Pulling Technique In Weightlifting: The Triple Extension vs. The flat-footed/catapult

Coaching is a noble profession and one that comes with great responsibility. The athletes place their careers and well-being in our hands and trust that we will provide them with the best opportunities to succeed. Providing such opportunities is largely based upon the coaches’ abilities and desires to study and apply the scientific research behind Olympic Weightlifting. Such material is readily available in this age of information. Yet, some coaches have chosen to snub their noses at what has been proven through the scientific method and long-term results. Rather, they have opted for unproven, wrong, or simply made up methods. This is shameful behavior, and in my opinion, some of the most irresponsible acts any coach could perpetrate on his or her athlete.

Many others and I have dedicated our lives to coaching the Snatch and Clean and Jerk. It is not just what we do, it is who and what we are as people. SO LET IT BE KNOWN, we will defend the sanctity of these movements with great zeal against all those who try and dishonor their existence. Don McCauley is one of those people!

These are quotes from a seminar given by USA Weightlifting coach Don McCauley at Athletes Arena in July 2009. (click here for entire seminar) He is giving his rendition of a flat-footed pull style he termed “the catapult.” Mr. McCauley states this information as fact:

“Today, we don’t triple extend with force”

“(The feet) are not pushing through the bar. A lot of people still do, but they are wrong”

“Triple extension just wastes time because you have to get going back down”

“If you triple extend or do any fast lifting with heavy weight, that does not add speed to your athlete as far as calf quickness. You would be much better off having them push a sled or a heavy bag. That’s going to give them quickness”

“(Lifters from the past) had huge thighs because they did a lot of front squats and things like that. If you look at lifters today, there is less thigh development and there is more (glute) development because they are doing this thing (the “catapult” technique) all the time and they have come around to the thought that we don’t need so much quadriceps because (in the second pull) we are not truly knee extending hard like a jumper might…we are only going to about 95% of knee extension and then we are (getting under the bar)…so we need the (glutes/hips) so we built back here (the glutes/hips) a lot more”

“Keep your heels on the floor, there is no need to leave the floor at all so we don’t need triple extension because we have to go back down. Because if we triple extend, that’s three more inches we have to go to beat the bar back down…there is no point and we have wasted energy pushing the bar and frankly, you haven’t relatively changed anything, the bar is higher and you are higher so you have gained nothing. What you want is the bar higher and you lower”

“Some countries don’t shrug at all anymore, they just get up and pull they don’t bother with (the traps) at all”

“If you teach kids that are not getting individual attention to triple extend…you’ve got them landing forward, that’s not good. (Because the pressure is on the front part of the foot and the knee) but if you (“catapult”) you will catch the weight on the full foot or even through the heel not much (bad) can happen”

“In Olympic lifting you don’t have to leave the floor with your heels at all to do it, so there is no reason to jump”

“Do most sports (other than Weightlifting) have more of a reason to triple extend? Yes. But I would say, to do these lifts correctly, if you have them in your program, get away from the thought of triple extension and get the explosive triple extension from something else.”

“The hip is the strongest muscle in the body…but it is behind you and your brain doesn’t know how to use it”

“The hips in this pull (catapult) (and most sports) do everything and all the other muscles follow. The only little difference is in pure sprinting because the quads have to leave it because you have such rip up, kind of uh flexion and then extension and stuff like that. And that’s all good and that’s why sprinters should do a lot of sprinting and practice that. Don’t think that (triple extension) is going to give sprinters more speed in their sprint. The power clean (using the Catapult) will help them but not that push (triple extension)”. That’s not going to help their calves get faster, it cant, its too heavy”

These are some highlights of a post Mr. McCauley made to me on GoHeavy.com “March 24th, 2010″ further explaining his “catapult” technique. (Here is the entire post)

“Triple extension is caused in much of Olympic weightlifting by the hip extension literally lifting the feet into a plantar flexed position, without much or any help from the calves and triple extension is often done simply for the lifter to move his feet to a different catch position rather than add to the force driving the bar”

“Catapulting has always been simply a word I used to describe the greater role of hip extension in the lift and the lesser role of forceful knee extension and plantar flexion in the lifts (what American coaches call jumping or driving through the balls of the feet)”

