Split jerks: what ever happened to them?

How come more athletes dont use the split jerk anymore. With all the talk on olympic lifts by many members including myself. we always seem to forget a great exercise: the split jerk. Technique wise its easy to learn, its an explosive lift that can fall in both the strength-speed and speed-strength realm, works a ton of muscle including many stabalizers and has a balance component as well. On top of that the split position is found in many sports, although i dont like to think of lifting to mimic sports skill, but more to help develop motor abilities.

For throwers this is a staple excercise, but for lineman it seems the bench is prefered. Why, the split jerk works more muscles, while standing on the feet in an explosive manner. Looks like a winner to me!!!

With regards to lineman and other contact sport athletes, the jerk or any other overhead pressing lift, is not a wise lift to perform (especially in-season). The excessive impact stress introduced to the shoulder region, during most contact sports (football, hockey, rugby, MMA, lacrosse, etc) yields a situation in which any additional high stress stimuli to this area (overhead lifts) may be a recipe for inducing a shoulder pathology of some sort.

As with any muscle group:exercise relationship; if it feels beat up/excessively sore you should not push it in the weight room.

But what about utilizing it during the off-season for football in order to strengthen those muscles for the contact that occurs during football?

Personally, I would recommend half/partial presses such as military press, push press and behind the neck press (if flexibility/biomechanics allow) performed only to the top of head level, half dumbbell presses and bradford presses.

Note, that I like these lifts more so for hypertrophy, not necessarily max strength/power etc.

The reason for stopping at just above head level, is because in this position the AC joint is not impinged. As one continues to abduct and/or externally at the shoulder, with a load overhead, the AC joint becomes significantly impinged as well as the head of the humerus being jammed into the glenoid cavity.

I favor the concept of inducing shoulder hypertrophy for aiding in buffering impact shock/stress. I prefer to use bench press variations for developing strength and power, as far as the upper body pressing muscles are concerned.

Are split jerks really that easy to learn? Not really. Most can’t even jump and land properly in a split position. This should be mastered with each leg forward before jerking. Anyways it’s not great fro developing pushing strength. If done properly you shouldn’t have to push much at all. In regards to the AC joint impingement, I do movements that are said to cause it every workout, snatch, overhead presses, dips-never had a problem.

Compared to the clean and snatch the split jerk is easy to learn. A lineman uses his whole body when blocking not just his upperbody, and he never presses a d-lineman off of him from his chest. He uses more of a thrust move that uses his legs, hips and arms. The split jerk is a great total body lift.

I agree with you that in season overhead work should be omitted.

Show me evidence( scientific studies or just your observation) that ALL athletes get “impinged” when doing overhead work!! Anatomy is relative from athlete to athlete.

Just like speed-strength and strength-speed, flexability-strength and stabilizing-strength are their own motor abilities and need to be trained accordingly. An athlete needs to know how to accelerate, decelerate and stabalize in the overhead position in order to minimize injury should that athlete find himself in that position in a sporting situation. James you are always talking about training your weaknesses. Why do you avoid this one?

Here is what Siff had to say about Overhead work: although he is specifically talking about the R-Cuff we can use this info to grasp what we are talking about.

Siff says:
"Snatch pull-throughs and overhead snatch squats also offer dynamic and static
strengthening of rotator cuff and other shoulder strengthening exercises.
However, I prefer to think of rotator cuff exercises as part of static and
dynamic shoulder strengthening and that this involves the interactive use of
several exercises, including forms of snatching, pulling and pressing
(standing, bench, declined and inclined), rowing, lat pulldowns, snatch and
clean pulls, push presses or jerks, and cable cross overs.

If any training program includes these types of multi-joint exercise, then
there is no real need for any isolated rotator cuff exercises in the training
of the uninjured athlete. Interestingly, I have worked with many thousands of athletes and casual gym users and never had a single one experience any
debilitating rotator cuff injury, despite there having been many throwers,
gymnasts, rowers, rugby players, tennis players and cricketers and lifters
among them.
That is no great tribute to me - it is just that their programs have been
multi-faceted enough to offer adequate strengthening of the most important
muscles needed in those folks’ lives. Of course, I should mention that this
also has a great deal to do with the fact that individualised correctness of
technique was constantly taught and stressed".


Could someone explain why full ROM bench presses are universally safe, but not overhead presses? Why do you hear about powerlifters shoulders more than oly lifters shoulders? I’d rather hear about balancing stability/mobility and length/tension, then hearing about cadavers.

I think they both can cause impingement depending on the individual, and therefore we shouldn’t make blanket statements about the lifts themselves, but rather specific uses. I’ve heard orthopedists talk about the dangers of benching, dips, and snatches, but I’ve also heard people like Siff say they’re perfectly fine. That’s why generalizations usually suck.

Anyways you’re not really pressing with the jerk, so if you’re just wanting to develop the muscles then James’s recommendations make sense, and if you want power then couldn’t you use med ball throws? Absorb and decelerate what in the overhead position? Rotator cuff work for baseball players?

Frit, ANY human being, short of someone void of an AC joint and a glenoid cavity, will find their AC joint impinged if they extend their arms overhead. This is a basic reality of movement. Now, whether a pathology develops is another story, however, the chances are greatly increased when performing heavy overhead lifts.

In this particular instance and with regards to my view on the matter, studies and personal experience is not necessary, while you are sitting in front of your computer take off your shirt and raise both arms above your head as if you had just locked out a jerk. Look at your AC joint area; that is impingement.

