Pressing Down For The Jerk

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Last night in a quick training session with Mike Poppa at Real Fitness CrossFit Sarasota we covered all there is to know about the Olympic Lifts in 4 hours. It was a quick glimpse of the lifts for a crowd that was incredibly talented to begin with.
However, one of the questions that came up is one I have not addressed and wanted to answer for the jerk. One of the athletes asked me why it was so important that they had their entire hand on the bar for the jerk. As a very subtle part of the jerk that is super important for lockout and speed to the lockout. You need your whole hand around the bar to allow yourself to press into the bar. You have no pressing power from a position where your elbows are high and only your fingers on the bar. Your elbows should be down at a 45° angle and you need to be able to press with your palm into the bar. That being said I do not ever advocate thinking about pressing the bar overhead in the jerk. That’s just not practical with any sort of significant weight. However, you do want to allow your body to use the pressing power to push yourself under the bar into a good split. This type of pressing power increases speed and allows for a faster lockout under the bar. If you are not pressing in the bar you’re literally taking away your ability to drop into a split faster than gravity will allow. Without applying pressure downward your body can only move at the speed of gravity. However if you’re able to press into the bar as it moves upward you’re able to press yourself down faster than gravity pulls you down naturally. This is why it’s important to have your whole hand on the bar and have your elbows down at 45°. This subtle little jerk technique will give you extra speed and extra lockout power especially in PR attempts. Give this a shot and remember: SPEED KILLS. Especially in the Olympic lifts.

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5 responses to “Pressing Down For The Jerk

  1. First off, thanks, as always, for continuing to put out great materiel. I usually sit back and just read, however I’ve had some thoughts about this that I want to share.

    I feel like elbow position in the jerk is similar to bat position at the plate. You see a lot of ball players sway their bats back and forth while waiting for a pitch, while some hold them still. Others hold their bats high and others low. What seems to happen more often than not, however, is that all batters reach nearly the exact same setup the split second before they swing regardless of where they started.

    Relating to the jerk, I have noticed that those who hold their elbows high in a front rack position tend to drop their elbows to 45 degrees to press under within milliseconds of finishing the hip extension, resulting in the same effect as the setup you describe.

    I know I personally used to hold my elbows around 45 degrees, however due to tendinitis in the shoulders, I can no longer reach this position without some pain. I have also found that keeping the elbows up high allows for the most vertical dip and drive, however this is likely due to other core strength/mobility issues as I know plenty of lifters who can do this with the elbows at 45.

    Though we could easily argue those milliseconds are valuable, I think the front rack has it’s benefits. I’d be interested in hearing your thoughts, as I think (if I remember correctly) you used to keep your elbows high before being converted to 45.

    • Personally I would argue that the most important thing is not the exact position of the elbows, but the fact that the elbows/shoulders do NOT move during the dip and drive. Moving the elbows down during the dip with light weights but all to often with limit attempts, when the elbows move the shoulders also collapse to some degree, and this leaks energy from the drive up. I do agree that with most people, elbows down and out is better. But no matter where they are, I think that having the elbows/shoulders/upper back NOT move is even more important.

    • Great questions. My answer is simple. If the shoulders and hips stay aligned I don’t care where your elbows are as long as they are down at 45 degrees when you start the drive. That being said it is almost impossible to drop your elbows during the dip and drive and not allow your shoulders to move forward and upper back to flex. That’s why I advocated elbows down at 45 degrees to prevent any loss of energy. You need the pressing power but just as importantly you need the stable midline.

      I did used to have my elbows super high and I missed jerks like it was my job. Burgener took me lower with my elbows and immediately I was stronger overhead.

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