“We, as a group, did not interpret the information coming out of Europe in the ’70’s, ’80’s correctly. Those few coaches that were around were buried by a lot of guys who had it set (incredibly stubbornly) in their minds that this was simply a forceful triple extending, jumping motion”

All the above statements are full of blather and scientific inaccuracies. The fact is, flat-footed pulling or the “catapult” has no empirical or scientific support, and whereas finishing with triple extension does. However, Mr. McCauley is trying to sell the “catapult” as the technique that the great lifters of today are performing and it is triple extension that is the cause of poor lifting in this country. Roman, Garhammer, Siff, Enoka, Zatsiorsky, Verkhoshansky and many other scientists both past and present have analyzed and continue to analyze lifting technique only to come to the same conclusion:

“The explosion is executed by the simultaneous action of the muscles of the legs and torso… From this position, the athlete extends his legs and torso and rises up onto his toes and…the shoulders are elevated…Such a position is the most advantageous condition for maximal utilization of the participating muscle groups and the subsequent transfer to the barbell upward…This description of good pulling technique appears to be optimal.” (Roman and Shakirzyanov 4-7) This description coincides with ALL of the other valid scientific research that has been done on Olympic Weightlifting.

Instead of following the work of the world’s greatest Weightlifting minds, Mr. McCauley expects us to throw out 50 years of proven research and exceptional Weightlifting results and listen to him. A man by his own admission, who has no formal science background and bases this catapult/flat-footed technique entirely upon opinion and limited observation, not on actual biomechanical studies.

In fact the technique Mr. McCauley describes is biomechanically impossible to perform as explained. One cannot de-emphasize leg extension and overemphasize hip extension and create a vertical bar path because this action “forms ineffective habits in the explosion.” (Livanov and Falameyev 26) This is a simple vector addition problem. If two forces from different directions and of different magnitudes converge, the resultant vector will be influenced to a larger extent by the force with the greatest magnitude, which in this case would be the force created by the hips in the horizontal plane. Excessive horizontal bar displacement is exactly the opposite of what is desired.

Interestingly, when you read research done by the former Soviet Union on the pull in Weightlifting there is no mention of the hip as a specific force producer. The description used to describe the “explosion” of the second pull is that it “is executed by the simultaneous action of the muscles of the legs and torso.” (Roman and Shakirzyanov 4) The reason for this is effective summation of force production is not about any one particular part of the kinetic chain; it is the coordinated effort of the ENTIRE kinetic chain, which produces optimal technique and force production. Force applied to the bar during the lift is proportionately related to the sum of ALL joint torques, not just the torque at the hip.

Mr. McCauley states that rising onto the toes at all during the second pull is a display of poor technique and negatively affects the outcome of the lift. This opinion cannot be substantiated by ANY of the biomechanical research done in Weightlifting past or present. It is true that rising onto the toes may negatively affect the outcome of a lift but only when done subsequent to full hip and knee extension! When a lifter produces a well-timed powerful pull, he/she does not have to make any deliberate effort to plantar-flex or remain flat-footed. The lifter will involuntarily produce an action, which instinctually suits his/her needs. In some cases this will result in marked plantar-flexion, in other cases far less. However, whether or not we observe heel rising, the mechanical action of the lifter/barbell complex remains unchanged. This is why relying solely on observation will not always tell the whole story.

There are scientists who have laboriously dedicated their lives to understanding the intricacies of the Snatch and Clean and Jerk. The research started with the men who built the Soviet Weightlifting program such as Roman, Lelikov, Medvedev, Povetkin, Treskov, Shakirzyanov, Zhekov, Martyanov, Popov, Verkhoshansky, and Lukashev. It has continued with the likes of Garhammer, Enoka, Gourgoulis, Isaka, Chiu, and many others. All of these scientists have had similar findings in their biomechanical research in Olympic Weightlifting technique, and specifically with “triple extension.” DON MCCAULEY’S “CATAPULT” TECHNIQUE IS IN DIRECT OPPOSITION OF THE FINDINGS OF ALL OF THE ABOVE MENTIONED SCIENTISTS! He even boasts on his website that he is “an opponent of the thought that the triple extension is all-powerful.” The supremacy of the triple extension IS NOT a thought; it is FACT! The mere existence of this quote is further proof of his choice to ignore years of research and scientific application.

