The Myth of Triple Extension

Last weekend Graeme and I had the opportunity to attend a speed coaching clinic with Derek Evely. Derek was the Leeborough Centre Director of UK Athletics from 2009-2012 prior to the London Olympic games in 2012. He has  coached a number of number of Olympic podium athletes and continues to work with some of the best hammer throwers in the world.

Derek was a wealth of knowledge and a great presenter. His delivery of the content was professional and allowed for discussion and questions. At one point he even Skyped in 3 of the best sprint and hurdles coaches in the world with Kevin Tyler, Andreas Behm and Stu McMillan from Altis in Arizona.

If you’re not in sprinting circles these names probably don’t mean too much. But these four individuals represent the best of the best when it comes to sprinting knowledge and coaching ability. And it was definitely a special opportunity to listen to them and be able to ask questions.

And let’s face it…every athlete wants more speed. Actually I’m not even an athlete but I still want to move quickly. There’s just something about being able to accelerate and hit a top end speed better than most that appeals. This might have to do with having a burst of speed a the end of a road race, of being able to win battles in team sports (i.e. basketball, football, soccer etc) or simply wanting to look more like a sprinter than a runner.

Running versus Sprinting - Which body type do you prefer?

Running versus Sprinting –                            Which body type do you prefer?

So if we can agree that all athletes want more speed and that most general fitness clients wouldn’t mind moving more quickly as well than we need to consider which drills we typically use to develop speed.

And usually the thought process has to do with achieving a faster firing potential of the appropriate muscle fibres.

Think about it this way.

When we lift weights we can use the heaviest loads possible but this usually limits how quickly we can move the load. And on the flip side we can select light loads and move them quickly. But this light usually doesn’t lend to much of a nervous system stimulation to elicit an adaptation for speed.

Consider the following graph:

The Force Velocity Curve

The Force Velocity Curve


***The shape of the curve doesn’t change if we can flip the axes of the graph but I believe it should be force on the x-axis (as the independent variable) and velocity on the y-axis (as the dependent variable). Think about it this way, we select a particular load (independent variable) and this dictates the speed at which we can move the load (dependent variable). Make sense?***

So to train for speed, in the graph above, we can see that speed is on the bottom right side of the curve. If we use a heavy load we can develop maximal strength but not much in terms of speed as the velocity is on the far left side of the curve an every low. Think of a powerlifter taking 5 seconds to pull a world record deadlift. The load is very heavy and therefore moves very slowly.

So when we want to train to improve power, speed-strength and speed we we need to adjust the loads (or force as in the graph) accordingly. One of the very popular means to train for power and speed is the Olympic lifts.

But besides the Olympic lifts being a great tool to elicit speed and power they were a great tool at a coach’s disposal because they mimic the triple extension realized in sprinting. Check out the images below of triple extension in Olympic lifting and sprinting.



Triple extension at the ankle-knee-hip

Triple extension at the ankle-knee-hip

And so it made sense to use the Olympic lifts to train for speed. It allowed us to move moderate weights at high speed and achieve the triple extension required in sprinting. And when training you always are looking to justify what is included in a program. Typically when a drill or exercise has a high degree of transferability to the desired outcome the inclusion is justified. Or in Lehman’s terms (yes, I just did that) the means justify the ends.

Now here’s where it gets interesting.

Triple extension, in sprinting, is only seen at the start of a race. You only see the perfectly straight line of ankle-knee-hip when the sprinter is coming out of the blocks. After that it doesn’t happen.

But it’s not as though most sprinters aren’t high level enough to achieve triple extension after the start. Instead when the sprinter strives for triple extension after the start this results in a delayed push off the trail leg. The timing of the swing leg is now delayed due to excessive extension of the push leg. To account for this delay the swing leg, or lead lead, stays airborne, and moves further forward, than it normally should. This results in the swing leg contacting the ground out in front of the body, rather than under the centre of mass.

With the swing (or lead) leg contacting the ground further in front this creates problems. At miminum the sprinter is not getting as much forward drive as is possible. At worst the forward positioned foot is creating a braking force and undue stress on the foot-ankle-knee-hip.

So what’s the solution?

Well, first of all it’s to recognize triple extension is important at the start of race but not so much later in races. And depending on the coaching ability in Olympic lifting  and the athlete’s ability to learn Olympic lifting this may not need to be the foundation of a sprint training program.

If you’re interested in finding out what out else we learned at this speed clinic and how Okanagan Peak Performance Inc can help you move faster contact one of our coaches today.

(250) 212-2972









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