5 variations for the jerk

In this article we continue with our list of variations for the Olympic lifts. In our previous article we looked at variations for the snatch and the clean, today we’ll have a look at the jerk. These can all be done from rack, blocks or – with the exception of the behind the neck variation – after a clean.

Behind the neck jerk

This somewhat odd variation is meant to teach good catch position due to the bar being in a more favorable position than the front rack. Some people will be able to handle more weight doing jerks behind the neck than doing them from the conventional front rack position, therefore it can be used as an overload lift as well.

In terms of performance the only difference between a regular jerk and a jerk behind the neck is that you start with the bar on your back, like a back squat. I rarely prescribe it but I’ve seen some benefit from it, especially in terms of confidence due to the previously mentioned overload factor. Plenty of old Soviet litterature recommend it however.

Push/power jerk

A push/power jerk is a legit way to lift in competition instead of utilizing the more common split jerk. For most people the split jerk will be better, but there are those, and the author being one of them, who actually does better with a push/power jerk. Viktor Sots, who held the World record in the clean & jerk back in the day also used this variation in training, as did Yurik Vardanian for a short while.

Power jerks are done in the same manner as a regular jerk except that instead of splitting your legs you drop down into a half squat, similar to a power snatch or power clean. The push jerk is identical but is done “no feet”, meaning you don’t rearrange the feet as you drop under. As a variation to the split jerk it simply gives you a different mean to do a jerk to avoid habituation from too frequent competition jerks. There are however biomechanical differences that you might not be aware of. The spine, for one, will end up in quite a different position in the push jerk than in the split jerk. All litterature I’ve seen states that more power is necessary in order to perform a push/power jerk compared to a split jerk, seemingly making it less efficient. However, it’s impossible to deny that some people do better with it.

Pause jerk

A pause jerk is done in order to teach position. It should be used with caution as it could teach the very bad habit of actually pausing in the bottom of the dip in the jerk. It’s of the utmost importance that the lifter doesn’t do this in competition because the faster one can reverse the dip, the more weight one will lift.

To perform this variation simply dip down, pause for about 2 seconds, then explode up and jerk. It’s mainly used to teach position and the idea of “driving through” hard and strongly.

Push press & jerk

You might think it’s cheating to include complexes but I disagree! Push press & jerk is something I often prescribe to beginners and early intermediates especially due to the effect it has on locking out. Doing push presses alone is fine, and can be used too but it doesn’t serve as an equally good teaching tool in my experience. As a strength tool it’s great of course.

There’s probably not much mystery in how you should perform the push press & jerk: do a push press, bring the bar back to the rack position and then jerk it. There’s one thing to be careful with when using it as a teaching too though: ensure that the lift actually teaches a stable lockout and not turn the jerk into a press. In the latter case it could have a negative carryover and worsen the competition lift.

Chest bumps & jerk

This variation is something I use a lot for beginners or even intermediates who’ve gotten the bad habit of pressing the bar too early. It’s always done with light weights and only as a warmup before doing jerks. It helps if you want to teach proper push presses as well.

To perform chest bumps have the bar in the front rack position. Dip and drive up like you’re about to jerk the bar but don’t split your feet and don’t use your arms at all. The bar should leave the chest (probably to about eye level) and then come back down to the rack position. Perform 2-4 such chest bumps and then immediately jerk the bar. If you’ve been pressing the bar too early instead of actually jerking it like you should you’re in for a revelation of how much the legs can actually be used to drive the bar up.

Final thoughts

There doesn’t appear to be as many useful variations to the jerk compared to the snatch or clean. Once the technique is established, the best jerkers in history have focused on the classic clean & jerk and the front squat. Just look at the select few elite who have actually managed to clean & jerk over triple bodyweight. It’s a short list of primarily Bulgarian lifters or people trained in that manner. Take that as a hint. However, variations as teaching tools variations are very useful.