A Step-by-Step Guide to a Perfect Jerk

When it comes to Olympic weightlifting, the snatch and clean get the most attention. The jerk just doesn’t get the same amount of love. As a trainer, I’ll take some of the blame. My weightlifting teaching progressions address the snatch first, followed by the clean, with the jerk bringing up the rear.

Although this approach is logical, the lifts shouldn’t be judged in this order in regard to complexity or merit. The jerk is every bit as technical and challenging as the clean or snatch.

RELATED: Perfecting Your Jerk

In this article, we’ll take a look at the entire jerk movement from start to finish, and detail exactly what you should be doing at each stage to ensure a safe and successful lift.

The Grip

A good jerk starts with the barbell in a solid rack position with a proper grip. The grip width for the jerk should be just outside your shoulders. If you have large biceps and/or a tough time externally rotating your arms while gripping the barbell, then a wider grip may be required.

“A good jerk starts with the barbell in a solid rack position with a proper grip. The grip width for the jerk should be just outside your shoulders.”

Once you’ve securely gripped the bar, raise your arms until your triceps are parallel to floor, similar to the position used in a front squat. Your wrist should be slightly cocked with the barbell gripped securely. If you’ve got poor shoulder or thoracic mobility, then you’ll need to let the barbell roll onto the tips of your fingers in order to get into a solid lifting position.

RELATED: How to Determine Your Jerk Grip Width

The Stance

The jerk primarily uses the lower body and trunk to dynamically get the barbell overhead. With that said, safety is paramount and your goal with any dynamic overhead movement should be to maintain a stacked spinal column while exhibiting force throughout the lift.

This is often best achieved by taking a wide stance with your feet slightly externally rotated. Although it varies from person to person, I prefer most people take a stance similar to their front squat.

RELATED: The Jerk Drive Comes From the Legs (Video)

You may have psychological difficulty with this because a narrow stance feels more powerful. But unless you have outstanding ankle flexibility, it is difficult to prevent your torso from shooting forward in the drive phase of the lift while in a narrow stance. It’s also difficult to wind up and subsequently release the stored energy in your hips while employing a narrow stance.

The Dip-Drive

When you are ready to execute the dip-drive of the jerk, take a large belly breath and hold it. This will help protect the lower back and transfer energy from your legs through the trunk to the barbell.

“The jerk relies heavily on the tension of your musculature in order to generate force. If this phase looks slow and sluggish, like a wet sponge, then you’re doing it wrong.”

To start the dip, slightly flex at the knees, pushing them out like you would in a squat. This movement should occur quickly. It’s a shallow and violent movement.

The drive phase is simply a redirection of force. This action is largely dependent on creating tense musculature throughout the legs and trunk, while quickly extending the knees, ankles, and hips. It’s important we drive through the heels during this step. You may end up on the forefoot or toes, but that should be a symptom of your natural kinesthetics – not a contrived effort.

RELATED: It’s All About the 2-Phase Dip

The jerk relies heavily on the tension of your musculature in order to generate force. If this phase looks slow and sluggish, like a wet sponge, then you’re doing it wrong.

Jerk dip drill.

The Receive Position

Once the drive is initiated, the barbell should hop up with some zip. It will become weightless for a split second before reaching its apogee. It’s at this point that you need to aggressively drop under the bar into a split jerk receiving position.

“The first question you probably have is which foot should go forward. The answer is easily found by asking a buddy to give you a light push on the back when you’re not expecting it.”

Most adults will receive the barbell in a split jerk position (as opposed to the push jerk position) due to mobility limitations and the increased efficiency the split jerk offers. With that said, one of the most important things you’ll need to figure out when it comes to split jerking is footwork.

The first question you probably have is which foot should go forward. The answer is easily found by asking a buddy to give you a light push on the back when you’re not expecting it. Whichever foot you put forward to break your fall is your dominant foot. That’s the one that will go forward in the jerk.

RELATED: The 2 Fundamental Roles of Footwork in the Jerk

Of course, once you’ve executed your dip drive, you’ll only have a split second to get your feet into this stable position, so it will take some practice and concentration.

The Lock-Out

During the barbell’s weightless phase, after the drive, you need to rotate your arms into a locked-out overhead position while simultaneously dropping under the bar. Done properly, the jerk only asks the arms to stabilize a load, not press it (that will result in a “no lift” in competition).

RELATED: A Jerk Is a Jerk (and a Press Is a Press)

This position is best achieved by aggressively moving your front foot forward with a slight inward canter, while simultaneously driving the back leg’s knee down toward the spot on the floor the feet previously occupied. You don’t want to literarily drive the knee into the ground, but it helps to think that way in order to create a stable base.

A slight internal rotation of the front foot will help create a stable split receiving position. The downward motion of the rear knee helps create relaxed flexion, enabling you to adjust depth based on the outcome of the drive phase. This position also prevents tight lifters from getting stuck in the split because they’ve reached their end range of motion in the anterior hip capsule of their rear leg.

“You don’t want to literarily drive the knee into the ground, but it helps to think that way in order to create a stable base.”

When you’re in this split position, imagine we painted a circle on the platform the size of a large hula-hoop. Your feet should be in contact with the inside edge of that hoop. If your rear foot is way back and outside the hoop, then it’s a problem.

The Recovery

When the bar is locked out overhead and you’re in a stable split position, then it’s time to stand the weight up. This is easily done by taking a half-step back with the forefoot, bringing the rear foot a half-step forward, and then repeating that process.

It’s important your feet are parallel to one another on the platform at this point, and you’ll need to have control of the barbell overhead. Again, failure to do so will result in a “no lift” during a meet.

RELATED: Behind the Neck Jerk Balance (Video)

Never ghost ride or drop the barbell from overhead. I always encourage my athletes to maintain control over the bar until it descends to their mid-thigh. From a safety standpoint, I understand it may be necessary to drop from overhead during a poor lift, but it’s important to respect the equipment and the sport by exercising some control when appropriate.

Summary of the Split Jerk

The jerk requires a great amount of athleticism, concentration, and timing in order to do it well. Remember Rome wasn’t built in a day, but it burned in one. Take your time and use reasonable weight while learning this lift.

RELATED: Catching the Bounce: The Jerk

The jerk is a demanding lift that can help a wide range of trainees when done properly. But due to its complex nature and each individual’s anthropometric nuances, I feel it’s of utmost importance that all trainees find a knowledgeable and competent coach to help them in their journey.

The information I’ve shared here is certainly not everything there is to know about jerking, but I think it offers some good conceptual starting points as well as tips for the intermediate lifter. So, I encourage you all to take these points and go have fun training the jerk.

Photo 1 courtesy of .

Photo 2 courtesy of CrossFit Empirical.

Photo 3 “Clean and Jerk” by Jamie Jamieson. Attribution 2.0 Generic License.

Photos 4 and 5 courtesy of Eric Auciello.

How to Do a Barbell Clean and Jerk with Proper Form

This Hulk-like exercise might look like a demanding way to sculpt your upper body, but it’s actually a fantastic total-body move. A quick bout of clean and jerks can rev your heart rate while simultaneously building a solid core, says Eric Leija, senior kettlebell coach with the Onnit Academy in Austin, TX.

It takes some practice to nail the form, but once you’ve got it down, it’s a great exercise to build and progress. Increasing your load, upping your speed, and trying it with different tools (barbell, kettlebell, dumbbell, etc.) keep this move feeling fresh. (FYI: It’s one of the main lifts used in the sport of Olympic weightlifting.)

Clean and Jerk Variations and Benefits

“Implementing this move into your strength program is essential for building full-body strength and gaining strength in the overhead position,” explains Leija. It’s also great for improving your power output while holding a heavy load, he says.

One of the key benefits of the clean and jerk (demonstrated in this video by NYC-based trainer Rachel Mariotti) is that this movement teaches you how to generate force from your hips to launch the barbell up into the racked position and into the jerk, explains Leija. (You can also try these essential barbell exercises that every woman should master.)

“That puts a high demand on the core musculature, forcing you to learn how to maintain a braced core while wielding a load in different positions, from the bottom of your squat to the racked position and overhead,” he says.

If you’re not quite comfortable using a barbell, Leija suggests trying the clean and jerk with a single kettlebell to lighten up the load and focus on your form. He recommends using a 15-pound kettlebell and performing the movement on one side at a time.

To make this movement more advanced, try performing it with little to no pause in between the movements. You can also do this progression exercise with two medium-weight kettlebells (try a 25-pound set) to make it more challenging on your core and stability, he says. (Need more inspo? Watch these female Olympic weightlifters crush it.)

How to Do a Clean and Jerk

A. Stand with feet hip-width apart. Squat down and grab the barbell shoulder-width apart with an overhand grip, maintaining a neutral spine, proud chest, and braced core.

B. In one swift movement, lift chest and thrust hips forward, using the momentum from hips to pop barbell up toward shoulders.

C. Shrug and bend your elbows as you drop underneath the bar, lowering into a front squat, with palms facing up and bar resting on palms.

D. Press into heels and mid-foot to stand.

E. Immediately sit back into a quarter squat underneath the bar, then use the momentum to stand (hopping off the floor just an inch) and pop the bar overhead, arms extended, landing either with feet in the same position or in a split stance, as demonstrated above.

F. Carefully reverse the movement to lower the bar back to front rack position, then down to the floor.

Do 8 to 12 reps. Try 3 or 4 sets.

Clean and Jerk Form Tips

  • Use a 35-pound barbell with no added weight to build a strong foundation with this exercise before you add weight plates.
  • Be careful not to round back when lowering bar toward the ground at the end of each rep.
  • Keep core braced throughout the movement to protect your back.
  • By Sara Angle @saraangle22

The Essential Stretches for Olympic Lifting

Thanks to CrossFit and functional training gyms, Olympic lifting (snatches and clean & jerks) have become increasingly popular over the last few years. No doubt they are a great exercise for developing full body strength and power, but due to their complexity they can easily cause injuries. The two reasons for injury are lack of flexibility (mobility) and lack of muscle strength (stability). In this blog post, I will explore the importance of mobility as a preventative measure against sustaining injuries for the specific movements of snatched and clean & jerks.

Correct technique for performing the ‘Snatch’

Looking at the above picture of a snatch, you can see that most of the major joints in the body are pushed to their limits. Now if these joints can’t reach those angles something has to give – either the athlete will be physically unable to lift the barbell into position, or a muscle or joint will give way to allow it – ouch!

Starting from the base, we’ll systematically look at each joint in the body and how to overcome any limitations. The first few stretches below are applicable for both snatches and clean & jerks, but the upper body stretches differ.

Essential stretches to prevent injuries

Calf Stretch for the ankle joint

Tight calves will limit ankle mobility and pull the lifter backwards, preventing them from getting the bar overhead. A calf stretch is recommended as per the below image.

Ankle joint impingement may also prevent ankle mobility and is common in those who have had previous ankle injuries. Manual therapy from your physiotherapist can also improve this.

Lifting shoes with heel support can also improve ankle mobility by lifting the heel which will create more range.

Quadricep stretch for the knee joint

The primary contributor to lack of knee range is tight quadriceps so stretch those quadriceps! Ensure you keep the knee of the stretched leg close to your opposite leg and that your upper body stays tall.

Glutes, hamstring and hip flexor stretches for the hip joint

The hip joint is a bit more complex than the rest of the leg joints due to the number of muscles involved and the range it can move in. There are three key stretches which will aid flexibility of this area. Make sure to stretch out your glutes:

And your hamstrings and hip flexors. Tight quads can also limit hip range so stretch those out as well:

Foam roller technique for thoracic spine stretches

Easily the most important part of the body and the most overlooked. Thoracic spine stiffness will cause you to hunch forward and prevent your shoulders going overhead, especially while at the bottom of a squat. It will cause shoulder, neck and back injuries and takes the longest to correct. Lying down on a half foam roller with arms overhead will improve this range. This is especially important if you are an office worker because spending eight hours a day sitting at a desk is the most common cause for thoracic spine stiffness. You can purchase a foam roller from your local Back In Motion practice.

