The strength of the RKC is its reliance on the development of the six fundamental techniques that are taught as part of the baseline RKC curriculum: the Swing, Clean, Front Squat, Press, Snatch, and Turkish Get-Up. These foundational techniques give the trainer and the athlete a solid foundation to start with and enough variety in movement and skills mastery to keep them busy for years to come. But is there a missing link? Is a critical technique excluded that would round out the six and make it a lucky seven? I think the missing link would be the Kettlebell Jerk and in the following paragraph’s I’ll try to explain to you my reasoning.
BTW – the Kettlebell Jerk is part of the RKC II curriculum so fear not—it’s part of the program!
What is the Kettlebell Jerk?
The Jerk, by extension, is within the same family as all of the other overhead techniques that can be performed with the Kettlebell. Meaning that it is related to the Press and Snatch – at least it’s a distant cousin of both. In reality it is part of the loading progression to getting heavy weights overhead; starting with the Press, moving on to the Push Press, and then ending with the Jerk. The Jerk isn’t as “ballistic” as the Snatch, but its close; and it’s not as “grinding” as the press, because it shouldn’t be. This means that the carryover skills that you will develop when practicing the Jerk will benefit both sides of the movement coin.
The Jerk is comprised of the “Dip and Drive” of the Push Press followed by a soft lockout in a high Overhead Squat or high Hip Hinge. The key behind having success with the Jerk is in how well you can translate the energy behind the Dip and Drive into the Kettlebell and get it moving overhead. If your Dip and Drive isn’t strong enough to get the Kettlebell to “float” then you won’t be able to get under the it and “catch” it with a locked out arm. Now if your Dip and Drive really is strong enough to “float” the kettlebell, but your initial racked position is weak or loose, then there’s no way you’ll get it overhead or you’ll struggle to press it out. Your racked position has to keep the Kettlebell in the perfect alignment with the torso and legs to accept the power from the Dip and Drive, and the elbows have to be tight against the body and ready to transition from holding to driving upward once the legs have done their job. So you might say that your Jerk depends on fast knees and tight elbows.
So far we’ve talked about transferring energy from the lower body to the upper body—now we need to talk about what the lower body is doing to set up the energy transfer. First thing you need to think about is your stance width or how far apart your feet are. Many people take a wide stance assuming that if their feet are far apart they will get more power. Well in this case it just doesn’t work that way. Remember, we are trying to create a ballistic transfer of energy from your legs to the Kettlebell. To do that you want to have a shoulder-width stance (be realistic about how wide your shoulders are) that will allow you to drive hard off the ground and get a maximum contraction of the glutes. If your starting stance for the Jerk is too wide then you won’t get maximum glute contraction and you’ll have to make up the difference somewhere else. So, after you’ve got the perfect stance you need to make sure that you Dip doesn’t go too deep. The Dip should be a quick and forceful bending of the knees (not the hips) that lets you get underneath the Kettlebell and start driving it upwards. The Drive starts immediately after the Dip; don’t hesitate – explode! Once you starting driving off of the ground through the knees you need to make sure that you follow all of the way through to engage the glutes and transfer the energy into the torso.
Now that your Dip and Drive are in place and working the way you want them to, you still don’t have a Jerk yet. What you’ve got is the underpinnings for a decent Push Press. Now you have to master the most difficult part of the Jerk: the Drop. This seems to be the most common area of confusion and difficulty for most athletes when in actuality it should be the easiest.
Then why is it so hard for most people? All you have to do is look back at their Dip and Drive. If they aren’t fully transferring the energy generated by the Drive into the torso, thereby allowing the Kettlebell to float, then they are going to be stuck under the Kettlebell and won’t be able to drop underneath to catch it. Remember: you can’t effectively drop out from under the Kettlebell if you are still loaded with it. You’ve got to off-load the kettlebell and then quickly drop or hinge out underneath it.
If all of the elements described above line up, then the Kettlebell will be caught in the overhead position with a locked elbow but a “soft arm.” What do I mean by a “soft arm?” It means that you shouldn’t be punching through the lockout with any more force than what’s needed to brace the arm for receiving the load from the Kettlebell.
Better than the Kettlebell Snatch?
Is the Jerk (or the Clean and Jerk to be specific) better than the Snatch? It could be—it just depends on the person and what they are training for. The Snatch, when executed properly, trains a laundry list of qualities that will benefit the athlete. It trains maximizing the Backswing, taming the arc, transitioning from pulling to punching, the overhead lockout position and the commensurate mobility required to attain it, maximizing the trajectory of the Kettlebell throughout the movement, and other important qualities. The Jerk, also when executed properly, trains a similar list of qualities. Foremost are translating energy/motion from the legs to the torso, translating energy/motion from the torso to the arm via the elbow, perception of movement and split-second timing while under load, transitioning from driving to catching, and anticipating load and velocity while in motion. Sounds pretty complex and it is; but the work is worth it once you get the proper timing and sequencing down.
So, it looks like they are both pretty beneficial—so which one comes out on top? Well if you are looking for a great way to build up your grip and develop explosive power from ground to sky then the Snatch will fit the bill. It’s also a great way to build up some serious anaerobic endurance. Don’t believe me? Ask someone who trains for the RKC Snatch Test what it feels like around minute four. Oh I’m sorry, they can’t talk right now, they’re gasping for air!
In regards to the Jerk, I think it comes out on top for someone who is trying to move a near one-arm maximum load in a ballistic manner and learn how to deal with it in the overhead lockout. For the combat athlete it is a great technique to develop a more intimate appreciation for how to apply maximum force to any upper body striking technique and how to conserve energy until the very last millisecond. Remember that time under tension is how you get strong and the Jerk will allow you to put a greater load overhead and train you to manage the position as well.
Training the Jerk will benefit anyone who has mastered the “Big Six” Kettlebell techniques already and are ready for a challenge that will allow them to develop the strength to manage a heavier load overhead. While it is a simple technique, it is not easy to master—and success with it will be dependent on not only have a strong Press and Push Press but also a relatively high degree of physical awareness and how to manage quick height transitions. If you are truly interested in learning how to perform the Jerk, I strongly suggest you find an RKC that can help you fine-tune all of the precursors to this dynamic, fun and positively challenging technique.