losing fight.
There are quite a few assistance exercises for the jerk
, ranging from common to obscure to stupid. Following are my favorite five exercises for the jerk in no particular order (It should go without saying that the jerk itself is Number 0). Of course, I’m going to cheat a bit and discuss variations of some that can be considered distinct exercises. But it’s the internet, so I can say whatever I want.
The push press is a very multidimensional exercise that I think gets less credit than it deserves. Many view it only as an upper body strength lift that’s helpful for the jerk for the obvious reasons, but it provides a lot more than that. Because the dip and drive action of the push press is identical to that of the jerk (or it should be—if it’s not for you, fix it), the lift is also training the timing of that movement, the postural strength of the dip position, the strength of the legs to absorb the downward force of the bar, the elasticity of the legs in changing direction in the dip and drive, the rate of force development in the leg extension to drive the bar up
, the timing of transitioning between the drive of the legs and the push of the arms, and the mechanics of moving the bar from the front to the back of the torso into the overhead position. That’s a lot of elements for a single exercise. If I had to choose only one exercise for the jerk besides the jerk itself and squats, the push press would be it.
It can be used in isolation as a technique or teaching exercise (I use it in my jerk teaching progression) or as a strength exercise. Or it can be combined with jerk variations in complexes to train technique and strength. Two good examples are the push press + split jerk, or the push press + power jerk + split jerk. These complexes both help train a balanced, strong dip and drive, and a complete, aggressive upward drive of the bar.
Power Jerk/Push Jerk
The power jerk is a very effective exercise for improving the split jerk, although many lifters hate it. It’s usually awkward and uncomfortable because of its greater demand on overhead flexibility than the split jerk. But the benefits of well-performed power jerks are very much worth any complaints.
The biggest benefit of the power jerk is training a balanced, vertical dip and drive. The power receiving position means that the placement of the bar overhead needs to be precise—the margin of error is much smaller than in the split jerk because the split receiving position allows much more movement of the base under the bar to correct for misplacement. In the power jerk, the dip and drive must be correctly vertical, and the bar must move back behind the neck as the trunk inclines forward slightly to complete the proper overhead position.
Like the push press, the power jerk can be used on its own as a technique or teaching exercise, or a training exercise. I personally like to use it on a second jerk training day in a week because it naturally creates a somewhat lighter day and provides good technical training. It can also be combined with the split jerk in a complex of power jerk + jerk. This has a similar effect of the push press + split jerk complex—it trains a balanced dip and drive and an aggressive and complete drive, but heavier weights can be used than in the push press complex.
In the push jerk
, the feet remain connected to the floor. This is a good choice for lifters who struggle with cutting the drive short or misplacing their feet. Otherwise, the exercises will accomplish the same things.
Push Jerk Behind the Neck in Split
The push jerk behind the neck in split is a positional strength exercise for the split that is very effective to practice and train the proper split position and balance, as well as strengthen the legs and hips to support this position. Lifters whose split position is weak will never get into deep split positions to make tough jerks because their bodies are smart enough to know it’s not a position they’ll be strong and stable enough to pull off successfully. The benefit of this exercise that other split-position exercises don’t have is the simultaneous training of proper overhead positioning of the bar and trunk and strength development of the upper body in that position.
Jerk Dip Squat
The jerk dip squat is a very simple exercise that I also think, like the push press, is underrated. I would say that easily the most common technical problem with the jerk is improper dip and drive position and balance—hips moving back and/or weight shifting forward.
The jerk dip squat is exactly what it sounds like—sitting down into the dip position and standing back up, all at a controlled speed. Obviously this doesn’t train the drive itself, but a big drive doesn’t do any good if it’s moving the bar forward, so indirectly, it does improve the drive by ensuring a proper position to drive from. The controlled speed allows the lifter to feel the constant pressure on the heel to prevent shifting forward, and keeps tension on the quads throughout the movement to ensure they’re being strengthened in the desired positions and movement.
Jerk Recovery/Jerk Support
I’m going to combine the jerk recovery and jerk support here. While I consider them two distinct exercises, they’re also closely related and combining them means we have a tradition list of five instead of an unusual six (although I’ve done six unapologetically before
There’s little more frustrating as a coach than to see a lifter get a weight overhead and then be unable to keep it there. These exercises work on exactly that—holding heavy weights overhead and controlling them.
The jerk support
is a good way to build maximal overhead position strength and confidence—lifters can use considerably more weight in this exercise than they can jerk.
The jerk recovery adds strengthening of the split position and the control needed to recovery to a fully standing position. The weights possible in this exercise will always be lower than the jerk support, but lifters will still be able to exceed their best jerks to build strength and confidence.
There are a lot of other exercises that are useful and effective, and this list changes somewhat among athletes depending on individual needs. You can check out our entire library of jerk exercises
with video demos and information on execution, variations, programming and more for ideas.