Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Improving the Split Jerk.

It's no secret that my split jerk sucks. A lot. I mean, with a PR clean of a pretty easy 137, my best competition legal clean & jerk is 118, and my best jerk off blocks is 125. Meanwhile, I have strict pressed 102. Seems legit.

With that said, I have made some effective changes to my jerk, so I figured I'd write a bit about stuff that's helped me improve. It is still a work in progress, so please comment on this post if you have further ideas that may help me/others jerk more and better (heh heh.)

Let's start with the obvious.

Are your positions good?

Before discussing what drills may or may not help improve your split jerk, you need to be sure you're not just doing it wrong. We'll work from the ground up.

Dip Drive:
-Is your weight in your heels? If you dip/drive on your toes, not only are you doing a poor job of engaging musculature (the posterior chain will see little to no involvement if you're off your heels,) you're also allowing the weight to come forward, and a forward lift is a missed lift.

-Are you dipping and driving on both feet (i.e. not favoring either side)? If not, you're not using as much muscle as you could be, and you're creating uneven force against the bar. Obviously not the most effective way to move weight.

-Are you dipping straight down, and driving straight up? Same as the first. Dip forward, drive forward, bar forward, miss forward.

-Are you keeping your shoulders pulled back hard? I bet you're starting to see a pattern here. If the shoulders aren't pulled back hard, your chest will collapse, and guess where the bar goes? Hint: not backwards, and probably not over your head.

-Are you allowing the weight to "sit heavy" on your shoulders (i.e. not trying to hold it in your hands or push against it with your hands to make it feel lighter)? This was a big one for me. I really held the bar in my hands and even though it was in contact with my shoulders, my arms were tensed and I was committed, whether consciously or unconsciously, to making it "feel light." Doesn't work. You WANT the bar to sit heavy across your shoulders, with the arms loose and relaxed. That way the legs can do their job without those pesky shoulders getting involved until it's their turn. Remember, the legs drive the bar up, the arms push you down.

Receiving Position (i.e. the split):

-Are your feet where they need to be? Consider both length of the stance (front to back) and the width of the stance (left to right.) If the stance is too short, you won't get under the bar. Too long (much less common, in my experience) and it's harder to get the hips and knees properly positioned, and it becomes harder to recover the bar. Too narrow, you will lack stability, too wide, and you end up in all kinds of weird positions, usually including the stance being too short. I found recently that my stance didn't need to be as long as I thought (particularly, my rear foot was too far back, making it hard to get my hips under my shoulders,) and it needed to be wider than I thought. Honestly, this is one thing where you very well may need a coach to take a look and tell you what needs fixing - that's what I needed, at least.

-Is your weight distributed correctly across your feet? There should be just slightly more weight in the front foot than in the rear foot.

-Are your heels turned out/hips internally rotated? If your heels are turned in/toes out, the hips will be in external rotation, and you're creating openings for the weight to push you out of position. The heels should be slightly turned out, and the femurs internally rotated, particularly on the rear leg. This will help "lock" you into place.

-Is your front shin slightly behind vertical/knees behind toes? Knee ahead of toes = missed lift. Keeping the shin slightly behind vertical helps ensure that the weight pushes you DOWN instead of forward (because what do we know about forward lifts?)

-Is your rear knee soft and the heel off the ground? If the rear leg is straight, then when the barbell pushes down on you, there's no give. So guess where you go? That's right, to that hateful "bar forward" place. Let that knee be soft. And if the heel is on the ground, it's a) unlikely that your knee is soft enough and b) VERY unlikely that the heel is turned out. Seriously, try it. If you can have your heel on the ground, turned out, and your knee bent to a reasonable degree (you need to have give,) you have some weird flexibility, man.

-Are your hips directly beneath your shoulders? If your hips are behind your shoulders, your torso is probably leaning forward, and there's that terrible word again. It also means that shoulders will probably be behind the bar, and that's no good.

-Are your shoulders directly beneath the bar? If not, the bar is likely forward. THIS IS A TREND IN CASE YOU HAVEN'T FIGURED IT OUT YET. Pretty much everything we do in the jerk, is done to ensure that the weight ends up squarely over the shoulders, which are squarely over the hips. The position and angle of the feet directly affects the position of the hips and legs, which affects the position of the torso and shoulders, which affects the position of the bar, which affects whether or not you make the lift, which affects how much you hate yourself at the end of the day.

