Note: As this article will show, Bruce Klemens knows weightlifting training and history.
He is also one of, if not the premier photographers of the sport.
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How to Build Jerking Power
by Bruce Klemens (1981)
Courtesy of Liam Tweed
Years ago, when the Press was still a part of Olympic weightlifting, there were many lifters who could Jerk far more than they could Clean. This is no longer true, for several reasons:
1) The elimination of the Press reduced the amount of training done on developing overhead strength.
2) Without the Press, the ideal physique for Olympic lifting became taller, longer-limbed, and more athletic looking. This type of physique is ideally suited for pulling, and hence cleaning, but it is also not as good for overhead lifting as a shorter, stockier type.
3) Improved technique, including the double kneebend and 100% acceptance of the squat style, resulted in higher cleans. Jerking technique, however, has remained relatively unchanged over the years.
Some coaches to this day have suggested that the Jerk is the easy part of the Clean & Jerk, and any lifter capable of cleaning a weight should be able to jerk it with proper technique. Well, the facts simply don't bear this theory out. For example, at the 1979 World Championships, nine of the ten world champions missed at least one Jerk. Read that again. NINE OUT OF TEN! If successful jerking is simply learning the proper technique, then doesn't it stand to reason that the very top international lifters and their coaches would have perfected this technique?
The real answer is twofold. Lifters, even world champions, are not robots and simply cannot achieve absolutely perfect technique on every lift. Also, weightlifting is, and always will be, a sport for strong, powerful men. Technique is essential, but on a world class level where nearly all the lifters possess at least acceptable technique, the most powerful man usually wins.
Therefore, if you want to improve your Jerk, and your technique is already good, then you MUST increase your power and strength levels.
In passing, let me once again explain the difference between power and strength. Very simply, strength is the ability to lift a weight, but power is the ability to lift a weight with speed. In the Jerk, both power and strength are necessary. Standing up out of the squat clean and supporting the bar on the shoulders take mostly strength. However, dipping and driving the bar overhead require more power. And finally, holding the weight overhead and recovering out of the split call for mostly strength again.
Always keep in mind that different lifters have different weak points in the Jerk. Some simply cannot drive the bar high enough, or support it on the chest without it feeling like a ton. Others can drive it up all right but once it is at arms length they have trouble holding it there. If you have both these problems, then you must work doubly hard. If you have neither and can pop up anything you can clean with ease, then consider yourself a lucky man.
Always work your weak points. Select those exercises that will eliminate your weak points, and don't waste time and energy on movements that build unnecessary strength.
As I have pointed out before, the best exercise for improving a particular lift is that lift itself. If you want to improve your Jerk, there is no substitute for jerking. Jerks, of course, can be done after cleaning the weight, or after taking the bar off racks. Either way, the actual movement must not be neglected.
However, assistance exercises most definitely have their place. Probably the most widely practiced assistance movement for the Jerk is the . . .
In this movement, after driving the weight up, the lifter simply squats down into a quarter squat instead of splitting. Some lifters will skip the feet out sideways a little as well. The widespread use of the power jerk is no doubt due to the fact that it will help any lifter, regardless of his weak point, in the Jerk. It will help the drive, as well as the lockout and support of the weight. Most commonly the lifter will take the bar off racks. However, another good method is to combine Power Jerks with Power Cleans. First power clean the weight, then power jerk it; this build both pulling AND jerking power.
An exercise similar to the power jerk is the . . .
It differs from power jerks in that after driving the weight up, the legs REMAIN STRAIGHT and the bar is pressed out with the arms, rather than the lifter dipping back under it. This is especially good for lifters who need to develop their overhead lockout strength.
Never neglect some form of Strict Pressing. Although most of the power to drive the bar overhead comes from the legs, the arms provide a significant amount also. And, of course once the bar is overhead, the only thing that keeps it there is your arms. If your arms lock out completely and your shoulders are flexible, your skeletal structure alone should be able to support your jerks overhead. But if your arms do not lock out completely, then you will have to support the weight on pure muscle strength.
Pressing is ideal for developing this strength. Military Presses, Dumbbell Presses, Incline Presses . . . all these can be used. Naturally, use the same width grip that you jerk with. What about Bench Presses, you might ask? Well, bench pressing is a great bodybuilding exercise and it builds usable strength for some sports, but Olympic lifting is not one of them. Oh sure, it's better than no pressing at all, but standing and incline presses will build more of the specific strength you need to help your Jerk.
