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Olympic Weightlifting Part 3/3: The Jerk

Welcome to the final post of our series on Olympic lifting!

What is the jerk?

The clean and jerk is the second lift completed during Olympic weightlifting competitions. While the clean gets the bar from the ground to the shoulders, the jerk moves the bar from the shoulders to overhead. The word ‘jerk’ refers to multiple movements that all involve getting the bar overhead.

The jerk is also highly technical and here are a few things to think about:

  • a straight dip and drive to drive the weight directly upwards, rather than forwards or back

  • driving the bar upwards with the legs

  • splitting the feet and catching with the back leg bent, to minimise how high the bar has to go

  • relaxed hands in the dip and drive and catching with straight arms/elbows locked out.

Photo of a person performing the 'jerk'

What are the variations of the jerk?

During a competition, the bar has to be received overhead with the arms fully extended/locked out, with no movement of the elbows. The athlete then has to stand still with the weight overhead, wait for the down signal, then lower the bar to the ground, only letting go when the bar has passed the shoulders. There are a few common variations of moving the bar overhead.

Split jerk

During the split jerk, the lifter starts with a relaxed grip on the bar, a braced core and completes a vertical dip and drive with the legs to elevate the bar. From there, the lifter splits their feet into a lunge position, driving fast under the bar to receive the bar overhead with the arms locked out. From there, the lifter recovers front foot, back foot, front foot, to be standing still with the bar locked out overhead, where the rep is complete. The split jerk is the most common variation seen in competitions.

Power jerk

Another variation of the jerk is a power jerk, where the lifter receives the bar in a quarter squat, rather than a lunge position like a split jerk. The lift still involves the same vertical dip and elbow lockout that the split jerk requires. The power jerk is usually used as a training variation, is quicker to learn than a split jerk, however less weight can usually be lifted.

Squat jerk

The final variation of the jerk is a squat jerk, which is rarely used in competition due to the significant mobility it requires and technical complexity. The lifter completes the same vertical dip and drive, however the lifter drives under the bar and receives the bar in the bottom of an overhead squat with the arms fully locked out, and then stands out of the overhead squat. If a lifter has the required mobility and technical skill, it may allow the lifter to jerk more weight. The majority of lifters do not complete this variation though due to these demands.

Which muscles are used in the jerk?

Whilst the jerk may appear similar to a shoulder press, when it is formed correctly, it is largely a leg movement. The dip and drive movement is similar to a quarter squat, where the legs drive the bar upwards as high as possible. As the lifter drives underneath the bar and catches in the split position, the bar is received with the arms fully extended. Due to the low receiving position, the athlete is not required to use the upper body to elevate the bar significantly. Thus, the shoulders, rotator cuff, triceps and back muscles play more of a stabilising role in the split jerk, holding the bar overhead. The gluts, hamstrings, quadriceps and calf muscles play a role in powerfully and quickly driving the bar upwards, whilst the core is active the entire time stabilising the athlete.

Photo of the rear muscles used when performing the jerk

How do I get involved?

To find out more visit the QLD weightlifting association website: Furthermore, to find your nearest club visit the link below:

If you have any further questions or would like an individualised assessment and treatment, please give us a call on 3061 7128.

Blog and videos by Physiotherapy Student undertaking clinical placement from the University of Queensland, Australia, supervised by Principal Physiotherapist, Winnie Lu.

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