I think that about covers it. Now onto drills and skills.

Stuff that might help

One thing I should get out of the way right off the bat: the biggest difference maker for me, was switching my grip. I used to jerk with the bar in my hands. This is probably optimal if you can do it, but I couldn't do it. I had the flexibility, but my natural inclination to press would completely take over. I dipped in poor position, didn't drive hard with my legs, and tried to lay back and get behind the bar. No worky. One day I decided to put my elbows higher and move the bar more towards my fingers, and almost immediately saw significant increases in the weights I could consistently jerk with pretty good, and legal, form. Not a chance in hell I would have managed 125 off the blocks with the bar in my hands. I was able to let the bar "sit heavy" more effectively, and stayed loose and relaxed through the arms. Again: for most people, it's probably optimal to have the bar in the hands (as long as you can also have it sitting across your delts,) but if you have a significant "press out" problem, especially one which occurs early (i.e., I would start pressing the bar around forehead level, not just at the top,) then give this a shot.

1) Press, push press, jerk from split. I got this one from Coach Pendlay, who got it from Donny Shankle when he brought it back from the OTC. This is a tremendous way to establish an understanding of what your position should be in the split jerk and how you should feel when receiving the bar. I ALWAYS warm up my jerk or C&J with this drill.

2) Behind the neck jerks. Particularly if you have problems with trying to press the jerk, because it's a whole lot harder to do from BTN. Much like moving the bar into the fingers can do, putting the bar behind your neck disincentivizes pressing because it puts you in a suboptimal position to do so. It can also help teach you to keep your shoulders back, weight on heels, and get a nice, straight dip and drive. I hope you have jerk blocks, because I don't, and let me tell you lowering the bar behind your neck SUCKS.

3) Clean + Jerk + Jerk from split. I don't go too heavy with this, and I never go to a point where my form isn't good. Doing the jerk after a clean is always good, since that's the contested lift, and I find that doing the jerk from split after a normal jerk helps me keep the position. I typically do this as I'm warming up my clean & jerk, and after 80-85, I switch to regular clean & jerk.

4) Timed sets. Light weight (I typically use 85.) Anywhere from 10-20 singles on the minute, preferably off blocks. Ideally your form will get better with each rep. Coach Pendlay said to me "the most important thing you can do for your jerk, is to do a lot more reps with weight you can do correctly." I took that to heart, and unsurprisingly it helped.

5) Mobilize your shoulders and thoracic spine. Seriously, if you're not mobile enough to get into good position in the first place, nothing else you do is going to matter. If you have no idea how to do this, head over to Mobility WOD, start with the very first post, and begin your journey to becoming a Supple Leopoard.

6) Rush it a bit. I know this sounds counter intuitive, but for some reason, if I very quickly begin the jerk after standing up the clean, I do better. Even if the clean felt heavy or I feel like I need more time, I just get onto my heels, pull my shoulders back, take a big breath and GO. This one is probably pretty individual, so give it a shot, and if you suck more than usual, discard it.

7) Focus on the legs. Thank you, Captain Obvious. But hey, it helped. Just really think to yourself "LEGS, LEGS, LEGS." Let your arms be loose and don't even think about them. Just try to send that bar FLYING with your hips and legs and then move your feet.

8) Try a belt. For some reason, the belt helped me a ton. Maybe it's just because jerks tend to make my lower back feel strained, so this may be totally irrelevant for you. But it seems to keep me from laying back and lets me get a more "solid" set-up for my dip and drive.

I think this pretty much covers the stuff that made the biggest changes for me. Post thoughts to comments.


Anonymous said...

Good read. The jerk used to be my strongest lift, but now I clean more.

Tsypkin said...

Glad you enjoyed it, Aaron. If you have any further suggestions that may help me/others who have trouble with the jerk, please feel free to post them!

Unknown said...

one of the best technique clips I've seen in awhile. Very nice thanks

Unknown said...

good stuff

alex c from oneworld said...

I enjoyed this read, great article!