Push Presses, Triple Extension, and Catapults

Yesterday I posted about jumping and how it relates to the olympic lifts. Peterson from CF KoP commented about doing push presses and having his heels come off the ground. I thought this topic was discussed enough to make it a separate post. First is Peterson’s comment, then my response. 
Peterson said…
So I just talked to Aimee about confusion that I had over this very thing. For a push press, I was yelled at (not angrily or anything) for my heels coming off the ground. I don’t get why this is an issue since when you jump, you jump from the balls of your feet, with the heal coming off of the ground first. Isn’t it just natural that at lighter weights, your heels will be coming off of the ground? I’d guess that having your feet coming off of the ground would be wasting the momentum you built up in a way that isn’t directly getting more weight overhead, and that if you are truly at your max, all of your effort goes towards getting that weight overhead without any of the waste seen in your heels coming off the ground…
Peterson, great observation. This is always debated, but my take on it is this: For strength-based (heavy) push presses, you should start with feet planted firmly and fairly even weight distribution with a slight bias towards the heel (but not so much as to wiggle your toes). You should not change the width of your feet AKA do not widen them in the middle of the movement. When driving through the push press, your heels may leave the floor momentarily as a result of the drive up, but it should not be the goal. Your ankles are first closing the angle between your shin and foot (dorsiflexion) and then extending (plantarflexion). As a result of this violent change (and your hip extension), your heels will most likely come off the floor, but if you can help it, try to keep them down.

The metcon (lighter) push press such as in FGB or other workouts is different. If you are cycling push presses at high repetitions, you will naturally be on your toes more as this offers the most athletic stance and most dynamic posture. However, since it is a lighter and more manageable weight, this is generally acceptable with the caveat of having your form dialed in before performing high rep push presses.

This all brings up a very debated topic: heels coming off the ground in triple extension during a clean or snatch. 
Lu Xiaojun – 2010 77kg World Champion
There seem to be two camps when it comes to triple extension. Those that say you should intentionally push off the ground and shrug UP to fully extend the hips, knees, and ankles (triple extension), and those that say the shrug is more of a transition to getting under the bar in triple extension. While I tend to agree more with the latter camp, I think the important thing to realize is that ankle extension (raising the heel) is a result of the hip extension and force imparted on the floor, much like the push press scenario described above. 
Aimee Anaya of Catalyst Athletics
Now, there is a misconception that the “catapult” technique originally coined by Don McCauley promotes flat footed triple extension (no ankle extension). There is a strongly worded blog entry by Sean Waxman about this here. I think what McCauley conveys is correct, but his message gets lost in translation. 
Casey Burgener, son of Mike Burgener
In the end, the extension of the ankles should not be on purpose, but it will just happen as a result of the 2nd pull (hip extension). Variety in anatomy and speed under the bar will change the angle of athletes such that a freeze frame may show one person look almost like a ballerina while others may look quite flat footed. Either way, their ankles are on the way to plantarflexion, but can be cut short by a fast pull under the bar. 
What are your thoughts on heels coming off the floor? 
Is this the first time you’ve heard of this debate? 
What do you think of the Waxman vs. McCauley debate?
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6 thoughts on “Push Presses, Triple Extension, and Catapults

  1. Is it okay to come up on your toes? I'd say yes and no…Follow through of a very violent hip extension may cause the hips to come off the ground. However, the goal is not come up on the toes (like a calf raise). This could, at best push the bar forward in an inefficient bar path, or at worst cause a loss of balance with a load over head and a missed lift.

  2. heels should come off the ground only as a result of momentum. Many people new to lifts drive from their toes which is totally incorrect.

  3. Yeah, that's a tough one. I try my hardest not to come off on my toes, but it just seems to happen, and when I try even harder, I tend to mess the lift up. In FGB, fugetaboutit!It's a judgement call for coaching. I think saying drive from the heals is a good thing, but if you emphasis too much on the no coming off the heal, then it might do more harm than good.

  4. Thanks for the quick/thorough responses! I'm glad to know that there are others who are confused about this, and I appreciate the in depth analysis you've given here.

  5. Good article. Aimee Lyons hit it spot on. Stay on heels, heels, heels. The pictures shown are deceiving. The lifters appear to be 'triple extending', but in reality they are already on their way down, believe it or not. The shrugging action that you see elite lifters do is a result of them pulling themselves down (i.e. 3rd pull). They do not 'shrug' to add elevation to the bar. Olympic Weightlifting is about accelarating the bar HIGH ENOUGH, so that you have time to defeat gravity and get in the catch position before gravity starts pulling the bar down. Oly is NEVER about accelerating the bar as high as possible (i.e. triple extension). Hope this helps.

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