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What muscles do split jerks work?

Olympic Lifting, The Split Jerk

The split jerk is the second version of the jerk, it is an advanced movement which you need to master as a functional fitness/crossfit athlete that requires the use of many muscle groups and coordinated skills. As a compound power movement, the split jerk uses a large array of muscles from ground up.

Split jerks work alongside cleans and have become a staple in CrossFit and functional fitness gyms as well as becoming more popular across all around athletes.

It is common for split jerks to be used when weights get heavier and close to maximal.

The split jerk consists of five phases, they are the set up, Dip, Drive, Catch and Recover, these phases are very similar to the power jerk but the catch and recover differ slightly.

Phase 1 — Set Up

With any Olympic lift is it paramount to have a strong solid set up to use as a base for your lift.

With the Jerk it can be performed from a rack, blocks or from receiving a clean. In this article we are going to assume you will be working from the rack and doing the jerk as a standalone movement but it will translate across to all the other variations.

To start with, unrack the bar from your rack/rig and take 2 or 3 steps forward, stand tall with your feet at hip width and set the barbell firmly on the front of your shoulders and maintain a tight core.

Phase 2 — Dip

Bend your knees slightly keeping your torso upright, at the base of the dip keep your core tight and your elbows high.

Phase 3 — Drive

Once you are stable at the bottom of the dip (this will become an instantaneous step after some practice), drive hard directly upwards with your legs, fully extend your quads then calves to reach maximal lower body extension, you should follow this with a slight drive and pop from your shoulders. While extending, concentrate on keeing a strong core and maintaining high elbows.

Phase 4 — Catch

Once you have reached full extension in phase 3 you drop back under the bar and prepare to catch. After the rapid extension of phase 3 you push with your shoulders while dropping your body into the catch position. The catch position should be legs split, front knee at 90 degrees, rear knee at around 45 degrees and at shoulder width and arms loced above the center of balance.

Phase 5 — Recovery

The final stage of the Jerk is the recovery, after a solid catch you should bring your legs together, bringing your front leg back first then your rear leg ensuring control of the barbell. After this the lift is complete and you can return the bar to the rack or the floor.

Common Mistakes

Here are the most common errors made with the power jerk, as well as how to avoid them.

Losing integrity in the dip

As you dip to start the movement it is very easy to lose tension in your core and bend forward slightly, especially at the bottom of the dip/early drive phase.

When this happens it often both removes the rigidity and strength of the body and also has a tendency to force the drive phase into an upward and forward motion rather than a straight up motion.

The main thing to try if you struggle with this would be to keep the chest and elbows up, this should hel keep a tight torso.

Very wide or long/short catching stance

The catching stance is very important as it forms the foundations of your stability with the bar overhead. In an effort to get lower quickly, many people just go wider and wider with their feet, in addition there is a tendency to go short with a split jerk, in doing this you make it harder to drop under the bar as far and you make the catch position weaker. Your catch position should be strong long and stable.

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The best way to address this would be to either video yourself and actively aim to make small changes to improve your position or to make marks on the floor for your feet and aim to land on your marks each time.

Low elbows in the setup

It is common for people to start with their elbows pointing towards the floor, similar to a strict press position, this is good for raw strict strength but not so good for speed and stability like you need for the jerk.
In the jerk you generate the power from your drive (legs) mainly and then snap under the bar for the catch, if you have your elbows low it is much harder to securely hold the weight on your shoulders with a straight torso and also makes a slower transition from drive to catch.

To correct this you should just be aware of your elbow and chest position and pause at the bottom of the dip to check your positioning.

A good little workout to try for this would be

EMOM 10 (every minute on the minute)

2 Split Jerk

Either pick a weight that you aim to do for all the sets or build up in weight as you go.

Good luck and let us know how you get on!


EMOM 10 (every minute on the minute)

Either pick a weight that you aim to do for all the sets or build up in weight as you go.

What muscles do split jerks work?

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Hang Clean and Jerk: Benefits, Muscles Worked, and More

published by: Debbie Luna

reviewed by: Daniel Dominick TE, PTRP
Last Updated:
November 28, 2022

Lifting a barbell from the hips to the top of the head is hard work that requires good muscle coordination and a lot of strength. Few exercises are as explosive and strenuous on the body as the hang clean and jerk. Almost every muscle in the body is used during this total-body workout. Mastering it requires a great deal of time, practice, and persistence.

