Misconceptions About ‘The Catapult’ vs ‘Triple Extension’

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I’m really sick of the “catapult” versus “triple extension” thing.

So much so that whenever someone asks me questions about “catapult” versus “triple extension” my default response is now “I like weightlifting.”

If I were to play fifty videos of lifts for two experienced coaches, one “catapult” coach and one “triple extension” coach, they would probably agree about which lifts are good, bad, or ugly. Furthermore, these coaches are probably teaching the same things, they’re just using different words to do it.

In a likely futile effort to move towards an internet in which we can all argue about things that actually matter for the sport of weightlifting, I have outlined here some common misconceptions held by the “catapulters” about the “triple extenders” and vice versa. Having trained and talked with some great coaches and lifters in both camps, I’m confident in saying that I have a fairly thorough idea of what both sides are actually trying to get across.

I want to make an important note here: throughout this article, I will refer to “catapulters” and “triple extenders.” I do not actually think these things are things. I just need a way to differentiate the so called camps, and I don’t want to write quotation marks every time because it looks dumb and ignites my mild OCD.

Misconception #1: The “Catapult”/The “Jump and Shrug” is literally an actual thing.

Some catapulters seem to be under the impression that “triple extension” lifters are literally trying to get off the ground, into the air, as high as they can. This is not a thing. I have not met one single weightlifter or weightlifting coach who thinks that the athlete should be actively trying to get up as high as possible into the air. Maybe this existed at some point in U.S. weightlifting history, but everyone pretty much agrees that the athlete aggressively extends the hips and then gets under the bar, and that “jump” is merely a useful cue to get the athlete to understand this.

For their part, triple extenders often suggest that the catapult is some mythical, new and different technique which no one does. The “catapult” is not a technique. It’s a description – the lifter loads the musculoskeletal system through the pull, then unleashes the potential energy at the top, much like a catapult. That’s it. I don’t think this is particularly controversial.

Misconception #2: The feet.

Lifters in the Catapult camp often believe that triple extenders think that the athlete should purposely push their weight forward on their feet, get way up on their toes early in the pull and/or intentionally “calf raise” to apply more force to the bar. Literally every single triple extension lifter or coach I have asked about this, denies this claim. Yes, there are some triple extension coaches who tell their lifters to get tall on their toes at the top of the pull, as a result of vicious hip extension. Zygmunt Smalcerz instructs Donovan Ford to do this, and Coach Smalcerz probably knows what he’s doing.

Some triple extenders imply that catapulters think the feet should be completely flat throughout the entirety of the lift. Though there are a few (very few) elite level lifters who complete the pull flat footed, it’s easy to see that the vast majority of lifters come to the balls of the feet at the top of the pull. Catapulters simply believe that the lifter should try to keep the whole foot on the ground until the hips fully extend, and that the heels then rise as a result of hip extension. There are certainly many good lifters who come to the balls of the feet before full hip extension is reached, but there are also many who do not. Again, I don’t think this is a particularly controversial idea. Try to keep as much of the foot down as possible to more effectively transmit force to the floor. Some lifters will keep the foot flat until the hips are fully extended, some will come to the front of the foot a little earlier. That’s it. Nothing crazy.

Misconception #3: Bar contact at the the hip/upper thigh.

Catapulters seem to claim that triple extenders do not believe in bringing the bar back to the hips, and that this results in the bar staying forward through the pull. Triple extenders, for their part, seem to think Catapult coaches teach lifters to forcefully drive the hips forward into the bar.

In reality, both camps teach the lifters to bring the bar to the hips, not the hips to the bar, and to extend forcefully upward at the top of the pull. For some lifters, this will result in a relatively light brush of the hip/upper thigh. For some lifters, a more forceful contact will be made. This is largely dependent on the lifters build, the speed of their pull, and the individual quirks of their mechanics.

No one – I repeat, no one – is teaching their athletes to leave the bar in front through the pull, or to intentionally push the hips forward to hit the bar. The view that any serious weightlifter or weightlifting coach in either camp does either of these things is discordant with reality, sorry I’m not sorry.

Misconception #4: Pulling the bar high.

Triple extenders sometimes suggest that catapulters think bar height is unimportant, and that getting under the bar quickly is the only thing that matters. This is absolutely not the case. Bar height is undoubtedly of great importance. But, adequate bar height is primarily a function of hip and leg strength. The shoulders and elbows may contribute very slightly to the height of the pull, but mostly their task is to affix the bar in space as the lifter uses the load to pull himself under.

Of course, the catapulters accuse the triple extenders of not believing the above, and of coaching lifters to stand on their tippy-toes and pull the bar up to their throat with the arms and then go under. This is, again, not a thing. Just as catapult coaches understand the importance of bar height, triple extension coaches understand the importance of a fast and undelayed pull under. No one in either camp is teaching anyone anything other than finish hard to get the bar high enough, get under immediately and as quickly as possible.

Can we please go back to lifting weights now?

Jacob Tsypkin is a CrossFit and weightlifting coach, and the co-owner of CrossFit Monterey and the Monterey Bay Barbell Club in Monterey, CA.

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