Pectorial stretch for the shoulder joint

Thoracic spine range is the first thing to address for shoulder range, as per the above. Tight pictorials will also limit shoulder range by pulling the shoulders forward, preventing you from lifting the bar into the overhead position so a pec stretch is also essential. You can complete this stretch in a door frame as per my demonstration below.

Correct technique for performing the ‘Clean & Jerk’

This series of images shows the correct technique and form for performing the clean & jerk movement. Note the position of my arms on the bar and feet stance.

Lat stretch for the shoulder joint

Having the elbows in front of the body changes the demands placed on the shoulder. Tight latissimus dorsi muscles will pull the arms down and outwards so these will need to be stretched.

This stretch can be performed on a park bench, chair or low table.

Tricep stretch for the elbow joint

It is essential to keep your elbows up as high as possible at the bottom of the clean, so a tricep stretch is recommended.

Wrist flexor stretch for the wrist joint

Flexibility through the wrist flexors is needed to allow the bar to sit on the shoulders while still maintaining finger contact so stretch these well as per the below.

In conclusion, if you are finding it difficult to get the barbell into the correct position, it will be due to lack of range in one or more of these areas, so do these stretches daily for the next few weeks and you should notice the difference. Not only will these allow you to do the lifts correctly, but they will boost performance, help prevent injury and you might even hit a PB!

Bonus tip: learn how to use the foam roller! It can provide a more powerful release on those tight muscle than regular stretching.

A Back In Motion physio can assess any pain or flexibility issues you may have and provide you with a custom stretching plan. Find your nearest practice and book your Free Initial Assessment today.

Jacob Bryant – Physiotherapist, Back In Motion Bundall

Jacob graduated from Griffith University with M. Physiotherapy and B. Exercise Science, as well as five years’ experience in personal training and strength and conditioning. Jacob is passionate about weightlifting, specifically powerlifting and Olympic lifting, and loves to treat athletes in these fields. Jacob has also served in the Australian Army Reserve for the last six years keeping him in top physical shape.

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In WODs we often see a preference of push/power jerk or even a “push press” over split jerks. If you ever have to face a heavy clean and jerk, the time put into mastering the split jerk may help you achieve those much needed kilograms.


When someone tries a split jerk for the first time, it is often more of a foot splat, but it needs to be precise. As a coach, at a side view, I look for a nice straight line between the bar, shoulders and hips with an even distance between the feet. This allows your legs to take the weight rather than your lower back or joints.
There are simple positioning cues such as

  • Is the shin of the front leg vertical?
  • Is the back leg bent?
  • Is the back foot on the toes and correctly aligned with the knee?

The Germans always have great jerk technique which really uses the legs rather than the lower back, check out Julia Schwarzbach with 103kg

Aside from the legs, make sure that the shoulders and hips are directly underneath the bar when you receive the weight, this will make it feel light.


‘If you can drive the bar really high and in a straight line, then your recovery from the split will be even easier’

Push press is a fantastic exercise to work on the drive, however you must use the leg drive as much as possible by driving up onto the toes, and staying on the toes until the end of the press, this may be harder but it will be rewarding! In contrast, if your leg power is good but your bar path is off, power jerks are a great way to correct the bar path. Many athletes can save a bad split jerk but may be punching the bar incorrectly, using a combination of push press and power jerk can help solve the problem naturally.

Thank you to Bulgarian International Weightlifter Mehmed Fikretov for the weightlifting style push press!


This was also mentioned in my Clean article, having a comfortable shelf on the shoulders for the bar will allow the dip and drive to be straight and powerful.

If you struggle to keep your chest or elbows up during the dip you may have to work on improving your thoracic mobility or loosening your lats and triceps. Alternatively it may be postural strength, for this jerk dips with heavyweight which for 3 sets of 5 will help the athlete strengthen the dip posture. In addition a common habit to watch out for is to compromise the upright position of the rack by using the arms too early, you must let the shoulders drive through the bar before your arms punch through.

Split Jerks will allow you to push harder in your Clean and Jerks



Quiet or a ‘pitter-patter’ split jerk is usually an indication of the lifter being too slow or not giving the bar enough float in order to move the feet into the right position. At the top of the jerk drive the feet need to slide out as opposed to lifting up and out, many people are slow because they try to lift the legs in an arc, as opposed to a skim across the service. Perfecting this will take time, but soon you will be able to look as sharp as multiple times Olympic champion Pyrros Dimas:


It is common to at the start to be able to push press more than you can jerk. Split jerk refinement takes a lot of patience, but when it is perfected that jerk drive will become snappier, this will allow your well crafted split to be ready to receive the weight BEFORE the weight starts falling and you will be able to slam that bar in triumph. For those that struggle to feel stable in the split jerk I recommend engaging in some single-leg strengthening exercises such as alternate leg lunges and overhead split squats.

268lb (122kg) Split Jerk PR! About time! Good lifting day with @heatherhippensteel! We were PR twins. ?? And shoulders were feeling great after yesterday’s bodywork with @boazaspirehw. ? @progenex @nikewomen @roguefitness @cjinvictus @crossfitgames #AlmostDoubleBodyWeight #NextTime #GrownStrong

A video posted by Lauren Fisher (@laurenfisher) on Mar 22, 2016 at 6:25pm PDT

Split Jerk refinement takes time and a lot of patience, but when it is perfected, that Jerk drive will become much snappier. This will allow your well crafted Split to be ready to receive the weight BEFORE the weight starts falling, and you will be able to recover and slam that bar in triumph. If however, after a year or so of persisting unsuccessfully with the Split, you may have to settle for the Power Jerk and focus on that as your preferred method for the Clean and Jerk.


A simple Jerk routine would involve:

  • 3 sets of 5 Push Press,
  • 3 sets of 3 Power Jerk and
  • 3 sets of 1 Split Jerk

(move up in weight between each exercise)

This routine should be done apart from other overhead movements because you will find your shoulders pretty useless after all that work!

Split Jerk in action

© High Intensity Photography

Featured Image © BOXROX

Julia Schwarzbach © Hookgrip

Klokov Split Jerk from Rack © Klokov

Split Jerk © Sonia Ariz / BOXROX

Pyrros Dimas © Pyrros Dimas

Lauren Fisher instagram © Lauren Fisher

Split Jerk © High Intensity Photography

Learn The Olympic Lifts: Snatch And Clean And Jerk Progression Lifts

The sport of weightlifting is a polarizing enigma. Some think the snatch and the clean and jerk are the epitome of strength and athleticism. Others find them dangerous, hardcore, and completely out of the realm of normalcy.

As a weightlifting competitor and CrossFitter, I’m firmly in the pro-snatch camp. I think it’s a shame people don’t do the “Olympic” lifts and feel sad when trainers clutch their pearls at the thought of allowing their clients to perform such “dangerous maneuvers.” As it turns out, weightlifting training and competitions are actually safer than other sports.1 With the right coach and the right equipment, there’s no reason to forgo your interest in weightlifting because these moves look scary.

The snatch and the clean and jerk aren’t bodybuilding lifts, though. Doing them won’t help you build particular body parts like that troublesome upper pec or that lagging vastus medialis. These lifts will, however, aid your mobility, make you a more powerful athlete, increase your lean muscle mass, and, believe it or not, tax your cardiovascular system.

Now, before you run to the nearest platform to grip it and rip it, slow your roll. You can’t throw plates on a barbell and hope you can get it over your head. That would be like dumping an 8 year old into the front seat of your car, handing him the keys to the ignition, and then giving him the green light—now that’s scary.

The snatch and the clean and jerk are difficult lifts. To do them safely takes a lot of flexibility, speed, and power. So before you even attempt the real thing, try these progression lifts. They’ll help you develop the mobility, speed, and power you need to snatch or clean and jerk successfully.

Clean Foundation Moves

EXERCISE 1: Front squat (Front rack position)

If you’re a bodybuilder, you’ve probably been doing front squats with the bar resting on your shoulders and your arms crossed over the top of it. If you want to clean, drop the habit. Start doing front squats with the bar in your hands and your elbows pointed forward. It gets really difficult to pull the bar off the ground and onto your shoulders if you can’t bring your elbows up to near-shoulder level. If you can’t even hold the bar in that position without wanting to scream in agony, it’s time to start practicing more mobility.

For most people, the enigma of the clean stems from a lack of flexibility. To do a clean, your T-spine, lumbar, and shoulders have to be supple and strong. You may be able to hold the bar in a front rack position, but as soon as you squat down, you freeze. You don’t have to front squat 250 to work on your mobility. Grab an empty bar and practice holding the bar in the front rack and squatting down.

“It’s also important to squat to full depth—that means your hip hinge needs to be below your knees.”

It’s also important to squat to full depth—that means your hip hinge needs to be below your knees. One of the keys to a good clean is getting under the bar quickly. Do one right, and all the sudden you’ll be ass to grass with a bunch of weight on your shoulders.

If you can, sit at the bottom of a light front squat. Practice keeping your chest up and your spine neutral. Don’t round forward. Allow your back and your shoulders to stretch. Learn how to get comfortable in this position.

EXERCISE 2: Clean Pull

Undoubtedly, you’ve practiced the deadlift. The clean pull is similar, but you’ll actually be pulling the bar as high as you can. This is an important movement to practice because it’s what you’ll do before you fall under the bar in a real clean.

For the clean pull, keep your arms just slightly bent and the bar close to your body. The point is not to use your biceps to pull the bar up, but to practice using the energy stored in your ankles, knees, and hips—we call this triple extension—to drive the bar upward. Before the bar even leaves the ground, make sure your lats and hamstrings are engaged.

As you pull, don’t let the bar drift forward. To be good at the clean, you have to learn to control the bar and make it do what you want it to. Don’t let the bar control the movement. Use light weight to begin so you get the feel of how your muscles are working. Your form should stay the same, no matter how heavy you load the bar.

EXERCISE 3: Plyometrics (Box jump, depth jump, box skip)

True plyometrics aren’t exactly “lifts,” but they will help you learn how to produce more power. To jump on or off of a box, your muscles have to stretch and then contract rapidly. The faster your muscles can do this, the more force they can produce. Force, as any good student of physiology knows, is a primary piece of power. And power is an essential aspect of performing the clean.

Adding plyos to your regimen is beneficial no matter what your goals are. Jumping on or off of a box will fire up your central nervous system (CNS). Your CNS is responsible for delivering messages to your muscles from your brain. If your CNS works quickly and efficiently, you’ll be much better at doing complex movements.

Jerk Foundation Moves

EXERCISE 1: Push Press

The push press differs from a strict press in that you get to use momentum from your legs to help you lift the bar over your head. To do a clean and jerk, you need to get comfortable having weight over your head. It might be scary at first, but by doing this lift you’ll build strong, stable shoulders and an iron core that, together, are more than capable of putting up big numbers.

I see a lot of people doing this lift with a lot of chest action. The bar goes more forward,than out and there’s a lot of scary back-arching going on. The push press is not a standing incline bench press.

Grab the bar with your hands slightly more than shoulder-width apart. The movement should begin with a dip in your knees; don’t start by sticking your ass out. As you push upward with your legs, think about that energy traveling all the way up your shoulders, through your arms, and into the bar. As your arms reach full extension, poke your head through and let your whole body take the weight.

