Guest Post by Don McCauley : The catapult finally explained!!

10301445_690391244349036_4227168221934147641_nOn numerous occasions, I have made the point that debate and exchange of ideas are healthy and good learning experiences. I exchange ideas and discuss weightlifting and its subcategory (programming, technique, etc.) on a regular basis with different coaches and high end athletes. Some have more of a traditional style and some have more of a ”revolutionary” style. I asked Coach Don McCauley to explain his description of the Catapult because the term is absent from our weightlifting lexicon in Quebec/Canada and it seems to be at the center of a big debate in the U.S.  When it comes to technique in Canada, I would venture and say that everybody is teaching in a similar fashion thanks to the educational efforts of some individuals and I say it does not hurt to ask the man a question that should have been asked before : What does Catapulting really means? The following is Don’s description of the lifts.

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By Don Mccauley, MDUSA ASST. COACH, USAW SR. Intl. coach

I am the originator of the word catapult as it is relates to Olympic weightlifting.  I think, therefore, that this is the first, the best and the only article in which the real definition of the word as it is used in explaining the interaction of the athlete and the bar during these lifts is explained.  So, when you read or hear something about what catapult means, and it’s not contained in this article or in my book, you can pretty much delete it from your memory.

Frankly, so many of the explanations I see are so wrong-headed, I don’t even recognize what people are talking about until I see that they use the word catapult somewhere in their articles.  I question if these people know much about weightlifting at all, nevermind the specifics of what I have said. And, I will also state here for the sake of clarity, that none of the authors of the articles written about “The Catapult” have bothered to speak with me and I doubt they have read my book.

Remember as you read the rest of this article that a catapult, very basically, is defined as a device that uses stored energy to hurl something for some distance.  It can also be defined as a slingshot.  And, often the launching device on an aircraft carrier is called a catapult.It does not have to be the classic war machine hurling something forward and down field towards a fortress wall.


Let me say several things that the word catapult as I use itdoes and does not describe.    1) Catapult describes the general accelerating efforts of a lifter pertaining to the bar during the initiation of the 2nd pull and then to himself during the 3rd pull, in performing the Olympic weightlifting movements using all viable, modern techniques in which the bar touches the body of the athlete on its ascent.  It is to all good pulls a general description, just as “jump and shrug” is. 2) Catapult does NOT describe a certain technique of weightlifting.It is a general method describing all viable techniques used in the modern era. That’s the plain truth. All else is misinformation put out by either my detractors misusing my term, those that have their own agenda, such as diverting attention from incoherent technical advice being given or have entered in text books for all to see and, of course, coaches that have a incoherent view of correct technique and cannot afford to admit they have been wrong for years. (key word-afford-$$$$$)

So, what’s the difference between someone who is catapulting the bar to accomplish a lift and someone who is jumping and shrugging up to accomplish a lift?

Simply, a lifter who is catapulting and is using some technique that emphasizes keeping the bar over the base, accelerating the bar by a catapulting motion, accelerating it at the beginning of the 2nd pull and extending their body efficiently and transitioning as quickly as possible after delivering the explosive catapulting acceleration upward into the downward movement to receive the bar either overhead, as in the snatch or on the shoulders, as in the clean.

A lifter who, on the other hand, is jumping and shrugging up and is using some technique that emphasizes (maybe) keeping the bar over the base, explosively accelerating the bar in the 2nd pull and trying to make it go as high as possible by the extension of their body including the conscious pushing upwards through the forefeet to make himself as tall as possible, shrugging the shoulders and possibly pulling with the arms during the 2nd  pull, in order to make the bar go higher before transitioning into the downward movement to receive the bar either overhead, as in the snatch or on the shoulders, as in the clean.  Its proponents are always…too tall….too far forward….too slow….too late.


Catapulters, no matter their particular technique(S pull, Chinese pull, etc.), try to accelerate the bar quickly at the initiation of the 2nd pull, launch the bar almost vertically over the base, stay as ground based as possible and initiate the transition to and completion of the descent using their arms, trapezius muscles and some differing levels of activation of the quads and ankles as soon as they can after the proper acceleration of the bar. The nature of this type of movement allows lifters to move more quickly throughout and allows bars to achieve a moderate and correct height at their apex allowing them to be shouldered or caught overhead in good position.  The emphasis is getting properly from the set position to the receiving position and during that movement launching the bar upwards over the base. The movements put the accent on the lifter gathering speed throughout and reaching the correct receiving position as quickly and rhythmically as possible.

Jump and shruggers, no matter their particular technique, try to accelerate the bar and continue to consciously move upward through their feet and sometimes actually jumping in the air, actively shrugging their shoulders using the trapezius muscle and sometimes pulling upward with their arms as well, to make the bar go as high as possible, after which they attempt to transition to the descent and to the receiving position.  The emphasis here is to make the bar go higher in order to best achieve having time and position to get into the correct receiving position.


Both catapulters and jump and shruggers will also try to keep the bar over the base(over their feet) during the lift.  Catapulters are much more successful at this, thus they are more efficient.  The simple reason is this.  When you try to consciously push through your feet, as jump and shruggers do, you naturally move forward on your base towards your toes.  Since your base ends at the base of the toes, doing this automatically puts the bar in front of the base.  The bar will then tend to loop forward in the 2nd pull, which creates forces between the bar and the lifter that make the accomplishment of the task more difficult.

