Triple extension is an EXTREMELY important concept that lies at the heart of nearly all athletic movements.
You absolutely NEED to build your training sessions around movements that mimic triple extension if you’re an athlete aspiring to jump higher or run faster.
Triple extension refers to the simultaneous extending of the ankle, knee, and hip joints, which is exactly what we see in sports specific movements like running and jumping.
Working out without intentionally training this movement is like studying math to get ready for your big biology exam – sure, you’ll get good at crunching numbers, but it’s not going to help you ace – or even pass – the actual exam.
You need to get SPECIFIC, just like in your training.
Let’s dive into how triple extension will catapult your athleticism to new heights, and talk about how to choose the most bang-for-your-buck exercises that’ll upgrade this powerful movement pattern!
What Is Triple Extension?
Triple extension on a surface level is simply your hips, knees, and ankles fully extending (or straightening) at the same time.
But scratching underneath the surface shows that this movement pattern is SUPER important when it comes to sports, especially ones that involve jumping or running, because it’s the core of what your body does in those movements.
Let’s take a look at the vertical jump to see how triple extension happens in action:
Our hips, knees, and ankles flex as we bend down while beginning the jump, and then simultaneously extend as we explode up through toe-off.
This triple extension pattern has the power to generate a strong, explosive force that directly impacts your performance in many different sports involving running, jumping, lifting, etc, making it a CRUCIAL pattern to become a pro at.
Muscles Used In Triple Extension
There are 3 main muscle groups that are involved with triple extension:
- Glutes – Your gluteus maximus, or your largest butt muscle, is a powerful hip extensor. It’s the driving force when you’re straightening up from a bent HIP position or extending your leg behind your torso.
- Quadriceps – Those 4 big thigh muscles that make up the front of your tree trunk legs work to extend your KNEES.
- Calves – Even though most of us skip calf day at the gym (I’m ashamed of myself), our gastrocnemius (outer calf muscle) and our soleus (deep calf muscle) are the engines in extending (or plantar flexing) your ANKLE.
There are also a couple of helpers that act as accessory muscles in triple extension:
- Hamstrings – This big muscle making up the back of your thigh works as a strong hip extender, aiding your glutes.
- Adductor Magnus – This powerful muscle drives hip extension extremely well when your hip is starting in a flexed position (like when setting up for a jump or in a block start).
- Tibialis Posterior – It sits really deep in your calf, helping with extending the ankle.
It’s important to think of your body like a super-advanced-humanoid-clock when generating this powerful movement – these muscles don’t act on their own, but work together just like gears in a clock do to tell you that you’re late for practice again.
Triple Extension In Jumping
Jumping is a textbook example of the triple extension pattern, giving you the key to unlocking new heights because of the specificity of it.
This means that improving your jumping involves mimicking triple extension in your training, since it is the KEY movement here.
You see the connection?
And this is where a lot of athletes get it wrong: just because you’re training hard, doesn’t mean you’re training RIGHT – exercise selection makes ALL the difference when you’re trying to improve a specific skill.
Again, you wouldn’t study math to get better at biology.
Pick exercises where you’re extending through the hip, knees, and ankles simultaneously to mimic triple extension – look at the squat vs. the leg press, where a squat has WAY more hip extension than the leg press.
We’ll dive more into that example later, but it’s important to realize that just because you can push a ton of weight on the leg press, it’s not as SPECIFIC to triple extension as squatting is due to its lack of hip extension, making it a worse exercise choice for your goal.
Also, think about machines vs. free weights – a machine is going to give you a lot of stability (which has its own benefits), but that will keep your accessory muscles snoozing since a machine movement doesn’t require much help outside of the bigger muscles.
Jumping is not stable, so we NEED to challenge those other stabilizer muscles involved.
When you tie all of this together, you start seeing how certain exercises like the leg press don’t mimic triple extension like squats or box jumps do, making it less effective at boosting your vert.
Triple Extension In Running
Running is a bit different than jumping because now we’re driving forces HORIZONTALLY instead of driving forces UPWARDS.
Luckily the same principles as in jumping apply, except your hip extension is going to involve bringing your leg behind your torso more so than trying to drive your torso upwards.
And that’s the main spot in your stride where a lot of your power and speed come from – the hip, knee, and ankle extending behind your body, exploding off the ground, and propelling you forward.
This is where strengthening for triple extension can make a massive difference in your power and efficiency – AKA get SPECIFIC with your training to get SPECIFIC results in your running (which is very similar to training for jumping).
Choose exercises that replicate extending your leg behind your body and catapulting you forwards/upwards to mimic triple extension in sprinting.
This means that instead of doing leg extensions to hit the quads (only hitting 1 of the 3 joints in triple extension), do walking lunges or explosive lunge jumps instead (you get hip, knee, and ankle extension here).
Having strong triple extension will also keep your speed consistent throughout a race, raising the bar for where your fatigue would usually hit at.
I know I’m driving that point hard, but specificity is king – emphasizing triple extension in your training will convert to some killer running speeds.
Triple Extension In Block Starts
Having a strong block start can put you ahead of the pack right off the gunshot.
Think about how triple extension happens here – you’re almost combining running and jumping mechanics, with a strong block start relying purely on your ability to explode out of that flexed starting position.
Not only will it immediately put some distance between you and your opponents, but having a powerful triple extension pattern right out the gate will get your speedometer revving up to your highest speed quicker and more efficiently.
