Split Jerk (How To, Alternatives & More)
The Split Jerk is an Olympic lifting movement. Olympic lifting athletes compete in the Clean and Jerk in their competitions, but the movement also has enormous benefits for athletes (and really anyone who is wanting to become more powerful and explosive).
One of the big benefits of the jerk is the utilization of the legs to help drive the weight overhead. This is WHY jerks have proven to be very beneficial for Olympic athletes and field or court sport athlete that needs overhead upper body power.
In this guide, I am going to go over how to Split Jerk, coaching points, common mistakes, muscles worked and even some Split Jerk alternatives in case you need them.
How To Split Jerk
- Multi-purpose lifting rack
- Bumper Plates (I do not recommend Iron plates because if you miss the lift or want to drop the weight to the ground from overhead, you can damage the plates, the bar and your floor)
- Set the barbell at the height you would normally front squat with. (Barbell 1-2 inches below the flexed elbow, still on the hooks).
- Assume your front squat grip also known as the “front rack”.
- Most lifters find that trying to get the barbell to rest more onto the anterior delts will be more comfortable as you attempt the jerk.
- What this looks like is your elbows will point more toward the ground. If you’re gripping the front squat with 2 fingers, you may find it more comfortable to perform the jerk with 3 or 4 fingers.
- To unrack the bar, take a deep breath and brace the abdominal muscles and upper back. Use a staggered stance to unrack the bar.
- Take 2 steps backward and be sure that you will not hit the hooks or anything above your head when you start the movement.
- Also make sure you have plenty of clearance in front and behind you so you can shift your feet.
- Initiate the movement with a “dip” or bend of the knee that will help you propel the barbell up with momentum. Do not bend the knee forward onto the toes.
- Think about how you initiate a squat. The knee bend should be very similar to this movement.
- This is a quick movement that helps get the barbell moving upward.
- Explosively drive through the legs and hips, split the feet, similar to the split squat position, and catch the bar overhead. Push through the front foot and then bring the back foot back under your hips until you are standing tall with the weight.
- If you are attempting multiple attempts, lower the barbell back to the starting position, brace, and bend the hips and knees as you receive the weight back in the front rack.
- If you are done with your final attempt, make sure you are using bumper plates, and you can guide the barbell back to the ground. Make sure your lifting area is clear of anyone before you drop the weight.
The Split Jerk is a compound movement specific to Olympic lifts. This is also a great movement for field and court sport athletes that needed overhead power. This movement should be trained and programmed according to goals, injury history, athlete readiness, and time of year.
How To Miss a Split Jerk:
Yes, you read that right. Learning how to miss a Split Jerk is perhaps the most important part of the lift and something I always teach athletes from the very start. Misses happen in a split second and not knowing how to properly bail a rep can lead to injury.
If you perform the jerk and happen to miss the lift, DO NOT TRY TO CATCH THE BAR BACK IN THE FRONT RACK OR ON YOUR NECK. Guide the bar back to the ground. If you lose the bar behind you overhead, let go of the bar and quickly step forward out of the way of the path of the bar coming down.
I recommend lifters miss the bar in front if possible but as lifters get more experience, they can start to miss the lift behind them.
This lift is very technical, uses the whole body, and requires patience and persistence, lifters often times have incorrect form without realizing it, go up in weight too quickly, and may injure themselves.
Be patient with your flexibility. Persistence and working hard on your flexibility will pay off with Olympic lifts and variations. Remember to always warm up prior to any lifting session. Work on flexibility drills during warm-up sets as well. After your session, use cool-down techniques, foam roll, stretch, and hydrate.
- Video your sets and reps
- Have an experienced lifter/trainer watch your sets and reps
- In regards to your setup and form; treat every rep like it’s a 1 rep max
- Put a tremendous amount of detail in your setup (Do it the exact same way, every rep)
- Make small gains in weight over time.
The jerk is a full-body movement and does require all musculature to be working in some way. Remember muscles work to concentrically, isometrically, and eccentrically contract. But the jerk is more upper body-based and therefore I will list the prime movers of the lift.
- Upper back
- Lats and biceps (Strong isometric stabilizers and eccentric movers in this movement)
- Glute max (Strong hip extender)
- Glute med and min (Strong hip stabilizers)
- Quadriceps (Knee extenders)
- Hamstrings (Strong isometric and eccentric stabilizers)
- Abdominal and lower back muscles (Stabilizers in most movements)
Split Jerk Alternatives
The Split Jerk is a very advanced movement for most lifters. If you are looking to train upper body power but are not ready for barbell jerks, here are some great options for you.
Grab 2 dumbbells and set them in the pressing position. I recommend facing the dumbbells so that your palms are facing your ears. Perform the “dip” and drive the dumbbells overhead. You can catch the dumbbells in the power or split stance.
This is a great movement for novice lifters looking to gain experience in overhead movement before attempting anything with a barbell.
Med Ball Power Jerk
The Med Ball Power Jerk is an exercise that sounds exactly what it describes. Instead of using a barbell, use a Med Ball.
The advantage to using a med ball is that you are able to dip, drive and throw the ball as high as possible without worrying about having a certain level of control to catch the bar.
Get into a push-up position. Perform an explosive push-up and push off the ground as high as you can. Some lifters like to clap or push up to an elevated med ball or platform. All of these options are fine.
Remember the idea is to be explosive. So reps will be low and speed will be the priority here.
Split Jerk Variations
Technically, Dumbbell Jerks and Med Ball Power Jerks – listed above as alternatives – could also be considered Split Jerk variations.
There are also a couple more variations that you should be aware of. Both variations start the same, but both differ in the catch position.
Power Jerks involve a more subtle foot shift. Instead of splitting the feet forward and backward, it is a lateral hip-width to shoulder-width foot shift.
The foot shift of a Squat Jerk is similar to a Power Jerk, but instead of catching in a quarter-squat position, you drop into a full overhead squat position. They’re also very similar to Snatch Balances if you’re familiar with that movement.
I would be doing the reader a disservice without discussing the potential risks of traditional barbell lifting. This lift is highly technical and requires a tremendous amount of attention to detail, practice, and a slow gradual increase in weight. An athlete who does not consistently set up the right way and sacrifices form to lift more weight will get hurt.
It is also important to consider rest, recovery, and balancing other life activities.
Because the Olympic lifts stress the entire body and are very hard on the central nervous system, it takes time to recover from serious lifting sessions. Field and court athletes should consider what day of the week they are utilizing Olympic lifts and their variations.
If you are going to lift heavy on a particular day of the week, it is not recommended you do any other heavy lifting, sprinting, or serious competition, until fully recovered. Training history, readiness, and history of injury all need to be considered.
As an athlete, it is important to make sure the lifting in the weight room is correlating and in conjunction with your sport. Rest and recovery are absolutely critical to reap the benefits of any lift and should be taken seriously by all athletes.
More Links and Info
If you’re looking for more Olympic lifts and Olympic lift variations, head over to the Olympic Lift page in the Horton Barbell Exercise Library. Here you’ll find a growing collection of movements to help you develop strength and power.