It is NOT true that we “misinterpreted” the information that came out of Europe. Fifty years of science and meet results tell us that the triple extension is definitely NOT a “waste of time.” The “catapult style” is NOT being performed by “many of the top lifters. Mr. McCauley has created these stories out of his own imagination and continues to pass them off as fact. Moreover, I have included photos of the lifters who Mr. McCauley and his followers claim are performing this flat-footed “catapult” technique. You will notice the each athlete is indeed displaying triple extension, and not the mythical “catapult.”

anthonymartin dolga

Joon.Yin1Kaki kakitoppullKim.Tae.Hyun

kim.Tae.Hyun1 lapikovSa.Jae.Hyuk



I vigorously tried to find just ONE peer reviewed biomechanical study that would support Mr. McCauley’s statements. I was unsuccessful. I vigorously tried to find video evidence of a top athlete who performs this “catapult” style. Again, I was unsuccessful. I challenge Don McCauley, or anybody else, to provide biomechanical evidence that the catapult/flat-footed approach is the optimal technique for lifting a barbell. THAT IS WHAT I SEEK, NOT SIMPLY OPINIONS OR PREFERENCES!

I, on the other hand, DO provide documented evidence for my statements. I have included just a fraction of the peer-reviewed scientific literature available on the biomechanics of the Snatch and Clean and Jerk.

Blagoy Blagoev, 18 World Records and a 195.5 Snatch@ 90kg said it best when asked about pulling technique:

“I do have only one problem with the flatfooted pull. As they say, “the flat-footed pull will give you flat-footed results”. We certainly don’t want to get that. We do know for a fact that the lifters are trying their best to get to fully extended position before get under the bar. I do not see it happening by staying on your heels. Another small detail – if you go to an extended position of your legs (on your toes), even before you start pulling with the arms to direct the bar towards the final fixed position, you will gain 6-9 cm in height. In my opinion, at a max lift, this will give you the winning edge. Try a vertical jump off your heels!”

Works Cited:

Livanov, O.I. and A. I. Falameyev. “Technique and Method of Learning Classical Exercises.”1983 Weightlifting Yearbook. Moscow: Fizkultura i Sport Trans. A. Charniga, 1983.

Roman, R.A. and M.S. Shakirzyanov. The Snatch, The Clean and Jerk. Moscow: Fizkultura i Sport Trans. A. Charniga, 1978.


Arabatzi, F. and E. Kellis. “Biomechanical Analysis of Snatch Movement and Vertical Jump: Similarities and Differences.” Hellenic J Phys Educ & Sport Sci. 29. 2 (2009): 185-199.

Bai, X. and H. Wang. “Three-dimension Kinematics Simulation and Biomechanics Analysis of Snatch Technique.” Proceedings of 1st Joint International Pre-Olympic Conference of Sports Science & Sports Engineering Volume I: Computer Science in Sports (2008): 291-296.

Bartonietz, K.E. “Biomechanics of the Snatch: Toward a Higher Training Efficiency.” J. Strength Cond. Res.18, (3) (1996): 24-31.

Baumann, W. and V. Gross. “The Snatch Technique of World Class Weightlifters at the 1985 World Championships.” Inter. J. Sport Biomechanics 4 (1988): 68-89.

Burdett, R.G. “Biomechanics of the Snatch Technique of Highly Skilled Weightlifters.” Res. Q. Exerc. Sport 53, (1982): 193-197.

Burkhardt, and J. Garhammer, “Biomechanical Comparison of Hang Cleans and Vertical Jumps.” J. Appl. Sport Sci. Res 2. (1988).

E. Burkhardt and B. Barton and J. Garhammer, “Maximal Impact and Propulsive Forces During Jumping and Explosive Lifting Exercises.” J. Appl. Sports Sci. Res. 4.3 (1990) 107.

Campos J. and P. Poletaev et. al. “Kinematical Analysis of the Snatch in Elite Male Junior Weightlifters of Different Weight Categories.” J. Strength Cond. Res. 20.4, (2006): 843-850.

Canaven,P.K. and G.E. Garret and L.E. Armstrong. “Kinematic and Kinetic Relationships Between and Olympic -Style Lift and the Vertical Jump.” J. Strength Cond. Res.10, (1996): 127-130.

