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The 9 Best Jerk Variations for Improving Your Overhead Game

Depending on who you ask, the jerk is the most challenging movement in weightlifting. It’s where Olympic lifters are truly tested on the platform. The most traditional variation of the jerk is the split jerk, but there are plenty of other ways to get a heavy barbell over your head. 

When it comes to your jerk training, you don’t have to rely on your competition lift. The variations of the movement can help isolate and address specific faults you might have in your technique or strength. 

Credit: Salty View/Shutterstock

The following jerk variations make up the foundation of having an exceptional jerk. These exercises can be used in combination with the classic lift to increase your efficiency. You can load them for strength gains, or lighten them up to target speed and technique. 

Best Jerk Variations


Split Jerk

Weightlifters default to the split jerk because it is the most technically efficient jerk method to perform, meaning you can usually lift the most weight by split jerking. The wide split establishes solidarity in the catch that can help you recover the movement safely. Even though it’s the most popular, a good split often requires plenty of practice to master.

Benefits of the Split Jerk

  • Requires less shoulder mobility than some of the alternatives.
  • Lots of room for correction and recovery if you make a technical error.

How to Do the Split Jerk

With the barbell secured in a front rack position, dip down into a high quarter squat. Once you feel the weight in your legs and hips, abruptly reverse the motion and push hard into the floor. Once the bar has left your shoulders, split your legs. Your back leg should travel further than your front leg and should make contact with the ground first. Keep a slight bend in your knees in the split. Stabilize and recover by stepping backward with your front foot first. 


Push Jerk

The push jerk’s calling card is a lack of foot movement. Although the overall mechanics are the same, not having to practice your footwork makes the push jerk a viable beginner alternative if you find the split jerk too demanding. 

Benefits of the Push Jerk

  • Provides a beginner-friendly alternative to the split jerk.
  • Easy to perform and requires less unilateral balance than the split jerk.

How to Do the Push Jerk

From the front rack position, perform a standard dip and drive. After the barbell departs your shoulders, drop down to catch it in a high squat position. Your heels may leave the ground during the drive phase, but they should land where they started when you catch your barbell. 


Power Jerk

In the power jerk, after the dip and drive, the feet slide out to a wide and stable quarter squat stance in the catch. The “power” designation refers to the fact that your hips won’t go lower than your knees at any point. That said, when you power jerk you must still catch the bar in a high overhead squat. 

Benefits of the Power Jerk

  • Easier to learn than the split jerk while still allowing you to use heavy weights.
  • Fits nicely into a barbell complex or timed challenge, since recovering between reps is quick and easy. 

How to Do the Power Jerk

Stand with your feet under your hips and dip to a high squat position. Drive the barbell off your shoulders by pushing hard into the floor. As the bar clears your head, drop your torso down and slide your feet outwards. You should receive the barbell in a quarter squat with a relatively wide stance. Pause briefly to stabilize before standing up. 


Squat Jerk

In this difficult variation of the jerk, the dip and drive is transferred to a full overhead squat catch. The overhead squat has an unusually narrow grip, which greatly challenges your mobility and balance. The squat jerk is a comprehensive, full-body test of flexibility, coordination, and strength. 

Benefits of the Squat Jerk

  • You don’t have to move the barbell as far as other jerk variations, potentially allowing you to lift the most weight possible. 
  • Provides a grueling test of your total-body flexibility.

How to Do the Squat Jerk

After driving the barbell off your shoulders, rapidly descend downward into a deep squat. Your barbell should only fly up a few inches higher than where it began on your clavicles. Once you stabilize in a low squat with your arms extended, stand up under control. 


Pause Jerk

The purpose of incorporating a pause is to increase time under tension at a change of direction in the lift. Everything happens fast when the jerk is performed at full speed, so pauses help keep things stable at each segment. 

Benefits of the Pause Jerk

  • Adding a brief isometric contraction can help you refine your technique.
  • Allows you to focus on your foot balance and stability in the dip.

How to Do the Pause Jerk

Begin with the barbell in the front rack position. Dip slowly, taking care to maintain an upright torso and equal foot pressure against the ground. Pause in the bottom of your dip and remain still for a beat. Afterwards, push hard into the floor and drive the barbell off your shoulders.


Behind-the-Neck Jerk

This style of jerk starts with the weight behind the neck, similar to the start of a back squat. The dip and drive is the same, and the barbell is driven from your shoulders to an overhead catch. All styles of jerk (split, power, and squat) can be performed from behind the neck. 

Benefits of the Behind-the-Neck Jerk

  • Allows you to train around an injury or discomfort in your front rack position.
  • Reinforces a straight bar path from drive to catch.

How to Do the Behind-the-Neck Jerk

Start by unracking a barbell on your back like you would for a set of squats. From here, take a controlled dip to a high squat position and then reverse the motion by pushing hard into the ground. As the bar clears your head, split your feet or drop into a partial squat to catch it.


Tall Jerk

The tall jerk is an effective technique drill for practicing good posture, timing, and body mechanics. It’s also a great way to develop speed with light loads that should translate to more power on the platform.

Benefits of the Tall Jerk

  • Helps you work on your split jerk technique without needing heavy weights.
  • Serves as an effective warm-up before a jerk-heavy training session.