EXERCISE 2: Push Jerk

A push jerk is a little different than a push press because you re-bend your knees after you dip and drive the bar over your head. This movement is a little more complicated and thus takes a bit more athleticism and coordination.

The point of doing a push jerk is to work on “catching” the bar with your legs. In other words, your knees absorb some of the weight as the bar goes over your head. You should be able to push jerk more than you push press.

The lift actually ends when you re-straighten your knees and your arms are at full extension. Just like in the push press, your head should poke through your arms. If someone was standing to the side watching you, she would be able to see at least a little bit of your ears.

Snatch Foundation Moves

EXERCISE 1: Overhead Squat

Maybe one of the most difficult exercises ever invented, the overhead squat is the king of exposing your weaknesses. If you have any sticky points in your shoulders, back, or hips, the overhead squat will make you feel like an old lady.

The overhead squat is a great foundation because the bottom portion mimics perfectly the landing position of the snatch. If you can sit—with your hips below your knees—and the bar over your head without wanting to cry like a little girl, you’ve got the start of a squeaky-clean snatch.

The overhead squat is also great for working balance, stability, and mobility. Even if you aren’t interested in ever trying the snatch, throwing an overhead squat into your regimen will only help you.

EXERCISE 2: Snatch Balance (Drop snatch)

The snatch balance is a fun little exercise that’s challenging at every level. Even with light weight, putting together the speed and coordination necessary for this lift can be difficult.

Start with the bar racked across your shoulders like you would for a back squat. Your hands will be wide, like they would be for a snatch. Dip like you would for a push press and then drive upward. As the weight unloads from your shoulders, drop into the bottom of an overhead squat position.

It takes speed to get down and athleticism to figure out how to drive the bar up and then squat down in rapid succession. And, like the overhead squat, it requires a lot of mobility.

What do you think?

Have any other ideas for weightlifting progression moves? Having trouble with any of these movements? Hit me up in the comments below!

Vital Stats

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  • BodySpace: cassie1162
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  • Occupation: Associate editor of, CrossFit athlete, and weightlifting competitor

The Snatch, Clean, And Jerk: Olympic Lifts Overview

The Snatch, Clean and Jerk are the most iconic Olympic-style lifts there are. Every day, bodybuilders train to perform these lifts. But you don’t have to be a professional bodybuilder to complete them. With proper training and exercise, you can perform these power lifts as well.

Why would you want to do Snatch, Clean, And Jerk exercises?

Both exercises are explosive movements which can add power and functional strength. They build muscle and make you stronger, faster, and more powerful. Plus they are so fun to do!

Though they are relatively simple exercises, they are not to be taken lightly. You can get seriously injured if you are not performing the proper technique. Make sure you have a trainer help you with all the subtle nuances. It is also a good idea to work with extremely light weights and even just a simple PVC pipe to learn the movements and increase your mobility.

Flexibility in the glutes, hips, hamstrings, quads, shoulders, and chest is paramount to doing these powerful lifts properly. Make sure you have opened these up before you start lifting heavy weights.

The Snatch

The snatch is one of the most iconic Olympic lifts. It contains four fundamental components but is executed as a single fluid lift. The seamless motion makes heavy weights feel much lighter. With proper training, technique, and foundation exercises, anyone can master the snatch lift.

It begins with the setup. This is when you take your stand with your feet beneath the bar. You then bend over and grab the bar with your hands at least thirty inches apart. With the bar in hand, enter into a squat position and look straight ahead.

Now you will begin the pull. Lift the bar using the muscles in your legs, back, and glutes. As you lift up, the bar should remain very close to your shins & knees, but not so close that it makes contact. Accelerate quickly and perform a triple extension with your knees, ankles, and hips until you are on your toes.

Pull your body beneath the bar and enter into a squat position. You will need to turn your wrists as you lift the bar completely above your head. After the bar is firmly in position, you will begin to stand. The snatch movement is not complete until you are standing completely, the bar is under control above your head, and your body is motionless.

There is only so much weight a person can use their arms to lift. Once you hit that threshold, you need to learn to use your body. Otherwise, you will plateau with the amount of weight you can snatch. To help build speed at getting under the bar, consider doing high-hang snatches. This means doing the snatch with the bar starting at the mid-thigh level. Using this launch position helps build your explosiveness and increase the speed of getting under the bar.

The snatch appears extremely difficult, but in reality, it is a simple finesse lift. Practicing the right fundamental workouts will help you perfect the individual motions that run together.

The Clean And Jerk

Where the snatch is about finesse, the clean and jerk is about raw power. The first portion of the lift is called the clean. The clean requires pulling the large weights high and then clearing the shoulders. Afterward, the lift transitions to a frontal squat where the weights are thrust overhead and under control.

The setup is very similar to the snatch. You will stand with your feet beneath the bar. When bending over, you will want to grab the bar around shoulder length. This is in contrast to the snatch, which is often gripped at the full length of the bar. Once you have the bar in hand, you will drop into a squat position and look forward.

The first motion is the pull. Keep your back flat and start your body mechanics as if you are doing a deadlift. Once the bar is past your knees, this is a fast and powerful lift that requires a triple extension of the knees, ankles, and hips. As you pull the bar higher, you should continue to extend almost as if you are jumping, until you are standing on your toes. While doing this, keep your arms straight while shrugging up your shoulders with the trapezius muscles.

After fully extending, you will need to pull yourself beneath the bar. Bend and lift your elbows up like you are doing an upright row to keep the bar close to you as you pull your body lower. Quickly enter into a squat position with the bar moving upward past the chest. That is the moment when you will very quickly transition your elbows to the front and bring the bar above your deltoids.

The final portion of the lift is the jerk. You will need to return to a standing position with the bar under control. Make sure your hands are situated properly and from the standard front squat position, stand up explosively. As the weight rises start pressing it up with your arms and jump open your legs slightly wider than your shoulders with one forward and one backward to give a good stable base. The bar must be jerked overhead completely. Return your feet to their normal position while maintaining control of the weights overhead.

Learning Through Exercise

Keep in mind that are plenty of exercises you should perform to learn the fundamentals of the Olympic lifts. The most important exercises are the front squat, the upright row, shrugs, deadlifts, and the shoulder press. You can master all of these individual lifts with the help of a trainer. Once you can perform them with confidence, then you can move on to more complex Olympic style lifts like the snatch or the clean and jerk. Visit us at the CrossFit Milo gym and get proper coaching:

This article is part of the Rehband Carry Yourself series, a complete guide to improving your upper body strength, mobility, posture and health..

This article will teach you everything you need to know about the Clean Technique. It will help you to improve your skills, make you more resistant to injury and ultimately give you a stronger upper body allowing you to become a better athlete and more accomplished lifter. It will also give you helpful tips and inspiration from top CrossFit® and Rehband athletes Annie Thorisdottir, Rich Froning and USA Weightlifter Mattie Rogers.



A strong rack position improves your chances of standing up out of a heavy clean. It is common for beginners to struggle with the position as people often have incredibly tight lats and triceps. Rolling the lats, triceps and wrists and stretching them during your warm up will help get those elbows higher and the bar comfortably resting on the shoulders whilst gripping the bar.

Stretching out using the bar is also a fantastic way to improve the front rack position. Place the barbell into the back squat position, and use the weight of the bar to rotate one elbow up at a time whilst keeping the hands on the bar and the body straight.

maintain that good front rack position

© Rehband

If you have to sacrifice gripping the bar in the rack position to have your elbows up, sacrifice the grip and open your hands.


Having a tight mid-back from all those hours racked up at the desk can be a complete hindrance to a strong clean. Catching a clean with a rounded mid-back will force the elbows down and cause you to grind-up the squat which can zap away your energy and put unnecessary pressure onto the wrists –a one-way ticket to injury. Rehband wrist protection are a useful addition here, especially when you are first learning to clean.

In addition, overhead squats are a great way to improve your mobility, if you can do a clean-grip overhead squat without the bar falling forward and you can front squat more than your best clean without your back rounding, consider your posture fit for purpose!


Due to the heavier weight used in the clean versus the snatch, a bad first pull will cause serious problems. During the first pull the shoulders should stay over the bar AND the back angle should remain the same. Often people mistakenly let those hips rise as soon as the bar moves.

Your knees only have to move fractionally to get out of the way of the bar as it passes the knees. Pushing your knees back switches off the legs and places the pressure on the back. The more pressure you can keep on the front of the foot, the more your legs will be primed to move into the extension.

Rich lifting with elbow sleeves

© Rehband


Ever found yourself pulling the bar so high and diving under the bar so fast that the bar comes crashing down onto your shoulders and crumbles you into a ball? Timing is very important, meeting the bar just below parallel and “catching the bounce” out of the squat is essential to coming out of a heavy clean with ease.

The following can all improve this aspect of your lift:

  • Hang Cleans
  • Block Cleans
  • Semi-Power Cleans (catching halfway and then squatting all the way down)

Heavier things starting to move a little better & body weight almost hittin back up in the 68’s today :,) #noice

A post shared by Mattie Rogers 🍰 (@mattiecakesssss) on Feb 27, 2018 at 5:26pm PST


You have to pull that bar with all your might! Use a strong hip drive and extension followed by a do-or-die rapid movement underneath the bar with the elbows up in full confidence. If you have any doubt, the weight will crush you!

Rehband elbow sleeves and wrist protection can be a great confidence booster here. It is absolutely vital that you commit completely to every clean. Even the tiniest shred of doubt must be swept from your mind as this will affect the way you are able to jump underneath the bar as you catch the weight. Protection, alongside the obvious physical benefits, can help to improve your confidence and consequently your lifts and progression.

The second part of this lift is the jerk. This requires speed, precision and great strength from both the lower and upper body. Learn about Split Jerk Technique in the following article. LINK

The Clean and Jerk, Snatch and Accessory Exercises will all help to develop your mobility, strength and motor patterns. They are all great ways to strengthen your upper body for general life as well.

Josh midway through a heavy lifting session

© Rehband

Make sure that you always place optimal form at the top of your list of priorities when it comes to mastering these lifts. This in turn will improve your posture and proprioceptive abilities as well. Both of these classical Olympic lifts will also test and improve your athleticism and ability to generate power and speed in a technically effective manner. They are different from other more strength orientated exercises such as the overhead press in that you have to enable your full potential across a broader range of domains in order to complete each lift successfully.

Improve your lifting now

Clean and Jerk – Technique and Muscles Worked

The clean and jerk is one of the two lifts done in Olympic weightlifting. It is comprised of the (1) clean movement, which entails lifting a barbell from the floor into the front racked squatted position to standing, and the (2) jerk, which is done by powerfully moving the barbell from the front rack to the overhead, elbows locked out position in one, smooth and powerful motion.

In this article, we will go through everything you need to know about the clean and jerk, including:

  • Clean and Jerk Form and Technique
  • Benefits of the Clean and Jerk
  • Muscles Worked by the Clean and Jerk
  • Who Should Do the Clean and Jerk
  • Clean and Jerk Sets, Reps, and Programming Recommendations
  • Clean and Jerk Variations and Alternatives

How to Perform the Clean and Jerk: Step-By-Step Guide

Below is a step-by-step guide on how to perform the clean and jerk with the barbell.

Step 1. The Set Up

The setup of the clean is critical to clean technique. Many faults in later phases of the clean are influenced by a poor or inconsistent setup; which when addressed can in fact help to minimize some common faults.

Set the feet about hip width, with the feet slightly turned out, as this will allow the lifter to keep the knees/thighs out on the setup. The shoulders should cover the barbell, with the hips lower than shoulder level yet higher than the knees. Note, these are general setup concepts, and specific setups may vary based on coach/athlete preferences.

Coach’s Tip: The barbell should be in light contact with the shins at the setup. This will ensure the barbell starts close to the body in the pull, which is a key technical consideration.

