Olympic weightlifting is probably one of the scariest and most frustrating components of the sport of CrossFit. However, it is an essential part of CrossFit’s training methodology because of the many benefits that occur as a result, such as strength, speed, power, force capacity, neurological adaptations, and many others. In order to get better at the Olympic lifts, there are countless technique drills, positional work, etc. that can often be overwhelming or confusing to athletes who are just starting to learn the lifts themselves.
One technique movement used to improve the split jerk is called a tall jerk. In order to understand the importance and benefits of the tall jerk, you need to know the different types of tall jerks, why you should practice the tall jerk, and how to execute the tall jerk to get the most benefit out of the movement.
If you search ‘tall jerk’ on YouTube, you will be bombarded with many different videos and they may not all show the same thing. Confusing? Definitely. Therefore, it is important to note that there are four basic variations of the tall jerk – half-press with flat feet, half-press on toes, from the shoulders on flat feet, and from the shoulders on toes. Whether you start flat-footed or on your toes, or with the bar in the front rack position or raised off your shoulders, the focus of the exercise remains the same: to work speed, aggressiveness and timing of the split jerk.
Why is this exercise important? A common problem that athletes have when performing the split jerk is not being able to drive their body down into the split jerk position. Everyone is limited on how much weight they can press over their heads. So what happens when you reach that limit? Cue the split jerk. If done correctly, you will actually be actively pressing yourself down under the barbell instead of focusing on just pressing the barbell up overhead. Think about it: the lower you can drive yourself under the bar, the less distance you have to push the bar up. The best way to perfect this is by practicing the tall jerk.
As mentioned in the second paragraph, there are four basic versions of the tall jerk. For the purpose of this article, let’s take a look at the half-press on toes version. For this version of the exercise, you will start with the bar at eye level (or top of the forehead) and stand on your tiptoes. From here, you will drive yourself under the barbell and land in the split position. One important thing to note, even though the purpose of this exercise is to learn how to drive yourself under the barbell, that does not mean you should stop pressing the barbell up with your arms. As you are driving yourself down under the barbell, you are also pressing the barbell up at the same time. Finally, your feet should land at the same time your arms lockout overhead. If you need a good video on how to do a tall jerk, the following link shows the first three versions: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QWCyQBN1vDM.
Now that you know what a tall jerk is and why and how you should do it, it’s time to practice! Remember, this is a technique exercise so the weight on your barbell should be relatively light. Perform sets of 3-5 reps and use this exercise as stand-alone technique work or as a primer before performing sets of jerks.