The Push Jerk
Learning the progression of lifts that moves from the shoulder press to the push press to the push jerk has long been a CrossFit staple. This progression offers the opportunity to acquire some essential motor recruitment patterns found in sport and life (functionality) while greatly improving strength in the “power zone” and upper body. In terms of power zone and functional recruitment patterns, the push press and push jerk have no peer among other presses such as the “king” of upper-body lifts, the bench press. As the athlete moves from shoulder press to push press to push jerk, the importance of core-to-extremity muscle recruitment is learned and reinforced. This concept alone would justify the practice and training of these lifts. Core-to-extremity muscular recruitment is foundational to the effective and efficient performance of the athletic movement.
The most common errors in punching, jumping, throwing, and a multitude of other athletic movements typically express themselves as a violation of this concept.
Because good athletic movement begins at the core and radiates to the extremities, core strength is absolutely essential to athletic success. The region of the body from which these movements emanate, the core, is often referred to as the “power zone.” The muscle groups comprising the “power zone” include the hip flexors, hip extensors (glutes and hams), spinal erectors, and quadriceps.
These lifts are enormous aids to developing the power zone. Additionally, the advanced elements of the progression, the push press and jerk, train for and develop power and speed. Power and speed are “king” in sports performance.
The coupling force with velocity is the very essence of power and speed. Some of our favorite and most developmental lifts lack this quality. The push press and jerk are performed explosively–that is the hallmark of speed and power training.
Finally, mastering this progression gives an ideal opportunity to detect and eliminate a postural/mechanical fault that plagues more athletes than not–the pelvis “chasing” the leg during hip flexion (Figure 4). This fault needs to be searched out and destroyed. The push press performed under great stress is the perfect tool to conjure up this performance wrecker so it can be eliminated.
The Role of the Abs in the Overhead Lifts
Athletically, the abdominals’ primary role is midline stabilization, not trunk flexion. They are critical to swimming, running, cycling, and jumping, but never is their stabilizing role more critical than when attempting to drive loads overhead, and, of course, the heavier the load, the more critical the abs’ role becomes. We train our athletes to think of every exercise as an ab exercise but in the overhead lifts it is absolutely essential to do so. It is easy to see when an athlete is not sufficiently engaging the abs in an overhead press—the body arches so as to push the hips, pelvis, and stomach ahead of the bar. Constant vigilance is required of every lifter to prevent and correct this postural deformation.
From shoulder press to push jerk the movements become increasingly more athletic, functional, and suited to heavier loads. The progression also increasingly relies on the power zone. In the shoulder press, the power zone is used for stabilization only. In the push press, the power zone provides not only stability but also the primary impetus in both the dip and drive. In the push jerk the power zone is called on for the dip, drive, second dip, and squat. The role of the hip is increased in each exercise.
With the push press you will be able to drive overhead as much as 30 percent more weight than with the shoulder press. The push jerk will allow you to drive as much as 30 percent more overhead than you would with the push press.
In effect, the hip is increasingly recruited through the progression of lifts to assist the arms and shoulders in raising loads overhead. After mastering the push jerk you will find that it will unconsciously displace the push press as your method of choice when going overhead.
The second dip on the push jerk will become lower and lower as you both master the technique and increase the load. At some point in your development, the loads will become so substantial that the upper body cannot contribute but a fraction to the movement, at which point the catch becomes very low, and an increasing amount of the lift is accomplished by the overhead squat.
On both the push press and jerk, the “dip” is critical to the entire movement. The stomach is held very tightly and the resultant turnaround from dip to drive is sudden, explosive, and violent.
SET-UP: The set-up is the same as the shoulder press and push press. Take the bar from supports or clean to a racked position. The bar sits on the shoulders with the grip slightly wider than shoulder-width. The elbows are below and in front of the bar. The stance is approximately hip-width.
DIP: The dip is identical to the push press.
DRIVE: The drive is identical to the push press.
PRESS UNDER: This time instead of just pressing, you press and dip a second time simultaneously, catching the bar in a partial squat with the arms fully extended overhead.
FINISH: Stand to fully erect with bar directly overhead, identical to the finish position in the push press and shoulder press.
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