Ask Greg: Issue 114
Greg Everett

Jessica Asks: As a novice female lifter I have issues with my split jerk drive. I start fine with the dip but always go forward on the drive no matter how hard I fight it. It's less so when I power jerk but I'm not sure whether I should try to switch completely or not given the fact that I just can't move the same weight. Now I'll be the first to admit I need to get stronger and that does play a part here but I often wonder if the split jerk is the most effective/efficient way for me to go. Here is where my question lies, which jerk is more efficient in the world of Olympic Weightlifting the split or the power?

Greg Says: There are lifters in the world who will do better as power jerkers than as split jerkers, but they’re the exception. This is something that will become apparent over time, and that’s the important point—it takes time to determine if the power jerk is genuinely better for you or if you just haven’t learned how to split jerk well yet. Just like the snatch and clean, the jerk takes time to learn, and during the process of learning, it may not feel very good. Specifically, it’s very common for new lifters to dip and drive forward when doing the split jerk.

There is a reason that the vast majority of elite competitive weightlifters split jerk—it allows you (generally) to get more weight overhead for three basic reasons: You can get deep (about the level of a parallel squat), you have a very broad base in all directions, and it requires the least flexibility of the three possible jerks. The squat jerk will allow you to get the deepest (a full depth squat), but you have to be extremely flexible, strong and precise—you have to be able to recover from a jerk-grip overhead squat (possible from a dead stop in the bottom) with your maximum clean & jerk weight—AFTER doing that heavy clean—and put the bar in the perfect position, as there’s essentially no margin for error; the main benefit is that you have to elevate the bar the least in the squat jerk. In the power jerk, you have to elevate the bar higher than in the squat or split, have very good overhead flexibility, and have a good deal of precision with your bar placement, as well as be very balanced and precise in your dip and drive, i.e. you can’t shift forward or push the bar forward. The split jerk provides the greatest margin for error in terms of bar placement overhead with its broader base (you can more easily adjust to stay under the bar following an imperfect initial placement), the least demand on flexibility, and the greatest ease of recovery from even a very deep receiving position. In other words, it’s very much worth putting in the time and effort to try to master the split jerk rather than giving up and only using the power jerk.

Now to the part you actually care about: How to fix your split jerk. It’s very common for people to drive forward when doing the split jerk, even if they’re able to dip and drive vertically in a power or push jerk. This is normally the result of the lifter being so focused on the split that they begin it too early, and in combination with that, leaning or diving the chest forward as a part of the split action.

The first thing to understand is that the dip and drive of the split jerk should be identical to that of the power jerk—that is, it needs to be straight down, straight up and complete. The lift only varies with the splitting of the feet into the receiving position.

Your weight should be balanced on the heels but with full foot contact with the floor. That is, don’t shift back on your heels so far that you lose contact between the floor and the balls of your feet. This will nearly always result in your actually rocking farther forward than you were before shifting to your heels, directing your drive forward.

Unlock your knees and create tension on your quads. If you begin the dip of the jerk from the passive knee lock you normally stand with, there will be slack in the system and a moment of freefall before your quads catch up, and, aside from taking away from the smoothness of the movement we want, this will often shift you forward. Initiate the dip with a controlled enough acceleration that the bar remains connected to your shoulders completely. If you dip too abruptly, you lose that connection and the bar bounces on your shoulders, also generally shifting you forward.

Make sure that you’re getting a big, full breath—expanding the abdomen to ensure the diaphragm can drop—and locking it in tightly. Activate your glutes as well. You need to turn your trunk into a piston—totally rigid and prepared to move only vertically. After you take in your breath and stabilize, check your balance as sometimes taking the breath itself will shift you forward slightly.

To split, focus on lifting and reaching the heel of your front foot and driving your hips under the bar. Forget about the back foot—it will go far enough backward on its own, and thinking of reaching it back will usually cause you to push it too far back and actually pull your hips back out from under the bar, producing the same result as pushing the bar forward—your base is not underneath the weight, and consequently, you can’t support it overhead.

When you split, don’t reach your head and chest forward under the bar. Instead, split as described above while trying to push the bar back behind your head. This will help you achieve the ideal overhead position (bar over the back of the neck) while keeping you positioned under the bar properly. In the overhead position, your head and chest should be pushed forward somewhat, but if you attempt this prematurely, it will affect the entire position of your body. Let it happen more as a reaction to trying to push the bar back so that the timing is better.