Clean and Jerk Exercise Guide – Set Up

Step 2. The First Pull

The first pull of the clean occurs when the barbell initially breaks from the floor. The first pull ends when the barbell passes the knee, which is the start of the second pull

To do this, stand up making sure to keep the shoulders over the bar, lifting with the legs and back. The back angle (spine) should stay relatively constant during this phase.

Coach’s Tip: The first pull is to gain momentum of the barbell off the floor and to set the barbell and lifter in the best position necessary for a strong, powerful, second pull.

Clean and Jerk Exercise Guide – First Pull

Step 3. The Second Pull

The second pull refers to the segment of the clean where the barbell passes the knee and approaches the explosion phase (middle thigh/hips). The explosion phase should occur mid thigh to the hip region based on the arm length and body measurements of the lifter.

Continue to pull the barbell up the body, making sure to stay balanced in the full foot with the shoulders above the bar.

Coach’s Tip:The key here is to push through the entire foot for as long as possible, finishing as upright with the torso and elbows as possible. The goal is to increase the height at which the barbell can be turned over.

Clean and Jerk Exercise Guide – Second Pull

Step 4. The Third Pull/Turnover

During this phase, the lifter acts upon the barbell to forcefully rotate their elbows underneath and into the front rack position.

As you finish the second pull, stay active on the barbell after the second pull by using the traps to elevate the bar higher and pull oneself under the bar. Simultaneously move the feet and reset them firmly in place underneath your to the front squat/squat position. (so you can squat under it).

Clean and Jerk Exercise Guide – Third Pull

Step 5. The Receiving Position

The receiving position of the clean (often called the “catch phase”) requires a lifter to fix themselves in a squatted position with the barbell racked on the front of the shoulders (like in the front squat).

Assume a front squatted position with the hips low, chest high, and elbows up. Upon standing, assume a strong front rack position as you prepare to go into the jerk.

Clean and Jerk Exercise Guide – Receiving in Squat

Step 6. The Jerk Dip

The dip refers to the downward loading movement of the jerk, in which the lifter descends into a quarter squat (dip depths may vary) without falling forward or losing balance. This can be done by keeping the weight back in the heels and maintaining a rigid upright torso and elbows in the dip.

Bend the knees and hips slightly to load the legs. Be sure to keep your torso upright and balance in the whole foot.

Coach’s Tip: The dip speed should be smooth, and allow for a stretch reflex to take place. Failure to load the dip properly, dip too fast, too slow, leaning to far back, or leaning to far forward can result in throwing the barbell out front and missing lifts overhead.

Clean and Jerk Exercise Guide – Jerk Dip

Step 7: The Jerk Drive

The key here is to not use your upper body to press the weight (shoulders, chest, triceps) off the body, but rather use those muscles to stabilize the torso to allow the lower body to drive the weight off the body.

At the succession of the dip (typically 4-6 inches from the standing poison, the lifter forcefully uses their leg strength to stand upwards into the bar to increase vertical displacement of the barbell.

Clean and Jerk Exercise Guide – Jerk Drive

8. Receive and Recover the Jerk Overhead

The receiving position in the jerk is highly dependent on the style of jerk one is doing (specifically foot placement and depth of receiving the load overhead).

Depending on the jerk style preferred (split, power, push, or squat jerk), you will move your feet into the proper receiving position to finish the lift.

Clean and Jerk Exercise Guide – Jerk Recovery

3 Benefits of the Clean and Jerk

The clean and jerk offers immense benefits of the clean and jerk to lifters and athletes alike. Below are just three of these benefits.

1. Total Body Strength and Power

Increased strength and power of the legs, upper body, and core can all be expected when performing this total body ballistic movement that involves a heavy deadlift, squat, and press; all in one beautiful movement.

2. Improved Athletic Power

Increased posterior chain performance via clean and jerk training (as well as other power movements) has been linked with greater athletic skill sets like jumping, sprinting, and explosive hip extension.

3. Metabolic Movement

This exercise stresses nearly every system of the body due to the speed, loading, and complexity of the movement. The clean and jerk is a versatile movement that can be integrated into nearly any training program to build power strength, and fitness.

Muscles Worked – Clean and Jerk

The clean and jerk is a total body movement that stresses nearly every muscle in the body. Below are the main muscle groups that are worked when performing the clean and jerk exercise.

  • Hamstrings
  • Lower back and spinal erectors
  • Quadriceps
  • Trapezius
  • Abdominals, obliques, and transverse abdominals
  • Shoulders and scapular stabilizers
  • Triceps, biceps, forearms

Who Should Perform Clean and Jerks?

Below are a few groups of athletes that can benefit from the inclusion of clean and jerks within training programs.

Strength and Power Athletes

Strength and power athletes can both benefit from clean and jerks.

  • Powerlifting and Strongman Athletes: Pure strength athletes can integrate the clean and jerk into their training to improve power output and overall athleticism.
  • Olympic Weightlifting: The clean and jerk is a necessary exercise for all Olympic weightlifters to train as it is one of the two movements performed in competition.

Competitive CrossFit and Fitness Athletes

The clean and jerk is a movement that is often found in most CrossFit programs, competitions, and workouts (in some form). CrossFit and fitness athletes should use clean and jerks to improve overall strength, power, and train it for competition and workout needs.

Sports Training and General Fitness

The clean and jerk, while beneficial, does not always need to be trained with sport athletes or general fitness goers who may not need to spend as much devoted time to refine clean and jerk technique. The can acquire many of the same physiological benefits with some of the below alternatives; such as high pulls, push presses, etc.

Clean and Jerk Squat Sets, Reps, and Weight Recommendations

Below are three sets, reps, and weight (intensity) recommendations for coaches and athletes to properly program the clean and jerk specific to the training goal. Note, that the below guidelines are simply here to offer coach and athletes loose recommendations for programming.

Additionally, it is important to note that the clean and jerk is not inherently a hypertrophy building movement, as the time under tension and eccentric contractions are limited. This movement is often trained either for maximal power outputs, technique, Olympic weightlifting strength and skill, or competition training.

Movement Integrity – Reps, Sets, and Weight Recommendations

The clean and jerk should be trained with light to moderate loads to develop proper positional awareness, timing, and foundational movement patterning necessary for more advanced training progressions.

  • 3-5 sets of 3-5 repetitions with light to moderate loads or 50-65% of max
  • The key here is movement quality, timing, and precision. Focus on these prior to adding heavier loads.

Power Output – Reps, Sets, and Weight Recommendations

This phase is often used for athletes (non-Olympic weightlifter, see next section) who are looking to integrate the clean and jerk (and the movement variations) to improve athletic power outputs.

  • 3-5 sets of 2-5 repetitions with 60-80%

Olympic Weightlifting Technique and Strength – Reps, Sets, and Weight Recommendations

This is the training range that most Olympic weightlifters will spend the majority of their training career in, as it can be manipulated to increase volume, add intensity, and address maximal power outputs, technical training, and strength.

  • 3-10 sets of 1-3 repetitions with 70-85% of maximum.
  • Note, that there is a wide array of weightlifting programming concepts and beliefs out there, and you should be sure to discuss without coach and/or understand the system goals and foundations; as this type of training is complex and often requires utmost commitment and understanding of how loading, training volume, and recovery are all intermingled.

Competition Training (Peaking) – Reps, Sets, and Weight Recommendations

For those individuals who have spent previous training cycles refining technique, improving base volume, and are ready to peak for a competition of testing phase, the below guidelines can be used. It is important to get help from a coach that also understands the balance between higher percentage training and recovery, as doing this for too long can result in acute and chronic injury and decreased neurological function in most individuals.

  • 6-12 sets of 1-2 repetitions with 85% of max, or more.

3 Clean and Jerk Variations

Below are three (3) common and effective clean and jerk variations to build strength, address technique issues, and improve Olympic weightlifting performance.

1. Block Clean

The block clean can be done to increase rate of force production in the clean or address technical breakdowns in the pull.

  • Block Cleans Exercise Guide

2. Clean + Jerk Complexes

Weightlifting complexes, such as the clean + front squat + jerk and/or the clean pull + clean + jerk can be a good way to combine other necessary movements of the clean and jerk to (1) increase training volume, (2) add variety to training, and (3) to add additional movements that will reinforce proper technique and positional strength.

  • Weightlifting Complexes

3. Hang Clean

The hang clean is similar to the block clean in that it can be done to increase rate of force production in the clean or address technical breakdowns in the pull.

  • Hang Clean Exercise Guide

3 Clean and Jerk Alternatives

Below are three (3) clean and jerk alternatives that can be used to improve power outputs without needing to address higher level technical training (such as for non-weightlifting athletes, general fitness, etc)

1. Clean/Snatch High Pull

The clean/snatch high pull can be used to decrease injury risks of the wrists or to minimize the technical coaching needed to help lifters. This can be helpful for non-weightlifting athletes looking to get the benefits of power training without running risks of injury due to lack of proper readiness.

2. Clean and Press

The clean and press is similar to the clean and jerk however the athlete can move the load from the shoulder to the overhead position by strict pressing, push pressing, or jerking. This is a good option for some lifters looking for the total body benefit of the clean and press/jerk, however may not have a full understanding on the timing and technique necessary to take loads overhead. This is also good to help add overhead strength, as the jerk requires less concentric strength as strict pressing or push pressing loads overhead.

3. Ball Clean

The ball clean can be done to educate newer lifters, youth, or older individuals how to properly use the body in a systematic way to move the load from the floor to the shoulder. This exercise, while not improving power output, can be a foundation step to developing movement patterning and awareness needed for more advanced movements.

More Clean and Jerk Articles

Take a look at some of our top articles on clean and jerks!

  • Clean and Jerk vs Clean and Press
  • Clarence Kennedy’s Ultimate Guide to Olympic Weightlifting

Featured Image: Mike Dewar

Adding this to your workouts can provide many of the key benefits of weightlifting with less of the risk, complexity, and learning-time. These all add up to one of the best possible uses for weightlifting outside of competitive Olympic lifting.

Power Jerk – Olympic Weightlifting Exercise Library – Catalyst Athletics

Behind the Neck Variations

These involve performing a jerk, power jerk, or push press from the back squat starting position – with the bar at the top of the traps. This takes out the difficulty and unpredictability of the front rack, and often allows for better power training without investing as much time into learning.

They also allow you to handle more weight and are often more specific to sports like American football or Powerlifting, where the front rack has limited value.

Power Jerk – Olympic Weightlifting Exercise Library – Catalyst Athletics

How Can I Improve My Clean and Jerk?

The exercises listed above are key ways of building strength through the clean and jerk. This is one of the key aspects since the ability to stay over the bar during the pull, produce force with the legs, and stand up with the bar are all key contributors to a better lift.

Technical improvements are also essential. Being strong isn’t enough – technique is necessary for good performance. No matter how good you get, you can get better. During the first few years, this is even more true since you’re likely to have significant flaws that need ironing out.

Improving technique means improving the adherence with the positions mentioned above, as well as adhering to a few principles of good technique:

  1. Relaxing the arms during the pull
  2. Increasing the reliance on the legs and hips
  3. Accelerating the bar primarily above the knees
  4. Improving balance and focusing on mostly-heel weight distribution
  5. Changing direction rapidly at the top of the lift
  6. Keeping the bar close throughout the lift
  7. Easing the bar back from the floor

These all add up and performance is a simple matter of attention multiplied by practice-time. The more you put into it, the better it will get.

Power training may also be useful in the Olympic lifts, where the ability to produce force rapidly is key to better overall performance. This can be improved with sprints, throws, and combinations of lifting with high-speed, low-weight movements.

