“Grip the bar with a closed hand, but keep your arms relaxed.  Your elbows should point outward about 45 degrees from a straight-ahead orientation and should be located about halfway between perpendicular and parallel to the floor.”
~ Harvey Newton (Newton, Harvey. Explosive Lifting For Sports. Edited by Ed McNeely. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics, 2010. P.100)
After spending the last two days brushing the surface of grip for snatch and clean it only makes sense to finish the trifecta with optimal jerk grip. There’s a lot of opinions and a lot of difference when deciding on where to grab the bar for your jerk.
Things to consider are the width of your hands, elevation of the elbow in the rack position before you jerk, and how much hand should be around the bar or not around the bar. To be straightforward, the difference in opinion out there is vast and there are many world-renowned coaches who teach the jerk very differently. However in this post and for the purposes of those of you who read this blog I’m going to give you the most basic generic starting point for your jerk and tell you some of the options in some of the variables.
The first place to begin when considering the jerk is how wide you should grab the bar. For beginners it is wise to jerk from the same width as your clean. In the beginning phases of learning the lifts it takes away the complication of having to change the grip from the clean to the jerk. Furthermore, it promotes overall strength gain as you are end up doing the jerk from the same position that you would push press or press. However it should be noted that there is an advantage to widening out your grip. It’s basic physics, the wider your grip the less distance the bar has to travel to achieve an overhead position. However there is a downside.  The downside to a wider grip is that the lifter will decrease their overhead stability and ultimately make the jerk harder to hold. Lifters with weak overhead positions should be cautioned against widening their grip as it will make the jerk much harder to hold in position when waiting for the down signal. However if you feel pretty confident in your overhead strength this is certainly an option worth exploring in your more advanced lifters.
Wide Grip
The second thing to consider when teaching or adjusting your jerk is the height of the elbow in the rack position preceding the jerk. For years I jerked with my elbows as high as I could get them for fear that I would not have this ability to hold the bar in a strong position. I elevated my elbows so that I could create a shelf with my deltoids on which the bar could sit. However, after bombing in multiple competitions because of the jerk, Mike Burgener persuaded me to change my elbow elevation.  He moved my elbows to about 2 inches above perpendicular with the ground in order to give me more pressing power. To my surprise I found that I still had a shelf to sit the bar on. From this position I felt much stronger in driving under the bar had and was given much more explosiveness to the top of the jerk.  There are many lifters who are able to complete the jerk well with their elbows super elevated. The reality is though that the higher the elbow the less pressing power you’re able to apply to the bar. I recognize that the jerk is a leg exercise and not a shoulder exercise however the ability to push yourself underneath the bar is hugely advantageous and must be considered when deciding on elbow height. Dropping my elbows was one of the best things I ever did for my jerk and has given me much more confidence after a heavy clean.  My recommendation is that you only slightly elevate your elbows as this will allow you to get more hand on the bar (as will talk about shortly) and further allow you more speed into the split position or squat position depending on your jerk.
The last element to consider when adjusting or teaching the jerk is hand placement on the bar. In conjunction with elbow height I believe it is important to be able to get as much of your palm underneath the bar as possible. Again this allows for more pressing strength and ultimately allows for greater speed underneath the bar into the split position.  Remember the jerk is a explosive leg drive exercise. It is not primarily a pressing exercise.  If I want to increase my jerk, I typically front squat more. Shoulders serve only in allowing me to press myself underneath the bar, they serve very minimally in gaining bar height. However it is important to remember that he use of the shoulders increases speed under the bar and therefore the shoulders need to be recruited. The best way to recruit the deltoid is to allow for more pressing power by getting as much of the palm on the bar as possible. Jerking with the bar on your fingertips decreases any ability to drive yourself down into the split. Conversely, there is also a benefit to having your thumb around the bar.  While this is a hotly debated topic I think this is a no-brainer. Same as the bench press, having the thumb around the bar allows for more stability overhead and ultimately allows the lifter a greater chance of keeping the bar over the traps. Thumbs around the bar ultimately helps give you the ability to keep the bar back overhead.  Also, in the case that you push the bar out front, it may be the one thing that saves the jerk from missing forward.  Often you’ll see that lifters with their thumbs underneath the bar lose jerks forward with the bar moving away from them. Bottom-line thumb around the bar is just a more secure position overall.
The biggest advice I can give is if you are just starting to learn the clean and jerk is that it is to your advantage to leave your jerk grip in the same position and width as you clean grip. Focus on the mechanics of the dip and drive and the mechanics of footwork long before you worry about your grip.  As you get more proficient in the lifts and gain experience then try experimenting with width to see if that is of any benefit to you. Ultimately, grip plays an important role but only in so much as you’re able to use it. If you dip is bad or drive your drive weak or your footwork sloppy your grip means very little.