Catapulters, on the other hand, with their emphasis on achieving the whole movement, not just the upwards movement of the bar, tend to accelerate the bar more vertically in the 2nd pull, keeping it over the base throughout the movement, initiating the transition to descent immediately after the start of the 2nd pull making the accomplishment of the whole movement physically easier and more efficient.  It can be viewed as follows. 1) Every movement upward after the initiation of the 2nd pull when catapulting seamlessly leads to a movement downward towards the receiving position. 2) Movements upward after the initiation of the 2nd pull when jump and shrugging at first have to do with driving the bar as high as possible and only after this, have to do with starting movements downward towards the receiving position.  This latter movement causes lifters to stall at the top of extension and to descend too late and too far forward on their feet.


The jump and shrug up might be more useful if a competition ever evolves that requires lifters to put a bar up on a high shelf. Until then, it is pretty useless. That thought is what originally inspired me to argue in a forum debate that thinking of the movements of weightlifting  more like catapulting ones seemed more proper.  That is how the whole catapult debate and the use of the word started.  Let me add here that some have more recently argued that this jump and shrug technique was only taught by bad coaches during the ‘00’s, ‘90’s, ‘80’s and ‘70’s.  This is rubbish. This technique persists today(some still say “deadlift and jump”) and those who have taught it have been busy trying to erase all evidence that they ever spoke about it.  These coaches are back peddling faster than a cornerback covering Calvin Johnson.  But, the internet is forever and textbooks are almost never edited.

Now, let me tackle the issue of the triple extension.  It has been said by people that, first, there is a particular catapult technique and second, that it has to be done in a flat-footed stance.  Also, it has been said that there is a particular technique called triple extension, which is also incorrect.  Triple extension is simply a description of the extension of the ankle, knee and hip joints in a sequence.  And, finally, it has been said by some of the same misinformed people that those that catapult do not use triple extension!!Please, at least look at the cover of my book: Power Trip: a guide to weightlifting for athletes, parents and coaches. You will see a picture of one of my lifters in triple extension, even though some of the people I mentioned won’t know why he is doing it or where he is in the lifting sequence.

What I once said and still say is that weightlifting can be accomplished perfectly well without the use of triple extension as we recognize it in sports. What I mean by “recognize it in sports” is that triple extension in sports almost always has to do with a sequential extension of the ankle, knee and hip joints that propel the athlete forward or upward or backward and may also cause an implement to move away from the athlete.


I also have said that almost all weightlifters use triple extension somewhere in the lift but they use it differently than other athletes.  Some use little or none at all in causing the bar to ascend and only actually plantar flex(recognizable ankle extension) during the descent while some lifters start to triple extend in the initial part of the drive from the floor, then flex the knees and hips at the readjustment while extending the ankles more, then initiate knee and hip extension while not extending the ankle joint any further. And in some pulls the knee extension is halted, hip extension begins and forces ankle joint extension.  As I said, these motions do not look like your Daddy’s triple extension.

And, further, to prove my statement about lifters being able to accomplish weightlifting perfectly well without the use of triple extension as we recognize it in sports, you simply have to do the rather famous “no hook/no feet” drill, which proficient lifters can use to snatch or clean with weights that are easily 75-80% of their best 1RM.  It is done with a concerted effort to keep the feet flat on the floor and learn to extend and retreat the hips quickly to first launch the bar and then reach the receiving position.  The best can do this easily.  Or, you can do as I have in clinics and screw your shoes into the platform and lift the bar. It can be done and I think is very easy for those who know how to lift correctly. I challenge any other sport to have athletes perform their sport nearly as high a percentage of the best results with the same condition put forth on them.  So, I once again will attempt to make this point about t-ex. While the use of athletic triple extension is absolutely necessary and almost identical in most sports, it is something that is not done in the normal manner and possibly not at all in weightlifting and further, should not be emphasized in teaching proper technique.


I hope this clears up some things about The Catapult.  If you do have further questions, I am readily available on Facebook and I will Friend almost anyone who has other friends in weightlifting or sports in general.  Don’t be like those without curiosity and come ask your question. I will be happy to answer your questions. And, if you happen to have tried some of my drills on YouTube, you will be pleasantly surprised at how they help your lifting, even though they all came from this idea of catapulting the bar to accelerate it, rather than jumping with it to make the bar go higher.

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2 thoughts on “Guest Post by Don McCauley : The catapult finally explained!!”

  1. I Think that it does not matter what the coach says to the lifter, each lifter form his own technique during the teens years. When we lift max attempts we do not have time to think about nothing. I read people talking about modern techiques of weightlifitng, but I don’t think that anything is better than then the lifters of 30 years ago. A good example is the usage of the shoulders to lift the bar during explosion, I see that some people claim that the modern techinique don’t put too much emphasis in the shrug, but the truth is that high level lifters use this kind of technique because it was made during the formation of habits in the first years of training, sometimes the coach must let each athlete choose his own technique. I think that everybody here must have read an interview with Pisarenko when he tell about his relation with Alexeyev, When Pisa was coached by Alexeyev during two days, the great lifter that broked 80 world records tried to change the way of Anatoly lift weights and things don’t work very well.

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