All 3 jerks are useful

When I was first being taught the Olympic lifts, my coach was really keen on me learning the split jerk. His views – at least how I took them – were that if a person only does one type of jerk then they get really good at that type of jerk.

I see his point and I generally have the same view, which is: if a person wants to get good at a particular exercise, they have to do lots and lots of that particular exercise.

He was also not keen on me using different legs to do the split jerk. He wanted me to get very good at using my dominant leg to do the split jerk. My thinking however was that I wanted to prevent myself from getting muscular imbalances! We came to a compromise that I could do my warm up sets using either leg, but I was to do the heavier work on my dominant leg.

That’s the background for this post! It’s been a long time since those days and I’ve done lots and lots of my own reading, self-coaching… etc. in that time. Only an experienced lifter will know what the right choices are for them. A beginner would never know. And the only way you become an experienced lifter is to train the Olympic lifts correctly and consistently over many years. My point here is that when I started out I didn’t know enough about lifting or about myself, so I took my coach’s advice without questioning it.

I’ve never wanted to compete in Olympic weightlifting, so perhaps that has some weighting as to how I train, i.e. at the moment I am training the 3 types of jerk regularly and frequently. Perhaps a competitive lifter would have a completely different mindset (similar to the views of my first coach). This is a new phase of training for me as I have spent 90% of my lifting time to date training split jerks. I’m now at a different phase in which I’ve been training all the 3 jerks a bit more and balancing my time between the three.

I’ve decided that all 3 jerks have their benefits. They are all good for training different things. For example:

Split jerk

  • For most people, this is the method in which they will be able to lift the most weight
  • For most people, this is the method that allows the largest margin for error (due to creating a more ‘stable’ base, for most people)
  • Therefore, the split jerk might be the best method to use in competitions or when maxing out – because of the amount of weight lifted and the ability to ‘save’ a lift!

Power jerk

  • Excellent for drilling in a vertical dip and drive (a lifter may somewhat be able to ‘get away with’ a forward dip and drive in the split jerk but won’t be able to in the power jerk)
  • Requires a very high elevation of the bar – so is good for lifters who may be better at getting the bar off their shoulders than getting their body low

Squat jerk

  • Good for people who have very mobile shoulders
  • Requires the lifter to get down very low and very quickly – so may be good for lifters who are better at dropping under than elevating the bar from their shoulders

What can we learn from this? We can learn that there is a strength to each type of jerk and each type could be incorporated into a lifter’s training and give them different benefits. Basically, the different types of jerk may be good for different things!

Although in most instances I do believe – as stated above – that to get good at one particular exercise you need to practice that particular exercise, my own personal experience tells me that there may well be some carryover between these 3 types of jerk.

For example, a lifter who does a lot of power jerks may find that their split jerk becomes better as they have learned a more vertical dip and drive. (I’ve read that one of the most common corrective techniques for a lifter who jerks a bar forward is to do complexes of power jerk + split jerk, which can help resolve this issue.)

Another example might be that a lifter who does a lot of squat jerks, finds their split jerk becomes better as they have learned to “get under” the bar better.

So perhaps power jerks and squat jerks can help the split jerk?

Something to be aware of however (the counterargument(!)) – is that time spent doing different types of jerks means less time spent on one type.

According to my first coach’s thinking, a lifter may not be able to increase – or increase as quickly as they might otherwise be able to – the amount of weight they can lift in the split jerk, if they were spending time on power jerks, squat jerks and split jerks-on-the-other-leg, time that could be spent on their split jerk.

Again, I think it comes down to the lifter’s overall goals and their own unique training style and enjoyment. Perhaps a lifter who wants to lift big weights in competitions would be best suited to training one jerk method only and getting very good and competent at that (this was my coach’s ethos)…. but otherwise, I think training can be a bit more flexible!

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