Push Jerk: Benefits, Muscles Worked, and More

published by: Debbie Luna
Last Updated:
November 28, 2022

In contrast to workouts that focus on isolating a single muscle group, compound exercises have seen a rise in popularity over the past few years. Workouts that utilize a weighted barbell to activate multiple muscle groups at the same time, such as the push jerk, are examples of the kinds of exercises that fall under this category.

As a compound exercise, the push jerk requires the work of multiple muscle groups, including the triceps, core, glutes, quads, hamstrings, and calves. Working all these muscles may lead to an improvement in explosive power and an increase in muscle size and strength, among other benefits. Furthermore, performing the push jerk may prepare the body for other Olympic lifts.

A weighted barbell is the main piece of equipment used in executing a push jerk, and as with other exercises that employ the use of this equipment, caution must be taken so as not to cause injury.

What is a Push Jerk?

The push jerk is a compound exercise that requires a weighted barbell to be lifted overhead in an explosive manner, aided by a sudden dip in the lower body so that the leg muscles take the brunt of the effort to raise the load.

barbell jerk

Often seen in the Olympic weightlifting scene, push jerks utilize explosive power to lift the weight overhead. This easily translates to a plethora of activities, such as jumping, sprinting, or kicking, that could benefit athletes.

In order to drive the bar upward from the shoulders while moving the body beneath, the lifter must rapidly and aggressively flex and then extend their hips and knees to push the weight of the body. This allows the lifter to position the body below the bar and accept the weight with the elbow extended.

How to Perform a Push Jerk

Push jerks may be performed with the assistance of a power or a squat rack or from the floor by lifting the weight with a hang clean or a power clean. 

To start, stand in front of a barbell loaded with the desired plates on a rack at the ideal height, just below the shoulders. Un-rack the barbell by placing the hands under the bar, spaced slightly wider than shoulder-width apart.

barbell push jerk muscles

Grab the bar with the palms facing upward, pointing the elbows slightly forward so that they are somewhat in front of the bar. Push the chest out without over-extending the spine so that the bar rests on the upper chest, in front of the shoulders.

Take a few steps backward after unracking the barbell. Maintain an upright posture, with the feet slightly turned out and spaced around shoulder-width apart. 

Initiate a dip by flexing at the hips and knees while keeping the torso upright, lowering the bar just a couple of inches. The hips should remain in line with the shoulders rather than sticking backward.

Extend the hips and legs in an explosive manner, allowing the momentum from the legs to raise the bar overhead. Simultaneously, rapidly position yourself beneath the bar as it rises. The neck is extended to allow the bar to pass in front of the head.

The weight is caught in a partial squat position, and the elbows are locked to hold the bar overhead. The barbell should be held aloft by the shoulders and upper back. The hips should be directly over your shoulders.

Secure balance by distributing the weight evenly on the feet before recovering into a standing posture with the bar remaining above. Stand tall to complete the movement while keeping a solid upper-body stance. Reset for the next exercise by lowering the barbell to the shoulders.

Muscles Worked in a Push Jerk

The push jerk exercise works different muscles spread out over the entire body to varying degrees. Even muscles that are not thought to be the main sources of force are engaged to provide balance and stability.

The main muscle groups involved are the hamstrings, the gluteus maximus, and the quadriceps femoris. These muscles generate the most force to create momentum enough to propel the bar upwards.

It also involves the deltoids, pectoralis minor and major, and triceps brachii. These muscles work to transition the bar overhead and must be of sufficient strength to hold it there through the duration of the exercise. 

Additionally, the core and erector muscles are among the muscles that are engaged and work to stabilize the trunk. These muscles work throughout the lift to keep the trunk upright and the midsection braced to avoid serious injury.

Benefits of the Push Jerk

Preparation for Other Olympic Lifts

The push jerk is one type of Olympic lift. Because this workout strengthens multiple muscle groups in both the lower and upper body, it becomes useful in training for other Olympic lifts, such as the power clean, among others.

