I used to hardly ever miss jerks. If I could clean it, then by golly I could jerk it.
That was back a couple years ago when I focused a lot more on “crossfit.” Cleans used to be my limiting factor in the clean & jerk, but it was because I didn’t have a strong enough pull to get the bar on my shoulders, not necessarily because I couldn’t “squat” it.
To achieve higher levels of anything, you really can’t just focus on improving everything equally across the board. You have to be willing to pick your battles and spend less time working on your strengths and really hone in on your weaknesses.
First step is being aware of what your weak points actually are though.
Fast forward to this past year – I placed a lot more focus on developing my pulling strength while also improving my squat numbers so I could get under those cleans…because again, if I could clean it, then I would be 98% sure I could jerk it.
That is, until the ability of my cleans and pulls actually caught up to my jerk ability…and even surpassed it. I started missing jerks left and right or didn’t feel as stable as I normally did when jerking overhead. In the past, if I had a new clean PR, my mind would think “yes! I cleaned it and I’m totally nailing this jerk). But now, I started to actually fear I would miss the jerk after cleaning it – and that mentally probably caused me to also miss a lot of jerks as well.
Yes, it turns out I focused so much on developing my other weaknesses and left my “strength” aside that the thing that used to be my strength now turned into my limiting factor.
What a bunch of jerks.
Figuring out How to Tackle Weaknesses
How do you begin to assess what your weaknesses really are and why they are weaknesses? Well, you might start by asking yourself these questions (I certainly did):
1. Do you have a particular movement or moment where you often question your ability to actually make the lift (do you fear it more than others?)
Once I started fearing that I would miss the jerk once I cleaned it, I knew that it was an area I had been lacking focus in. It wasn’t that I was “avoiding” it, but simply I had chosen to place my focus on developing other things until they caught up to my jerking ability. To continue growing, I had to re-shift my focus back to other areas.
2. Is there an area of your training that you have been focusing less on because you think you’ve been stronger at it, or it doesn’t feel as “important” anymore…and perhaps that lack of focus is causing loss of strength in that area?
Perhaps my lack of jerk strength wasn’t actually due to the fact that I wasn’t “jerking” enough or doing enough jerk-related exercises.
I think a lot of it had to do with lack of gymnastic focus.
I noted that I hadn’t been doing as much gymnastic or upper body work since I focused more on weightlifting and less on crossfit stuff. I wasn’t doing nearly as many pullups, toes-to-bar, muscle ups, push-ups, ring dips, handstand walks, lots of reps of shoulder-to-overhead, or the like as I was in the past when I was doing crossfit workouts almost everyday…and when my jerks were much more confident. I’m pretty sure that because my training had been lacking in those areas within the past year (whereas before I incorporated them a lot more into my workouts), that there was some upper body structural strength that I had lost that wasn’t there to help stabilize heavy jerks anymore.
I started incorporating some more gymnastic work a couple times a week to get that back.
3. How do your stats look and how do YOU look compared to others of similar goals and ability?
I video myself A LOT (if you don’t know already) – and why? Because I am very visual when it comes to learning.
(also because I am self-coached most days of the week).
I can certainly try to “feel” something when a coach tells me, but I also like to see what I look like from an outside perspective…and I compare that to what other lifters of my weight-class and potential ability also look like when they lift to see what I need to work on. If you’ve been heavily reliant on taking cues from how everyone else sees you move but you haven’t actually seen yourself move, it might be an interesting idea just to grab a video every now and then because you will learn an incredible amount from yourself just by seeing how your body interacts with space as you’re lifting or doing a movement.
What you feel and what you see of yourself during that moment can be totally different sensations.
Just by seeing how I move, I realize “wow, my front leg doesn’t actually go out as far as it feels like I do in the jerk” or “I come forward a lot more than I thought I did on the dip”.
4. What’s your body type? Do you have longer or shorter limbs compared to others your height, and how does that affect your lifting mechanics?
Physics. If you haven’t thought of this already, you should probably consider that a movement might feel more difficult to you because of your body’s construction. If you have longer legs then pulling or even squatting can be tricky. If you have longer arms in comparison to your torso, then locking out lifts overhead will be more of a challenge because it’s a longer distance the bar needs to travel (or longer levers to get into place to lock out that jerk or snatch).
These areas of disadvantage should always be an area of focus for you because they will always be slight disadvantages in the eyes of physics. You can’t really make your arms or legs shorter but you can modify your stance, increase your mobility, increase your speed, coordination and strength.
5. What are you *reaaaally* good at? OK, time to set that aside for now.
If you have a pretty big weakness that you need to improve, you really need to put a lot more of your energy towards developing that. Any effort you put towards any of your other strengths or areas will always take away from what you can put towards your weakness.
If I wanted to place a lot of focus on my jerk, then I probably couldn’t do too many excessive heavy clean pulls or focus too much on squats since my muscles would be tired after doing those movements and couldn’t be used as effectively to really focus on developing jerks. I wanted to be primed and at my best for jerk and overhead sessions and switch everything else to “maintenance” mode if that wasn’t my focus for the cycle.
On a bigger picture note – when I decided to pursue weightlifting full time, I had to drop any “running” or crossfit because I needed to develop lifting strength – and the type of energy I would use and muscle fiber type I would develop through running and metabolic conditioning would actually be against what I was trying to develop.
Now, I looooove running and I also wish I could do some of those crossfit workouts during class that I coach to our members – but I have to tame myself. You’ve got to tame yourself and stay away from those things you love and are good at (for just a little bit of time) to become better at the things that are holding you back.
So now after focusing on a mini-cycle of jerk, overhead strength and more gymnastic strength, I’m proud to say my jerk has caught up with my cleans now! I still want to get to the point where I’m 100% confident I’ll make the jerk – but perhaps a lot of that is mental limitation and not just physical limitation.