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Mastering The Jerk: Part 1

Set, Dip, Drive

Think about it. We should really never miss a jerk, right? We are pretty much only driving the bar to the top of the forehead, about 6-8”, so why do we ever miss?? There are lots of things that can go wrong, though, so if we are aware of the technique involved, we can fix those issues.

We have already discussed the strength issues for the Jerk in the “Work Your Weak Areas” series of articles, but now let’s focus on the actual technique. Because we will go into depth on the technical aspects of the Jerk, we will break down the analysis into two parts. This is Part 1 and will focus on the set, dip and drive. Part 2 will focus on the split, recovery and timing.

As we all know, there are three different Jerk styles utilized by lifters around the country and around the world (Split, Squat and Power), but our focus is going to be the Split Jerk.


The biggest problem I have seen is an improper setup. Without a strong, tight core, the bar “sags” on the dip, driving the bar forward and enough out of position to cause the miss. In order for the bar to be driven overhead properly, ending up “right behind the ears”, the Setup has to be right.

Here is what I look for in the perfect setup:

  • Take a big breath in

  • As the inhalation takes place, “lift and spread” the chest setting a wider “table” for the bar to set on (the bar sitting on the clavicles and shoulders)

  • Be careful not to lift the shoulder so the bar loses contact with the clavicles

  • The elbows will spread out a bit and even drop down just a tad

  • Many lifters try to lift the elbows without spreading them but when they “dip”, the elbows tend to drop, particularly with heavier weights

  • Relax the hands but keep the core tight


With this proper setup, now the body is in the correct position for the dip to be straight down with the elbows staying in that same neutral position as at the start. If the elbows drop as the Dip occurs, all of the pressure goes on the arms causing a weak, forward drive. If the elbows stay neutral throughout, then the powerful muscles of the legs and hips can do the work.

Think of the body as the “fulcrum” allowing the bar to get that nice bend and rebound. The bar has an elastic quality to it and this allows the bar to work for you. If the Setup is tight and the Dip is straight down, then the body is in the most biomechanically sound position for success.

How deep should the Dip go for optimal power? That is a good question and there are lots of good answers. One of the strategies is to Dip about 10% of the lifter’s height. Great theory but pretty much impractical to figure for most strength coaches. It is tough to put a number to it or determine the perfect knee/hip angle, as there are many different body types and limb lengths. Develop your coach’s eye and see how the Dip looks for your athlete and determine the ideal depth for each one.

If the Dip is too deep, the result will be a much slower change of direction (see Drive in the next section) and/or the tendency of the elbows to drop with heavier weights. If the Dip is too shallow, the change of direction will be quicker, but there will be less power and the timing might be off. Find the depth that works best and then try to get your athletes to be as consistent with that depth as possible, no matter what the weight.

The pressure on the feet during the Dip is a very important factor for success as well. Although we will be shooting for that “triple extension” similar to the pull pattern during the Clean, the weight should be shifted toward the heels or, at least, mid-foot. The main thing is we don’t want any pressure on the toes during the Dip. Basically, we want to make sure they stay flat footed during the Dip.


We want the Dip to be straight down so that the resulting Drive is straight up! The less “horizontal” movement of the bar, the better. In order to get that vertical Drive, the Dip MUST be straight down. If the Dip is done correctly, the strong Drive will be the result of those strong hip and leg muscles doing the work and not the weaker, less powerful arms and shoulders.

Speaking of arms and shoulders during the Dip and Drive, a reminder that in the Setup to lift and spread the chest and not lift the shoulders. If the bar is on elevated shoulders, with heavy weights the smaller muscles of the shoulders will collapse on the Dip and the powerful Drive will be lost.

We want to use the elastic quality of a good Olympic bar and to take advantage of the “whip” that a good bar offers. So, the Dip has to be controlled and not rushed. If the Dip is rushed, the bar loses contact with the chest and shoulders causing more of a vibration to the bar rather than that whip that we are looking for. Timing is crucial. **Its not how fast you dip, but how fast you change direction!** I use the cue, “control, EXPLODE!”**

We will discuss timing going under the bar in the next article, but remember that the Drive really only has to be about top of the forehead height. That’s why we jokingly say we should never miss a jerk!

Now let’s take a look at the Jerk technique of Mattie Rogers, a several time National Champion and World Silver medalist. An awesome lifter with awesome technique! (Again, many thanks to Victor Bergonzoli of DartFish and SportsEdTV for the great sequence photos).

In the first photo, you can see a very solid Setup. The core is tight with the chest spread and lifted without raising the elbows. This puts the center of gravity of the bar in line with the middle of the area of base, setting up for a powerful Dip and Drive. For perspective of the “vertical” movement of the bar, note where the edge of the far plates are in relation to the window in the background.

The second photo shows an ideal depth in the Dip for her. She is staying flatfooted with no pressure on the toes. The elbows have maintained basically the same position as in the Setup so she is in the perfect position to get that strong, vertical drive utilizing the hips and legs. If you take a look at the edge of the far plates again in relation to the windows in the background, there has been no change. Hmmm…do you think the Dip was straight down?? Oh, yeah!

Photo 3 shows what we mean by a straight drive ending with a strong triple extension of the hips, knees and ankles. The edge of the far plates is in the same position throughout as well. Straight down, straight up!

Finally, just one more note about photo 4 – look how high the bar is at the top of the Drive. We will discuss the timing of getting under the bar in Part 2, but just making the point about how high the drive needs to be for a successful lift.

Stay tuned for Part 2 of “Mastering the Jerk”!

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