It’s time for part three of the Pentathlon Series! If you’ve missed Part One or Part Two please check them out now before getting into this edition. The third exercise in the pentathlon is the one arm jerk.
The pentathlon utilises the one arm version of the jerk as opposed to traditional kettlebell sport where the double jerk is performed. The one arm jerk is much easier to learn correctly, requires less flexibility, is more forgiving if your technique is not yet perfect and is a phenomenal strength and endurance builder. Jerks at 20 RPM will certainly let you know where your quads are. The jerk is also one of the safest ways to get a heavy bell overhead and works your shoulder stabilisers to a great degree. The one arm jerk (along with the push press) can often allow an individual with less than perfect shoulders to begin to train overhead as it bypasses the sticking point where pain is often caused. There are obviously many benefits to be had from performing one arm jerks, so let’s get to learning them!
Firstly you must clean the bell to the rack position. In the jerk there is just a single clean and then multiple jerks. To switch hands you drop the bell into a swing and switch hands before cleaning again to the rack. You know the rack position. Your other target is the overhead position that you have learned with the press. Nothing new here.
Secondly though, you must learn how to connect the two positions through the use of a ‘double dip’. The first dip is a quarter squat that gives you the power to send the bell off your chest and begin its upward travel. Key points in the first dip are: The elbow stays in contact with the iliac crest, the heels stay planted, and the knees track the toes. These are the most common mistakes that then cause problems either later in the lift or later in life.
The first dip is all about generating the power to drive the bell upwards. To make optimal use of this power from your legs the elbow needs to stay in contact with the body. If there is a gap between your elbow and your hip you will be unable to efficiently transfer the force from the big muscles of your legs into your elbow. Maintaining contact allows you to ‘pop’ the bell off your hip with ease. This spares the shoulder from the initial drive and utilises the stacking of bone on bone to transfer force (elbow on iliac crest).
The other two mistakes are often related. The foot must stay in contact with the floor during the first dip, do not lift the heel. The dip pre loads the calf musculature to store energy for the next phase, the drive. If you lift the heel you negate this effect and remove the stretch from the calves. This is normally done unintentionally by those who have tight calf muscles. The third mistake is the knees not tracking the toes. To buy yourself some room for movement it is common to see valgus collapse (the knees caving inwards) or the feet spinning outwards. Some of these issues can be helped by wearing weightlifting shoes, but if tightness is your limiting factor then mobility work on calves and ankles is highly recommended.
Thirdly comes the drive. The energy stored in your calves, thighs and hips is transferred into the bell via the hip and elbow connection. The knees and hips extend followed by the calf raise, this is the triple extension that is a key to athletic movement. In the jerk there is a fourth extension, that of the thoracic spine following the hip bump. This extra extension bumps the bell off your chest and sends it overhead. You can learn this skill with ‘chest bumps’. Rack the bell, dip, extend and ‘bump’ the bell off your chest. Don’t extend your arm, the bell will rise to approx head height from the force of the bump alone. Allow the bell to fall back to the rack and repeat.
Fourth, once the kettlebell is in the air you need to get underneath it as fast as possible via the second dip action. Once you have extended and the bell is in the air, stomp! Driving the heels back into the floor and jumping into a quarter squat position again will allow you to catch the bell on a straight arm overhead. If you cannot manage to catch the bell on a locked elbow try punching up at the same time you stomp your feet, this will help to make the lockout crisp. Aggressively thinking ‘stomp’ or ‘hips back’ will help. An assistance drill at this stage is overhead holds in the quarter squat position. Dip, drive, stomp and hold… Alternatively drop into the quarter squat and just walk around, carefully. Once the bell is locked out, extend your legs and you are now in the finish position.
The fifth and final stage of the jerk is the drop. You know the drop well by now from the clean and press. Don’t waste energy, just get the bell back to the rack in the most efficient way possible ready for another jerk.
The jerk is one of the most complex kettlebell lifts along with the snatch. It is very difficult to learn from a book, dvd, or article alone and personal coaching is highly recommended. Find a reputable coach in your area or contact us to book a session.