Mastering The Jerk: Part 2
Split, Timing, Recovery
This is Part 2 and will focus on the Split, Timing and Recovery of the Split Jerk. As we discussed in Part 1, the Setup, Dip and Drive are crucial in getting that bar moving vertically so that the lifter can receive the bar in a quick, efficient manner. Again, we are discussing the Split Jerk.
First, let’s talk about the position one is trying to attain for a solid, consistent Split. When overhead, the bar should be “behind the ears” with the center of gravity of the bar in line with the center of gravity of the body and over the middle of the area of base. One of the major reasons why the Split Jerk is the preferred method of jerking is because the area of base to work with is wider and longer. In case the bar is not where it is supposed to be overhead, the athlete has more room for adjustment because of the bigger area of base. The key here is that the bar is in line with the shoulders and through the torso, but most importantly, the hips! Keeping the bar, torso and hips in line is a major technique point!
In the Split, the front foot should be out far enough so that the shin is vertical and the back leg slightly bent so the heel is off the ground. The lifter should feel the weight balanced equally on both legs. If the front shin is angled with the knee in front of the foot, there will be too much pressure on the front leg and not enough on the back leg. If the back leg is locked and straight with the back heel down, there is too much weight on the back leg. Again, we are looking for balance on both legs – especially important as we talk about Recovery in the next section.
The Split in the jerk is NOT a lunge! It is not a leg exercise, but more of a positioning thing. In a lunge, the hips shoot forward and the knee goes in front of the foot, putting more weight on the front leg and making it a great leg exercise. Oftentimes, I see lifters allowing the hips to “sag” when the bar is overhead, causing this lunge type effect. Not a very stable overhead position at all!
In the receiving position, it is important to maintain a tight core with the shoulders, hips and legs tight. It is important to keep the “head through” so the bar is behind the ears as mentioned above. One of the drills I do when emphasizing this point is to actually have them hold a weight in the split position and I tug on the bar and push them around a bit. If everything stays tight and is in the correct position, the lifter should be able to hold that position effortlessly.
The arms should lock out at the same time that the feet contact the ground in the Split. Basically, the lifter is “pressing” themselves into the split but it has to happen quickly so those nasty officials don’t call them for pressout! 😊
So, that brings up a couple questions. First, to stomp or not to stomp? A stomping of the front foot is OK, but I prefer more of a quick shuffle, very similar to the technique we emphasized in going under a clean or snatch. If a stomp is occurring, that really helps stress getting the front out forcefully, but it also takes a bit more time. We talked about force production into the ground when talking about pulling and the same principle applies here. When the foot is off the ground to make that stomp happen, where is the force production while the foot is in the air?
The next question is, which foot hits first in the Split, the front or the back? Most would argue, I think, that the back foot hits slightly ahead of the front foot. But, one of my top lifters, Phil Sabatini, is an excellent jerker and when you slow down his jerk with video analysis, you will see that his FRONT foot actually hits a tad earlier than the back foot. Does it really matter? My thought has always been that the foot contact should be simultaneous and fast and that if one foot hits before the other, so what??
Lastly, how big should the Split be? It varies with limb length, but basically, the front foot will be about 1-1 ½ foot lengths forward and the back foot about the same. Bottom line is, whatever the length of the Split will be determined by where the hips are. As long as the hips stay in the same line as the start, the distance the front and back foot travel will be determined. More about that in the Recovery section of this article.
Remember that the bar really only has to be driven to the top of the forehead so the timing getting into that strong receiving position is smooth and efficient.
If the bar is in the correct position overhead in the Split, the Recovery should be a lot easier. Since the weight is evenly distributed on both legs with the hips under the bar, the first movement should be with the front leg. The athlete will push up and back with the front foot recovery. Be careful not to JUST step BACK with the front foot without pushing UP as this will cause a horizontal movement. Instead, think of “squishing a bug” with that front foot. Yeah, I know that sounds weird, but think about it, how do you squish a bug? You smash it and slide your foot back to get the bug off the bottom of your shoe, right? Well, if you do this with a weight over your head, the result is just what you are looking for – vertical movement of the bar, not horizontal!
After the front foot has slid back and up, then that means the hips have risen as well allowing the back leg to recover toward the midline. A third step by the front foot might be necessary, depending on the athlete. I always preferred a 3 step recovery, although some are good with a 2 or even 4 step recovery. All during this Recovery time, the head has to stay neutral keeping the bar behind the ears and in line with the hips.
I do this simple test with my lifters all of the time to see if everything is in line as it should be. I have them stand in the “setup” position with a line drawn on the platform horizontally through the middle of the feet. I have them Dip and hold that position to make sure the hips are in line with that line on the floor. Then, I have them Drive and Split, trying to keep the hips still above that line and ONLY moving the front and back leg into the Split position with the weight balanced on both legs, front shin vertical, back knee bent, etc. On the recovery, front foot first (“squishing the bug”), then back foot, then front foot. If this exercise was done correctly, the lifter should end up in exactly the same position on the line as they started. Give it a try!
Let’s go back to the Jerk technique of Mattie Rogers, a several time National Champion and World Silver medalist. I think you will see that even lifting some amazing weights in a competitive situation, the technique doesn’t break down and she stays true to the physics that got her there! (Again, many thanks to Victor Bergonzoli of DartFish and SportEdTV for the great sequence photos).
In Part 1, photo sequences 1-3, we saw the vertical dip and drive, ending with a strong triple extension of the hips, knees and ankles. The drive pretty much stopped at the top of the forehead as we had mentioned in photo sequence 4. Her timing going under the bar and “meeting the bar” with locked arms is more efficient due to the “shuffle” of the feet into the Split rather than “stomping” into the Split. Notice how the feet barely left the platform. Again, in that photo starting to go under the bar, note the position of the plates in relation to the window in the background – still the same, indicating a vertical drive that we want.
In the next photo, we see Mattie in a near perfect Split hitting all of the major key positions that we discussed – bar behind the ears, center of gravity of the bar in line with her center of gravity and over the center of the area of base, front shin vertical, back knee bent, back heel up.
Because the weight is evenly distributed over both legs, the Recovery is with the front foot first, pushing up and back. Then, the back foot as the weight continues to be pushed vertically. Very little horizontal movement at all.
Look at her feet at the completion of the Jerk. Same as where she started. Look at the plates in relation to the window in the background. Same as where she started. What do you think?? Pretty good lift, huh?? Kinda what we are talking about!!
Good luck on getting those Jerks back up to par! Keep working on the technique to get as consistent as possible and, if strength is the issue for maintaining those correct positions, then keep working on that aspect of it. No excuses to miss any more jerks!!