Secret Strength Exercise for Jerks

@GarageStrength

What strength exercises do YOU use for jerks?

It’s the sixth attempt, the meet is on the line, a two kilogram PR in the clean and jerk will capture the US National title. Deep down inside, the coach knows the athlete likely does not have the strength to hit this jerk. The coach believes the athlete can stand it up, but when they’re at the top, they may lose tension during the dip, collapse forward and drive the jerk forward. Confidence is low BUT the weight needs to be put on the bar to win that title!

The athlete grips the clean, they are slightly tentative but everyone in the building knows there is a chance. There is a small chance and this lifter has some serious internal fortitude. They will pull and drop under anything! The pull looks slow off the floor, the lifter crashes under and gets smashed by the bar but somehow they stand up the clean (their upper back looking like a turtle that can be bought at the local pet shop). They are standing and preparing to smash this jerk and achieve an incredible moment of greatness. The lifter tightens up their back, they start to dip...the elbows drop, the bar moves forward, they drive out of the bottom of the jerk but everything is moving forward. The bar is out front and the lifter misses the monster lift, just barely missing a national title and a shot at an international team. Clearly, the lifter needs some custom programming from Garage Strength….

This series of events is all too common. Everyone has seen or experienced a competition comes down to a jerk and many coaches have watched the meet disappear from their finger tips for various reasons caused by either strength or poor jerk mechanics or both.

During four different sessions at this past years 2019 IWF World Weightlifting Championships in Pattaya Thailand and during three sessions of the IWF Junior World Weightlifting Championships in Suva, Fiji, 75 athletes were analyzed (by yours truly) during the clean and jerks (222 total lifts). The test was simple. 

1. How did the athlete fail their clean and jerk?

2. Did they miss the clean? (Clarked, didn’t rack the clean or did not stand up the clean)

3. Did they miss the jerk? (No attempt at the jerk, missed forward/behind, all over the place, etc.)

Again, the observation was very simple. It came back to analyzing how 75 athletes missed their clean and jerk. Was it from the clean or the jerk. The results are mind-blowing.

162 total lifts were missed because of the jerk! 

Now, the only gray area here was when an athlete stood up their clean but was blacking out at the top of the lift, the lift was counted against the jerk because the clean had been executed. From a results perspective, that was the only data that was slightly confusing. In reality, a black out on the jerk could be related to the catch of the clean, blood pressure/dehydration from a hard weight cut or poor mechanics at the top of the jerk.

Let’s review the stats again. 72% of failed clean and jerks were caused by misses in the jerk! 

Imagine that. If the lifter could simply have 50% of those lifts BACK. They would be successful 81 more times! What are the problems here? And that’s with just gaining 50% of the lifts back. There is potential for that number to be even greater. 

Failures on jerks can be attributed to many different issues.

1. Technique isn’t effective.

The dip could be forward, the counter movement of the dip could be very weak and the drive out of the counter movement might be out of alignment or just plain slow. 

2. There is a low level of power endurance that the athlete needs on their 5th or 6th attempt.

Many times at the World championship level, athletes are forced to do 2 or even 3 rounds of waves during warm ups. Many athletes are in the same area for weight on the bar and this can lead to long periods of sitting. At a Junior World Championship, there have been lifters that have needed to take 3 waves of warm ups in each lift because of the competitiveness of the competition.

3. The athlete simply doesn’t have the strength to handle the weight for the jerk.

This is a direct blow to the ego of the coach and the lifter. When this happens, the coach and lifter essentially have to recognize, “There was no fu$king way we were getting that jerk, we are simply not strong enough.”

From a coaching perspective, what can be done?

For starters, the coach must diagnose where the failure occurred. Was it a blatant technical error? If it was a technical error, was it caused by lack of technical understanding OR lack of strength to maintain technical precision? Was it a case of low level power endurance? Maybe the athlete can handle 8-10 maximal effort lifts but they can’t handle 10-14 maximal lifts over a long period of time. Finally, the coach has to analyze the movement pattern and potentially recognize that the athlete can’t hold positions in technique because they are too weak.

After analyzing these means of failure, they need to go to the drawing board and figure out...how the hell can we fix this problem?

Here comes the secret of all secrets. There is one movement, a strength exercise that can alleviate A LARGE portion of these issues. This is a movement Hayley Reichardt used quite a bit to strengthen her jerk while she became the youngest American female to clean and jerk double bodyweight.

Drumrolll…..

The exercise: Double bounce front squats.

Whuuut? What the hell is a double bounce front squat?

The double bounce is a tempo change that Norik Vardanian brought to the US, likely through his father, Yuri Vardanian. This is a movement that many people see but rarely does anyone train. This is also a movement Charles Poliquin utilized quite a bit during his hey-day in the 90’s and 2000’s. Charles even used another variation of the double bounce, referring to them as double barrel squats.

The lifter commences the eccentric portion of their lift and enters into the bottom of the squat. As they hit full range, they come out of the bottom with a 4-6 inch concentric movement before moving BACK into the hole, gaining another stretch and coming out of the bottom position. There are many positives at play during a double bounce.

⇨ The athlete gains more mobility in the hole on the second bounce.

⇨ The athlete typically will come out of the bottom in a better position because of the double bounce.

⇨ The lifter will recruit more high threshold motor units on the second bounce because of greater lengthening of the muscle.

⇨ The trunk becomes more rigid because of the isometric tension during the double bounce AND the lifter learns to hold their torso more upright during a dip (the second bounce).

⇨ The lifter ALSO gets stupid strong in the legs because of more time under tension, making the cleans easier after the physiological adaptation occurs.

The double bounce front squat can cure a TON of jerk ailments. It enhances strength tremendously, it will teach the lifter how to come out of the clean catch much easier, even when the clean might be out of position. It educates the body on how to hold an upright trunk position during a counter movement. This aspect is KEY to holding a tight trunk during the turnaround portion of the jerk. It will also aid in creating a deeper catch position during the clean!

The key to fixing a bad jerk is more than just implementing a strength exercise. It comes down to understanding WHY someone is missing the jerk, comprehending the poor mechanical issues and then recognizing if it is a strength issue, a technical issue or both. Over time, the athlete and coach will be able to work toward a greater movement within the jerk and hopefully put a substantial dent in those 72% failure rates on the competition platform!

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