How to Work on Your Split Jerk
Written by Cody Burgener (courtesy CrossFit Invictus)
The split jerk is an exercise that many people have trouble performing. Everyone likes to focus on the snatch and clean because they are exercises that are used more frequently in workouts; whereas the split jerk, no so much. As a matter of fact, the split jerk can be used just as much as the snatch and clean. Anytime that you have shoulder to overhead work, the split jerk is an option that you can use to get the weight up. It is actually the best option for athletes, especially when the weight starts getting significantly heavy. You can’t save the weight at all with a push jerk if it is out front, but with a split jerk, you still have a chance to save the weight if it is out front. Getting the correct technique and foot work is crucial when it comes to trying to perform a max 1-RM clean & jerk or trying to get a good time in a workout. Common mistakes that you see in the split jerk are foot work mistakes, mistakes with the dip, not driving your body down, and short stepping with the front foot (driving the chest through).
Let’s start off with the easiest – but one of the most important – mistakes people make: the dip. Mistakes you see on the dip include athletes not staying on their heels when they dip or they collapse in the midline, causing the athlete to drive the bar out front.
Now, how do you fix that problem? The best way is to take a weight similar to your max 1-RM clean & jerk off the rack in the front rack position, put your arms straight out in front of you, and practice dipping while staying on your heels and driving off your heels. You can also do a couple sets of just practicing the dip with your hands in your split jerk position.
The next mistake a lot of athletes make is not having the proper foot work. I’m not going to get into too much detail here, but if you look at the photo above, you can use the diagram as a guideline to help you figure out your split jerk position. Just make sure on your front leg that your knee and heel are stack with the weight on your heel, and on the back leg your hip and knee are stacked or knee slightly behind the hip with the weight on the ball of your foot and heel off the ground.
The third problem athletes have trouble with is driving their body down into the split jerk position. Everyone has a limit on how much they can press with their arms. What happens when you finally reach the limit? What do you do? One thing I can tell you that you sure as heck shouldn’t do is have an explosive dip and drive and just throw your feet out in to a split position. That is equivalent to people who throw their feet out wide in the snatch and clean. They think they get lower, which they do, but when the weight get significantly heavy enough, they will have to get even lower.
In a split jerk, when you reach that significant weight, you have to learn how to drive your body down into that two inch lunge or even four inch lunge, depending on how heavy the weight is. Now, how do you work on driving yourself under the bar? Well by golly – I will tell you! You will perform an exercise that us awesome olympic lifters call “tall jerks”. Tall jerks is an exercise where you start with the bar at the top part of your forehead and you stand on your tippy toes. From their, you will drive your amazingly fit body into the split jerk position.
Now, the one thing I must get off my chest when you perform this exercise is never, ever, ever, ever stop driving up with your arms. I’m going to get a little off topic here but I must explain the driving up with your arms. When you dip and drive in a jerk, that dip and drive is to create weightlessness on the bar. During that weightlessness, the athlete is driving their body down into the split jerk position, but during that time, you MUSTbe driving the bar up with you arms. So kind of think of it like a titer-tater: when you driving the bar up with your arms, you must be using the bar (during the weightlessness) to help drive your body down into the split jerk. Now, going back to the tall jerk, when performing this movement, you are driving your body down into the split jerk position, but also driving the bar up with you arms. Your feet should land at the same time your arms extend overhead.
Not driving the chest through or short stepping the front foot is one of the most common mistakes that you will see athletes make. Whenever you do either of those, you end up pushing the bar away from your body. When you move just the back leg, your whole torso goes back. Even in for you drive the the bar straight up, you will still end up pushing the bar away from the body. Now, when you move the front foot forward a whole foot and a half a foot forward, your torso ends up going forward as well. That is where driving the chest through comes in. This happens when the bar is weightless caused by your explosive dip and drive. I cannot emphasize enough that you must dip straight down and drive straight up. Do not, I repeat, do no drive the bar forward just to get your chest threw. I guarantee that the bar will be forward. If you are having the problem of short stepping or not driving the chest through, then the exercise you need to perform is called the jerk balance. In the video below, I will show you how to set up your feet, how to perform the movement, and what key points we are looking for when performing the movement.
The split jerk is a difficult movement to perform correctly. It takes time and practice to get the proper technique consistently. If you practice these accessory lifts for the jerk, I guarantee that you will start to see your max 1-RM split jerk increase!