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Triple Extension: Why is it important

What is triple extension?

Before we get started, let’s first explain what triple extension is , then we’ll see why it’s vital for all sports. Here's a definition: "Triple Extension refers to the explosive generation of power produced by the simultaneous extension of the hips, knees, & ankles." The secret to maximizing an athletes force producing capability within the Olympic Lifts is in the correct timing of triple extension. Getting all of these areas to extend powerfully at the perfect moment is a beautiful and natural occurrence. Mess it up and, well, it looks really bad…

There are many factors that contribute to athletic success; balance, core strength, spatial awareness, strength, tactical knowledge and of course hard work. However these things are useless without power, the ability to move quickly, apply maximum locomotive force in the shortest amount of time (the force impulse). In this article we will look at the secrets to training and improving impulse through triple extension. In most sports applications, where all other things are equal the athlete able to exert the most power will win the contest.

So consider the vertical jump a common method for assessing leg power. The lift off phase is characterised by the simultaneous and explosive extension of the hip, knee and ankle joints i.e. triple extension. While this is the most simplified example of an application of triple extension and athletic power the coach should consider other ways that power and triple extension are observed on the sports field. Sprinting involves the same movement albeit in a more forward direction and on a single leg, cutting (side stepping) also involves powerful triple extension in a lateral movement to avoid an opponent. This requires that triple extension and agility are trained together to fully develop the ranges in which triple extension is used in athletic performance.

So how can we train powerful triple extension? Some of the most common methods are the Olympic lifts and their variations, with Olympic weightlifters being the most powerful athletes, shifting more weight for body weight than any other athlete it is worthwhile considering their training methods. The Olympic lifts are characterised in a number of ways that make them attractive to strength and conditioning coaches of many sports:

  1. They are full body movements, requiring core strength and stability

  2. Triple extension is a key factor in successfully completing the lift

  3. They have a forced eccentric phase in the lift

  4. They have many variations which can be applied to any number of sports

The Clean and Power Clean

The clean comes from the lift clean and jerk, a two part lift which eventually results in the bar being lifted overhead. The power clean is a more easily coached version of the clean as it does not require the “catch” to be as deep and involves the following steps:

  1. The set up: Beginning in a dead-lift position with the arms outside the knees, shins touching the bar and both hands in a pronated grip and a straight back position

  2. The first pull: The shoulders and hips rise together lifting the bar off the ground to the knees

  3. The second pull: when the bar reaches the knees the hips , knees and ankles are rapidly extended so that the athlete is in an upright position on his tip toes and shoulders pulled to the ears

  4. The catch: At this stage the bar should have enough momentum to continued to travel upward, in the meantime the athlete rapidly dips into a squat position and catches the bar on the shoulders with elbows in front

  5. The recovery: The athlete should now be in a squat position and stands up keeping the bar on the shoulders until he or she has reached a full standing position

  6. The bar can now be carefully lowered back to the ground. Where very heavy weights are being lifted the weight can be dropped so long as they have the right equipment with rubber-coated weights, a lifting platform and a high quality Olympic bar

There are many variations on this exercise all involving triple extension and explosive power. These variations include, the clean from hang, the clean pull, the power shrug and the high pull. These variations are useful where the time is not available to teach the full version of the lift or as teaching tools in them for the full version the power clean and clean.

The Snatch

This is one of the most powerful athletic movements known. The movement requires moving the weight from the ground to overhead in one motion. To give an idea of the power involved the current world record is 212.5kg in the men’s 105kg+ category. Recent studies have been difficult to find, in Olympic weight lifting however, Garhammer (1985) found that in the snatch elite lifters were achieving up to 35w/kg of body weight, which is about 30% more power than an Olympic sprinter generates in the first 30 metres of a 100 metre sprint. The snatch has the following components:

  1. The set up is similar to the clean except the hands grip the bar much further apart, this results in the bar not having to be lifted as high

  2. The first pull is the same with the shoulders and hips rising together to bring the bar to the knee

  3. The second pull similarly rapidly extends the hips, knees and ankles in unison to achieve maximum bar velocity

  4. The catch requires the athlete to dip below the bar while simultaneously fully extending the arms overhead to catch the bar above the head. Normally the feet will need to change to a wider stance to allow the athlete to get low enough to catch the bar

  5. In the recovery the athlete will need to stand out of a low squat with the bar overhead for completion of the lift

  6. The bar is lowered to the ground carefully or dropped if the right equipment is being used

These are two of the most effective exercises for developing power and strong triple extension on athletes. However they require significant expertise to coach and should only be coached by a qualified practitioner such as a strength and conditioning coach or weightlifting coach.

This article was adapted from Haff, G. G, (2009), Triple Extension: The key to athletic power. NSCA’s Performance Journal, 8 (1), 14-15.

Other references:

Garhammer, J. (1985), Biomechanical profiles of weightlifters. International Journal of Sport Biomechanics, 1, 122-130.


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