The Squat Jerk: What does it take?

Written by Dave Spitz

Leg strength, leg strength, leg strength... and great shoulder mobility and terrific overall stability.  These three things are required for anyone who looks to compete in Olympic weightlifting using the Squat Jerk technique. What the Squat Jerk may remove in technical complexity (compared to the more common Split Jerk), it more than makes up for in brute strength and physical requirements. If you are a coach who is wondering if your athlete should use this in competition, in our experience these athletes are few and far between.  You are looking at a 3 - 3.5 : 1 Back Squat to Body Weight Ratio for the most effective Squat Jerkers, and that level of strength is very hard to find. 

Taken out of a competition context however, the Squat Jerk and other close grip overhead accessory movements are excellent for building mobility and stability in your athletes. Variations of the Squat Jerk should be included in a number of your training cycles throughout the year and we prescribe several variations across all of our online programs (not just with Olympic weightlifters) and have seen terrific results in strength, mobility and stability.

An interview with Devin Koyama (69kg), who uses the Squat Jerk Technique and is a member of the California Strength Team.

Q. Why do you choose to use the Squat Jerk technique? 

It feels much more natural and fluid to me. Dave has never been against me choosing to use it for my technique because he has a theory that this technique could be the direction that weightlifting goes in the future. There used to be Split Snatch, Split Clean; now they've both turned into a squat. Maybe the Jerk will follow the same evolution...? Also, I really enjoy the energy and "awe" it can bring to people watching. It's awesome to be able to give everybody around you a little more energy after grinding out a tough Squat Jerk.. That's really why I do it. 

Q. What is the toughest part about using that technique?

Being consistent; Squat Jerks have a very small margin for error. Compared to a Split - where it is easier to save a weight either a little in front or behind - Squat Jerks are make or miss and that can definitely be frustrating at times. 

Q. What are your current PR’s? Do you have a PR with split jerk? If so, which one is higher?

PR Split Jerk: 85kg vs. PR Squat Jerk: 140kg

My results are a little skewed because I never dedicated more than a couple of months to the Split Jerk and that was many years ago with minimal training.  I switched to Squat Jerk when I first came to California Strength in the Fall of 2014. I had been away from any barbell movements and I thought Squat Jerks looked cool so I tried it and it felt much more natural and smooth for me right away. 
Here are my PR's: PR Split Jerk: 85kg vs. PR Squat Jerk: 140kg

Q. If you had to break down the Squat Jerk from a coaches’ point of view, what are three things to focus on that helped you and that you would share with someone who is just learning?

1. Balance/Stability
Being able to find where you feel most balanced and stable is critical. Somewhere along the arch/midfoot is where it should be for most people.. It is all individual though so go by feel. Experiment where you feel the weight during the dip and drive and adjust to what makes you move with the most efficiency. From there work on keeping the core rigid to provide a stable platform for your shoulders and keep your hips and rib cage connected in a straight line. If you find yourself with a hyper-extended lumbar, work on keeping your lower abdominals activated throughout the entire movement.
2. Timing
When the weight goes from your shoulders to being received overhead in a squat, if your timing is off then you will have a soft lockout. Perfect timing is when your arms are completely locked out as soon as the bar stops ascending and before it begins to descend. Cue your feet and elbows to achieve their ending positions at the same time.
3. Mobility
This might seem fairly obvious and is without a doubt one of the major limiting factors as to why a recreational lifter cannot achieve success with the Squat Jerk technique. Being able to get into difficult (for untrained individuals) positions while maintaining stability overhead is the essence of a Squat Jerk and with that you should never sacrifice stability due to compromised mobility. That can lead to injuries and ultimately keep you from reaching your goals. Take your time and work on the mobility first especially in the shoulder, hip, thoracic, and ankles. Improved mobility over time will allow you to move more fluidly and you will be able to demonstrate your full potential.

Q. Lastly, are there any specific mobility exercises that you would recommend to help someone who is learning to Squat Jerk?

Any exercises that would help to open the shoulders or thoracic spine. Stretching, foam rolling and using the lacrosse ball on any tight area of the upper back, shoulders and chest can help to free some locked down tissue. Exercises with the bar such as the Sots press, clean grip over head squats while pausing at the bottom can also help you to make huge strides and can be scaled to just the bar or a PVC Pipe for beginners.
Every athlete is different these are just general recommendations and everyone has their own individual mobility restrictions. So just work your weakest link. Take what you need and get rid of what you don't. Don't over complicate it to the point it is hard to maintain that pace or level of adherence.


Please continue to follow Devin's progress on Instagram @devinkoyama

Devin is one of California Strength's featured athletes on the California Strength Youtube Channel. Be sure to subscribe and see him in action!