Teaching Triple Extension

Want to work on improving everything from linear sprint speed, power, change of direction, force production, vertical jump, and deceleration strength? I know, who doesn’t, right? These qualities should be included in the very definition of athletic success.

The triple extension is a huge key aspect to unlocking all of these qualities in concert. It is also the component that is common through virtually all the movements that come to mind when thinking about the ideal strong, fast, and powerful athlete. Some good examples are a wrestler shooting, a sprinter coming off the blocks, throwers at the point of release, the vertical jump in a volleyball attack, etc.

What is Triple Extension?

Triple extension is the simultaneous extension of three joints: ankle, knee, and hip. 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…

Why should Triple Extension be taught, developed, and progressed?

Again, if you’re looking to unlock and develop the athletic potential in yourself or an athlete under your guidance, then triple extension work is a must. Perfection of this movement during training will result in a faster, more powerful athlete on the court, field, or mat. And if you’re faster and more powerful, you WILL be more successful and less injury prone.

Teaching Progressions:

  1. Basic Bodyweight Strength Exercises – pushups, pull-ups, body weight squats, body weight lunges, etc. should all be considered foundational portions of any athletic development program and should NEVER be skipped. Trust me, no one is “too advanced” for this type of work. These movements have their place in any program whether they appear in the warm-up or the body of the training session.
  2. Medicine Ball Overhead Throw – this particular exercise allows triple extension to occur. However, I like using other MB variations to teach a powerful hip extension like a Scoop Throw. I suggest 2-3 sets of 4-6 repetitions for beginners and 3 sets of 2-5 repetitions for more advanced athletes.
  3. Broad Jump and Vertical Jump Variations – these are fantastic because you can add subtle variations almost endlessly to increase or decrease intensity/difficulty for every athlete’s needs. Plus, this is a great opportunity to teach takeoff and landing technique to avoid the dreaded and dangerous knee collapse. Common variations I use regularly include: broad jump, burpee to broad jump, single leg broad jump, vertical jump, hot ground to vertical jump, vertical jump to single leg landing, etc, etc, etc… Sets and reps are the same as med balls at 2-3 sets of 4-6 repetitions for beginners and 3 sets of 2-5 repetitions for more advanced athletes.
  4. Sprint Variations – Numbers 1-3 are progressed over the course of at least 12-weeks for beginners (less for more advanced athletes), sprinting variations can be added to encourage exceptional high quality triple extension repetitions. Generally for this application of sprints the distance should be kept quite short. I find 5-20 yards hits the right spot. At this point we should be dealing with an athlete that can, minimally, be considered “intermediate” in level and with that qualification I suggest 6-20 sets of 1-3 repetitions at a distance of 5-20 yards. The higher the number of sets, the shorter the distance and the lower the number of reps should be. Oh, and be sure to allow for full recovery for achieving power and speed development.
  5. Speed Squats – Hands down my favorite style of lower body exercise. This movement type teaches athletes how to produce force by pushing hard into the ground and accelerating up as fast as possible. These variations include the traditional Speed Squat, Wave Squat, and Jump Squat. Speed squat variations should ONLY be used with ADVANCED athletes. I suggest 6-10 sets of 2-3 reps with about 45-seconds rest between sets. Weight should be kept at 55-65% of the athlete’s 1RM squat.
  6. Olympic Lifting Variations – Please take note that this is the absolute last suggestion of my list of progressions for teaching the Triple Extension, but it is the variation that inexperienced (and in my opinion misguided) coaches frequently jump to first. Olympic lift variations have their place with highly advanced and elite level athletes. However, I rarely use them. Why? Because through my experience I have found that one can elicit faster and greater gains via cycling through numbers 1-5. However, I do use them sparingly with some athletes. I have to admit the athleticism required for Oly lifts can make executing them a lot of fun, but there is a requirement of athleticism!! It makes me sick to my stomach how many coaches are on some kind of auto-inclusion of each and every Olympic variation for each and every athlete. What a mistake! Including these in a program too soon leads to poor form and execution which means you’re not getting that much bang-for your-buck with the movements (i.e., wasting time) and would be better off regressing to something more straightforward. Anyway, some great variations include the jump shrug, high pull, hang clean, etc. Keep the sets moderate and reps LOW.

You really can’t make a mistake if you cool your jets and follow this progression slowly. Remember, untrained athletes will get stronger and faster with very little stimulus. So take your time and learn to enjoy and respect the process!