Clean and Jerk Vs Clean and Press

These exercises have significant overlap when it comes to the clean, but the clean and press is almost entirely defunct. It was competed in for many years, but the press itself is never going to be as heavy as the clean when performed with strict form.

The power clean + press is a reasonable way of improving your ability to produce power and build overhead strength. However, combining the power clean with a movement like the push press is the best way to combine the two in a way that uses the correct weight, while reducing the injury risk and providing the same benefits.

The clean and press isn’t going to come back. It’s a movement that makes no sense: if you can press what you can clean then you’re either pressing incorrectly or cleaning incorrectly (or your legs are weaker than your shoulders, which means you have weak legs).

Final Thoughts

The clean and jerk is one of the most important movements in the history of strength sports. It comes with a serious technical component that can make it hard to access for most people, but It provides a way of building power and demonstrating strength at the same time.

It’s a popular exercise because of how interesting it is to watch, perform, and the versatility that fast barbell movements have for athletic development. If you’re chasing any of these in your own training then there’s a considerable reason to learn the basics and implement them slowly.

You’ll need to account for the learning time and the amount of weight you’re not going to be able to lift initially, but with time it can be a great investment. Especially if you’re in a sport where it plays a significant role, or just want to get better with a barbell.

With the right approach, the clean and jerk is one of the most important and effective movements you can perform. Not to mention one of the hardest!

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Why the Jerk Lift Is the Crown Jewel in Weightlifting

By Carl Valle

The most startling revelation I have had in the last year is the simple lack of appreciation for a great jerk lift from a well-trained athlete. Jerks have always been the second-class part of weightlifting in sports training, as they require a lot of technical proficiency just to even initiate the movement. Unlike the clean or snatch, the jerk has considerably less research and coaching information to promote its success.

Jerks are second class in #weightlifting for sports, as they require lots of technical skill, says @spikesonly.

I have not used the jerk much in sports training, simply because it’s more demanding to do right and requires more preparation to get a return on investment. I have spent about two full months reading about the jerk every day and I’ve made some strong conclusions because of its usefulness and the risk associated with it. If you use the jerk in training, you will likely feel satisfaction from taking the time to include it, and if you don’t use it now, you may want to try it if it fits your needs. Regardless of what you do after reading this article, you will learn a lot about power development and skill acquisition from it.

Is the Jerk Valuable in Sports Performance?

Does the jerk have value in sports training to develop leg power? Yes, it does. Is it the best option or even the right option for the majority of athletes? No, it isn’t. More than ever, I use the word “optimal” with caution, because the best program is the one the athlete both enjoys and improves from.

The most common fault with the Nordic hamstring curl is the discomfort that many have behind the knee, especially at the tendons that attach to the hamstring muscles. If the athletes find it irritating, they are not going to care about fascicle length or other research. We made modifications and chose a few alternative exercises to resolve the problem, but we learned that athlete engagement in a program that works well is better than an empty weight room with the perfect program on the screen.

Video 1. The split jerk is not about the stance at the end, it’s about how the athlete applies thrust to get the bar above their head. Common errors in jerking include rushing to the support and poor timing of the dip.

Every year, the same debate continues as to whether an athlete should bother with Olympic-style weightlifting. My response is nearly always the same: It depends. Still, I would rather try than just give up too early.

When training for sports, we need more time and energy to prepare athletes, and we may be digging our own grave when we try to be more efficient with training. I understand the need for a faster and safer way to get to Rome, but year after year the analogy fails to connect with athletes for the simple reason of enjoyment of the process. Athletes need to train for years, and jump squatting with loads or plyometrics may not resonate the same in year five as it did in years one and two. It’s safe to say that the jerk is not necessary at all to get results when other options may be more practical at first glance, but it still has value and is more than worth considering.

When programming and planning workouts, most coaches like me will look at the competition schedule and work backwards to prepare the athlete based on their current abilities. While it’s a good idea for seasonal planning, I would recommend planning more for the end of their career and seeing if the training changes. When we went to the career development versus athlete development model, we realized training is more than just applied sport science.

Not all of my athletes clean, jerk, or snatch, but I am a fan of the weightlifting movements because athletes like challenges and simply ask to do them. I already wrote a general benefits of Olympic lifting article, but I didn’t really mention the jerk and it deserves its own article. The reasons I like the jerk more and more are:

  • The jerk requires more development but demonstrates more robustness than most exercises.
  • Jerks have different styles, such as split and power options, so athletes have choices.
  • The jerk may not have the same peak outputs as the pulls, but their mechanical positions correspond well to sporting fundamentals.
  • The ability to jerk well keeps the training and teaching standards of a program very high and forces a program to be honest.

The jerk lift is perhaps the best example of slow cooking an athlete, says @spikesonly.

Of course, other exercises like plyometrics, sprints, single leg training, power lifts, and even weighted jumps can work wonders, but that isn’t the point. The jerk is perhaps the best example of slow cooking an athlete, as a heavy jerk done right can’t be instructed by impatient and incompetent coaches. Plenty of athletes can get a heavy weight above their heads, but as the loads and speeds get higher, the jerk is a very honest exercise that teaches everyone to be humble.

Any Relevant Science on the Jerk Component of Weightlifting?

I highly doubt that we will see an “8-week Jerk Intervention in Professional Soccer” study any time soon, as very little research exists on the jerk compared to cleans or snatches. Some correlations have been made to the Olympic lifts, but most of it’s been done with the power clean or the whole lift. Since the jerk in competition requires the bar to be cleaned or pulled up, I have yet to see a study design that truly connects just the jerk and sports performance. Also, in order to study the jerk, you can’t really find a sterile training environment that has not done support lifts like squats and deadlifting to prepare an athlete.

Jerks are a tricky movement to study, as they are odd to isolate and not exciting to anyone because they are not easy entry points to team sport training. At elite levels, everyone seems to be chasing exercises to reduce injuries, such as the Copenhagen adduction exercise and Nordic hamstring exercise. While it makes sense to do what is needed to keep athletes healthy, every time I see teams play the protection game, it backfires.

Perhaps the best starting point with the science of the jerk is with Dr. Garhammer. His classic study on the power outputs of weightlifters is a wonderful step to cement the idea that jerks are not the dessert of the Olympic lifts—they are part of the meat and potatoes. The jerk may not be as impressive as the peak outputs of the pulling motions, but they are very similar to jumping activities. More than a decade ago, Dr. Lake and his colleagues published another great resource on the jerk, focusing on the kinetics of the movement and looking at the essential metrics such as RFD and loading rates. Kinematically, the lifts are similar to jumping, only with the knee joint and not the hip.

Jerks are not the dessert of the #OlympicLifts—they are part of the main meat and potatoes, says @spikesonly.

The article on short-range power motions such as the push press, a movement that we can argue is in the jerk family, demonstrated the value of vertical lifts in sports training. Many of the same researchers published a similar article a few years ago, providing specific details on the impulse of the lift compared to other lower body exercises. The challenge with jerk research is the value of unique mechanical benefits, such as landing in a split or squatting pattern. In addition to the biomechanical aspects, the transfer of common loading protocols with jerks to athletic actions like sprinting and jumping isn’t very clear compared to snatching and cleaning.

As you can see, the science isn’t there to show a direct cause and effect or transfer to performance. Direct options like resisted sprints are easier to study, and simple lifting protocols are great if the athletes are technically proficient enough to do them. With team sports such as rugby and American football, I don’t think we will soon see any evidence, outside the more popular exercises, that the jerk is an advantage to performance.

The jerk works, and if it can be done, ride the exercise until it stops supporting power development. Overall, the physiology and adaptations to weightlifting are well-established, and the jerk is one tool that you should use when appropriate.

Are There Risks Associated with Jerks and Similar Movements?

Not taking a risk is a risk. The real problem is taking unnecessary risks. Even with all the hype behind anti-fragile and resilient training, we still end up seeing teams skip workouts or train so submaximally, it’s more recovery than stimulating adaptation. Jerks are not for everyone, and some frames and bodies are not great fits for the exercise. Heavy training can lead to lumbar injuries, shoulder problems, and even some issues to the elbow and knee, but if progressed right, the risks are not as bad as the naysayers would have you believe.

Most of the problems with jerks happen when athletes aren’t prepared and coaches rush the process, says @spikesonly.

Most of the problems with jerks are that athletes are not prepared to jerk, and coaches rush the process. The myth that overhead athletes should not jerk is misleading—it’s just that some overhead athletes are fragile and coaches would rather they get hurt pitching or playing tennis than in training. Heavy training accelerates the root of risk; it doesn’t increase risk directly. For instance, I wouldn’t have Neymar jerk, but I wouldn’t be worried about everyone in soccer. On the other hand, the rite of passage for jerks is so narrow, I would rather eliminate it than insert it with overconfidence.

Video 2. Behind-the-neck jerks require upper back mobility and positioning, as well as great external rotation. Athletes can do behind-the-neck jerks with a countermovement without jerk blocks, but with blocks, coaches can work on the rate of force development.

The two main problems with jerks are shoulder strain and lumbar extension issues resulting from the split position or the thrust coming from the front-loaded rack position. Both are highly individual based on technique and anatomical factors. Technique is often connected to dynamic posture, so some athletes are more prone to extension issues to the spine because of both their build and mechanics. Excellent strain research on the hip and knee during a push jerk compared to jumping sheds light on how preparation and risk are tied together in exercise selection.

If an athlete is in high lordosis, the physics of adding more load and extension can’t be argued by overzealous pain science advocates. The best experts on pain are focused on chronic pain, not injury pathomechanics. Why is this an issue? Posture in activities of daily living is not the same as extreme examples in high performance sports. You don’t see peer-reviewed research on jerk injuries with athletes outside of reported findings from the sport of weightlifting, and overuse syndrome is usually the problem.

With risk of injuries to the shoulder, the primary focus should simply be loading light enough to get in the repetitions without missing any. You can get a training effect by using a load much lighter than competition, but many athletes miss reps of the jerk because of faults with too heavy a load.

Image 1. The lumbar spine is a possible problem area with the jerk, and the combination of teaching, load management, and risk identification can make a big difference with injury rates.
Lumbar spine injuries are due to anatomy and mismanagement of extension. Using a back leg with too much anterior tilting (coming from an overly straightened leg) is usually the cause of the problem. Flexibility in the hip musculature is part of the equation, but just like spit squats, the anatomy of the hip joint and lumbar architecture is usually the culprit with many athletes. Experimenting with a split or power stance is part of the solution, but some athletes have a harder time due to their individual anatomical structure.

Jerks are one of those exercises that shouldn’t be forced, or systematically eliminated either, says @spikesonly.

If most of your athlete’s success comes from the shoulder, such as pitching or hitting, jerks may not be worth it, but look at javelin and notice that athletes who make their living throwing have been jerking for decades and still throw ballistically. Determining who is a great fit for jerks is a process of comparing risk to reward, and patient overload and teaching can neutralize or lower unnecessary risk. Often, an exercise is simply not worth fighting for, and jerks are one of those exercises that should not be forced, but not systematically eliminated either.

Important Technique Differences You Should Know

Jerks are not true presses, because the primary drive forces are not coming from the shoulders. Some presses accelerate the bar from the legs through the upper body, but a jerk is more of a lower body explosion with an upper body brace in extension. I still include pressing options with athletes to teach them to be well-rounded lifters and to contrast the feeling of a jerk versus a vertical press. You also shouldn’t consider jerks as fast pressing, but I understand how many coaches fall into that trap.

Jerks are unique lifts that athletes can do from the front rack position or from the back (behind the neck). Athletes can receive or catch jerks in a split stance or in a symmetrical power stance, depending on their needs and the preference of the coach. I personally like a split stance, as athletes tend to feel comfortable moving fast, but if an athlete naturally feels good keeping their feet and legs together, I am fine with that as well.