Carrying standing pressing one step further, we can do them in the power rack, working only the upper range of your lockout. For example, set the pins to about four inches under the highest position you can press the bar, and press the bar off the pins to lockout. These LOCKOUTS can be done with a lot of weight, much more than you can press or even jerk. Slightly higher reps are in order, around five per set.
Lockouts are terrific if your problem is locking out the weight and holding it there. However, if you can jerk the weight to arms length but loosen up and drop the bar as you start to recover from the split, then I have the exercise for you. It's also done in the power rack and it's called ON TOES, SPLIT, AND RECOVER. Quite a mouthful, I admit, but effective. As far as I know, it was first publicized in this country by former national coaching coordinator Carl Miller.
It's a little tricky to learn, so read this closely. Set the bar in the power rack to the height that you would be holding it in the deep split. This will be a little above the top of the head when you stand flat-footed at attention. With the bar still resting on the pins, stand under it, take your grip, and go up on your toes. The bar still has not moved from the pins. Now, split under it fast, lock your arms, and instantly push up with your legs, lifting the bar off the pins just as if you were recovering from the jerk. Recover to the finished jerk position with your feet on the same line. I know it sounds a little crazy and will seem very awkward at first, but after a while you will be able to use enormous poundages. 100 pounds or more over your best Jerk. Naturally, if you can recover with this much weight in the power rack, recovering with a hundred pounds less when jerking should be no problem.
Now let's talk about leg training.
Even though you may be a good jerker from the racks, if you have trouble standing from the squat, your legs may be so fatigued that you have nothing left for the Jerk. Besides the obvious method of increasing your squat, an excellent exercise for the lifter with this problem is the FRONT SQUAT AND JERK. It's done just like regular jerks from the rack, but after you take the bar from the rack do a front squat first and then jerk the weight. For a real experience, do two of three front squats followed by two or three jerks. I guarantee you'll be splitting deep on that last jerk!
For the lifter whose legs cannot drive the bar high enough to lock it out, additional leg training in the power rack will help. QUARTER SQUATS with the weight either in back or in front can be a great aid. You can use tremendous weights, especially with the bar in back. 200 pounds or more above your best full squat should be done. Set the pins so the bar is slightly lower than the lowest point that you dip prior to driving the jerk.
Performing this exercise with the weight in the front squat position will not only strengthen the legs, but will also help develop supporting power and make your jerks feel lighter at the shoulders.
Very similar to these quarter front squats and JERK DRIVES. Take more than you can jerk from the squat rack, and drive it as hard as you can right off your shoulders. You'll probably want to wear a heavy sweatshirt because you can really do a job on your shoulders as it comes down. A way around this is to drive the weight off pins on the power rack and then let it fall back onto the pins instead of your shoulders. I'd recommend padding the pins if you don't want to bend the bar and/or power rack. Although the latter exercise will develop driving power in the legs, it will not develop as much supporting strength as actually holding the weight on your shoulders.
Okay, now that you know about the various assistance exercises, how can you incorporate them into your routine? Keep in mind that you must always tailor your routine for yourself. Everyone's weak points are different. Therefore, only consider the routines I am about to list as SAMPLES. Feel free to revise them to meet your own needs.
First of all, you should always separate your training into two phases, a Preparation Phase and a Competition Phase. If, for example, you have a big meet coming up in four months that you want to peak for, train on a preparation phase for the first two months, and then a competition phase for the last two. I'll show you how jerking exercises can be incorporated into these two phases. Naturally, this is in addition to the regular pulling and squatting movements in your routine.
As I mentioned, there are two main weak points in the Jerk: the drive and the lockout. I'll give a preparation routine for a lifter with each problem, based on four training days a week.
If you like, the exercises on Day 4 can be alternated from week to week. For example, quarter squats the first week and jerk drives the second week.
In the competition phase, you should ease off somewhat on the specialized movements and concentrate more on actual jerking and those movements closest to it. For this reason the same routine can be done by lifters with either lockout or drive problems.
Preparation Phase (Drive Oriented)
Day 1 -
Day 2 -
Jerk From Rack
Day 3 -
Day 4 -
Preparation Phase (Lockout Oriented)
Day 1 -
Day 2 -
Jerk From Rack
Day 3 -
Day 4 -
On Toes, Split, and Recover
Day 1 -
Clean & Jerk
Day 2 -
Day 3 -
Jerk From Rack
Day 4 -
As I've said, THESE ARE ONLY SUGGESTIONS. Always remember that you are an individual and must plan your routine yourself. Use those movements that give YOU the best results.