Will Split Jerks Create Strength Imbalances? (And How to Avoid)

by BarBenc

The split jerk is a specific jerk style that is very common in Olympic weightlifting, and has been for decades. Some coaches and lifters may be wondering if training the split jerk daily, for months, years, and even decades on end can create significant and detrimental strength imbalances due to the asymmetrical stance taken to finish the lift.

Like most sports, weightlifting has lifters place themselves sometimes in asymmetrical stances, which may lead to movement smarties and strength imbalances that can impact peak performance.

But what does this mean for the split jerk? 

Should you stop doing them?

In this article, we will discuss in detail everything you need to know about strength imbalances that may or may not be caused by the split jerk, such as:

  • Will Split Jerks Create Strength Imbalances?

  • Should You Stop Training the Split Jerk?

  • 5 Ways to Avoid Strength Imbalances in the Split Jerk?

Will Split Jerks Create Strength Imbalances?

The split jerk is a very sport specific style of moving a weight from the shoulder to the overhead potion, and when done over and over will probably create some (mostly not significant) strength imbalances in some individuals who are not addressing their weaknesses outside of jerk training.

The reality is that most sports will open themselves up to movement asymmetries. Baseball players who swing bats, softball athletes who throw balls, and anyone who uses a dominant arm, leg, or stance to play their sport can become “imbalanced”.

The split jerk is a jerk style that places one leg in front of the other, often with the dominant leg in the front position. Just like a sprinter takes off with one leg in front of their body, or a pitcher pushes off the mound with their powerful leg, the split jerk does place a lifter in an asymmetrical position.

It is best to refer to the solutions discussed below on how to avoid and address strength imbalances in the split jerk, and perform those, than to exclude split jerks from training as they are one of the most effective jerk variations to move max loads overhead, and are a critical exercise in the sport of Olympic weightlifting.

Should You Stop Training the Split Jerk?

No, you should not stop training the split jerk.

Being aware of this is the first, and most important step. For most individuals, training unilaterally in accessory exercises or adding in dumbbell training (instead of always barbell training) may be enough to address any of those issues.

Should You Alternate Feet in the Split Jerk?

No, this will not only slow your overall progress down when looking to increase your jerk max, but it may very well end in injury, or just be an inefficient way to enhance performance in the jerk and address imbalances. 

Just like a pitcher never pitches with their non-dominant arm, it is recommended to practice the sport specific movement of split jerking with your dominant leg in front, and then address any movement asymmetries and muscle imbalances during lower skilled movements and accessory segments.

3 Ways to Avoid Strength Imbalances in the Split Jerk

Avoiding strength imbalances caused by the split jerk, which may very well be insignificant imbalances for most individuals, can still and should be addressed using the four methods below.

Train the Jerk without Splitting

If you are finding yourself training the split jerk all the time, you can easily cut back on the amount of split jerk volume you are doing by swapping in other jerk variations to still train the jerk and attack your weakness.

Power jerks and push jerks are two great jerk variations to increase leg drive, aggression, and overall jerk strength without having to end in the split position. For most split jerkers this will be  more challenging and less loading may be used, but power and push jerks can be a great way to increase stent, power, and boost your split jerk.

Push presses can also be used to train the legs and upper body in the drive phase of the split jerk, and have great application to the jerk as a whole, without needing to actually train the split jerk. 

Simply swapping in other jerk variations such as the ones above for days you would normally do split jerks is a great way to train the jerk, increase jerk strength and performance, and cut back on the amount of asymmetrical stances trained in a program.

Train Non-Skilled Movements with the Other Foot Forward

As mentioned above, it is not recommended to train the split jerk with your non-dominant leg (or whatever leg you normally split forward with) during heavy jerks, as this can lead to injury or in the very least be an inefficient way to train your top end jerk. If you are looking to increase your overall jerk performance, train so that your balance or stability in your non-trained stance is not a liability… train with your front lead leg.

If however, you are doing non skilled jerk work, like strict presses in the split stance, you can alternate lead legs since this is a low skill and low level accessory exercise for the jerk.

Perform Unilateral Accessory Exercises

This is the most effective way to address strength impanaces caused by split jerks, and should be already part of a robust weightlifting program. Adding unilateral movements into your program, such as; split squats, lunges, step ups, one arm push presses (dumbbells), and split stance pallof presses are just examples of exercise that can help increase strength, address stability, and reinforce proper coordination and movement under loads in less stable situations.

Ideally, these would be trained a few times a week, and done after your main Olympic lifts and strength training.

Final Thoughts

The split jerk will most likely create some imbalances, however most of them will be insufficient. The reality is that most sports have some sort of repetitive movement or stance that can create some sort of imbalance, however it is up to sound training programs to address these imbalances or in the very least not let them significantly impact performance (again, imbalances are not always bad, sometimes they are just inherent to the sport). 

If you are concerned with developing an imbalance due to split jerks, yet want to use them in training because you recognize they are necessary to the clean and jerk lift, try integrating the three methods discussed above into your training program.

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