Derwin. B. P. “The Snatch: Technical Description and Periodization Program.” NSCA Journal 12.2, (1990): 6-14.Enoka, R.M. ” The Pull in Olympic Weightlifting.” Medicine and Science in Sports 11. (1079): 131-137.

Escamilla, R.F. and John Garhammer. “Biomechanics of Powerlifting and Weightlifting Exercises.” Exercise and Sports Science. Eds. Garrett and Kirkendale. Lippincott, Williams and Wilkins, 2000. 585-615.

Garhammer, John. “Biomechanical Analysis of Selected Snatch Lifts at the U.S. Senior National Weightlifting Championships.” Biomechanics of Sport and Kinanthropometry. Eds. Landry and Orban. Miami: Symposia Specialists, 1978. 475-484.

Garhammer. “Performance Evaluation of Olympic Weightlifters.” Med. Sci.Sports 11, (1979): 284-287.—. “Energy Flow During Olympic Weightlifting.” Med. Sci. Sports 14.5, (1982): 353-360.

—. ” A Review of Power Output Studies of Olympic and Powerlifting: Methodology, Performance, Prediction, and Evaluation Tests.” J. Appl. Sports Sci. Res. 7, (1993): 76-89.

—. “A Comparison of Maximal Power Outputs Between Elite Male and Female Weightlifters in Competition.” Int. J. Sport Biomechanics. 7.1, (1991): 3-11.

—. “Biomechanical Profiles of Olympic Weightlifters.” Int. J. Sport Biomechanics. 1.2 (1985): 122-130.

—. “Longitudinal Analysis of Highly Skilled Olympic Weightlifters.” Science in Weightlifting. Ed. J. Terauds. Del Mar: Academic Publ., 1979. 79-88.

Garhammer, John and Bob Takano. “Training For Weightlifting” The Encyclopedia of Sports Medicine. Ed. P.V.Komi. Oxford: Blackwell Scientific, 1992. 357-369.

Gourgoulis,V. and N. Aggelousis and A. Garas. “Three- Dimensional Kinematic Analysis of the Snatch of Elite Greek Weightlifters.” J. Sports Sci. 18, (2000): 643-652.

Hakkinen, K. and H. Kauhanen and P.V. Komi. “Biomechanical Changes in the Olympic Weightlifting Technique of the Snatch and Clean and Jerk From Submaximal to Maximal Loads.” Scan. J. Sports Sci. 6, (1984): 57-66.

Hoover, D.L. and K.M. Carlson and B.K. Christensen et.al. “Biomechanical Analysis of Women Weightlifters During the Snatch.” J. Strength Cond. Res. 20.3, (2006): 627-633.

Isaka, T. and J. Funato. “Kinematic Analysis of the Barbell During the Snatch Movement of Elite Asian Weightlifters.” J. Applied Biomechanics 12, (1996): 508-516.

Luhtatnen, P. and P.V. Komi. “Segmental Contributions to Forces in Vertical Jumps.” Eur. J. Appl. Physiol. 38, (1978): 181-188.

Pandy, G.M. and E.F. Zajac and E. Sim et al. “An Optimal Control Model For Maximum-Height Human Jumping.” J. Biomechanics 23, (1990): 1185-1198.

Roman,R.A. and M.S. Shakirzyanov. The Snatch, The Clean and Jerk. Moscow: Fizkultura I Sport, English translation Andrew Charniga Jr. Livonia: Sportivny Press. 1978.

Schilling, B.K. and M.H. Stone and H.S. O’Bryant et. al. “Snatch Technique of Collegiate National Level Weightlifters.” J. Strength Cond. Res. 16.4, (2002): 551-555.

Takano, Bob. “Coaching Technique in the Snatch and Clean and Jerk.” NSCA Journal 9, (1987): 50-59.

Zhekov, I.P. “Biomechanics of the Weightlifting Exercises.” Weightlifting Training and Technique English trans. Andrew Charniga Jr. Livonia Sportivny Press. 1992

Fight until your very last breath!


Sean Waxman is the owner of Waxman’s Gym. It’s an Olympic Weightlifting and Sports Performance gym located in Southern California near LAX airport. Its the only gym in Southern California dedicated to all things Olympic Weightlifting!