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Squat-Jerks for Explosive Power and a Great Full-Body Workout

July 2, 2002 09:47 AM

Squat-Jerks for Explosive Power and a Great Full-Body Workout

By George Nolly, RKC, a.k.a. Comrade Yuri

I do most of my kettlebell work in my back yard. This is also home to my best friend Rocky, a shephard/akita mix who loves to get up close and personal with me when I'm in his territory. (That probably says worlds about the state of my interpersonal relationships.) Early into my training, after a few very close calls, I realized that swings and snatches just wouldn't work - even a big dog like Rocky couldn't take getting hit in the head with a 53- or 72-pounder. I took one of my kettlebells to the exercise room where I work, so I could practice swings and snatches at lunchtime, and decided to improvise a new total-body exercise for my back yard workouts.

After some experimentation I came upon what I term the squat-jerk. I have found this to be effective for working virtually every major muscle group in the body, while helping to develop the explosive strength I was seeking.

To perform the exercise, clean a kettlebell to your chest, then slowly go down into a deep squat. Pressurize your abdomen and tighten your abs and glutes. Now explosively stand up as fast as you can and let momentum carry the kettlebell up to full arm extension overhead. Lower the kettlebell back to your chest by letting your arm relax and absorb the shock with a knee dip. Squat down and perform another rep. As you progress through a high-rep set, you will find that you will need a knee dip to be able to catch the weight at full arm extension. I think it's important to minimize triceps involvement to get the full benefit of a high rep set. We don't want this to degenerate into a push-press or we will have defeated the objective of developing explosive power. The 'bell should float up with no triceps involvement.

To help keep me honest, I pre-tire my triceps before doing the squat-jerk. I've found that ten sets of 5 reps 1-arm military press fills the bill nicely. I do two sets of 5 reps, alternating arms, then rest briefly and perform another two sets until I've completed 50 presses with each arm. About that time my triceps are toast. Now I CAN'T cheat by push-pressing even if I wanted to! Before my arms can recover, I go into my squat-jerk routine.

I like to perform the exercise with one kettlebell because the load imbalance helps to develop core and stabilizer muscles, but I think using two kettlebells would probably be even better if your primary goal is maximizing explosive power. Another variation, which I can't yet manage, would be to keep the 'bell overhead while squatting down for the next rep. Now when you absorb the shock of dropping the 'bell back to your chest you REALLY need to tighten your abs!

I've found the squat-jerk to be as effective as the snatch for getting a great high-rep ballistic workout, and I can feel it afterwards in my legs much more than after a set of snatches. And, best of all, Rocky is still in one piece!

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George Nolly is a United Airlines B-777 Captain. He was the First Runner-Up in the 2000 Body-for-LIFE Challenge, and, shortly after attending one of Pavel's seminars in 2001, bench pressed 325 at a body weight of 162. He is a Denver based Certified Russian Kettlebell ChallengeTM Instructor, and can be reached at

picture of Yuri

picture of Yuri

'Photos by Jim Nolly'