Video 3. A squat stance is much different than a split stance, but both have similarities with the dip and thrust. While the kinetic and kinematic data may look different, the general benefits are the same.

Split stances require the athlete to have rather even distribution of pressure from the front and back legs. Athletes need enough pressure to keep the center of mass of the system load (barbell and body) steady, as a heavy load will radically raise the balance point higher. A split stance is not a split squat—while they may look similar, the goal of barbell reception is balance, not the creation of a unilateral squat action. While there is scant research on performance transfer to sport in sport science, analysis of technique is very good with respect to load and the way competitors can revive the bar after the drive or thrusting period.

Video 4. Push presses can be fast or they can be strength-oriented, but if they are slow they are not jerks. If training for maximal strength, a leg drive can assist athletes that need help initiating the movement.

Due to the needs of sports performance, I don’t care about maximal load, but do think loads near the 80-85% threshold are great for athletes who want to add capacity to their power development training. As long as the technique is efficient in expressing vertical force safely, I am not worried about absolute loads, provided they stay in similar ratios as snatching and cleaning. The bar path must be vertical and not pushed out for fear of hitting the chin or nose, as most new lifters worry about head clearance.

Video 5. Jerk boxes or jerk blocks are very useful for getting in quality work because they eliminate the cleaning of the weight. While you can rack the weights after the jerk, the blocks provide a direct way of literally removing the heavy lifting and heavy landing of the weights.

Jerks with boxes or blocks are special to me, as I find many athletes who are great weightlifters will welcome a change as a breath of fresh air. Remember, jerks have some obvious but sometimes overlooked baggage: The bar needs to start in the rack position of an athlete. While you can walk the bar out from a barbell stand or cage, jerk boxes make dropping the weight a little more convenient for those doing higher volumes. Jerk boxes are also great for those needing plyometrics, and can be made to help with pulling higher than the ground if needed. A good set of jerk boxes is a cardinal sign that athletes are likely training and not just exercising hard.

Tracking Jerks with Velocity and Displacement

It is very difficult to use velocity-based training equipment to evaluate what is happening with barbell stroke from the rack position to full extension when jerking. Accelerometers and LPT systems like Tendo or GymAware only know change in length or change in acceleration. Barbell motion in conjunction with body motion is too much for one sensor to take, so coaches will have some difficulty deciphering what is truly going on.

For example, the horizontal movement of the barbell is only a few centimeters with competitive lifters, but vertical displacement is very reactive with jerks. Bar displacement from the ground and from the athlete are two completely separate measurements. With squats or pulling actions, the bar and the body are “dancing together” as one functional unit. Jerks are still dancing, but they are hardly uniform.

Video 6. It is not hard to appraise jerks, as the exercise’s finish is very obvious. Focusing on the dip and thrust with VBT options is far different, because the movements are short and very rapid.

So, is bar tracking impossible? No, of course not. But the bar and what happens kinetically with force analysis must be interpreted separately because they are not interchangeable measures, and that is a good thing. The use of force plates with jerks is fine provided that the athlete is power jerking, as split style is very hard to set up in a training setting.

Lab analysis is great for research, but most coaches want setups that have good workflow and don’t interfere with the comfort of athletes. Embedding force plates into a weightlifting station is great for the few, but a GymAware can provide enough valid feedback to make adjustments. Some slow-motion delayed video is great for those with a flat screen and smartphone, but using the video recording and playback is far more potent when working with small groups. Team systems should be near instantaneous, as the sheer volume of athletes and time constraints make individual video feedback nearly impossible. Regardless, recording does allow for dedicated athletes to review their training immediately post session if they have the time.

The secret to the jerk lift is knowing both endpoints of distance and time with the movement, says @spikesonly.

The secret to jerks is knowing both endpoints of distance and time with the movement, from dip to completing the lift. An athlete is technically proficient somewhere between the institution of the thrust and full extension, but from a power-generation standpoint, when the athlete ceases to push they are at the mercy of Isaac Newton and all they can do is work with the power they expressed. The jerk, due to constraints of the racked position using a countermovement, can’t be done any other way than by thrusting after a short knee bend. Pulling has plenty of derivatives; jerking mainly has two styles of receiving, but not with the propulsion of the bar.

Before You Add the Jerk into Your Program

The jerk demands a lot of training and patience to be polished, and if you don’t have the time necessary to do it right, don’t bother. It’s easy to place an exercise in a program and hope it works out because an athlete is talented, but jerks are not for the lazy or fearful. For many athletes, a good jerk will require more confidence than cleaning and snatching, and it’s best to respect the jerk lifts by making them a priority.

Let’s not scrap exercises like the jerk just because they aren’t easy or convenient, says @spikesonly.

We have a long way to go before we see an increased adoption of the jerk. Although I am still on my own journey, let’s not scrap exercises just because they are not easy or convenient. Sometimes the struggle is worth fighting for, and I believe the jerk is one of those special exercises.

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Carl Valle

Track and Field Coach at Spikes Only Coach Valle has coached Track and Field at every level, from high school to the Olympic level in the sprints and hurdles. He has had the privilege of working with great athletes that have been All-American and school record holders. A technology professional, Coach Valle has expertise in performance data as well as an understanding for practical application of equipment and software. Carl is currently the lead sport technologist for, and focuses his time on testing elite athletes and using technology to help everyone on any level of human performance reach their goals.

Latest posts by Carl Valle (see all)

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Photo: Ryan Kelly / Daily Burn

Now that you’ve mastered the barbell snatch, perhaps you want to take your weightlifting abilities even further. Next up: the clean and jerk. Like the snatch, the clean and jerk demands strength and cardiovascular endurance, but it takes things up a few notches with the addition of a split jerk (hello, plyometrics). And while the clean and jerk is comprised of two major movements, it’s usually broken down into six different steps. What, like that’s hard?

Good news is: “The beautiful thing about the clean and jerk is you can train and master the separate components first then put them together. Like the snatch, the clean and jerk is a whole-body move, but your quads, hamstrings, glutes, calves, core, triceps and shoulders are really kicking in,” Lisa Wheeler, head of fitness programming at Daily Burn, says.

But don’t get too excited to let it rip! Before you attempt this seriously challenging move, it’s important to nail down the basics of each step. Maybe that means perfecting your front squats, building up explosiveness with box jumps and plyo lunges, or getting comfortable stabilizing a barbell overhead.

For the clean, Wheeler recommends focusing on front loaded squats, deadlifts and dead pulls. “For the jerk, the push press and lunges are your friend.”

By developing more flexibility, speed and power, you’ll be able to propel your lift, hops and splits. Who knew weightlifting was such a science? Here, we break down these two powerful movements into six steps.

RELATED: Olympic Lifts 101: How to Do the Barbell Snatch

6 Steps to a Powerful Clean and Jerk

Phase 1: The Clean

1. Master your grip. Get into the deadlift position with your back straight and shoulders forward. Grip the barbell with your hands close to your body and your arms just outside the knees. “While there are several hand grip variations for the snatch as well as the clean and jerk, the most popular for the clean and jerk is a more narrow grip, a bit wider than shoulder-width,” Wheeler says. Your weight should be distributed in the midfoot. This position will set yourself up to power on the deadlift and hip drive, engaging your toes, calves, thighs, hamstrings and glutes.

2. First pull. Here’s where things get a little tricky. For the first pull, you want to drive up from the legs and get into what weightlifters call a triple extension, where you explode up from your ankles, knees and hips from the deadlift position to generate power. “You want to keep the bar close to your body and begin the movement with your lower body rather than pulling with your arms,” Wheeler says. This is where you end up on your toes with the bar close to the body and elbows are out.

3. Second pull. The second pull happens after the triple extension and when the shrug and “high row” come into play, according to Wheeler. Engage your hamstrings and lats to help propel the barbell up to shoulder height with your elbows bent and pointing out. “Once the shoulders and elbows are as high as they can go, you can begin the catch. This to me is the hardest part of the clean and jerk,” Wheeler says.

RELATED: 6 Squat Variations for Total-Body Strength

4. The catch. “When your shoulders are raised as high as they can go, you begin the catch phase,” Wheeler says. From the high row position, you’ll drop back into a half front squat with your feet slightly wider than hip-distance apart. At the same time, rotate your elbows, flip your wrists and get under the barbell and catch at the shoulders. Wheeler says, “Flipping your wrists will help you drop under the ‘catch’ and absorb the bar.” This is what’s called the rack position. You should also keep your upper arms parallel to the floor at the end of the catch and stomp on the ground as you land to connect into the floor, Wheeler recommends.

Phase 2: The Jerk

5. Sharpen your split jerk. Use the hip drive to bring yourself up to standing, keeping your hands in the same position. Here, weightlifters can sneak in a brief moment of recovery since the barbell is in rack position. But then the fancy footwork comes into play. You’ll want to drive through the heels and kick one of your legs back to get into a lunge. Keep your hips straight and aligned. At the same time, extend your arms and press the barbell up from shoulder height to overhead. As one of the most powerful steps of these two moves, Wheeler says to train with weighted forward and reverse lunges. “For compound move, you can practice the lunge with an overhead press and of course, the push press,” Wheeler suggests.

RELATED: 5 Power Lunges for Killer Glutes

6. Stay lifted. From the lunge, bring your back leg up to meet your front leg and drive your body up to standing. Keep the barbell overhead with your feet together and your core tight.

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How to Increase your Clean and Jerk

Table of Contents

What is the Clean and Jerk?

The simpler of the two Olympic lifts, the clean and jerk allows more weight to be lifted overhead than the snatch simply from a mechanical perspective.

A set up similar in style to the deadlift allows elite level athletes to lift well in excess of 200kg.

On top of the obvious strength and power benefits, it also increases anabolic endurance and has cardiovascular benefits not normally associated with weight-training.

The complexity of the movement and the power required to lift weights requires tremendous explosive power and utilises almost every muscle in the body.

For decades athletic coaches have utilised the it as a supplement to improving sports specific performance. Given it’s relative simplicity when compared to the snatch it’s the lift of choice for sprinters, NFL players and other sports with such a high power output requirement.

Benefits of the Clean and Jerk

Benefits of full body movements are typically impressive (and varied), but possibly none more so than the clean and jerk. Pulling, pressing, acceleration, jumping, fast twitch fibre recruitment. The list is virtually endless.

But this infographic should help breakdown why it’s a lift you should be doing. To supercharge your sports performance or to perfect your parkour.

The Top 8 Benefits of the Clean and Jerk

  1. Increase in Overall Strength: An effective leg builder that taxes your shoulders and triceps effectively. It’s only limitation is the low number of reps required.
  2. Enhance Power Output: You can’t clean or jerk slowly. It’s a lift that requires training at full speed and that typically translates to fast twitch muscle fibres and ATP energy improvements.
  3. Increase Anaerobic Endurance: A true builder of explosiveness that effectively recruits the body’s ATP-CP system, which is a phenomenal way to improve your vertical jump and acceleration.
  4. Improve Core Stability: Much like the front squat, the clean and jerk recruits your core for almost every second of the lift. Holding heavy weight overhead also works your serratus anterior, whilst the front squat is particularly quad dominant.
  5. Increase Pushing Power: Everybody wants a bigger bench press. Building up your shoulders is an effective way to balance your body (and mitigate the risk of injury) whilst tricep strength is exactly what the top portion of any press needs.
  6. Aesthetic Improvements: Any exercise (with diet) should do this to be fair, but your quads, core and shoulders in particular will rock.
  7. Reverse Metabolic Disease: People who lift weights are less likely to have metabolic syndrome according to this 2012 study. Whilst this may not be clean and jerk specific, regularly Olympic lifting can help mitigate against heart disease and diabetes. That’s (the opposite of) killer!