The hang clean and jerk is a compound workout consisting of several movements performed in rapid succession. It is a coordinated multi-segmental flexion and extension of multiple joints and muscles of the whole body—a combination of push-and-pull motions in one exercise.

It is a complicated exercise to perform because it is a succession of several different movements combined into one workout. As a result, it puts a lot of muscles under stress and requires perfect coordination. For a full-body workout in the shortest amount of time, the hang clean and jerk is an efficient option to consider.

Contents Show

What is a Hang Clean and Jerk?

The clean and jerk is one of the lifts athletes compete in during events such as the Olympics and other weightlifting competitions. First, the bar is lifted from the ground in a deadlift position. Once the bar is above the knees, the lifter must use an explosion of power through the legs to raise the bar as high and as rapidly as possible, placing it on the shoulders while fluidly transitioning into a squatting posture.

To finish the clean, the lifter stands up and positions himself for the jerk by bending the hips and knees. The lifter will then explosively extend the hips and legs, elevating the barbell above the head, and catch the bar underneath using a split or squat stance with arms straight and knees bent. To effectively complete the clean and jerk, the legs should be straight and the feet must be in line with each other.

A clean and jerk can be changed into a hang clean by leaving out the initial pull and stance. The hang clean and jerk omits the deadlift phase by beginning the exercise with the barbell held below the hips rather than on the ground. This becomes the starting position of the exercise and allows the movement to be performed more quickly than a traditional clean and jerk.

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How to Perform the Hang Clean and Jerk

When doing hang clean and jerks, the starting weight should be one that can easily be managed for two to three sets of one to five repetitions each. Pick a weight that allows one to keep the form and technique intact throughout all of the sets and reps.

Moderate load progressions should be practiced at all times.

Position yourself so that the feet are beneath the barbell. The feet are hip-width apart, and the knees are slightly bent. Shoulders should be over the hips, and the head and neck should be straight.

barbell hang clean and jerk starting position

Engage the core and bend the hips and knees while maintaining a straight back. Grab the barbell with a slightly wider-than-shoulder overhand grip and retract the scapula. Lift the bar until it rests on the thighs and the body is straight with the legs.

Like when performing a deadlift, bend the hips and knees to lower the bar to knee level while maintaining a straight back. Once the bar is at knee level, explosively extend the hips and knees to generate momentum to lift the bar, then engage the upper back and traps to produce a powerful shrug to continue the lift. Next, rotate the elbows forward and turn the wrist under the bar while bending the hips and knees to a full squat position.

barbell hang clean and jerk 2nd position

Midway through the squatting movement, the bar should be at the shoulders, and the wrist bent at an almost right angle. At the bottom of the motion, one should look like they are performing halfway through a front squat. And just like a front squat, bring the weight back up while maintaining a straight back.

barbell hang clean and jerk 3rd position

To begin the jerk, bend the knees to lower the body several inches as if trying to initiate a vertical jump. As the legs aggressively straighten, push the bar up with the shoulders and triceps and the body moving underneath the bar to catch the weight. Both feet should land at the same time. Next, lower the bar back to the starting position and start another rep.

barbell hang clean and jerk final position

Muscles Worked by the Hang Clean and Jerk

The hang clean and jerk is an exercise that challenges the entire body. Each muscle in the body will play a role, serving as a primary mover or stabilizer. When performing the hang clean and jerk, the lower body will produce most of the power needed to lift the bar.

Every muscle group in the lower body, from the hip flexors to the toes, will be activated to varying degrees. On the other hand, the quadriceps, glutes, and hamstrings would be the prime movers behind the lift. They would push the feet down to the ground and give the bar the momentum it needs to move. Even the calves contribute significantly to producing the necessary explosive force to lift the bar.

The lower body muscles will be engaged several times in the hang clean and jerk. First, to give the initial lift momentum, and then to slowly lower the body into a squatting position.

After the lower body starts to lift the bar, the upper back and traps perform a shrug to continue the momentum, the elbows rotate, and the biceps curl the bar to the shoulder. Finally, the quads, glutes, and hamstrings will be heavily activated again during the ascent from the squat position to finish the clean.

At the start of the jerk, the quads, glutes, and hamstrings would again be engaged to push the bar overhead and provide support for the body when catching the bar underneath. The shoulders and triceps would then complete the movement by participating in the final few inches of the lift.

