The Jerk via/Harvey Newton

Shane Jerk

Every month I receive a newsletter correspondence from Harvey Newton. He is, in my opinion, one of the more qualified men in the country to speak on technical work for the Snatch and Clean and Jerk. I frequently bounce ideas off of him and was lucky enough to take my Level 2 USAW course with him.

He comments in his past newsletter about the running trend surrounding the jerk we are seeing largely because of CrossFit. In weightlifting, on the elite level especially, rarely do competitors not have a jerk that far exceeds their clean max. This is why we rarely see athletes miss jerks barring a technical misstep.

It seems like today that trend is shifting. More people are seeing their clean increase and seeing their PR rapidly grow yet their jerk is nowhere near complimentary. Don’t believe me? Watch the clean ladder from the Games last year. At least half of the best did not fail because they missed the clean, they missed a jerk.

I don’t understand why this trend is happening except that it is easier to increase your total in the clean and much much more tedious to do so in the jerk. The jerk is far more technical and perfecting it takes a lot more attention and a lot more skill than the brute strength requirement of the jerk. Below you can read Harvey express the first part of this frustration surrounding this fact as well as some technical advice for helping the jerk.

Remember the Olympic lift doesn’t stop at the clean. It’s the Clean AND Jerk. Having a really strong clean when added with a jerk that is 30% less just means you get credit for a lift that is 30% less than what you can clean. Think about how many Olympic champions or world record holders that would have fallen short had their jerk been deficient? It matters in the Olympic lifts the same way it matters in CrossFit. If Elisabeth Akinwale makes the jerk at 235, she wins the clean and jerk ladder. Mainly because she certainly would have cleaned 240. The same could be said for Lindsey Valenzuela and Ben Smith. For Garret Fisher it might have meant he moves up one spot on the final leaderboard above Scott Panchik.

The bottomline that we all have to face up to is that the jerk often times takes more work and is harder mentally to accomplish than a clean. That doesn’t give us the excuse to work around it just because our clean goes up. Don’t ignore it. Bang away at it.

Harvey Newton’s Words:

Mastery of the Jerk (Part I)

Recently I’ve been amazed at the number of lifters, especially new or novice lifters, many with only a CrossFit background, that talk about how much they can clean, yet seldom mention how much they can clean and jerk. When asked, the C&J figure is frequently lower than the clean result.

The clean and jerk is one lift, not two. Appreciate the fact that the lift is not over until you get the down signal while standing with feet parallel and the bar overhead! Weightlifters don’t really care how much you can do on half of the lift.

Asking such a lifter how much they can jerk from the rack almost always results in a fairly blank look. It seems few of these lifters develop the ability to jerk more from the rack than they can clean.

Certainly one of the most disappointing moments in a weightlifter’s career is cleaning, but failing to successfully jerk, a winning weight. Do you have a reserve built into your jerk in order to confidently approach that part of the lift that secures victory?

The jerk is actually a very simple movement. I’m surprised that the jerk presents a challenge for so many lifters. Can you jerk more than you clean? If so, by how much? Jerking from the rack 5% more than one’s best C&J does not seem an excessive goal. Someone capable of 100kg C&J should aim for a jerk from the rack of at least 105kg, 150 C&J should jerk 157.5, etc.

Do the math; this is not asking for too much. Yet I wonder, how many readers can jerk 5% more than their best C&J?

I’m never sure beginners really understand the dynamics behind this otherwise simple lift. I’m talking here about the classic split-style jerk, not power jerks or squat jerks.

It’s been my experience that far too many novices fail to locate the bar properly on the shoulders. It’s important to rack the weight behind the anterior deltoids, but also raise the shoulders enough to keep the bar off the windpipe.

Even with the bar properly located on the shoulders, many lifters seem challenged in this position. They resort to an open grip, hanging onto the bar by the fingertips. While this is OK and certainly within the rules, it makes more sense to me that lifters such as this should work to improve their flexibility.

One benefit of the fingertip grip is a relaxation of the upper arm’s muscles. Having a full grip, while desired, often results in a lifter tensing up the arms, an action that almost always leads to a disconnect of the bar and the shoulders during the dip phase of the jerk. Maintaining a full grip on the bar, with the bar in proper rack position, is a minimal requirement for someone wishing to perform a C&J effectively.

Next comes elbow location. Many, many novices (particularly females) exaggerate this and begin the jerk with their upper arms parallel, or nearly parallel, to the platform. This is not a strong posture from which to gain an upper body contribution to the drive portion of the jerk.

As seen in Photo 2 above, those that can’t properly rack the bar often have their elbows pointed downward, another weak position that fails to optimize the lower body’s contribution in the jerk drive.

The lower arms should be somewhere between parallel to the platform and perpendicular to the platform. Neither works well. Similarly, the elbows should be neither pointed to the sides nor to the front. Again, somewhere in between is preferred. This takes some time to develop an effective position.

“Heels!” We hear that all too often as a lifter prepares to jerk. I asked longtime friend, colleague, and fellow USA Olympic Team Coach, Roger Nielsen, a few years ago how this advice came about. He told me it was an attempt to keep lifters from tipping forward during the jerk. OK, this makes sense except I seldom see accomplished lifters tip forward while dipping.

You’ll never hear me yelling to get on the heels. Common sense says we cannot jump from such a posture, and the jerk is a matter of jumping with weights. I have posted on my channel ( an example of why an emphasis on balance on the heels can actually cause the lifter to move the bar horizontally during the drive portion of the jerk, which is the one thing this position was supposed to prevent.

Roman and Shakiryanov’s famous text “The Snatch, The Clean and Jerk” clearly states “The preliminary squat or half-squat (dip) is executed with the weight distributed uniformly over both feet.” They go on to point out that during the dip the combined, or unit, center of gravity, moves forward (from close to the ankle joint) to a spot over the MTP joint, or widest part of the foot.

The previously mentioned text refers to the dip measuring approximately 10% of the lifter’s height, with calculations for lighter lifters equaling just under six inches, middle category lifters just over six inches, and the heaviest lifters just over seven inches.

Here’s a nice shot of a properly executed dip, with the bar and elbows correctly positioned for maximum force production:

Most important for the jerk is the braking action at the bottom of the dip and the conversion from an eccentric action to a concentric movement. Here is where the importance of optimizing jumping ability during GPP training is vital. Yet, again, I find many lifters do little, if an, jumping.

(To be continued)

Harvey Newton, MA, CSCS

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3 responses to “The Jerk via/Harvey Newton

  1. I just started your weightlifting program after doing the outlaw way for nearly two years. One thing I have noticed, and I think Rudy touched on this at the MDUSA camp, was the lower volume of jerk work in crossfit training due to the demand that crossfit places on the shoulders. As a result, my clean is definitely stronger than my jerk, and it has been for some time now. I’m not sure how you might remedy this in a program designed to get you better at crossfit, when the demand n the shoulders is so high, and we are trying to get better at everything, not just the jerk. Albeit, I can imagine that a stronger jerk would transfer over to other overhead skills as well.
    I’m really excited about this WL program, and looking to finally get my jerk up!!! Thanks! -Mr. Orange Ukelele

    • HA! Orange Ukelele. The way you improve the jerk without taxing the shoulders is through jerk auxiliary work like jerk balances and one toe split jerks which work at 40% or 50% and create relatively no shoulder stress or fatigue.

      • Most of people’s jerk problems are not power related or strength related. Typically they are technique related which is relatively easy to fix without putting undue stress on the shoulders or upper back.

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