Now Read: How to Gain Muscle & How to Lose Fat

The good news is the clean and jerk is much easier to improve than the snatch. Obviously it still takes a huge amount of time and effort. But it’s typically far more manageable for those looking to improve their athletic performance.

To understand how to increase your clean and jerk, we must break the lift down into it’s individual components and strengthen the isolated body parts and technique(s) associated with each. The key to successful Olympic lifting is to be exceptionally strong in each position, so accessory lifts like the hang clean or the push press.

As a beginner however it’s crucial that you run through the movement as much as possible. Even if you’re just looking to weightlift as a hobby, it’s a lot more enjoyable if you’re good at it. To be good at both, you must refine the technique as much as possible.

To improve your technique you must establish what your weak points are and you’ll only figure that out by performing the lift as much as possible. Either filming it or under the watchful gaze of someone much more proficient than yourself.

Common weak points for the Clean

1. Getting under the bar: Also known as ‘time to fixation’ can be a real problem with novice lifters. It requires confidence and pulling power to get under the bar at the optimal time. Usually hang clean variations, cleaning from blocks and tall cleans are a fantastic remedy.

2. A weak pull: Not getting the bar high enough is pretty typical for beginners. Fully extending (up onto the toes) and the subsequent pull takes some getting used to. Performing clean pulls with 105-115% of your clean 1RM are the optimal way to improve your pulling power. Make sure you shrug and fully extend at the top of the lift to reap the rewards.

3. Getting caught at the bottom: The more you squat, the stronger your legs are and the better equipped you’ll be the bottom position of the clean. Front squats are obviously more specific than back squats when it comes to cleans, but certainly more taxing on your CNS. The sweet spot for most lifters is to get to a stage where you can squat 3-4 times a week. Frequency is essential for honing technique, so don’t overdo the volume. Little and often for core lifts is ideal. Paused front squats are ideal for improving your bottom position.

4. Dropping the bar forward: This tends to be a combination of lack of upper back strength and not pulling the bar high enough. Strengthening your upper back with hypertrophy based workouts is essential. Increasing your front squat frequency and volume will help your elbow positioning in the clean, preventing the bar falling forward.

Common weak points in the Jerk

1. Poor overhead strength: As a beginner lifter, the chances are you’re going to be weak overhead. Overhead pressing is notoriously hard to strengthen. Military pressing is a good strengthening move, as is the z-press. I would also recommend adding in isometric holds at the top of the lift to get more comfortable with the position. Pressing from the jerk position is probably the most specific way to improve your overhead strength for Olympic lifting.

2. Feet positioning: Performing the jerk with enough speed and confidence is tricky. The initial dip must be quick and the movement to the ‘catch’ position demands ferocity. Practice driving the bar up from the split position initially to help reinforce technique.

3. Speed: Technique is absolutely more important than strength. Just because you can push 80kg above your head, doesn’t mean you should. Focus on speed and positioning to begin with by working with 50-60% of your 1RM, doing 2 reps EMOM (every minute on the minute) making sure every rep is fast and you feel stable.

Clean and Jerk Technique

The clean and jerk is comprised of two movements. The clean, which entails moving the barbell from the floor into the front rack squat position (via the triple extension).

The jerk is the final portion of the lift, which is done by taking the bar from the front rack position to the overhead position, in one powerful motion with fully locked out elbows.

There are 3 pulls associated with the clean:

  1. The first pull which ends as the bar passes the knees
  2. The second pull starts as the bar passes the knees and ends as the bar makes contact with the hips
  3. The third pull (or turnover) phase forces you to rotate your elbows underneath, drop under the bar and squat up in the front rack position
  4. You then dip and drive the bar up and lockout above head height
  5. Driving your head through and feet into the split position, with weight roughly even distributed

The initial setup is so important for solid technique. Correct setup before starting the lift can help mitigate common faults and should be thought of like so:

  1. Set your feet to around hip width apart
  2. Turn your toes around 10 degrees outwards to help keep the knees out the way of the lift:
    1. You’re trying to avoid having to pull around the knees
    2. By pulling up in the first pull
    3. And back into the thigh to initiate contact in the second
  3. Keep your shoulders over the bar
    1. This is the main difference between the clean and the deadlift
    2. In the deadlift you want to pull the shoulders behind the bar as quickly as possible
  4. And your hips below your shoulders, but above your knees
  5. The bar just about touching your shins

There are so many nuances involved with the clean and it’s technique, but hopefully the below video will help with your clean technique:

Will the Clean and Jerk make you Stronger?

Absolutely. Although it’s not necessarily associated with making you stronger. More explosive, with a better vertical jump and acceleration; definitely. But absolute strength typically comes from the substantial increase in squatting when Olympic weightlifting.

Compared to the squat or the deadlift, the clean isn’t as proficient when discussing strength. Squats, deadlifts or presses are compound exercises that utilise at least as many muscle groups and require less technical proficiency.

Typically your clean is around 120% of your snatch and requires less technical proficiency. So out of the two Olympic lifts, it’s definitely the go-to for out and out strength.

What muscles does the Clean and Jerk work?

Muscles Worked Degree Benefits
Gluteals High Lower back and hamstring injury prevention
Quadriceps High Explosive power production (jumps) & knee injury prevention
Hamstrings Medium Explosive power production (sprints) & functional motion improvement
Shoulders Medium Overall pressing strength and increased upper body strength potential
Posterior Chain Medium Lower back injury prevention & increased potential pulling strength
Core Medium Lower back injury prevention & improved stability / posture
Triceps Low Fantastic for overall pressing strength and translate effectively to pressing movements
Thigh Adductors Low Knee injury prevention & knee cave mitigation when squatting

Good for: A phenomenal overall exercise that works your legs, core, posterior chain, shoulders and triceps really efficiently. However the lack of hypertrophy involved with the movement doesn’t translate to muscular size, so accessory work is key.

How to Clean and Jerk for Beginners

As discussed, this is a pretty technical lift. Not as technical as the snatch, but like any skill it requires patience and dedication. By sticking to the above technique steps you’ll be off to a solid start, but here are some key areas of focus:

Get a Strong Front Rack Position

The stronger your front squat and front rack position, the easier it is to stand up in the clean. Initially your triceps and lats will feel incredibly tight and the front rack position will feel beyond unnatural. But it takes time, stretching and front squats. Lots of front squats.

Because of the front squats upright nature, they will improve your front rack position and help strengthen your quads. You’ll initially struggle with pulling your elbows up tight enough and preventing your chest from dropping forward, but consistency, stretching and squatting will *Coldplay voice*

fix you.”

Play around with your grip width until you find a comfortable hand and wrist position. One that allows you to grip the bar with each finger.

Break the Pulls down

Initially you do need to run through the clean in it’s entirety. That way it enables you to pick up on your weak points. But don’t be afraid to break the clean down once you feel slightly more proficient.

A bad first pull will inevitably ruin the rest of the lift, so use a clean-pull to perfect the first section of the lift. Make sure you differentiate it from the conventional deadlift by keeping your shoulders over the bar for as long as possible whilst keeping your back angle the same.

Pull until the contact point or the start of the second pull.

Perfect the Point of Contact

This contact point is arguably the most important part of the lift because it requires patience and timing that only comes with practice.

Practicing a contact drill is an ideal way to knit the first and second pull together.

Improve your Mobility

Ankle flexibility and overhead stability are two of the most common issues with Olympic weightlifting. Overhead squats (with just a barbell) aren’t just useful for improving your snatch bottom position. The increased flexibility and stability required in the lift is fantastic for improving your mobility and confidence in the bottom of the clean.

Start with no weight and hold the bar with a clean grip overhead in the bottom position for as long as possible. Keep repeating this each workout adding weight as you go.

Work on Time to Fixation

Time to fixation is just ‘getting under the bar.’ Getting under the bar at first will seem scary. But you need to practice it. Start with a no contact pull from the waist. Pull the bar up and drop under into the bottom position, driving the bar up to the front rack position.

Start with no weight on the bar and practice it until you feel confident adding weight.

Get your Feet Sorted

The jerk portion of the lift requires fast, accurate footwork. Don’t worry about weight at the start. Work on pushing the par up from the split position to begin with. Then move to the front rack position and start with military presses, push presses, push jerks and finally split jerks. All the time focusing on fast, accurate footwork and finally the recovery position.

Clean and Jerk to Squat Ratio

Lift to squat ratios are obviously highly variable amongst athletes. The better your technique and anthropometry for the lift, the better your ratios will be.

For example, your snatch may be weaker than your clean and jerk in terms of ratios if you:

  • Have shorter arms relative to your body
  • Are weak in the bottom of the overhead squat position
  • Flexibility issues from bench pressing too much that makes a stable lockout tricky

These ratios can also help you identify where your weaknesses are. If your power variations of the lifts are well below the estimated 1RM, then you know you have explosive power issues. Remedy that with more power work, box jump variations and explosive drills.

The below table is a rough guide to how the lifts compare to the back squat 1RM:

Can you Clean and Jerk Everyday?

I liken the clean and jerk (and the snatch) more to the bench press than the squat and deadlift.

By this I mean the clean and jerk is far less taxing than either of these lifts and can effectively be performed at a higher frequency.

The trick with any of the Olympic lifts however is technical proficiency. You can get away with having sub par technique with the ‘big 3,’ and still have reasonable numbers. The clean and the snatch require more focus. Typically you shouldn’t perform more than a triple of either lift, but your overall frequency and volume can be quite high.

So in order to clean and jerk everyday you’d have to keep the volume low and focus on speed. Grinding through squats everyday means your lifts will slow and your CNS will suffer (a la the Bulgarian Method).

But if you were to squat 2-3 times a week and clean and jerk every day you could find a highly effective program designed around speed and technical improvements. But it would be tough and only recommended for advanced intermediate lifters.

As a beginner lifter you certainly won’t be improving by going to max every session. But by working with 70-80% of your 1RM for a 3-5 sets of doubles, you’ll improve quickly on a linear model of periodisation.

Development of speed and rhythm are weightlifting essentials, whilst grinding maxes or missing lifts will wear you down and cause overtraining. Grinding through squats, deadlifts or bench presses are OK in powerlifting circles as long as it’s not a frequent occurrence.

But in Olympic weightlifting force only matters if you can apply it at speed. Squats typically should be performed at >0.8m per second, so grinders will serve very little purpose other than to throw the rest of your training off.

Lastly, incorporating daily variation into the set, rep and weight schemes is essential for long-term progress and enabling viable barbell acceleration.

Running a 5(5) with 80% of your 1RM everyday is going to fail after a while and you need to vary the rep %, number of reps and overall volume in order to progress. Save your power and CNS for the heavy day(s)!

The Top 4 Clean Assistance Exercises

Given the clean’s technical proficiency, the best assistance lifts are going to be very close variations. The goal of the assistance lifts should be to help increase power production, speed and technical proficiency with less stress on your ability to recover.

1. Power Clean: A lift that demands speed, power and technique to perform properly. The primary advantage of the power clean is that it improves your ability to pull the bar higher and faster in the turnover (or third pull). This should carryover into your speed (and confidence) getting under the bar.

2. Front Squat: Obviously the front squat is more taxing than the lift itself, but as a beginner you won’t be able to handle much weight and your hamstring & ankle flexibility and front rack position will hold you back more so than anything else when trying to clean. The front squat will improve each of these, so you should be training it at least once a week IMO.