I agree in training for situations which commonly arise in sport, however, with regards to football, hockey, rugby, MMA, lacrosse, etc, I have yet to see or have experienced (I played football and hockey) a situation in which an athlete has the arms fully extended directly overhead while battleing an opponent. Note, from a biomechanical standpoint, an angle between overhead fully extended arms and the torso of 100-160 degrees or so is not the same as 180, especially when a large load is imposed on the structure.

I agree in stabilizing and strengthening the shoulder, however, not in a fully abducted and externally rotated position, especially not for contact sport atheltes. As you know, there are many lifts which serve to strengthen the shoulder without fully abducting and externally rotating them.

Additionally, (for those of you who like to bring up weightlifters who don’t have problems with their shoulders) we must not compare weightlifters, powerlifters, throwers etc to contact sport athletes. Weightlifters and throwers are phenomenally strong and explosive athletes who perform a lot of ovehead lifting, however, they do not endure any where near the degree of impact stress/shock punishment to the body (in this case the shoulder area)

Lastly, as we have discussed before, we all know the shortage (in the west) of qualified OL coaches. Not that I would suggest for contact sport athletes to perform OL lifts, even if they had great technique, but at least if they were to perform them they would minimize the chance for injury.

To come back to personal experience, which I think we all value more highly than ‘studies’, I have consulted, and worked with enough athletes (including my own training history) who have complained of chronically aching shoulders or other pain/pathology radiating about the shoulder girdle in general. One thing that most of these athletes, including myself, had in common was the use of heavy overhead lifts, usually in conjunction with a lot of horizontal pressing.

Now my view, with respect to contact sport athletes, is that the bench press is a far more useful lift than an overhead press. As in virtually any instance of a contact sport game an athlete will find himself battleing an opponent with shoulders flexed to about 90 degrees or a little higher (a driving lineman) but certainly no where near fully extended arms directly overhead.

Watch the athletes play the game closely, really watch the athletes move and I feel confident that you will agree.

the bench press hurts my shoulders so bad i don’t do them . the ovhd work has never hurt my shoulders.

The bench press can be bad for the shoulders and is dependent on the structural/functional relationship of humerus length/rib cage circumference. If scapular/humeral rhythm is off, there may be a serious increase in stress to the shoulder musculature and anterior joint capsule. You’re right to reference med. ball work. Lifters also have to refer to the difference in barbell overhead pressing, dumbbell overhead pressing, hex bar overhead pressing, etc. and the resulting shoulder stress. And stressing individual differences is key as always. I’ve also found that if an athlete cannot bring their arms straight overhead without extending their back on a shoulder mobility/flexibility assessment, they’re more likely to turn the overhead press into an incline chest press with their back extended, often excessively so. Often working with a bench at 75-80 degrees for the overhead press is a simple solution.

One thing no one has mentioned is that if you balance overhead presses with pull-ups or bench presses with rows that a lot of shoulder problems can be avoided.

James you must have played a different football game than I did. You never jumped up to catch a ball, dove to make a takle. An athlete reaches out to recover a fumble and an oponent lands on him. These things happen. In football you never know which way your going to end up, with so many things happenening during any given play.

As far as teaching the lift this was the point of my original post, the split jerk is a relativly easy lift to teach and can have benefits even with light weight.

Now you are using the bench as mimicing blocking technique. Which is not what we use strength training for. We use the lifts to develop motor ablities not sport skill. The split jerk helps develop that split second total body explosive strength, much like a lineman needs when the ball is snapped. He can then take that strength and develop blocking technique in practice. When an athlete is blocking an oppenent force production comes from elsewhere on the kenetic chain(hips, glutes, hams ,erectors) not from the chest or arms. The split jerk develops these muscles. Take a way a linemans legs and his ablity stabalize and he is nothing.


I think people are not as familiar with what loads % wise should be used…that is why a lot of people are warded off.

Frit, I like the use of the bench press, NOT for mimicking the blocking technique, but for developing the motor pattern and force production which is similar to the movements experienced, by the upper body, on the field, ice, etc.

I did not indicate, nor do I believe that the split jerk is not a tremendous lift for developing various motor abilities, it surely is, what I did indicate, and what I do believe is that other lifts are, in my view, more optimal. I agree that split jerks are a relatively easy lift to learn, however, my criticism against split jerks is not that they are hard to learn but that they are an overhead lift.

Acknowledging the kinetic chain of events when battling an opponent, I opt to utilize various box/free squat, DL, and GM variations as ALL of these will serve to develop a stronger base/posterior chain than jerks ever will. With respect to the power/RFD that is yeilded by performing split jerks, I opt to utilize DE squats/pulls, and soon med ball work, in the abscense of speed work.

Because lets remember, that speed work is as reactive as it gets. So in instances in which a large volume of speed work is being performed, there is less of a need for performing lifts which are RFD dominant.

Yes yes I definitally like those excercises too. Like everything else I rotate many of those excercises that you mentioned, split jerks, the other OL,s, benches presses, inclines, presses and many others throughout the year in a periodized fashion, always trying to strengthen the body from all alngles. I think they call all fit in there somewhere. Thats where the art coaching and training comes in. Thats why I love this stuff. As always great posts!!!

Yes, in the end, as always, it seems that we see eye to eye.

If you are doing split jerks correctly, leg drive significantly lightens the load, and the arms are only fully bearing the weight at lockout.

One thing that hasn’t really been mentioned is that when you do a split jerk the eccentric will be highly supramaximal because of the leg drive used and split on the concentric. So even forgetting the overhead/bench press arguement for a second would you want athletes who are already getting beat up handling that high of an eccentric stress in either movement?

And this is exactly the loaded mechanical position in which the Acromioclavicular joint is most compromised.