• Assistance Exercises for the Jerk

    by  • January 28, 2013 • Weightlifting

    “High class weightlifters frequently miss jerks in international competitions. Roman and Ivanov reported that 20% of the lifters zeroed in the clean and jerk by missing all of their jerks; and, the success rate of the jerk was only 50% for lifters in Soviet National Championships and other major events. The jerk segment of the clean and jerk is an extraordinarily complex exercise and the success rate with near – maximum and maximum weights is rather low.” – from “More About The Jerk”,  http://sportivnypress.com/documents/35.html

    The article quoted above sensibly concludes that “Coaches and athletes alike have to exercise caution with regards to the selection of any assistance exercise ostensibly for the purpose to improve one’s results in the jerk.” The point the article makes is that it isn’t relevant, and can in fact be detrimental, to work on pressing strength to improve the jerk and that the jerk requires technical skill and “reactive strength” – the ability to powerfully transfer from dip to drive in this case – to succeed.

    Unfortunately the article doesn’t recommend any assistance exercises which will help in performance of the jerk. The only recommendation is to do loads of jerks as these are specific to the requirements of the jerk. Personally I’m a fan of assistance exercises for both physical development and to keep training interesting but it is important that the assistance exercises do address the concerns raised in the article.  When I got sick of missing jerks, sometimes important ones, during my weightlifting career I re-thought my approach to them and had much more success. My exercise of choice (along with loads of jerk off racks) was the jerk to knee touch and I have an article about this exercise at http://www.greenwoodweightlifting.com/297/. There are plenty of jerk assistance exercises to choose from so I’ve demonstrated a few of them and written some comments about each here. If you think of all the exercises you do to improve your cleans – pulls, power cleans, hang cleans, front squats etc – adding a couple to improve your chances of getting the jerk after all the work cleaning the weight must be worth it. My coach used to say that no-one should ever miss a jerk – he’s a harder man than me but let’s at least see if we can improve on the measly 50% success rate of those Soviet lifters!

    Demonstrations all of the following exercises can be seen at – http://youtu.be/X6-yIXlG1bY


    Jerk off stands

    An obvious choice. I recommend focusing on bending the back leg and imagining the bar pushing you down into the split a bit. It is many people’s habit to jerk the bar as high as possible but this doesn’t really replicate the movement needed to get the heavy ones. Go for tidy footwork as well. Get in the habit of splitting to a stable receiving position then recovering your front foot with two small steps before recovering you back foot with a single step so both feet are level.

    Jerk Balance

    An old school assistance exercise used for teaching foot positioning in the jerk but also great for focusing on punching under the bar with a bent back leg.

    Jerk to Knee

    As mentioned above, I have already uploaded an article and video of these so for this demonstration I’ve added an overhead split squat to make a jerk complex. I’m using this with my lifters at the moment and find they’re getting much more comfortable under the bar so will be continuing to use this complex in the future.

    Power Jerk

    Great for focusing on the all-important leg drive. Because you don’t have to move into a split position you’ll find it easier to drive long and focus on your arms punching you into the receiving position.

    Squat Jerk

    I’ve no idea how the Chinese lifters do it but they seem to have some success with these! You can see that I’m not particularly comfortable with them but if it’s good enough for Lu Xaiojun then maybe it’s worth a go. An iron back and strong legs are required.

    Jerk Heaves

    This is the jerk equivalent of a pull and I’m not sure if I recommend them at all. I broke my collar bone doing these with very heavy weights as a young lifter and never did them again. I have, however, used them with a couple of lifters since and as long as you make sure you can handle the weight and are cushioning it well to catch it should be ok.

    Chinese Partials

    I don’t know the proper name for these but Tommy Yule was volunteering at the Olympics and saw the Chinese lifters doing these. They’re not a partial squat, keep your body upright and try to turn round from the dip to the drive as quickly as possible. This is another exercise I’ve been using with lifters at Bethnal Green and all report benefits in quad strength. Puts quite a bit of pressure on the knees as well though. We use high reps (10’s) as that’s what the great Chinese lifters were doing.

    Jerk Recovery

    If you’re lucky enough to have a power rack these are good fun and will develop strength in the receiving position due to the dead start. You should be able to do more than you can jerk on these. We do heavy singles and you really have to focus on pushing with your legs while staying strongly locked out under the bar to get it moving. A word of warning though – don’t use your good weightlifting bar for these. It’s not always possible to lower the bar as carefully as I do in the demo and dropping a heavy weight into the safety bars will quickly ruin a weightlifting bar. We use a power bar when the powerlifters aren’t looking!

    Working on some assistance exercises for the jerk isn’t as physically demanding as for the snatch or clean and can reap great rewards – enjoy!