Moving loads overhead is a necessary aspect of sports performance training, bodybuilding, and life.
While there are many ways to do this, two popular and efficient methods are the push jerk and the push press. Olympic weightlifters, CrossFitters, and fitness enthusiasts all can benefit from performing these movements, especially if they hold a firm understanding of the differences between both movements and how to perform these shoulder to overhead experiences.
So, what are the differences between push jerks and push presses? Push jerks involve explosively pushing the weight off the body with the legs and upper body while simultaneously rebending the knees and hips to position oneself underneath to receive the load overhead with extended elbows. The push press is a less explosive version of this, in which the load is pressed overhead using the legs and upper body, however, done so without rebending the knees and hips.
Let’s dive deeper to gain a better understanding of the movements, why they are used, and what makes them both different from one another. In doing so, we will discuss each movement in detail, outline how to perform them correctly, and breakdown the pros and cons of performing a push jerk vs a power jerk in training.
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What is a Push Jerk?
A push jerk a shoulder-to-overhead movement that entails moving a load from the shoulders (front rack) into the overhead position.
While similar to the push press, this movement requires greater amounts of power, timing, and technique as the lifter must first use the legs to drive the bar overhead (dip and drive phases of the movement) and then simultaneously rebend the lower body to position themselves underneath.
As the individual moves underneath the load, they aggressively lock out the elbows into full extension, and fully support the load overhead.
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What is a Push Press?
The start position of the push press is identical to the push jerk.
As the movement begins, the individual flexes their hips and knees to allow them to squat 3-6 inches and load the legs. This phase is called the dip phase and occurs in the push jerk as well.
Upon reaching the bottom of the small dip, the individual aggressively changes directions by driving the legs through the ground and the upper torso into the load. This creates a powerful upward force pressing into the load (this is called the drive phase).
The set-up, dip, and drive phases are identical in both the push jerk and push press.
Unlike the push jerk, however, the push press has the individual keep their knees and hips fully extended following the drive phase (rather than allowing rebending of the knees and hips as in the push jerk). In doing so, the individual is forced to use greater amounts of shoulder, triceps, and upper body strength to move the load overhead.
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Why Do Push Jerks and Push Presses?
Both the push jerk and the push press are efficient ways to place a load overhead. Both movements start out by resting a load (barbell, dumbbell, kettlebell, etc) on the anterior part of the shoulders. With the help of the lower body, the load is explosively pushed overhead using both the legs and upper body in one smooth motion.
For strength and muscle building purposes, both movements can be used to subject the individual to higher amounts of loading and increase stress in the shoulders, triceps, and upper body.
For individuals who partake in functional fitness competitions and training, both movements are a more efficient way to lift overhead as they allow the usage of the lower body to assist in the movement. In doing so, exercise capacity and efficiency are increased, often allowing for more total volume to be accomplished and at a faster rate.
Additionally, for Olympic weightlifting and strongman purposes, performing push jerks and push presses allow for greater loads to be placed overhead when compared to a strict, non-lower body assisted overhead movement. This is key as both sports rely on an individual’s ability to move heavy loads overhead.
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Push Jerk vs Push Press – 5 Differences
The push jerk and the push press are two movements that can build overhead strength and enhance athletic performance in strength and power sports. While they do provide benefits of muscle building and power enhancements, there are key differences between the push jerk and push press that coaches and athletes should be aware of, such as;
1. MUSCLES WORKED
The push jerk and the push press both train the shoulders, triceps, and upper back muscles.
That said, the push press is more of a strength dominant movement, heavily relying upon the strength of the shoulders, triceps, and upper chest to push the loads overhead (with some assistance from the lower body).
While the push jerk is also done in a similar manner as the push press, the lifter is able to rebend the knees and hips and drop beneath the barbell to place it overhead, minimizing the overall distance the load must travel.
Both movements can and will develop strength and power, however, it is important to note that the muscular demands upon the shoulders and upper body are slightly higher in the push press (due to a longer period under tension) than in the push jerk at relative loads.
Remember, how much you can do in one movement is not indicative of how much a specific muscle group is working. In this case, the push jerk does allow for greater loads to be placed overhead, but not because the upper body is more active but rather due to the greater reliance on the lower body and explosiveness.
2. LEVEL OF DIFFICULTY
Assuming an individual has been properly taught how to place loads overhead in a stable and safe positioning, the logical progression would be to then have them first perform the overhead press without the use of legs. From there, the lower body would be allowed to help, turning the movement into a push press.
The push jerk, while still a foundational movement in Olympic weightlifting training, is more complex of a movement than the push press primarily due to the timing and speed needed to execute the movement with precision.
The push press can be used to help a lifer develop stronger positions and fundamental overhead strength, while also helping them learn how to properly dip and drive with the legs to initiate the push jerk/push press.
