June 15, 2009
Legendary weightlifting coach Bill Starr writes about why learning the jerk is so important.
In recent years overhead lifts have experienced a revival in strength routines, and they’re also a big part of CrossFit. Of course, with my background in Olympic lifting, I’ve always encouraged my athletes to do presses and jerks—even my female athletes. Now, more and more scholastic and collegiate strength coaches are seeing the value of these two overhead movements and adding them to their players’ programs. Similarly, CrossFit athletes are putting weight overhead in their quest for total fitness.
Everywhere you turn you’ll see ads pushing some product, exercise gadget or video that claims to enhance core strength. “Core strength” has become trendy phrase. But overhead lifting makes all the groups that constitute the core a great deal stronger in a manner few other exercises can match. Elevating a loaded barbell overhead and holding it in position for five or six seconds strengthens the muscles and attachments of the arms, shoulders, back, hips and legs.
It must be understood that jerking a heavy weight isn’t just a matter of applying raw strength to the bar, like performing a squat or deadlift. It’s knowing how to utilize several athletic attributes, such as timing, co-ordination and speed along with strength. This is exactly why the jerk is such a beneficial exercise for athletes in a wide range of sports. Jerking heavy weight is particularly beneficial to throwers in track and volleyball and basketball players who need vertical strength to excel. In addition, jerks are an asset in nearly every athletic endeavor I can think of.
When done perfectly, the jerk is an aesthetic combination of power and grace, and that’s why so many athletes take to them so readily. They’re much more than just a strengthening exercise. They’re feats of strength that require a very high degree of athleticism. Agility, timing, quickness, co-ordination and determination are needed in order to jerk a heavy poundage.
Learn how to do the lift correctly. Diligently practice your technique. Then you’ll be ready to advance to a higher level of functional strength.