Some exercises that can help are push jerks in a split position, presses in the split position, jerk balances, push presses, power jerks and split jerks behind the neck. A good complex for you would be push press + split jerk, trying to replicate the vertical and balanced dip and drive and the push of the bar back behind your head from the push press in the subsequent split jerk. Power jerk + split jerk is another good complex as long as you’re able to maintain your balance and vertical dip and drive in the power jerk.

Give yourself some time to work on improving your split jerk before you abandon it. Remember, this is stuff you don’t master quickly.

Katie Asks
: When I'm snatching I tend to hit the bar out away from my body too far, which I know is something many lifters struggle with. I haven't heard too much critique regarding my first pull and I get the bar all the way into my hips and stay over the bar well but when my hips extend through the bar and my chest gets vertical I feel like I may be overextending, resulting in a horizontal and loopy bar path rather than a vertical bar path. The logical solution would seem to be to take a little steam off the hip power but now I'm just missing lifts and still hitting the bar outward. Could this be a positioning issue? Maybe my weight isn't distributed properly or maybe I just don't have the upper body strength needed to be able to take some power off of the hip extension and still be able to get the bar up overhead. Are there any technique drills that would help with this? Any advice is appreciated. Thanks!

Greg Says: You never want to reduce the power of the hip extension—you just need to balance it with leg extension, be sure you’re not driving the hips too far forward, remaining properly balanced as you extend, and controlling the bar as you pull under.

There are a number of possibilities here, so I’m going to try to go through them in a logical order, from bottom to top. In the early part of the lift, i.e. the pull from the floor to the hips, if you get your weight too far back, it’s likely you’ll end up driving too far forward through the bar as you extend, actually ending up with your balance much farther forward than it would have been had you been more balanced across the foot. I tell people to imagine being balanced over the front edge of the heel—in other words, slightly behind the middle of the foot. This means there is slightly more pressure on the heel than the balls of the foot, but the full foot remains in contact with the floor. In this case, if you’re bringing the bar back to your hips as you say, this may actually be contributing to the problem, as your hips would be too far back, so the bar is then being pushed forward too much as your hips extend.

Imagine when standing straight up a vertical line that runs through your ankle, hip and shoulder. In your final extended position, you want your hips to never cross through that line. They should begin behind it, move forward into it, and then move up along it as you finish the second pull. The hips should actually hyperextend to a small degree as you finish—that is, your body won’t be extended in a perfectly straight line—but this hyperextension is accomplished by bringing the shoulders back behind the hips rather than bringing the hips forward through our imaginary vertical line. Aim to finish the extension with your legs approximately vertical and your shoulders slightly behind your hips. This can be accomplished by entering the movement from a properly balanced position and then continuing to push aggressively against the floor with your legs as you extend your hips. This will help prevent your hips reaching too far through the bar and ensure that the force is primarily being directed upward rather than forward.

No matter how much you’ve screwed up to this point, you can still control the path of the bar with your upper body to a great degree and possibly salvage the lift. This is one of the reasons that I emphasize the upper body mechanics of the pull under the bar so much. Your lats and shoulders need to be actively pushing the bar back toward your body to help prevent any hip movement from pushing the bar forward, and you need to pull your elbows up and out to the sides as high and as aggressively as possible to pull yourself under. These two things will ensure that the bar remains close to your body (and body close to the bar).

Finally, in the turnover, don’t dive your head and chest forward under the bar. Remain upright and try to pull the bar back behind your head. Diving through can destroy an otherwise good lift, and it can greatly magnify forward imbalance from earlier in the lift.

To help correct these things, train snatch pulls and snatch deadlifts, focusing on the proper balance over the feet, and in the pulls, focusing on an aggressive and complete drive against the floor with the legs. Snatch high-pulls may also be helpful to let you focus on both the leg drive and pulling the elbows up and out properly.

Tall snatches will help you train the mechanics of the pull under (as long as you do them correctly—elbows high and out, and head and chest up), and dip snatches will do the same, but also help you train the aggressive push with the legs at the top of the pull.

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