3. MOVEMENT VELOCITY/POWER
Both movements have been shown to promote high amounts of force output and power, which can be very beneficial for Olympic weightlifters, sport athletes, and anyone looking to gain overall athleticism.
The push jerk and push press both require high amounts of power outputs. The triple extension (extension of the ankles, knees, and hips) is at the core of athletic performance and is primarily responsible for the explosiveness of both movements.
While these movements do have their differences, both are great ways to promote lower body explosiveness, improve vertical jump performance, and enhance overall athleticism.
Furthermore, research suggests that the jump squat and the push press have nearly identical power output readings, highlighting that the push press can be just as effective (if not more) as the jump squat and other plyometrics at increasing lower body power outputs while also increasing overhead strength (it’s a time-efficient win-win exercise).
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4. OLYMPIC WEIGHTLIFTING PROGRAMS
In the sport of Olympic weightlifting, both the push jerk and the push press are used within a sound training program, however only one of the movements is a movement that can be used within formal competition.
In Olympic weighting, a lifter must move a weight from the shoulders to the overhead position (following the clean) in one fluid movement, without pressing out the load overhead. By definition, this means that the athlete MUST jerk (push, power, or split) the weight overhead. If the individual uses the push press, the load will be pressed overhead with the elbows needing to fully extend overload, breaking the rules of a `good lift”.
While the push press cannot be used in competition, it is often used in training to build upper body strength, reinforce proper jerk technique, and help assist lifters who may struggle with overhead stability and strength in the jerk.
5. MOVEMENT EFFICIENCY
While both movements are more efficient at conserving energy and muscle fatigue than the standard strict overhead press or military press, the push jerk is far superior than the push press in this area.
Unlike the push press, the push jerk allows an individual to rebend their knees and hips to drop their body underneath the load, minimizing the overall distance the load
must travel. In doing so the individual can use less strength and power to move the load overhead and rely on the lower body to a higher degree (when compared to the push press).
In instances where an individual or athlete must move loads overhead repeatedly and/or for maximum weight, it is suggested to use the push jerk to maximize movement efficiency and increase overall loading capacities.
Weight Recommendations for Push Jerks and Push Presses
Both the push jerk and push press can be done using more weight than military press and/or strict overhead press movement. Due to the ability to use the lower body in an explosive manner, the weight moved is often much heavier, making this ideal for strength and power athletes.
Generally speaking, the push jerk is done with 10-20% greater loads than the push press, assuming push jerk technique is sufficient and the individual properly produces enough power and stability to receiving the loads locked out overhead (elbows extended).
When starting out, it is recommended to train the push jerk in the 3-5 rep range, with the push press either being trained in similar ranges or slightly higher (4-6 rep range). Both movements can be done to create high amounts of strength and power, and should (at first) not be trained in high repetitions to ensure proper technique and bar velocity.
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Who Should Not Do Push Jerks and Push Presses?
Both the push jerk and the push press are great movements to develop overhead strength, upper body power, and athleticism.
That said, these movements may not be ideal for individuals who have shoulder issues, lower back injury, and/or are unable to place a weight overhead under slow, controlled movements (such as a strict press).
Like any movement, with practice and smart programming, results and progress can be seen over time. If you experience injury or pain/discomfort when performing the movements, note that this is not normal and should not be occurring. If so, stop, ensure the proper technique is being used, and when needed have a fitness and/or health professional evaluate your movement and discomfort.
Both the push jerk and the push press are essential overhead movements for Olympic weightlifters and fitness enthusiasts. Both movements promote power production, increase overhead strength, and improve muscle growth of the shoulders, upper chest, and triceps.
While these two movements do have many similarities, the push jerk and push press are also very different.
The push jerk allows for an individual to rebend the knees and hips after triple extension of the lower body, minimizing the overall height at which the load must travel in order to become fully supported overhead. In doing so, the push jerk requires slightly less upper body strength and for that reason often allows for 10-20% greater loads (compared to the push press) being able to be placed overhead.
Both movements have their benefits, and for this reason, both can be used to develop upper body strength, power, and athletic performance.
About The Author
Mike holds a Master’s in Exercise Physiology and a Bachelor’s in Exercise Science. He’s a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS), USA Weightlifting Advanced Coach, and has over 10+ years of experience working with collegiate athletes, national level lifters, and beginners alike. Mike is Founder of J2FIT Strength and Conditioning, a growing global training company with gyms in New York City, Cincinnati, and online offering personal training, online custom coaching programs.
Mike has published over 500+ articles on premiere online media outlets like BarBend, BreakingMuscle, Men’s Health, and FitBob, covering his expertise of strength and conditioning, Olympic weightlifting, strength development, fitness, and sports nutrition.
In Mike’s spare time, he enjoys the outdoors, traveling the world, coaching, whiskey and craft beer, and spending time with his family and friends.