A Post by Shaun Pickering at "The Ring"
Some people have been talking about John Powell recently, and some posts were mentioning that it was impressive that he was able to throw so far without a "block" as he was an active reverse thrower. I think that John had one of the most effective blocks of any discus thrower, but the secret to his throwing was timing, and he reversed very quickly after the block, but his delivery position was as good as anybody's.
On many of his best throws he would actually "Block the throw" that is to say that his left foot would land at the front of the circle in a position that would prevent the right hip from coming through, but it was important for John to have his left foot down at the front as quickly as possible.
I do not believe that John was that strong, at least compared to his peers at that period, and I was lucky enough to have spent quite a few years with him in the early 80's, when he was coaching at Stanford. What separated him from the others, I believe, was his work ethic, and the amount of time that he spent throwing and doing drills to perfect his technique. He was not the most athletic, and certainly not at physically talented as Mac or Ben, but he did work really hard and would make the most of his opportunities.
He was very competitive at anything, even turning to professional Bowling for a while after his Discus career. John would do thousands of drills, and they were very thoroughly thought out for their greatest application and benefit.
He would work very hard on the rhythm of the throw, and his technique was built around this. I am still convinced that his technique and the way that he teaches it is the easiest way to throw far. He would throw with four Discs at every practice, and would average around 150-200 throws a session, including stands, half turns and south-africans, and he always had to finish on his best throw!
In 1987, following the World Champs in Rome, he stayed with me in England for a few days. He had won a Medal at those Championships by out-thinking the opposition at the age of 40+, making the most of his opportunity against the "Young Bucks" like Schult.
It had started to rain, and the circle was getting slippery. Rather than struggle with the others during warm-ups as they were trying to come to terms with the conditions, he instead did lots of drills in the adjacent Hammer circle. He chose not to put on his throwing shoes, as everyone else was slipping badly in the conditions. He took his first throw, knowing that the others were struggling to throw far in the conditions, and knowing that his best chance was to put them under pressure from the beginning, in the bad conditions.
He put everything he had into that one throw..all the years of training and experience...throwing in his running shoes, and put out a mark at 66m+ that everyone else would have to chase. He attempted only one more throw as he knew he could not throw any further that day in those conditions, and sat back to see if the mark would hold up. I believe that Schult finally passed the mark in the last round, but John held on for the silver medal.
The following week, we were training together in England, at least I was collecting his disc's for him. After his warm up and 20 throws each of Stands, Half turns and South-Africans, he started his full turns. After about 12 throws he launched one out to 68.20m, which he marked with a shoe. He kept throwing for about another hour, most of them over 65m, and every throw was hard. When I suggested that we should leave, as my mother was preparing dinner for us, he told me that he could not leave until he had beaten the mark! After about 15 minutes he catches one which goes past the shoe (measured at 68.62m), and turns to me and suggests that we get back for dinner.
At Stanford, John was always challenging us to strange competitions, like the famous "Float, Float, Sting" drill around the dirt 400m track, against the clock, and throwing through the Soccer goal from the half way line. John could also throw into a Trash Can from 180ft...he loved these challenges that made training more fun for him.
We would always be running relays, sometimes against other throwers, or the other athletes on the team. At a combine weight of 920lbs, we ran 43.8secs for 4x100m. He once challenged me to a Dead Lift competition, three lifts, rising bar, with no warm up! We both managed over 600lbs, but John always made sure that he had the final lift, and added 5lbs to my third attempt!
Carol Cady is also a testament to the effectiveness of John's Technique, as she did not have great athletic talent, like Connie Price or some of the others, but, like John, she worked really hard at all the little aspects of her technique, and I am very proud that her American Record still stands.
I must conclude by saying that John hated me, as I was the complete antithesis of his type of thrower, as I was quite naturally gifted. He even dedicated a Trophy in my name: The Golden Jock Award, for the best performance for the least amount of effort.
He loved to beat me at anything he could. My sophomore year he beat me in a Weight Pentathlon by three points, even though I beat him in four of the five events. He would never do another Pentathlon after that, as he would never give me the satisfaction of beating him! He sure was a stubborn S.O.B. but that is what made him the great athlete that he was. I still think that he throws at least three times a week!