How to Do the Tall Jerk

Rack the barbell on your clavicles. From there, use your arms to press it up to roughly eye-level, and pause. Finish the drill by continuing to extend your arms while simultaneously splitting your feet into your jerk stance. Your feet should hit the platform at the same time that you lock your arms out overhead. 


Jerk Balance

The jerk balance is another technical drill to help you work on your timing and technique. In the jerk balance, you actually start with split feet and drive the bar with your arms to help simulate a real-time heavy jerk. 

Benefits of the Jerk Balance

How to Do the Jerk Balance

Start with your feet in your split stance with the barbell racked on your shoulders. From here, dip and drive on split legs to elevate the barbell. As it clears your head, lift and replace your front foot slightly further out. Your barbell should fixate overhead at the same time that you make contact with your front foot. 


Jerk Dip

The dip and drive of the jerk is position-specific. Extra practice of it on its own goes a long way. In this lift, the barbell stays connected to the shoulders. It’s best to practice jerk dips or drives off a set of blocks for safety and to transition comfortably from rep to rep. 

Benefits of the Jerk Dip

  • Develops a lot of lower-body strength and stability by using heavy loads.
  • Lets you train your lower body power development without completing full jerks.

How to Do the Jerk Dip

Unrack your barbell from a rack or off a pair of blocks. Assume your standard jerk stance and inhale. Slowly lower yourself into the bottom of your dip position or a high squat. Your knees should drift forward, but not further than your toes. Once you hit the bottom, explosively reverse the motion and “snap” your knees to extension. Do not push the barbell off your shoulders. 

Muscles Involved In the Jerk

Many of the movements in Olympic lifting are considered full-body challenges. However, in the split jerk or its variations, there are a few select muscle groups that rise above the rest. 

Quadriceps and Glutes

The jerk is predominantly a lower body exercise because the legs generate the most power in the lift. The dipping motion loads the quadriceps and glutes in an equal balance to maintain posture underneath the bar. During the drive, the quads, glutes, and calves extend to drive the weight as high off the shoulders as possible. The legs also contribute to catching and recovering the weight. 

Shoulders and Upper Back 

A stable jerk relies on total upper body strength to push against the barbell. In the catch, the arms are extended vertically overhead in a single motion. The shoulders and traps must be explosive and engaged to drive up against the barbell. 

Triceps

Triceps strength greatly contributes to the jerk in a proper finishing position. For a jerk to be considered a successful lift, both arms must fully lock out overhead. This action relies on complete activation of your triceps. 

Core

The core stabilizes the lift by holding the spine upright underneath the weight in the correct position. The core also contributes to the dip and drive by keeping the torso and shoulders up tall. 

How to Warm Up for Jerks

A thorough warm-up for jerks is the best way to guarantee success in such an intense movement. Before touching the barbell, start with some dynamic stretches or calisthenics to get your core temperature up. At this point, make sure to move through all ranges of motion and address limitations of mobility.

Before going to the barbell, warm up your footwork for the jerk independently. Practice the splitting motion of your legs without using a barbell to get your mind engaged and set a strong foundation.

It is most important to warm up the jerk with the empty barbell for one to three sets. After this is complete, gradually increase weight in moderate increments toward your working sets. 

Jerk Technique Tips

The jerk is very complicated compared to other barbell movements. Small things can go wrong that could spell disaster in the lift — but getting the details right also means you’ll lift heavier. See below for a few technique pointers that apply to all styles of jerks. 

Lock In the Dip and Drive

The dip and drive is a fickle component of the lift. Even though it is short and fast, almost all of the power is created there. If the descent is not tall and balanced, your power utilization in the lift will be limited. Extra focus on nailing the perfect dip and drive goes a long way. 

Stay Vertical, Stay Back

Since the barbell is loaded in the front rack, the lift begins with the weight slightly out in front of your body. The catch of the jerk is totally vertical, which means that in the upward drive, the barbell must travel slightly backward as well. Think about pushing the barbell back behind your ears to guarantee postural balance under the barbell. 

Hold the Catch

The jerk is reliant on a stable catch position. After you drop underneath the barbell, hold the catch position for a couple of seconds. Your body should receive the barbell with tension and patience. Wait until steadiness is locked in, and then follow up with an energized recovery. 

Use Your Back Leg When Split Jerking

The split jerk is especially difficult because of the unilateral technique. It’s common to place too much of your weight on your front leg, since you typically lead with that leg and balance on it while walking or running.

To avoid feeling too “forward” in your split, be extra mindful of your back leg. Focus on an adequate bend in the back knee so you’re not stilting yourself, and keep your pelvis directly underneath your shoulders. Pay attention to your weight distribution — you should be balanced between your front and back foot. 

Wrapping Up

If you can clean it, you can jerk it — as long as you practice it. For some lifters, technique practice pays off to the point of being able to jerk much more weight than they are able to clean, which isn’t necessarily a bad problem to have. The extensive variety of jerk exercises and drills warrant great potential for maximizing your overhead stability and strength. 

Featured Image: Salty View/Shutterstock

The 9 Best Jerk Variations for Improving Your Overhead Game