Lifting for Fun: The One-Arm Clean & Jerk
by Tony Terlazzo (1950)
Note: Tony Terlazzo was the 132 lb. champion at the 1932 Olympics,
The most difficult of the five International lifts is the one-arm Clean & Jerk. This lift is not included in the national and international competitions. Along with the one-arm Snatch it was left out of competition in this country when it was decided that contests with five lifts were too long and tiresome to spectators. Weight lifting was becoming more popular and widely known about this time due to the efforts of Dietrich Wortmann, chairman of the national AAU weightlifting committee, Peary Rader, editor of IronMan and Bob Hoffman, editor of Strength & Health, and the York Lifting team which was making a name for itself traveling to various cities giving exhibitions and winning contests. I’m proud to say that I was a member of this team and that I had a part in spreading the gospel of weight lifting and good health through the medium of weights.
As I started to tell you, the contests were beginning to drag out. Entries for each contest became greater and greater, so that more and more time was required to run off a contest. The lifters themselves would become tired and weary of waiting for the finish of the contest. Likewise the spectators, even the most enthusiastic of them, became restless and tired of sitting for hours so that few of them remained to see the end of the contest. Therefore, to make the contests shorter and to create more spectator interest, the one-arm lifts, which included the one-arm Clean & Jerk, were left out of future contests. From then on all competition was decided on the three Olympic lifts.
To this day the one-arm lifts have not been again used in competition. But throughout the country and in parts of the world where weight lifting is practiced, lifters still enjoy doing the one-arm lifts. But since there is no competition held on these lifts, writers and trainers have written little or nothing about them. They have felt little or no need for instruction on them. Consequently there are but a few lifters who can perform them correctly and efficiently. This is especially true of the one-arm clean & jerk because it is in reality two lifts, both of which require an unusual amount of skill. The fact that the movements involved must be performed while only one arm in lifting the weight makes the lift a difficult one to execute.
It has been many years since I last practiced this lift but I have not forgotten how it should be done. Neither have I forgotten all the little tricks I used to employ in order to lift maximum poundage. I say “tricks” because the one-arm clean & jerk is a tricky lift. Unless one is shown or told how to properly execute the lift he can start out doing it wrong and continue doing it that way indefinitely. In this article I shall endeavor to explain the proper way to do the lift. To be sure, it is a difficult lift, but I know many of you will find it fascinating and for that reason will want to do it regardless.
An interpretation of the rules governing the one-arm clean & jerk as given in the AAU rule book amounts to this: the lift must be performed with the use of only one hand coming in contact with the weight. The weight must be lifter from the floor to the shoulder (or chest) in a single motion. Then, from the shoulder position the weight is tossed or jerked to arm’s length overhead and held there for two seconds before returning the weight to the floor. At no time must the lifter employ his other hand to assist the lifting arm in putting up the weight. The non-lifting arm must never come in contact with the weight. Failure to live up to this rule is cause for disqualification. In cleaning the weight the bar must not come in contact with any part of the body below the nipple line. It would be almost impossible to do it any other way. But the rules, nevertheless, are made clear so as to leave no doubt in the lifter’s mind as to what constitutes the Clean. The second part of the lift – the Jerk – is performed after the lifter has recovered from the clean and brought the body to an erect position prior to making the attempt for the jerk. The dictionary defines the word “jerk” as follows: to throw with a sudden quick movement; a sudden quick pull, push, twist, or spasmodic movement. The part applying to weight lifting therefore, means to throw or push with a sudden quick movement. That is exactly the way the jerk is done – suddenly, quickly. Now that you know what constitutes a one-arm Clean & Jerk, let us see how it is done.
Briefly, stand up to the bar with feet a comfortable distance apart and the legs as close to the bar as possible. In the meantime the bar is on the floor horizontally in front of you. Place the non-lifting hand on the knee of the left leg, assuming you are going to perform the lift with the right hand. Grasp the center of the bar with the hand under the bar and palm facing up. Keep the back as flat as possible and with a sudden effort bring the weight to the chest or shoulder. If the weight is heavy and you cannot pull it very high then you must lower your body enough so as to make it possible for you to bend the arm and catch the weight at the shoulder or chest in a comfortable and secure position. After having secured the bar where you know it will not fall back to the floor, you immediately rise and get yourself set for the jerk. In getting the weight to the shoulder or the chest the two most secure positions are either with the elbow of the lifting arm resting just above the hip or else with the inside of the upper arm solidly against the side of your chest while the bar is resting against the front and side portions of the shoulder. Which of these two positions will be most advantageous for you is entirely dependent on the type of body structure you possess. More about this later.
Having brought the weight to shoulder or chest, you now get set for the jerk. You assume what you feel is the better of the two positions for you. Suddenly bend both knees a little and with a mighty heave shove or jerk the weight to the straight arm position overhead. In making this effort be sure to push hard both with the legs and the arm. Also remember that the arm must go straight up, and the body should lean to one side only slightly. Too much lean will prevent the shoulder from locking quickly. Unless the arm and shoulder both lock quickly it will be most difficult and practically impossible to hold up anything but a light weight. A heavy poundage will always come back down making the effort a failure. In doing the jerk, most lifters split the legs to lower the body so that the weight may be brought to straight arm and balanced there. Should you find it more natural and suitable not to split the legs but leave the feet in one position instead, lower the body then by merely bending the knees as much as is necessary to enable you to lock out the arm.
