Push Jerk – CrossFit Exercise Guide with Photos and Instructions


Overview: CrossFit involves various functional exercises designed to increase strength and conditioning. The push jerk is a foundational movement that is highly effective at adding size and strength to the upper body while building explosive power. It’s a very common movement used in weightlifting and requires both technique and raw strength to perform it correctly. The push jerk is a popular exercise to implement into a CrossFit WOD (workout of the day) since it involves power that emanates from the shoulders and legs.

Muscle Targeted: The main muscles targeted when executing the push jerk include the quadriceps, deltoids, forearms, abdominals, triceps, calves, gluteus maximus, hamstrings and the hip flexors. However, most consider the deltoids (shoulder muscles) to be the primary muscle being engaged. During the push jerk, the shoulders perform the majority of the work with the legs helping to stabilize the body while providing a solid foundation. The deltoids are categorized into three groups which include the anterior, posterior and lateral (front, rear, middle). The anterior deltoid is found in front of the shoulder and its major function is to help you raise the arms above the head. It activates to help you lift your arm up. A concentric motion occurs when you push the weight up and it involves more muscle fibers in this phase (concentric). The lateral deltoid is situated on the side and upper part of the shoulder. It helps in lifting the barbell above the head. The posterior is found on the back side of the shoulder and helps with pulling the arms and weight back toward the body. The rotator cuff muscles, which include the infraspinatus, subscapularis and teres (minor and major), help to maintain a correct position of your shoulder during the pressing phase. As much as this movement targets the above mentioned muscles, it should be noted that with the energy (kinetic) originating at the legs and being transferred to the wrists, this results in a powerful resistance training exercise.

The Difference Between The Push Jerk and Shoulder Press
With the shoulder press, the grip on the barbell is more narrow when compared to the push jerk. This is because the goal is to put the forearms in a position that will give optimal leverage as opposed to the push jerk which aims at having an efficient force transfer from the knees and hips through the torso to the bar. The bar rests on your deltoids with the elbow in a forward position. There is no motion in the lower body when performing a shoulder press as compared to the push jerk which requires some lower body movement. In terms of the amount of weight lifted, more weight can be lifted using the push jerk versus the shoulder press but this is dependent on the strength of the hips and the shoulders. Some may have weak deltoids and a powerful hip drive while others will have very strong shoulders and weak hips.

Exercise Instructions: The push jerk should always be performed properly to avoid injury. The correct way is when the most efficient path is followed by the barbell which means the barbell should move in a perfectly vertical plane. The following steps should be followed when doing the push jerk:

  • Place the barbell in a rack position that is at a similar height as your collarbone and take a shoulder width stance with your feet.
  • Grip the barbell in a position that is located on the heel of your palms with your hands just outside the shoulders. Use an overhand grip on the barbell. This will be the starting position.
  • Slightly bend your knees a few inches while you dip down into a modified squat position.
  • Open the legs and hips while you drive up in an explosive motion to lift the bar into an overhead press position. Your arms should be perpendicular to the bar with your feet apart. Hold the barbell above your head with your arms extended. This is the top position of the push jerk.
  • Slowly lower the barbell back down in a controlled fashion to complete a full repetition.

Things To Avoid: Your safety is paramount when performing any type of exercise, and the push jerk is no exception. It’s critical to execute the push jerk correctly by avoiding some common mistakes:

  • Not allowing your lower body to reach full extension of the hips during the “drive” phase of the exercise.
  • Not keeping your feet flat on the ground throughout the entire range of motion. This can cause you to lose balance.
  • Using a weight that is too heavy.
  • Failure to fully extend the arms when you press the barbell over your head.

Reps and Sets: It is recommended for beginners to get assistance by a certified CrossFit instructor before attempting the push jerk exercise. This is a challenging movement and not executing it properly could result in an injury. Once the movement can easily be performed with the correct technique, beginners can start with 2-3 sets of 10-12 repetitions. More advanced athletes can perform the push jerk with sets of 4-5 using a rep range of 8-10 for the best results.

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