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How to Quit Short-Stepping Your Split Jerks

The jerk is the world’s stupidest lift, and yes, I say that because it’s the one I’m worst at. All of my coach’s lifters were good jerkers, so I think he just wondered what my problem was. The good thing about being so naturally bad at jerks is that I’ve been forced to spend many years trying to figure it out and find creative ways to improve it. It took something like 10 years for me to get my best jerk to within 5kg of my best clean, but it got there eventually.
If you’re anything like me (a nice person, but not great at jerks), you’ve very likely had trouble with what’s commonly referred to as short-stepping in your split jerk. That is, in your heavier jerk attempts, your split is too short—relative to what you know it should be, and usually relative to what you do in your lighter jerks.
This short split means less depth which means less ability to get the arms locked out properly—more pressouts or outright misses (usually these are the misses that look like you didn’t even try—the bar seems to move about 3 inches up and you move about 2 inches down—even though you felt like you put every single motor unit to work on it).
The obvious approach to correcting short-stepping is to work on drills focused on the split position and the movement into it. This includes exercises like tall jerk, step to split, drop to split, jerk from split, split squat—things that allow you to practice stepping into the full length split, and/or strengthen the split position in its full length.
The problem with this is that the cause of short-stepping is most often unrelated to the split itself. That is, with anything outside of a split jerk itself, the lifter is capable of a proper split. He or she can hit a perfect position with lighter weights and get under a lot of weight in a drop to split—the footwork and speed is just fine, and the understanding of the position is correct.
In such cases, the culprit is the ability to elevate the bar adequately, often coupled with or caused by a timing error.
Think of it this way: if you can drive the bar high, you have plenty of space and time to move your feet into a long split before the bar comes back down on you. If you fail to elevate the bar adequately, it’s already pushing you back down as your front foot is reaching forward, causing it to reconnect with the platform prematurely. This problem is exacerbated when you tend to lean forward into the split, lifting and reaching your back foot excessively and causing the front foot to land first.
A good way to figure out if your problem is caused by the drive rather than the split itself is to take a look at the exercises I mentioned above—if you’re able to correctly do a drop to split with your best jerk weight or more for a triple and feel stable and confident, the split isn’t a problem. If your power jerk or push jerk is significantly lower than your split jerk, that suggests a limited ability to elevate the bar—if your power jerk is less than 85% of your split jerk, this is something you need to work on (an exception is if your power jerk is so low because of limited mobility).
How to Fix It
If you’ve determined that the problem really is the split, work on that directly with the exercises I referred to previously. Otherwise, let’s sort out your drive. I’ll break this down into three parts to make it a bit easier, but understand that there is overlap—it’s likely not going to be one or another.
Drive The upward drive itself can be improved with anything that makes you drive hard… this is the simplest and most obvious category. Push press, power jerk, push jerk, jerk drive, concentric jerk, jumping squat, jumping quarter squat, back squat jump… You can figure this out. You can also use complexes to force more aggression in the drive such as a series of multiple jerk dip squats + a jerk.
Dip Your drive may be weak itself, or the problem may be more related to weakness in your dip—more accurately, an inability to brake sufficiently in the bottom of the dip, maintain the proper position and balance during that braking, or improper depth (usually too deep). The goal here is to reinforce the bottom position and improve the ability to stop more quickly. Helpful exercises for this include the jerk dip, jerk spring, jerk dip squat, push press and power jerk.
Timing Finally, you may have a strong dip and a strong drive… but when you jerk, you’re not using them. There are two points of timing usually at play here—the timing of transitioning from the bottom of the dip back into the drive, and the timing of transitioning from the drive into the split (i.e. the length of the drive). Check out this article for a discussion on how you can determine the timing that will work best for you.
Just kidding, this isn’t a high school paper, and all the information you need is above.

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Greg Everett is the owner of Catalyst Athletics, head coach of the USA Weightlifting National Champion team Catalyst Athletics, author of the books Olympic Weightlifting: A Complete Guide for Athletes & Coaches and Olympic Weightlifting for Sports, director/writer/producer/editor/everything of the documentary American Weightlifting, publisher of The Performance Menu journal, fifth-place finisher at the USAW National Championships, masters national champion, masters American Open champion, masters American record holder in the clean & jerk, and Olympic Trials coach. Follow him on Facebook here and and sign up for his free newsletter here.

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