In doing the Clean there are these points to remember:
1. Step right up to the bar, keeping the feet about sixteen inches apart but on a straight line.
2. The non-lifting hand should rest on the thigh just above the knee.
3. The lifting arm must be held fairly rigid after having gripped the bar preparatory to lifting the weight.
4. The knees of both legs are of course bent and the back is straight before pulling up the weight.
Remember that although you are going to lift the weight with the one hand it is not the strength of the lifting arm only which determines how much weight you will lift. The arm serves only as a link. The actual lifting is done with the legs, back and shoulder.
In the old days when we used to do the one-arm lifts in competition, I remember that I cleaned 204 lbs. with my left hand at a weight of 132. At that time the best I could lift with two hands was about 250 lbs. This was back in 1933 or so. I bring out this point to illustrate how mistaken people are in thinking the arm strength is what determines how much weight one should be able to lift in the one-arm clean & jerk. If that were true, than everyone and his brother would be lifting 300 and 400 pounds in the Clean & Jerk with both arms because there are certainly many, many men who can lift 150 to 200 pounds with only one arm. The most sensational lifter that I know of is Hans Haas of
The last statement made referred only to strength. It is understood that in such a tricky lift as the one-arm clean & jerk, skill plays a very important part in lifting the weight. In fact, it is the lifter with the greatest amount of skill who usually puts up the greatest poundage. Speed, coordination, split-second timing, self confidence and agility are all essential requisites in the proper execution of the lift being discussed, especially if one is to lift anything approaching record poundages.
As I was writing this article I chanced across another dealing with the same lift written by an author who, as far as I know, never competed in official competition, at least not in the same period that I was active as a competitor, beginning with 1929. His article has merit, but in my opinion, he failed to point out there are two ways of holding the weight at the shoulder preparatory to jerking the same. After showing the starting position where the lifter grasps the center of the bar and places his other hand just above the left knee, the next illustration shows how the weight is “caught” at the shoulder after the lifter has lowered his body by merely bending the knees and keeping the feet in a stationary position. This method is fine for the lifter with a long waist, low hips, and short legs. The fellow with long legs, short waist and high hips cannot properly bring the weight to the chest or shoulder in that same manner. He finds that he must shift both feet in order to lower his body. In doing so he puts his right foot forward and the left slightly to the rear. At the same time he spins the body for about a quarter turn or less. As the bar reaches the shoulder he places the elbow to rest on the front portion of the hip bone. This enables him to support and steady the weight. In attempting the jerk, this same fellow leaves the elbow on the hip while at the same time resting the bar against front of the shoulder. This makes for the best possible steadying of the weight, a factor most necessary if the jerk is to be completed. Failure to execute the lift in this manner will mean that as the lifter goes to push or heave the weight, he cannot get the assistance of his legs back of the lift. Unless the elbow rests on the hip, there is little leg drive put back of the lift. On top of that all the strain is thrown on the arm. As the lifter goes to heave the weight up after having lowered his body a few inches, there is the tendency for the heavy weight to pull the hand away from the shoulder. Consequently the effort to jerk the weight is poor at best, and instead of the weight going straight up as it should, it will have the tendency to go out away from the center line of gravity. No lifter, no matter how strong or tricky he may be, can lift any appreciable amount of weight when this happens. There can be little or no press-out in the completion of the jerk. Unless the weight goes all the way up, few indeed are the lifters who can press out a heavy weight with one arm even as little as one inch. so it can be easily appreciated why it is so very important to start the jerk from the correct position with weight against the front of the shoulder and the elbow at the hip before making the heave. This method of course is the one which the lifters with long legs, high hips, long waist and sometimes “sway” back will find the most practical to use.
The other method employed by the men with short legs, long waist and low hips calls for the weight to be held solidly on the lifting hand and the inside of the upper arm resting securely against the rib box or latissimus muscle. For the most part, the body is kept almost erect leaning to the left only slightly. The legs are held rigid or the right knee may be bent slightly. How much bend depends on the individual anatomical structure. It varies with different lifters. Actually this method of holding the weight before jerking it is easier, as balancing the weight at the shoulder seems to be much simpler. When the lifter bends both legs preparatory to jerking the weight, I have noticed, most lifters have no difficulty holding the bar firmly against the shoulder. As a result, after the lifter has lowered his body a little he is able to give a terrific push or heave without fear of the weight pulling his arm away from the shoulder. Instead he is able to put all his power back of the push and the weight seems to go straight up without any trouble. As the weight goes up the lifter lowers his body either by leaving the feet stationary and merely bending the knees (squat style), or he may shift the feet fore and aft (split style). One very important thing to remember in jerking with the right hand; never let the right leg go to the rear. The leg on the same side of the lifting arm must always go forward. You will be in a stronger position to hold a heavy weight, as you will be able to better brace yourself once you have to start going down low to lock out the arm.
At the start of the jerk, the feet are never held together. Always keep them a comfortable distance apart. This will make for a better “drive” when you go to push up the weight. In cleaning, always use the “hook” grip. If you do, the weight will never slip out of your hand. Also, when you start to jerk a weight, always make sure the wrist is NOT held rigid. The hand must always be leaning back. Practice for speed and timing. When cleaning a weight, give a good hard pull, and try to bend the arm under the weight as quickly as possible. Success in any lift always depends on speed. I teach all my pupils to employ speed in all lifts, even when doing a press. There is no use holding back on your strength. When you attempt any lift give it all you’ve got. That is one big secret of successful weight lifting.