I don’t know about you, but for the longest time I couldn’t tell the difference between a push press and a jerk. When performed, both lifts look very similar. They both incorporate a leg drive, move quickly with the arm locking out overhead, and start from the racked position. So, what’s the difference? I’d like to take the mystery out of these lifts for you by explaining the technical differences between the two and how to work them into your program.
The Exercises Explained
Let’s start with the push press. The push press starts by holding the kettlebell in the racked position. You squat down about ¼ squat and immediately, and sometimes explosively, drive your hips forward and stand back up. As you are standing up, press the kettlebell straight up at the same time. Your legs and arm will be driving upward at the same time. Your hips will lock out before your elbow gets completely straight for a lock out. Continue to press up and lock out your elbow with the kettlebell overhead. Depending on your goals, you will either want to actively pull the kettlebell back down into the racked position, or let gravity take it down for you as you guide it back into the racked position. I’ll talk about which descent to use later in the article.
Figure 1: In the Push Press, the hips and legs lock out before the elbow does. Continue to press upward and lock elbow when KB is overhead.
Now here’s a description of the jerk. Hold a kettlebell in the racked position. Squat down ¼ squat and explosively stand back up. As soon as you start to stand back up, begin to press the kettlebell overhead, both actions at the same time. Now, is any of this sounding familiar? Here is where the jerk gets different. Instead of locking out your legs and hips and finishing the press, you will dip down slightly again and then drive your with your legs upward to help push up the kettlebell to the lock out position. You want to think about getting under the kettlebell, not pressing it up.
When performing the jerk you use your legs twice. Once to drive the kettlebell up from the racked position, and then again, slightly, to finish locking out the kettlebell overhead.
Figure 2: In the Jerk, the elbow locks out as you are dipping down into a slight squat. Note the lockout of elbow and the slight squat with knees and hips.
Differences and Similarities
Both lifts look very similar when performed and both start out from the racked position with a ¼ squat, but there are some big differences as well. The second dip in the jerk, right before lock out, is very slight. If you dip down too far on the second dip, you won’t have a nice fluid motion. With the jerk, your elbow locks out first, on the second dip, with your hips locking out last. When performing the push press your hips lock out first, and you complete the press by pushing the kettlebell up with your arm and shoulder.
The push press is a lot easier to learn. It isn’t as technical as the jerk. The push press also doesn’t take as much coordination as the jerk. The jerk is a great exercise for reasons I will explain later. I suggest learning the push press first, then work into learning the jerk. A couple of pointers to keep in mind for the jerk are:
- Practice jerks when your shoulders are fatigued.
- Use a heavier weight.
If your shoulders are fatigued and you are using a heavier weight, you will need to rely more on your legs and getting under the kettlebell to lock it out, instead of pressing it out with your arm and shoulder.
Figure 3: The Push Press and Jerk both start from the rack position with a ¼ squat.
“When do I use which exercise?”
Ok, now that you know the difference between the push press and the jerk you may be asking yourself, “When do I use which exercise?”
Well, it depends on your goals. Why are you working out? What are you trying to achieve?
Cardio? Strength? Strength endurance?
If cardio is your focus you can use either lift. Jerks may be more taxing on the lungs, but you can do a push press quickly and get the same effects. If you choose the push press, lower the kettlebell back into the racked position quickly, just like a jerk. Let gravity pull it down and just guide it downward under control. This technique will help speed the tempo of the lift for better cardio results. And also remember to keep your rest periods short.
If strength is your focus, then the push press is your best bet. You could use a push press to help you work into lifting a heavier weight. For example, if your goal is to military press the next size kettlebell, you can use the push press to help you to that goal. You may not be able to strict press it but you could probably push press it. You will begin to get stronger and have to use less and less of a leg drive to get the kettlebell up. Before you know it you will be pressing that heavier bell. For strength, be sure to use a slow negative down, using your lat to pull the kettlebell back down into the racked position.
For strength endurance, either the push press or jerk will work well. If I had to pick one for strength endurance I would pick the jerk. With the jerk you will be able to press a heavier weight more times than the push press. You may even have the ability to jerk a heavier weight more times than you can push press a lighter one.
The push press and jerk are both pressing movements. There are many ways to work one or both of these lifts into your routine. They are a nice change of pace from the military press and also work well in circuits. Now that you know the difference between the two, give them both a try!