Increases Muscle Hypertrophy and Strength

The major kind of exercise intervention that is used to build strength and encourage muscular growth is known as resistance training, an example of which is the push jerk. As with other types of resistance training exercises, the push jerk is very effective in producing the aforementioned benefits. Additionally, because this activity focuses on strengthening the upper back and shoulders, a better posture is also achieved with the push jerk.

A systematic review of advanced resistance training techniques and methods found that increasing muscle mass, a consequence of performing the push jerk, is one of the most important parts of conditioning for many sports and even activities of daily life. This is because an increase in muscle cross-sectional area is linked to an increase in muscle strength.

Increases Explosive Power

Because it engages all of the body's major muscle groups simultaneously—pushing, lifting, and lowering the barbell—the push jerk is sometimes referred to as a "total-body" exercise. When doing the push-jerk, one must possess power even though strength is not the only factor that determines whether or not the motions are completed successfully.

The push jerk is a compound movement that calls for a certain level of mobility, coordination, and strength to do it effectively. It requires coordination between a wide variety of muscle groups as well as the joints in the body. Any muscular imbalances that may be present within the body might be corrected to some degree by engaging in this form of exercise.

Enhances Core Strength and Stability

When performing a maneuver such as a push jerk, maintaining balance is of the utmost importance. This is because carrying a barbell properly and securely on the shoulders and over the head requires balance and stability. Additionally, exercises that focus only on balance may assist in the improvement of muscle coordination.

In the execution of the push jerk, core strength is important not only for maintaining stability at the end of the range of motion but also for maintaining stability while the bar is moved from the racked position to the position over the head.

Improves Cardiovascular Endurance

The heart rate will increase as a result of the push jerk exercise since it uses almost all of the muscles in the body. This will have an effect on one's cardiovascular endurance, similar to that of doing aerobic workouts. Furthermore, the push jerk not only has an effect on aerobic endurance but also on anaerobic endurance because anaerobic endurance is improved by intense bursts of physical activity performed within a brief time frame.

Important Techniques to Employ

Setting at Shoulder Level

Before starting the workout, it is better to set up the barbell on a j-hook at an appropriate height, specifically just below shoulder height. This enables one to effortlessly remove the barbells from the hooks and then reattach the barbells to the hooks again. By doing away with the difficulty of putting the barbells on and off the hooks, the possibility of imbalances, which may lead to injuries, is reduced.

Wider than Shoulder-Width Grip

Grasp the barbell at a distance that is slightly wider than shoulder-width to get the ideal grip on the bar. This will allow one to have the least degree of difficulty in lifting the bar up and locking the elbows during the last lift of the workout. Because of this distance, a smooth extension of the arms is possible, and it is more comfortable to retain the weight overhead with a wider grip compared to a narrow one.

Keep the Core and Gluteal Muscles Engaged

Throughout the process of the whole exercise, it is important to keep the core and the gluteal muscles engaged. This is to avoid losing balance, especially during the phase of the workout where there is a need to dip down to go under the barbell. Keeping these muscles engaged also helps in maintaining an aligned posture, eliminating the occurrence of a rounded back or an arched back.

Look in front

It is common for most lifters to look down on the ground while doing exercises, especially those that require a load to be lifted. Positioning the head down is incorrect as this stretches the upper back muscles as the head is pulled downwards. Pulling the upper back muscles will cause the lifter to get thrown out of position and, as a result, may lead to imbalance or improper posture. Thus, it is important to look straight ahead to keep the body in proper alignment. 

Final Thoughts

The push jerk is an excellent workout to strengthen both the upper and lower body muscles. It also improves the explosive power of the leg muscles, especially the quads and hips. Apart from this, the push jerk is also done in preparation for other Olympic lifts and can also be a good functional exercise by building strong and mobile shoulders for overhead lifts in daily activities.

However, the push jerk can be a dangerous exercise when a lifter is not familiar with the proper techniques that should be used. So, when doing this exercise, it's important to be careful and always use the right techniques to keep oneself safe. 

References:

1. Krzysztofik M, Wilk M, Wojdała G, Gołaś A. Maximizing Muscle Hypertrophy: A Systematic Review of Advanced Resistance Training Techniques and Methods. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2019;16(24):4897. Published 2019 Dec 4. doi:10.3390/ijerph16244897

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.
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