A great way to mimic this in the gym is by doing exercises that use triple extension to explode up from a flexed and “static” position.
For example: paused high jumps put you in a deep, flexed position, but the pause FORCES you to take any momentum away before you launch yourself as high as you can.
Doing single leg explosive movements will replicate triple extension in the block start even more – try doing something like Bulgarian Split Squat jumps to really build power through your lead leg.
Triple Extension In The Clean (Weightlifting)
You’re performing a powerful triple extension from the very beginning of the clean.
That means that the amount of weight you can throw up is directly connected to your triple extension strength.
Watch the clip below and keep an eye on how he triple extends, and check out how high his heels come off the ground:
Note how quickly he comes off the ground and how his ankles extend, almost like he’s trying to jump up with the weight – kind of like an explosive deadlift.
Strengthening triple extension is going to allow you to rip that weight off the ground quicker and more efficiently, either bringing that barbell up higher so you can get into the full-rack position easier or letting you add more weight to the lift.
Putting deadlifts into your workout program will level up your overall triple extension form from the bottom position – your hips, knees, and ankles are all bent and need to extend to get the weight off the floor.
Hang cleans are a great way to improve the second part of the movement, strengthening your glutes if you find that hip extension is your weak point, while also targeting the almost unnatural extension of your ankles as you drive the bar upwards.
Make sure to work on form and explosiveness in the gym – you want to look like dynamite going off when training this movement pattern, not a 90-year-old with back pain standing up from the couch.
Why Triple Extension Is So Important For Athletes
Understanding triple extension is like a cheat code for your training session – you can properly build your workout around movements that improve your triple extension, leveling up your sports performance and getting a step ahead of the competition.
A lot of you athletes will work super hard in the gym – which is great – but will focus on strengthening movements that don’t relate much to your sport…and that’ll have small payoffs.
Strengthening triple extension is SPECIFIC to almost every sport movement, so why wouldn’t you focus on training that?
That’s where EXERCISE SELECTION becomes a key factor in getting the most out of your training.
Think of someone doing a leg press vs. a belt squat for example – you’re bent at the hips throughout the entire movement during a leg press, whereas you fully extend the hip in a squat when you (hopefully) stand back up.
That extra extension in the hip is more specific to triple extension, making it a better exercise if you want to increase your jump height or sprint speed.
What Does The Science Say On Specificity?
A study done in 2016 showed the importance of specificity in training by comparing how much squatting vs. leg pressing improved jump performance.
The participants split up into 2 groups – one group focused only on squats while the other trained the leg-press.
After 8 weeks of following the SAME strength-training protocol, there were some interesting results:
The squat exercise increased the performance in SJ (squat jump), CMJ (countermovement jump), and reactive strength index more effectively compared with the leg-press in a short-term intervention. Consequently, if the strength training aims at improving jump performance, the squat should be preferred because of the better transfer effects.1https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26439782/
That’s why that “transfer effect” is exactly why triple extension is so important for athletes – if you can mimic triple extension in your exercises, you’ll SIGNIFICANTLY improve your sports performance.
Why Triple Flexion May Be Just As Important
On the other side of the coin we have triple flexion.
Triple flexion refers to your hips, knees, and ankles simultaneously flexing, which is seen in many sports like running, powerlifting, and more.
You’ve probably heard of Ben Patrick – the “Knees Over Toes Guy” – and his unique exercise ideology that has taken the internet by storm the last couple of years.
He focuses a lot on these flexor muscles, especially knee and ankle flexion, pushing that range to its extremes with exercises like the ATG Split Squat and Sissy Squats.
There’re a couple benefits to triple flexion:
- Injury Prevention – Training end-of-range joint movements builds stability and strength in the muscles around those joints, lowering the risk of injury.
- Eccentric Strength – Strengthening triple flexion improves your eccentric flexion strength, giving you more control when lowering down in a squat or setting up for a jump.
- Complimenting Triple Extension – The eccentric part of triple flexion will strengthen many of the same muscles used in triple extension. Proper triple flexion also puts your body in great spot to fire into triple extension.
These two concepts go hand-in-hand, complimenting each other to the point where you can’t really get away with purely focusing on one over the other – you need to flex before you can extend!
Think of when you run: you triple flex as you drive your leg forward in front of you, then triple extend as you power your leg behind you and rocket yourself forward – the better your triple flexion, the faster you get that leg in front of you.
Having good triple flexion will also open up your tight and inactive hip flexors by strengthening them and improving their range-of-motion, which can act as a limiting factor in triple extension.
Triple extension is super important when it comes to basically all athletic movements.
The pattern of simultaneous hip, knee, and ankle extension is the driving force in anything involving running or jumping – which happens (to at least some extent) in nearly all sports.
Building your workouts around exercises that mimic triple extension is a sure-fire way to improve your performance, letting you reach new top speeds and soar to higher levels.
This is because triple extension is SPECIFIC to so many athletic movements, making it a no-brainer pattern to strengthen in your training so that you can enjoy all the gains when it’s time to play your sport!
Triple Extension FAQ
Check out a couple questions we get asked that’ll help you understand triple extension even better!
What is triple extension in weightlifting?
It’s when your hips, knees, and ankles extend to lift up a weight (e.g. the clean).
Is a squat triple extension?
Almost – your hips and knees definitely extend, but your heels stay planted on the ground, meaning that your ankle doesn’t plantar flex.
It’s still a great movement to improve your triple extension.