Most gyms and home gyms do not have jerk blocks. The primary reason for this is that they take up an awful lot of space.
If you are fortunate enough to have the opportunity to use them, they can be very helpful.
When you don’t use jerk blocks, you have to clean/power clean the bar up before you can practice the jerk. If you only ever train the jerk after you have cleaned it, there are several things (good and bad) to consider:
- you are training the full clean and jerk movement. If you are an Olympic weightlifter, your goal is to be strong at the clean and jerk, not just the clean, not just the jerk
- you get to practice your clean
- you get to practice repositioning your hands between the clean and jerk
- you get a better cardiovascular workout (training both together works far more muscles and takes a longer time than doing the jerk on its own)
- you are always training the jerk in a fatigued state so can’t exert as much mental or physical energy on it as you do the clean
- you are limited by the weight you can clean. There are some people who can jerk a lot more than they can clean but are not able to do this unless they have jerk blocks. If you don’t get the chance to jerk heavier than your clean at least occasionally, you are limiting your potential. It’s a big mental boost knowing that you can jerk more than you can clean, as when you do the clean and jerk together, it feels easier!
- if you find cleans difficult, even if you are brilliant at jerks, a jerk that ought to be easy will always feel much much harder when done after a hard clean. Then jerk technique can deteriorate
The benefits of jerk blocks
Jerk blocks can fix a lot of the bad points highlighted above. The most helpful thing for me about using them is that it allows me to practice jerks with a fresh, clear mind, i.e. I haven’t had to think about the clean that has come before it! I am all about keeping workouts simple. The Olympic lifts are very, very complicated in themselves, so sometimes it is nice to simplify programming if you can.
I also get a very big confidence boost when I find myself being able to jerk a heavier weight than I can clean, which happens when I use jerk blocks. When I do then go for a clean and jerk together, the jerk psychologically feels far more manageable.
If you watch Olympic weightlifting competitions, on most of the failed lifts, the failure is on the jerk, not the clean. I have read that many lifters do not spend as much time on their jerks as they perhaps ought to. Using jerk blocks is a good way to focus on jerking heavy and/or focusing on jerk technique.
A small proportion of lifters are really good and strong at jerks. They can jerk more than they can clean. You could look at this in a couple of ways — if the overall goal is to be strong at the clean and jerk together (as it should be), then they need to prioritise and focus on improving their clean. But you could look at it another way too – why limit yourself to only jerking what you can clean? This would mean you are only ever jerking a lot less than you are capable of.
How often to jerk from blocks vs after cleans
Vary it! I have gone through phases where I’ve had one ‘Jerk Day’ per week and one ‘Clean Day’ per week and no ‘Clean and Jerk Day’ at all. Or I’ve had phases where I’ve had one ‘Jerk Day’, one ‘Clean Day’ and one ‘Clean and Jerk Day.’ I’ve also had phases of only ‘Clean and Jerk Days.’
I typically train based on what my weakness is at the current period of time. If my jerks are currently lagging well behind my cleans, or I keep missing jerks, I might use jerk blocks a bit more. If there is a severe technical issue with my jerks, I might use jerk blocks a bit more.
I’ve seen progress from all methods however. [Front squats and] cleans develop a lot of strength and have a lot of carryover to the jerk, so even if you only ever clean and jerk together, your jerk will most likely improve over time anyway (so long as your technique is good enough not to limit you).
What if you don’t have jerk blocks
If you don’t have access to jerk blocks and want to prioritise your jerks for a bit, there are a few other things you can do:
- jerk from a power/squat rack (take care – it depends on physical set up of the rack and whether Bumper plates and platforms are available)
- carry out jerk-focused complexes, such as one clean plus two jerks, or one clean plus one power jerk plus one split jerk
- focus on lighter-weight jerk variations – such as pause jerks (I love these), power jerks, squat jerks – these all require generally less weight to be used than split jerk and hence will mean a ‘lighter’ clean meaning more energy available for the jerk part