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The core and back muscles will be activated throughout the movement to keep the body straight and support the weight at all times. In a study by Calatayud et al., they found that the clean and jerk enhanced core muscle activity and had more significant activations when using water bags instead of a barbell.

Benefits of the Hang Clean and Jerk

Enhance Motor Skills and Muscular Coordination

The term motor skills refers to movements that are carried out due to the coordinated efforts of the brain, nervous system, and muscles. The whole body moves more efficiently when the motor skills are finely tuned.

The complexity of the movements in the hang clean and jerk teaches different muscle groups how to move synergistically and trains the whole body to move as a unit. This helps to tune up the nervous system and improve coordination.

Improves Anaerobic Power and Endurance

The combination of the hang clean and jerk’s explosive motions and the various degrees of resistance applied in one’s training routine allows for significant anaerobic power and endurance development. This translates to better performance in sports or other low-duration, high-intensity activities such as jumping or sprinting.

Adaptation to Explosive Demands on the Body

When performing new workouts for the body or loading it in a different manner than it is usually accustomed to, the body responds by boosting its ability to deal with that new load. This ability is called adaptation. The SAID principle, which stands for “specific adaptation to imposed demands,” refers to the idea that the human body would, in essence, particularly adapt to the many demands placed on it.

For instance, the body will adapt by building greater degrees of muscular strength when one practices resistance training activities consistently with heavy weights for low repetitions. However, that same person is unlikely to be able to endure lifting lighter weights for a large number of repetitions since they do not have the muscular endurance to do so. In other words, an individual only gets what he trains for.

If a person wants to enhance certain athletic abilities, the training motions and exercises selected should closely mimic the movement patterns that the individual would face in their particular sport or activity. For example, in the case of the hang clean and jerk, the body will start to modify and fundamentally adapt to the demands of explosivity, speed, strength, and power necessary for the exercise.

This adaptation to the explosive demands of the workout translates to better performance in sports and daily activities. Furthermore, athletic abilities would improve significantly after several sessions of hang clean and jerk.

Final Thoughts

The hang clean and jerk movements are transferable skills that can be applied to various sports and daily activities. For example, volleyball players and wide receivers in football take the hang clean route to increase their vertical jump and improve their sprinting speed.


1. Calatayud J, Colado JC, Martin F, Casaña J, Jakobsen MD, Andersen LL. Core muscle activity during the clean and jerk lift with barbell versus sandbags and water bags. International journal of sports physical therapy. 2015 Nov;10(6):803.

Debbie Luna

Debbie (Deb) started powerlifting and Olympic lifting in High School as part of her track team’s programming; She continues to train in order to remain athletic. Inspire US allows Deb to share information related to training, lifting, biomechanics, and more.

Strength Exercises for Boxing: Split Jerk

Jordan Gill Split Jerk

Although traditionally used in Olympic weightlifting, the split jerk can be massively rewarding for athletes, especially boxers.

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This exercise requires strength, speed, co-ordination and stability. These are physical qualities every boxer should strive for.

This article will look at the benefits, and tell you how to perform this fantastic exercise.

Increase the snap in your punch

The main transfer from the split jerk to a forceful punch is that it helps build shoulder, core and leg strength, as well as developing ‘effective mass’. Both a punch and a split jerk elicits a double activation pattern, this requires a quick whole body tension at impact.

This means that the split jerk can improve the ‘snap’ at the end of a punch.

Jump Higher

The split jerk can also develop vertical impulse, which helps improve jump height. Our studies suggest that the higher a boxer can jump, the harder they can punch. This suggests that lower body strength and speed plays an important role when delivering hard punches.

Control Force

Split Jerk is a unique exercise as it requires such a fast action, however you need to become still very quickly to control the bar in the overhead position. This can improve the ability to decelerate!

Although we put an emphasis on being fast and explosive, we also need to know how to slow down. Being able to decelerate effectively will help us flow in the ring, improving our footwork and how we transfer force in a punch.

It takes time to master

At the moment, we only have a handful of boxers that are competent at strength and conditioning as the split jerk is a difficult move. You need good overhead and hip flexor mobility, core stability and strength to perform this complex exercise,

But master the split jerk and reap the rewards.

Start off with exercises such as lunge to press, dumbells and kettlebell split jerks before moving on to the bar.

Start Position

  • Rack the bar at the front of your shoulders, rotating arms and elbows up just wider than shoulder width apart.
  • Feet hip-width apart, with the centre of pressure through the mid-foot.


