What is the optimal elbow position and movement for jerks?

What should the rack position look like for jerks? This is a question I have pondered over and I wasn’t entirely sure myself until doing some research around the subject. If you watch various lifters, you will notice they all have different elbow positions and movements. I was feeling a bit confused about how they should be.

Some lifters have their elbows pointing down, but the majority have their elbows up. Indeed, one of the most common cues you have probably heard is “Elbows up” (which means having your elbows parallel with the floor and perpendicular at the torso). Here is an image which shows the jerk rack position with low elbows vs high elbows, i.e. elbows at a nice right angle with torso:

The optimal elbows positioning in the jerk rack phase

For most people and generally, the elbows ought to be as high as possible and the bar well racked. The reasons for this are as follows:

  • High elbows mean an upright torso, meaning the bar is close and the centre of mass over the middle of the body. If you looked downwards at a birds eye view, you would see that the bar would be over the middle of the feet
  • The upright torso means the dip and drive can be nice and straight down vertically. A common issue people have when they jerk is that their dip and drive creates a forward leaning torso, which hinders the powerful leg drive and also drives the bar forward away from the body
  • High elbows mean the person is less likely to use their arms and shoulders to ‘press’ the bar (remember the jerk is a leg movement, not an arms one). When elbows are high it is actually very awkward to attempt to press a bar!

The elbows should also be spread out slightly to the sides.

The optimal elbows positioning in the jerk dip and drive phase

The lifter should aim for their elbows to remain in the same position as they are when the bar is racked to when they execute their dip and drive. So the elbows will be high and spread out to the sides.

How to determine the best elbows position for you

Elbows high and out to the sides slightly is a good starting point.

See how high you can keep your elbows comfortably. Some people who have mobility problems will probably need to have lower elbows. People who have short upper arms relative to their lower arms / long lower arms, will probably prefer to have lower elbows.

A good place to start to determine the best elbows position is to find one that enables maintenance of a stable, upright, comfortable position during the rack, dip and drive phases of the jerk. If your torso is upright, it encourages the legs to work rather than the arms… which is what you want.

During the dip and drive, the torso should be upright, so try to find an elbows position that facilitates that. You want to try to avoid a forward-leaning torso and your chest dropping during the dip and drive (see image below for comparison):

There is no single ‘correct’ position but we can all find our optimal position that allows for:

  • a comfortable rack position
  • an upright torso
  • active, engaged lats and shoulders that support the weight

All of these things basically encourage the legs to work more, making your jerk far stronger and more efficient!!

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