Mandatory Functional Shoulder Workout

For functional fitness, learn how to do the barbell push jerk.

Lara McGlashan MFA CPT | March 12, 2017

Shoulders are one of your most important joints, and just about every upper-body strength move engages them to an extent. They’re also integral in sports. 

Developing explosive power and strength in your shoulders and traps using compound moves such as the push jerk is imperative for functional conditioning and could mean the difference between winning the game and going home empty-handed.

Barbell Push Jerk

  • Take a hip-width stance with your feet rotated outward slightly, as with a squat.  This helps maintain a stacked spine and solid core to improve force while protecting your back.
  • Load a barbell with a moderately heavy weight, and hold it across your front delts and clavicle, shoulder blades retracted, chin drawn back. This is the ideal position for the bar to travel straight upward without clipping your chin or nose.
  • Hold the bar just outside your shoulders and lift your elbows. The exact degree of the lift will vary from person to person as mobility dictates; it should be greater than perpendicular but less than parallel to the floor.
  • Wrap your thumb around the bar for a more stable grip. 
  • When you’re ready to perform the lift, take a large breath in to stabilize your spine and help transfer the energy of your legs through your torso to the barbell. 
  • Flex your knees and hips, keeping your feet flat and pushing your knees outward slightly to travel over your toes, dropping down quickly a couple of inches for the dip.
  • During the dip, your torso should stay erect and your weight should be in your heels. Don’t lean forward.
  • The dip is brief — drop down, then immediately and powerfully extend your knees, ankles and hips to direct the force straight upward. You may even come up onto your toes if you’re generating enough power; just avoid leaning forward.
  • When done correctly, the barbell should shoot up off your shoulders and become momentarily weightless. 
  • During this weightless phase, aggressively drop underneath the bar by hopping your feet apart about a foot and punching your arms straight up overhead to full extension.
  • At the top, the bar should be directly above or slightly behind your ears when viewed from the side. This protects your shoulders and back.
  • Avoid arching your back as you stabilize the load overhead, then step your feet back together before lowering the bar to midthigh and then to the floor with control.

Troubleshooting 

  • If your bar never feels “weightless,” you might be too loose in your core. Brace your abs before initiating the dip. 
  • If you can’t lift your elbows forward properly, work on thoracic mobility with some dynamic stretching beforehand, focusing on your triceps and lats.

Note: If the bar travels forward as you drive up, you’re probably on your toes. Correct your body position to prevent this.


About the Author

Lara McGlashan MFA CPT

Oxygen Fitness Editor Lara McGlashan has more than 15 years of experience as a writer and editor, who specializes in health, fitness, and nutrition. 

Lara is an ACE-certified personal trainer and fitness consultant. Her sports background includes skiing, snowboarding, flying trapeze, yoga, competitive beach volleyball, dance, mountain biking, hiking and running, to name a few endeavors. She is currently exploring the world of CrossFit in her home base of Connecticut, where she lives with her 2-year-old son, Alex.

You can follow her on Facebook at LaraFitnessEditor.