  • Quick and short dip of the knees and hips. Knees bend tracking the toes, but not passing them.
  • Centre of pressure through the mid-foot to heel.
  • Maintain an upright torso position, keeping your elbows up.


  • Drive through the floor, extend the hips and get tall.
  • Your body should push the bar high, allowing you to start rotating your arms under the bar.
  • Centre of pressure goes through the toe, then start to split your legs.


  • Lock out your arms, catching the bar overhead.
  • Split foot position into a half-lunge, both knees slightly bent with the weight distributed between the heel of the front foot and the toes of the back foot.
  • Keep chest down and core tense to avoid hyper-extension of the lower-back.


Eager to reap the benefits of the split jerk immediately?

Though we do not advise using the split-jerk as a key exercise if you are just beginning your strength training journey, the landmine variation of the split jerk can be a really effective alternative to the barbell exercise.

Moreover, the landmine split jerk is usually an easier exercise to grasp for athletes with a low strength training history.

This variation is performed with similar technique to that of the barbell movement, however requires less shoulder and lower body stability in the catch position.

This exercise has similar benefits to a normal split jerk:

✅ Easier technique to master – safer and more effective.

✅ Less Strain on wrists and

✅ Develops kinetic chain sequencing – from foot through to fist.

✅ Easier to load for strength / speed adaptations.

With less complexities from a technical perspective, the athletes can focus on exerting maximal force and intent throughout the movement.

This can also enable us to load up the exercise more, therefore allowing relatively high loads to be accelerated maximally which is important for strength-speed and rate of force development.

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Considering this, there could be a strong case for the superiority of the landmine variation over the barbell variation for promoting desirable training adaptations.

The case for the landmine set up is bolstered further by reduced shoulder, wrist and elbow strain compared to using the barbell.

These joints are typically hammered during boxing sessions from thousands of punches thrown, so as strength and conditioning coaches it is important to choose exercises that provide the most benefit without adding more strain to these areas. The landmine split-jerk fits this philosophy!

Reduced shoulder stress is achieved during this movement due to the use of a neutral grip rather than a pronated grip which is characteristic of barbell exercises.

Furthermore, the trajectory of the bar displays an added horizontal component rather than being exclusively vertical.

Along with reducing the need for high levels of overhead stability/strength (which boxers lack), a more horizontal bar path minimises the degree of humeral head internal rotation when returning to the starting position.

For similar reasons there is less strain on the wrist joint, compared to the barbell variation, if availing of the landmine attachment.

A neutral grip allows the wrist to be positioned directly above the elbow, creating a more advantageous position for pressing.

This also reduces the potential for excessive wrist extension as you approach the top position of the lift.

Exposing this wrist to large amounts of wrist extension during strength sessions is something we wish to avoid, especially with boxers, as it can compromise upper limb stiffness at the end range of a punch.

If you don’t have access to the viking handle attachment, but still wish to achieve similar loading when performing a split-jerk without the barbell, the dumbbell split-jerk can be a useful variation.

The dumbbells will enable you to adopt a neutral grip from the start, similar to the viking handle in the landmine variation.

It should be noted that light dumbbells are likely to be best with this exercise and is therefore more of a speed-strength rather than strength-speed movement.

Heavier dumbbells will increase the demands of an athlete’s overhead shoulder stability and may cause boxers, who are weak in this area, to compensate by using their lower back.

Both dumbbell and landmine variations should be performed at relatively low volumes in order to maximise the loads that can be moved rapidly.

With this said, we will typically prescribe 3-5 reps on each leg, repeated for 3-5 sets when performing landmine and dumbbell split jerk exercises.


Another effective variation of the split-jerk is the single arm landmine split-jerk.

One could argue that this exercise is more specific to the punching action given it’s uni-lateral nature.

The removal of one arm, creates more instability at the top of the movement.

This forces the lower body, core and upper limb to generate high levels of tension in order remain stable and prevent the bar from leaning inwards.

Maximising tension throughout the kinetic chain is important as this will translate to improved stiffness at the end range of a punch, therefore enhancing punch impact.

Typically, this exercise is programmed for speed-strength phases where the aim is to move lighter loads, rapidly and in a sport specific manner.

With any movement performed to develop explosive qualities, a low number of repetitions is preferable to optimise intent and speed of movement.

Therefore performing this exercise for 3-5 reps each side times 3-4 sets tends to best.

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