For most of weightlifting’s history, when athletes have performed the second part of the clean and jerk, they do so by splitting under the barbell – one leg goes forward while the other goes backward in a high lunge-type movement.
But world-class lifters like Pyrros Dimas and Kakhi Kakhiashvili have popularized the power jerk. Is this a reason for every lifter in the world to junk the split? A large number of remaining splitters hints at the answer, but let’s look into the whys.
The Three Ways to Jerk
One way to execute a jerk is by using a fast push press movement. This is legal as long as the bar goes to arm’s length solely from the leg drive. The only person I have ever seen do this properly was Paul Anderson back in the 1950s. Another approach is to squat under the bar instead of splitting under. In recent years some lifters have perfected the use of a full-squat jerk.
Paul Anderson putting 435lb/197.5kg overhead
But then there is the third option – the power jerk. Here the lifter does a quarter-squat dip, drives the bar up as high as possible, and then re-squats under it slightly, to catch the weight.
The Power Jerk
This power jerk is used by a minority of lifters, and they always get a good reaction from the crowd because of it. Because of the spectator reaction, many lifters use this style when in fact it is not suited to them. As if renegade lifters were not problem enough, sometimes even coaches decide this is the way to go.
Historically, even those in the weightlifting press were taken by the development of the power jerk. Some magazine articles predicted this power-jerk style would one day rule. The split would be relegated to history, just like it has been in the snatch and the clean.
“It is difficult to squat more than a quarter squat with a heavy jerk poundage overhead. Therefore, this gives the advantage to the split jerk.”
This all seemed logical. If the squat style worked better in the snatch and the clean, then surely it would also be superior in the jerk, even though one did not have to squat very low. Surely all of this is true?
Well, this prediction of future power-jerk hegemony is now 35-plus years old. What is the situation today?
We find that most of the world is still split jerking. True, there have been a few excellent exponents of the power-jerk style, notably Dimas and Kakhiashvili who have won world and Olympic titles while setting world records. The elite lifters who have mastered the style have given it legitimacy. Now every competition down to the local level always features at least a few power jerkers.
Dimas power jerking his way to an Olympic gold medal in 1996
So is the power jerk the way to go? Should more lifters be doing it? To answer that, let’s do a comparison and contrast between the power jerk and the split jerk.
Depth of the Squat
We will start with the depth of the split or squat. In most athletes, if it’s easier to achieve a low position with a jerk while splitting. It is difficult to squat more than a quarter squat with a heavy jerk poundage overhead. Therefore, this gives the advantage to the split jerk.
Closely related to this factor is the height needed to fix the bar after the jerk drive. Here again the split comes out ahead. This is because the lower you can split squat under the bar, the lower the height needed in the jerk drive.
Ability to Recover the Lift
Another important consideration is the potential ability to recover a less-than-perfect jerk drive. Leaving aside the fact that power jerks tend to drive the bar out forward too far, even a perfect vertical drive still gives the advantage to the split.
Ivan Markov split jerking 463lbs/210kg
Because of the greater stability of the split, the lifter has more room to make adjustments and can more easily step forward or back in order to do so. The area of balance is significantly narrower in a power jerk than it is with a split.
Movement is more difficult without also dropping the bar or ending up bending the elbows during the chase after the errant bar. As a result, many power-jerkers miss lifts they should have easily made because they drive the bar forward, but are not able to chase it.
“Leaving aside the fact that power jerks tend to drive the bar out forward too far, even a perfect vertical drive still gives the advantage to the split.”
Possibility of Losing Tension
The power jerk and its half-brother the push press are great lifts for developing overhead strength, but they have one significant weakness. That weakness shows up in the transition between the leg drive and the squat under (or in the push press, the overhead press portion).
At this transition point, if a lifter is not careful, he or she will let the spinal erectors relax. This is especially dangerous if the lifter tends to lean the trunk backward at this point. Disc injuries are often the result. This is not inevitable as long as the athlete remains tight throughout the whole left. This tendency is not present in the split jerk, for the most part.
Kakhiashvili remaining tight to complete the power jerk
When Is the Power Jerk Recommended?
Now that I’ve done a pretty good smear job on the power jerk for competition purposes, to be balanced we must now ask if there are times when its use is recommended. This is a fair question because there are a number of elite lifters who do succeed with this style.
The first thing we have to look at is the anthropomorphic characteristics of lifters, especially those at the extremes of endo- and ectomorphy. Endomorphs are characterized not by being overweight, but by having relatively short arms and legs compared to their trunks. Ectomorphs are the opposite, with long extremities and relatively short trunks. This difference is key to determining the suitability of the jerking style.
“You’ll notice you seldom see one of 105kg or super heavyweight lifters using the power jerk. They are just too tall to make it work.”
Power jerks can be utilized by those with marked endomorphic characteristics. Those with short arms will have a much more manageable center of gravity of the bar-body system. Just think of the arms as a long lever with a heavy weight at the end. Which is easier to control: a short lever with a certain weight at its far end or a long lever with the same weight at the end? Obviously it would be easier handling the short lever.
The lifter’s lever is his arms. With short arms, leverage is better and the bar can be locked out sooner. This pretty well limits the power jerk to shorter athletes, generally those in the 85kg category and below. You’ll notice you seldom see one of 105kg or super heavyweight lifters using the power jerk. They are just too tall to make it work. Of course, you do see some in local competitions, but in most cases they would be more suited to the split jerk.
What About the Full-Squat Jerk?
A more flexible lifter will have an easier time locking out a power jerk than one with tight shoulders and hips. Flexible lifters simply have more room to maneuver and this also increases their potential area of balance.
And since we’re talking about flexibility, let’s look at the full-squat jerk. A few lifters have mastered this spectacular style and they never fail to impress onlookers. At one time this probably would have been considered almost impossible to do with anything approaching elite poundages, but it has indeed been done.
“Think about it: you have to dip, drive, and drop into a full squat under a maximum weight and catch it directly overhead with a narrow grip.”
But few people can really contemplate this approach. The reasons are the same as for the power jerk, but even more so in all respects. Think about it: you have to dip, drive, and drop into a full squat under a maximum weight and catch it directly overhead with a narrow grip. As if that is not difficult enough, you then have to complete a close-grip overhead squat within a very narrow area of balance.
A spectacular feat by those who can do it but, really, can they actually lift more this way than with the conventional split jerk? One has to remain skeptical. While some might be able to do it, for the vast majority of the world’s lifters it’s not something to even consider.
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