Extension: Missing the Knees in the Weightlifting Movements


I’ve learned from many weightlifting coaches over the years. I’ve trained with, not as part of, the National team while I interned at the Olympic training center in Colorado Springs. I’ve also trained with Mark Cannella, who coaches Holley Mangold and I’ve worked under Bo Sandoval, who coaches Colin Burns. I’ve picked up many different cues and coaching/movement perspectives from all of these great coaches over the years. However there is one that has stuck with me that I use nearly every day; foot pressure. It’s amazing I never had the notion of realizing it sooner.

Note: This is my perception of a coaching cue. Others’ may be different. I reserve the right to be wrong, but it’s working…so I’m sticking with it for now 🙂

Hip or Knee Focus?

Over the years I’ve noticed that many coaches (mostly strength coaches using the weightlifting movements) miss the boat on the technical aspects of extension. They are so worried about “getting the hips through” that there are essentially force capacities that are left unused in the lift. This is because the athlete is now so focused on the hips that they forget to extend the knees. The end result is usually a lift with a looped bar path that is “finished” with hyperextension of the lumbar spine, which loops the bar even more. Many times the lift is unsuccessful as the bar’s weight becomes heavier due to the large resistance arm (when the bar loops away from the body).

Foot Pressure?

Remember, this is just my opinion, so take it as you will. I learned this cue from Mark Cannella a few years ago when I was still competing. It completely changed my thoughts on what the lift should look like from the coaches’ perspective and feel like from the lifters’.

If ground reaction forces come from, well, the ground, then it makes sense that there must be constant pressure through the ground for those reaction forces to return through the body and to the bar. Remember Newton’s law about equal and opposite reactions. We can also look at the relationship between impulse and momentum. The greater the impulse (amount of force and how long it is applied to the bar), the greater the momentum of the bar. All of these factors work together to assist or resist the lifter in their pursuit to complete a lift.

Knee Extension

Having said all of that, hopefully you’re still with me at this point. So, if we are applying force through the feet, into the ground, for as long as possible (large impulse), we end up with a larger momentum applied to the moving barbell. Where does the knee extension part come into play? I believe that focusing on fully extending the knees plays a larger part in maintaining foot pressure than does focusing on hip extension. Again, if the hips extend fully but the knees do not, foot pressure is generally lost. This results in poor execution of the lift.

If the lifter has the focus of “pushing the floor away” or “driving through the floor,” they usually skip the thought of the “hips through” mentality and do well in maintaining foot pressure while fully extending the knees FOLLOWED BY the hips. Plus, a lift done this way just looks smoother to me; prettier :).

Maintain your foot pressure through the floor by focusing on “pushing the floor away” and extending the knees. The hips will usually follow! 


The ideas, comments and materials presented herein are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the NSCA’s official position on an issue. The NSCA assumes no responsibility for any statements made by authors, whether as fact, opinion or otherwise.


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