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Jerk Drives – How to Safely Improve the Jerk by Brian Derwin

Jerk Drives – How to Safely Improve the Jerk by Brian Derwin
Published: 2020-11-11

Bruce Klemens Photography

Many lifters today talk about how much they can clean, but the official lift is the clean & jerk. Does anyone really care what you can do on only half a lift? Compared to the clean, the jerk is actually a very simple movement to master. In order to  improve the odds of a successful jerk, especially after a hard clean, lifters should aim to  jerk (from the rack) more weight than they can clean. In this blog Brian Derwin, a 1980 USA Olympian and coach of Team Spartacus (MN) offers some excellent advice on safely improving the jerk by using an exercise called jerk drives. For details on stages of the jerk mentioned in this blog, please review this link:  https://sportsedtv.com/sport/weightlifting-instructional-videos/how-to-clean-jerk

Certainly, this exercise, the jerk drive, is not new. The late Carl Miller, USA Weightlifting’s National Coaching Coordinator, illustrated the move in his 1974 (reissued in 2018) Olympic Lifting Training Manual. Done properly, jerk drives strengthen and reinforce the vertical movement of the dip and drive stages of the jerk.

Jerk drives are a partial range of motion exercise, so greater than 100% loads can be easily employed. I often overload (especially with relative newcomers) this movement. Although the exercise itself is very simple, there are some cautionary notes a lifter must observe in order to safely perform the jerk drive.

Proper Equipment is Important

As a coach, my goals are always: 1) improve lifts and 2) keep the athlete in one piece. Jerk drives are a great exercise, but they need to be done safely. Today we are fortunate to have in many facilities a choice between well-designed squat stands, wooden jerk/pull blocks, or DC Blocks®. Depending on available equipment, small changes in technique are employed for lifters to safely train, and improve, with jerk drives.

  1. In the past, jerk drives were often performed inside what is sometimes called a cage or power rack. Here, the barbell rests on pins at the specified starting position. Today, not all facilities have such a structure.
  2. At Team Spartacus we occasionally utilize simple squat stands for this exercise. However, squat stands differ somewhat in their basic construction and a lifter should confirm a proper design before attempting jerk drives from squat stands. Let me give an example of a problem associated with poorly designed stands.

Back in my competitive days (1970 - 1981), we had little choice but to perform jerks and jerk drives from squat stands that were not intelligently designed. The design problem was the yoke in which the barbell was cradled. Nearly all racks had yokes with short flanges, and it was challenging to safely target replacing the bar in that small space. With jerk drives in particular, this is out of the question.

I recall one day trying for a jerk a max of 215kg/473lbs. I tried (and missed) this weight four times! My only option was to drop the barbell to the platform, strip it down, clean it, and rebuild the full load with the bar on the squat stands. Prior to bumper plates, and even after bumpers, simply lowering a successful heavy jerk to the shoulders (to repeat or to replace) risked injury to one’s rhomboid muscles. 

Today, a better design exists. And this is the only type of squat stand recommended for jerk drives.

                                                               

An example of well-designed squat stand yoke. Note the short front flange and longer rear flange.

When using squat stands, the athlete:

Starts facing outward from stands (opposite of squats)
Bar stays in contact with the stand’s long flange
Feet are in jerk position
Start at the correct dip depth
Weight can be up to 2x lifter’s best jerk
Drive is controlled, not aggressive. NOTE: Do not allow the bar to go over and/or behind the longer (taller) rear flange.

                                                           

The drive must be controlled, as there is no safe way to let the bar fall in front. The bar always remains on the lifter’s shoulders and clavicles during the drive and the return to the start position (bar again resting in the stands).

                                                           

We recently obtained a quantity of DC Blocks®, the indestructible, lightweight, and easily adjusted (2-inch increments) blocks for pulling or jerking. With these, lifters can raise the barbell off the shoulders at the top of the drive, then let the weights fall on the blocks.

  1. Using DC Blocks® or Jerk Boxes

When using DC Blocks® the athlete:

Faces either direction
Feet are in jerk position
Start with plates on boxes, at the correct dip depth
Weight can be up to 2x lifter’s best jerk
The drive is aggressive with the lifter extending up onto the toes, the bar rising from the shoulders and clavicles. The athlete explodes vertically, keeping the bar, shoulders, hips, and ankles in a straight line.

                                     

                                     

When using DC Blocks® there is no attempt to shoulder the falling weights or to arrest the bar’s descent. Simply drive the bar vertically, then step back (or dip down), letting the bar fall on the DC Blocks®.

                                     

Final Thoughts

When training athletes in the jerk, I first look for proper receiving position overhead. Once that is achieved, I want to build an explosive jerk, achieved by emphasizing the jerk drive. Lifters should feel the bar flex during the conversion from the dip to the drive phases of the jerk. As weights increase, the barbell will bend and rebound upward.

Initially, I was concerned that the use of squat racks would not sufficiently develop this speed. I found that the squat rack version did improve the ability to snap a bar up. The DC Blocks® achieve the snap and allow a safe catching component. But the takeaway is: if you only have proper squat stands, you can still develop good explosiveness in the jerk.

In our training hall we have both squat stands and DC Blocks®. This allows Team Spartacus to better adapt to training in the current COVID environment. Good luck with your training!