Three Assistance Exercises for the Jerk
This past weekend I was discussing the Jerk with a friend of mine, and I suggested some assistance exercises to help his lifter find their position in the split. The three exercises I’ll discuss this week are assistance lifts for the total movement of the jerk; they aren’t remedial exercises for mobility or hip strength like unilateral work, nor are they pure strength exercises for the shoulders like push presses are. They are, rather, a combination of strength and position which demand the body find its best position in the jerk in order to complete.
The jerk recovery is my favorite overall exercise for total body strength. When done properly there is nothing that will work your recovery position in the jerk better, and while working the recovery, I will force your body to learn to recover from a properly balanced split. Here’s how we do it with my team:
Set up in a power rack (best idea) or with spotter arms (okay idea). If you’re strong and doing these with 500 pounds or more, I wouldn’t trust spotter arms. This is another reason why every gym needs a power rack. USE A CRAPPY BAR for these; we usually use one of our 40 year old York bars, or even a Texas Power bar. The bar is going to get abused and I would be very angry if you used the Eleiko Competition bar.
The bar should rest above your head, more or less where it would be when you are at the bottom of your split. It’s better to be a little high than it is to be a little low; if the bar is lower than you would do for a normal split, then you will risk injury and throw off your mechanics.
We do these for the recovery, and therefore we don’t split under the bar fast and then stand up right away. I want to overload the recovery position as much as possible, so we start FROM the split. I’ll mark the floor for people who need their footwork marked to ensure proper foot placement. Your arms are overhead, not forward, and your first recovery step is going to push the bar UP. If the bar goes forward you will need to adjust your position. If the bar drifts back you’ll need to engage the back leg more to provide a better base of support. When you’re done, lower the bar by squatting down and letting the bar go with you. Only let go totally if you collapse.
You’ll learn to brace properly to recover, you’ll learn to hold the brace, you’ll learn good shoulder/ overhead position, and you’ll get a hell of a trunk workout. Because these are a partial movement, you can do them and recover within 24 hours or so for the next days session.
We do low reps and high sets for these. Beginners and weak folk should start with 50% of their jerk for a set of two and go up 10% until they can only do one rep. For warm-ups and the sake of easy loading I used to start with 135 pounds- I would always use metal weights on the power or cheap bars- and go until I hit a max double. I’d start to use 25 pound plates after the bar got really heavy. I never used smaller because I didn’t need to. Keep the total reps in the 12-20 range.
When you get very good at these you’ll start to naturally do a front-front-back recovery. I like that best. You’ll also learn to slide the front foot back instead of lifting it off the ground. Sliding maintains some double-support and will keep your elbows from unlocking during the jerk. I teach all my lifters to slide their front foot back instead of lifting it. My goal is for the athlete to do 150% of their jerk in a jerk recovery.
Jerk Balance/ Jerk Step-out
This is a technical exercise I started to use in the early 2000s. I differentiate between the Jerk Balance and the Jerk Step out as follows: In the Jerk Balance you have a countermovement, and in the Jerk Step-Out you do not have a countermovement to initiate the drive under the bar. To perform these, we will:
Start from blocks or a rack. We can clean the bar to position if we need to, but if we want to focus on jerk technique, I’d eliminate the clean. Jerk the bar overhead into a full split (mark the foot position for beginners or people doing these to improve foot position).
Once in the full split position, recover with the front foot all the way. Your back foot will stay in the split position. I call this the Front Foot Recovered position. You THEN lower the bar to the shoulders. Remember- Front Foot, then bar.
With the bar on your shoulders, you will dip with the front leg and drive yourself under the bar into the split position (for the jerk balance); for the Jerk Step out you merely step forward (out) with your front leg without the dip. In BOTH instances you should land with the front foot in position and arms locked simultaneously.
We do three to five sets of three to five reps, relatively light; step outs are done lighter than balances. We can also add either of these to a complex, such as: push press+jerk+jerk balance
This is among the most difficult psychological movements we do as an accessory lift. The movement is deceivingly simple, but overcoming the mental need to dip to force yourself funder the bar is very difficult for people. Casting away that mental crutch, and realizing the jerk is about driving UNDER and not driving UP, will make you a much better lifter.
To do a Drop Jerk set up exactly as you would for a jerk. Brace, tuck your hips, elbows up and out, shift your weight back, and
Lift your knees and step forward and back. No countermovement, no shift, no wiggle, just drop down and punch the arms overhead. Again, we will mark the floor for foot placement if the lifter needs it.
When we land, we hold for a second, then recover normally.
Three to five sets of three to five reps, or do as a part of a complex: Clean, drop jerk, jerk; or press, push press, drop jerk, jerk. Use whatever way your imagination can to come up with complexes, just make sure they flow easily.