How To Do The Split Jerk

The split jerk requires power, explosiveness, and a little bit of bravery.

Explosively putting a weight over your head can be pretty intimidating, and like anything, that fear and the inclination to avoid fearful situations makes it easy to neglect this lift in preference of other variations like the push jerk.

Master it though, and boy can we have some fun! My goal here is to break down the complexities of this lift into simple, easy to understand steps so that you can begin attacking this movement with confidence. 

Here is your motivation: You can lift a pretty significantly larger weight with the split jerk than the push jerk, and especially more than the push press.

What does this get us? More strength. More ability to move objects easily overhead in real life. More muscle in the arms (hint, hint those of you that want more toned arms and shoulders). 

Things to Keep in Mind

Bad reps, performed repeatedly, form bad habits.

Start with a super manageable weight and go SLOW. Slow movement allows time to think and to move well, while fast movement will default back to your old habits. Start slow, build in the speed as you succeed, and if you start to get off track, just slow it back down a notch to get back on track. 

Be patient with yourself.

This movement is essentially ⅓ of a sport. I wouldn’t expect you to master ⅓ of a sport in an hour, or a day, or by reading this piece. Mastery takes time – so just work at it one piece at a time and get a little better with some portion of the movement each time you work on it. 

Setting Up

With these complex, fast lifts, keep in mind that your starting position is huge. Anything that is off in your pre-flight checklist (think the things you can do before beginning to move) will affect the rest of the movement.

Stand like a statue.

Load that bar onto your shoulders so that it is sitting at the base of your throat, across your shoulders. That shoulder contact is key #1, so if it is not sitting on your shoulders, lift your elbows higher until it does.

This may require you to roll the bar into your fingertips. The fingertips are not ideal, so if you can keep the bar in some portion of your palm and still keep contact with the shoulders, then stay there and keep a firm grip on the bar to help engage your shoulder’s support structure.

Now – brace your core, squeeze your butt, keep your chest up, and stand as tall as possible. This rigid, statue-like posture will allow you to put all of the force from the leg drive in the next portion of the movement, directly into the bar.

If you’re a limp, loose spaghetti noodle, then that bar could go any direction instead of just straight up.

Weight in your heels.

Shift your weight back onto your heels and maintain this as you perform the dip coming up. This will make sure that you stay flat-footed and moving in the right direction (straight up and down). 

Dip and Drive.

Unlock your knees to dip down a small amount, about six inches. If you view the torso from the side while this is done, you will see that it remains vertical, the chest does not drop, and there is no leaning back. This also will aim the bar straight up.

Now explosively shove your feet into the ground to get that bar to jump up using your legs. It should float off of your shoulders from leg drive alone.

Note that you want your feet to stay flat during this dip and drive, and only rise onto the toes through momentum. You do NOT want to roll onto the toes as you dip and drive as this will bring about a lack of balance that may make your bar move forward or back instead of straight up.

Shrug.

At the top of your leg drive, shrug to add even more momentum into the bar.

Use the weight of the bar to press yourself down into your quarter lunge.

Read that again. At this point, the bar should have begun floating off of your shoulders. This is your opportunity to pull yourself under it as fast as humanly possible and stabilize that weight.

Step Fast.

Use that front foot to shoot forward like you are trying to squish a fast bug in front of you. Speed is your friend in this lift! 

Land solid.

Are you still bracing that core? You should be. It should never stop once you setup this lift – we need it to confidently lock in the weight overhead without being wobbly.

Land at the bottom of your quarter lunge and finish locking out your arms at the Exact. Same. Moment. This is how you get that oh-so buttery smooth, effortless lift. 

Landing stance. 

It should look like this:

-Biceps by the ears, like you’re trying to crush your own skull between them.

-Elbows straight. 

-Wrists straight. This one can make a huge difference in how strong your press and landing feel.

-Weight slightly heavier in your back leg than your front leg. 

-Front shin is vertical.

-Front foot is planted flat with even weight distribution from the toes to the heel.

-Back knee is slightly bent. 

-Up on the ball of the back foot.

-Hips and shoulders are squared forward. 

The depth of your lunge should be about a quarter of the way down. This comes down to “meeting the bar” where it is hanging about, after you have done all of that explosive dipping and driving. 

Your feet should be about a foot width wider than your hip width stance. This gives you  more lateral balance (side to side) vs. a narrow “tight rope walking” stance that will be very unstable.

That’s quite the laundry list, no?

Practice makes perfect, and so does coaching. Get a qualified coach to check your stance for you, or take some video & photos to see it from a few angles.

If something is off, adjust it before you come out of that stance and give your brain a few seconds to feel what that right position is like.

Finish It!

Once that bar is overhead, lock it in and get it stable. Then bring your front foot halfway back, followed by your back foot half way forward, to meet in the middle under the bar, and stand all of the way up.

This is huge, as it allows the bar to stay balanced in place instead of swinging forward and back. 

Guide the bar to the ground.

Notice I didn’t say drop it. Get it the habit of guiding it to the floor for a smooth, controlled landing in order to protect yourself and those around you from a bouncing bar.

This is even more important for a light bar because they are even more bouncy, and lighter plates crack and bend much easier than the heavier ones.

Pat yourself on the back. You successfully completed the split jerk!

Building Strength for the Split Jerk

The foundational strength of this lift comes from a couple of things: the lunge and the push press. So if you want to build some strength to make this feel more manageable right from the start, then focus on those two movements.

Skills.

If you’ve got those lifts strong, the next thing you need are the skills to put it together: footwork and quickly flowing from one position to the next. Remember, good reps performed repeatedly form good habits.

Advanced Concepts

Stretch reflex

When performing the dip and transitioning into the drive, do not pause, hesitate, or stop.

Your muscles are kind of like rubber bands, they stretch during that dip and store energy that wants to fire back the other way! Let them.

However, when you stop, that stored energy bleeds away and you lose some potential power in the drive.

Competition vs. Training for Life

I will make the argument that you want to train your split stance with both legs as the lead (forward) leg. This will prevent you from developing any imbalances both in mobility and strength.

Imbalances affect your ability to move smoothly and also cause a lack of strength in some situations. As a normal person, that is more valuable than the extra edge that you get from training a one sided stance.

If you intend to compete, I advise you to train both sides for strength with your lunges to prevent those imbalances and  build proper strength & mechanics, and then get proficient with moving fast and confidently with your preferred side so that you can build that extra edge with a quick movements habit.

Remember, a warrior who can only use his weapon in one hand is limited.

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