The squat jerk is not used as frequently by as many lifters as the split jerk. Having read around the subject, my understanding is that for the vast majority of people, the split jerk is the method to use for them to lift the most weight.
It is a highly interesting subject as pretty much every person who starts out on their Olympic lifting journey will by default begin by learning and being coached the split jerk. What this therefore means is that, over time, the split jerk gets developed and has more attention and time spent on it than any other type of jerk, which would cause distortion to the idea that “for the vast majority of people, the split jerk is the method to use for them to lift the most weight.”
Perhaps indeed, one of the reasons that people may be able to lift the most weight in the split jerk is more because they have spent more time on it, rather than because of the actual method (split vs squat) in which the bar is received overhead.
As a little project for fun, it would be interesting to work with a set of people who were complete beginners to Olympic weightlifting and have them learn and practice both the split and the squat jerk to the same frequency and see which movement enabled them to lift the most weight at the end of a period of time. Even this would not necessarily tell us very much as there are far too many other variables to draw a concrete conclusion, but it would be a good place to start.
I really enjoy squat jerking. I have spent the whole of my lifting journey prioritising the split jerk. Every now and then I will do some squat jerks. Out of my total time doing jerks, I have probably spent 5% – if that – on the squat jerks, 20% on power jerks, and 75% on split jerks. Despite spending so little time on squat jerking, I can still squat jerk around 85% of the weight of my best split jerk. I wonder how much more I could squat jerk if I practised it more often?
Now, of course, one of the reasons for this is that much of the movement in the jerk variations is the same – the dip and drive for all the jerks is exactly the same so to learn the squat jerk later and with reduced frequency than the split jerk would be perhaps far easier than if a person had to learn the squat jerk from scratch.
The part that differs in all jerk variations is the catch part.
Another thing to think about is that perhaps the catch position of the squat jerk – the deep bottom squat position – is a highly practised movement in Olympic lifting. We have to deep squat all the time, be that in snatches, cleans, front squats, squats, overhead squats… that movement is highly trained and used all the time anyway!! So it might be easy to think why squat jerks may be a ‘natural’ thing to do!
Here are some of the reasons why you might like, or may benefit from squat jerks:
- You are hypermobile and have excellent mobility in the ankles, hips and especially shoulders (the narrow clean grip used in the squat jerk means the shoulders have to be very mobile)
- You are very fast to get down into the deep bottom squat position. Everyone has their own strengths and weaknesses in the Olympic lifts – I’ve always been very good at getting down and under the bar, others find this the more difficult part. If you are fast to get down or want to improve your speed at getting down, squat jerks may be helpful to you
- The deep bottom squat position feels natural and comfortable for you. Think about when you first started lifting – did you have to really work hard to learn how to deep squat? Was your natural tendency to squat just to parallel? For me, it felt unnatural and uncomfortable to stop at parallel. I’ve always just found it very natural and easy to get down low
- You are less good at the dip and drive of the jerk. You do not have to rely on driving the bar up as high in the squat jerk as you catch it lower. If you find it hard to elevate the bar high during your split jerks, squat jerks may be easier for you (but this also just means you need to practice the dip and drive more!!!)
- You want to improve your snatch and overhead squat. The squat jerk catch position is the same as the snatch catch position but with your arms closer in. Holding a weight overhead with a narrow grip is usually much harder than holding the same weight with a wider grip. In addition, squat jerking requires you to get under the bar very quickly, similar to how you must drop in the snatch. Your squat jerk may therefore have some carryover to your snatch
- The split jerk feels and looks incredibly unnatural and difficult for you. A small minority of people just find this split position very hard, no matter how much time they spend on it. Perhaps a person who has spent a big amount of time on the split jerk, with lots of coaching, without getting results, could consider either power or squat jerks instead
- You have excellent balance, or want to improve your balance. Squat jerking requires excellent balance due to the narrow grip and deep squat! In addition to this, how and where you catch the bar leaves very little margin for correcting errors (in the split jerk, you have more margin to fix errors as you catch the bar). Catching the bar just milimetres or cms incorrectly in the squat jerk will most likely cause you to lose the bar forward or back. If you do find yourself saving the lift and being able to correct, you’ll definitely feel your deep core muscles working and your balance being tested!
I hope you found this article interesting. It’s backed up largely by my personal thoughts and experiences, but I’ve also read a lot about the subject.
Think about what your goals are but also think about what you find fun. I am a massive believer in doing things for fun. I find squat jerks fun and so I do them! But if your goal is to lift the most weight, then you need to work on the method of jerking that best allows you to do that.