3. Clean Pull: The clean pull is essentially a deadlift performed from the clean position. Shoulders over the bar, pulling through to the point of contact and rising up onto the toes. For maximal benefit you must complete the third pull. As you rise onto your toes, pull the bar as high as you can completing the extension. Perform the lift with only up to 115% of your clean 1RM.

4. Hang Clean: The hang clean and the power variations of it complement each other perfectly. One increases your ability to pull the bar high, the other increases your speed under the bar. Combining them together helps you perfect the trickiest portions of the lift, keeping the bar as close to you as possible. Power and speed variations are phenomenal for any athlete.

The Top 3 Jerk Assistance Exercises

1. Push Press: Ideal for beginners as it promotes upper body strength and forces you to become comfortable with the dip and drive portion of the jerk. The lift trains the timing of the movement, strength in the dip position, strength of the legs and rate of force development when driving the bar up. It’s multi-faceted, simpler than the actual jerk to learn and has fantastic carryover.

2. Jerk Recovery: Take up stance in the split jerk position and practice pressing the barbell overhead. Start with light weight and focus on a controlled eccentric portion of the lift too. This will help train your legs to absorb the weight and build maximal overhead position strength. Perform an isometric hold at the top of the lift for maximum stability improvements.

3. Power Jerk: Lifters tend to hate this exercise because it requires greater flexibility than the split jerk. But it forces you to use less weight and helps train an entirely vertical dip and drive. The precise nature of the lift has tremendous carryover to the split jerk as it trains aggression and accuracy.

Can you Clean and Jerk with Kettlebells or Dumbbells?

Yes. And as a beginner it can be a really powerful way to train the movement patterns without using a barbell.

Typically kettlebells are used for circuit training, as full body strength and power movements or to increase your metabolic fitness. The dumbbell clean and press uses largely the same muscles as the clean and jerk and can be performed as a uni or bi lateral movement.

The benefits of using it as a unilateral (single limbed) movement are perhaps more impressive:

  • Improved unilateral strength and movement coordination
  • Addresses muscular imbalances that may be deeply ingrained into your movement patterns
  • Improved technique and the ability to identify uni or bi lateral weaknesses
  • Core strength to resist the rotational force due to the asymmetrical loading on the body
  • Increased overall strength in the jerk

Essentially using kettlebells or dumbbells can be a great way to clean and jerk without less stress on the body. Equally training a unilateral movement and increasing your overall volume is great for conditioning and addressing muscular imbalances you may not know you had.

Is the Clean and Jerk useful for Powerlifting?

I personally don’t think there is much carryover from the clean and jerk to any powerlifting movements.

Given the technical proficiency required to do it well, you’d need to spend significant time training the lift and it’s variations to perform it adequately. This is time you arguably be better spent running more conventional pressing movements, squat variations and deadlifts.

But Olympic lifting definitely increases your vertical jump and power production, so power cleans can be effective if you have identified explosive power as a weakness of yours.

I think consistently performing cleans and snatches (plus snatch pulls and clean pulls) will transfer across to your deadlift. But it takes significant time and if true strength is your goal then you’d be better off just powerlifting and sticking with it.

Clean and Jerk for Boxing or Wrestling Training

I wrote a guide on how to combine weightlifting with boxing here. But boxing is an entirely different stress. The glycogen sapping workouts require a different take on nutrition and mentality. There aren’t rest periods, which will horrify most weightlifters, but there are advantages to lifting weights effectively for boxing:

  • You must increase your rate of force development and weightlifting is an effective way to do so
  • Single leg strength is a significant contributor to punch power, so unilateral movement like lunges or pistol squats can be effective. As can box jumps.
  • Kettlebells are particularly effective at increasing your V02 max and overall power production, allowing you to lift and work your cardio system at the same time

But the hardest thing is combining the two effectively. If you work 40+ hour weeks and already lift weights, adding in additional stressors (especially such a taxing one) can be daunting. Take it slow, add in one session per week and see how you feel.

But new skills are fun and keep you fresh, so don’t omit it instantly.

Clean and Jerk for Bodybuilding Training

According to this Wikipedia article, bodybuilding is:

“…The use of progressive resistance exercise to control and develop one’s musculature. An individual who engages in this activity is referred to as a bodybuilder.”

Given this, I would never recommend utilising the clean and jerk for bodybuilding. As we’ve discussed, it’s a technical lift and requires significant training. And you can stimulate hypertrophy at all well with either the clean or the jerk.

Your primary concern when bodybuilding is around muscular size, definition and mitigating the risk of injury. Cleans will increase your risk of injury and require significant calorie intake if performed consistently. If you’re in a calorie deficit, heavy compound lifts aren’t at all necessary.

Now Read: How to Bulk for Beginners

Clean and Jerk for Power Training

The power variations of the Olympic lifts (power clean, power snatch and power jerk) can all play a part in increasing your rate of force production and total power output. The standard lifts will still increase your power output, but the power variations are there for a reason.

Multiple studies have referenced how weightlifting can increase an individual’s vertical jump. This study on volleyball players (a sport where a player’s vertical jump can make or break) highlighted how beneficial weightlifting can be to a player’s power production and therefore vertical jump.

The second pull in both the clean and jerk and the snatch mimics the requirement to push aggressively against the ground when performing a vertical jump. Vertical jump performance is largely reliant on force produced at the hip, knee and ankle joints. The ability to perform this at speed with substantial weight attached to it is an excellent way to increase explosive power production.

Clean and Jerk for Sprinters

Sprinting is a cyclical activity that is reliant on instantaneous speed and momentum. Top level sprinters release and absorb kinetic energy. As speed increases, hip flexors and extensors increase the amount of positive work done whilst knee extensors and flexors absorb more energy. SO it’s heavily reliant on knee and hip ‘performance.’

Much like the above, clean variations can play a particularly prominent role in increasing your acceleration and rate of force production for sprinting. We know that Olympic lifting is an effective strategy to increase your vertical jump and jumps and single leg training can be an effective way to increase your acceleration. So by proxy cleans can be a very effective movement to incorporate into your regime.

The trade off for all of these is the time taken and the additional stress required to perform these lifts. If you can find a way to incorporate simple clean variations into your training I would recommend it. If you feel it negatively impacts performance, it isn’t a necessity.

Should you Clean and Jerk with a Belt?

I covered everything you need to know about wearing a belt here. For squats and deadlifts you absolutely should as it increases intra-abdominal pressure and overall performance in terms your 1RM. It has also been known to reduce the risk of injury, but never entirely proven.

I don’t think belts are as important in the Olympic lifts (especially the snatch) but I would definitely wear a belt when clean and jerking. Increasing your intra-abdominal pressure will help you support the weight overhead and given you essentially end up in a front squat close to your 1RM, you absolutely should wear a belt.

Do you need to wear Weightlifting Shoes?

I also covered the multitude of benefits weightlifting shoes offer here. The Olympic lifts absolutely require proper shoes. The elevated heel and wide soles provide balance, support and increased flexibility that will allow you to lift more weight. The Olympic lifts put you in an especially awkward position with regards to balance and shoes are the most effective solution.

Not wearing proper shoes and / or a belt puts you at a disadvantage to your competition. If you want peak performance, both of these are a necessity. For me it’s also a confidence thing. You need to feel good to perform at your best and wearing comfortable, supportive shoes and a sturdy belt provides you with a mini ego boost.

This guide to improving your clean and jerk is completely wasted if you never try. You’re not Clarence Kennedy and yes you need a belt. And shoes.

How to Master Your Clean and Jerk Form


The Clean and Jerk is one of the two lifts that athletes compete in at the Olympic Games. It’s also a potent exercise for developing total-body power.

The Clean and Jerk comprises two distinct movements. The lift begins with a barbell on the ground, and the lifter has to Clean the bar to their shoulders—this is where the Power Clean comes from. The lifter then has to explosively drive the bar overhead and land in a split stance.

It requires incredible power, core strength, balance and control to complete, especially with heavy weight. And it’s one of the best exercises for increasing explosive power in athletic skills from sprinting all the way to driving an opponent away from you when blocking.

Below, Cleveland-based strength coach Mike Anderson provides instructions for performing the Power Clean and Jerk, which is a slight variation on the full Clean and Jerk that’s performed in the Olympics. You can also watch the video above to see the lift in action.

How to Do the Clean and Jerk

Step 1: Setup

Begin with the bar on the floor positioned close to your shins over your shoelaces. Stand with your feet hip-width apart, reach down and grab the bar with an overhand, shoulder-width grip.

Sit your butt down and stick your chest up. Pull your shoulder blades down and back and tighten your core. Your elbows should be rotated out to the sides with your arms completely straight. Look straight ahead.

Step 2: First Pull

Pull the bar off the floor by powerfully extending your legs, making sure to keep your back flat and your chest up. The bar should travel vertically in a straight line, not into you like during a Deadlift.

Step 3: Scoop and Second Pull

Once the bar is above your knees, shift your torso to a vertical position and rebend your knees slightly. This is the scoop.

Now initiate the second pull—the most powerful portion of the movement—by violently jumping straight up, fully extending your hips, knees and ankles (triple extension), while simultaneously shrugging the bar with your shoulders. Keep the bar as close to your body as possible.

Step 4: Catch

Quickly drop into a quarter-squat position with your back straight, and hips and knees slightly bent. Drive your elbows forward to rotate them around in the bar and catch the bar in the racked position across the front of your shoulders with your fingertips under the bar. Now stand up and reposition your upper body so your elbows your down, chest is out and chin is tucked.

Step 5: The Jerk

Dip down slightly and then explosively extend your hips and legs and aggressively drive the bar overhead. As the barbell moves overhead, split your legs and land with your right leg is forward with your knee bent and your left leg straight behind you (you should do reps on both sides). Lock out your elbows overhead to finish the Jerk. Hold the jerk position then take a half step backward with your front leg and a half step forward your rear leg, and repeat to return to a standing position.

Step 6: Drop the bar

From this position, carefully drop the bar to the ground in front of you, but only do this if you’re using bumper plates and ideally you’re on a lifting platform. If you’re using a light weight, you can lower it to the ground as shown in the video above.

Common Clean and Jerk Mistakes

Mistake 1: Failing to master Power Clean form

You can’t do a Clean and Jerk properly if you haven’t learned how to perform the Power Clean, which is the first half—and arguably most complicated—portion of the lift. So take the time to hone your Power Clean technique before attempting the Clean and Jerk. To help you get started, check out Anderson’s guide to the Power Clean here.

Mistake 2: Using a clean grip

If you perform the Clean correctly, you will catch the bar with your elbows forward and your fingertips under the bar. However, this isn’t a good position to drive the bar overhead. So take a moment to readjust between the clean and jerk phases by dropping your elbows down and grasping the bar tightly with an overhand grip as shown in the image above.

Mistake 3: Forgetting to tuck your chin

If you make this mistake, you will only make it once and it will be an experience you won’t forget. Always remember to tuck your chin as if trying to give yourself a double chin before the Jerk.

Mistake 4: Poor footwork

A proper Jerk includes a wide split stance. So if you find that your legs are only a few feet apart and your back knee is stiff like in the image above, you need to lengthen your stance. Make sure to reach your front foot far out in front so your shin is vertical as if doing a Lunge. Drive your back leg behind you and maintain a soft knee to absorb the landing forces.

Mistake 5: Coming out of the jerk position too quickly

Just because you manage to drive a heavy bar overhead doesn’t mean the rep is done. Afterall, you still have a heavy bar overhead. To maintain control, take small half steps alternating between your front foot and back foot to stand up out of the split position.

Clean and Jerk Variations

Clean and Push Jerk

Kettlebell Clean and Jerk

Dumbbell Clean and Jerk

  • How to Perform the Power Clean
  • How to Perform the Barbell Snatch
  • Fix Your Clean Landing Technique

The clean and jerk

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