A great competitor, and to my mind the greatest Technician that there has ever been in the Disc.
Twenty Minute Drill
Alternate sets while doing each group. In Group 1, for example, you would do 10 repetitions in the bench followed by 10 repetitions in the Bent Over Row. This process would be repeated three times before moving on to Group 2.
Bench Press 3 by 10
Bent Over Row 3 by 10
Hamstring Curls 3 by 10
Leg Extension 3 by 10
Curls 3 by 10
Triceps Extension 3 by 10
Overhead Dumbell 3 by 10
Lat Pulldowns 3 by 10
Side bends, right 3 by 10
Side bends, left 3 by 10
Sit-ups 3 by 10
Back Extensions 3 by 10
John Powell Discus Camp 1997
I drove Brian Oldfield from the airport. He mentioned that in his best year, he trained twice a week on partials doing 5 sets of 10 in the Partial Front Squat, the Partial Pull and the Behind the Neck Press. He did this for two months and got very strong and healthy.
Brian's dietary insight, while living with John was: "No meat, no wheat."
The key to this camp was the "flamingo" drill. Right knee up, (Upper thigh parallel to ground) and leap into "three." The torque is incredible. Strive for both feet landing at the same time.
Before the Rome World Championships, John discovered that running 3 by 200 meters to be a great workout that satisfied his needs for working the cardiovascular system, sprinting, and injury avoidance. He also focused on light, fast squats this same year.
He found protein drinks to be very helpful, his brand of choice was Twinlabs Diet Fuel mixed with berries. He realized that if one throws a distance at a certain strength level, getting stronger should make one throw farther.
The theme of camp was "Pick-Three," the flamingo drill. This really allows drive out of the back.
One handy preworkout idea was using Exedrine, which mixes aspirin with caffeine.
Nick Hristou learned from Brian about "throwing over the eyes." Doing the "Pick-Three," then "throwing over the eyes" gave Nick the sensation of "Super Whip," one of Dan's key words in high school to throw over 170 feet (weighing 162 pounds). It combines Brian's "Vertical Cartwheel" with basic throwing concepts.
Summary of Most Recent Research on Throwing
1. Technique and abilities are two sides of one complex athletic movement.
2. Heavy implements create a greater power level than the competition implement. What? Throwing 'somewhat' heavier implements helps one throw farther.
3. Focusing on hip flexors leads to a decrease in throwing performance. What? Letting your hips and thighs get really strong is a problem if your ankles, feet, and waist can handle or transfer the energy. What? Squatting (and benching) has limited long term benefits.
4. Clearly three factors should be focused on: more throws, lifting should be more "throwlike," and one should emphasize the quality of throws.
5. Standing throws have little value.
6. Developing the left leg block or brace is done best by hills, or something similar.
Visiting John Powell in Las Vegas, February 6, 1998
After John gave a tour of the house, he showed me his extensive scrapbook collection.
Part of the success of Wilkins and others in Montreal was the fact that injecting steroids was, at the time, uncatchable. So Wilkins et al made the best of it.
John let me flip through his diary. He ran before lifting, usually an 880 which he kept the splits for the 440's. He began each workout with chins, bench dips, and sit ups. In his weights, he would try to slowly get the 5 sets of 10 with a particular weight. So, if he benched 285 pounds, he might go 5, 6, 7, 5, and 3. In the next workout, he might add a rep or two and slowly get to his goal.
He only push pressed and cleaned 135 pounds for reps! His weight workouts were not impressive and he really took his time getting his distance up. John considers Clean Grip Snatches to be "Push Presses." He did multiples sets of 5 with 135 in this exercise.
In 1974, he threw 223'. According to John, this was the strongest year in his career, yet, by most standards, he was not very strong. He felt his keys were the measured run before, followed by chins, bench dips and sit ups. The work in the weight room was always focused on two things: getting a little stronger and throwing the discus farther.
A shot of "complex" training. Dan doing clean grip snatches, John getting ready with the 25 pound weight, Allison waiting with the disc. Dennison, 1998
Great pre-camp meeting with Bill Witt and John Powell.
Basic disc thinking: Hold Stretch Lock Triceps Grind Left Foot Grind Right Foot And, most important: BE PATIENT! Or, another way to explain this is: Lock, Twist, Up, Wait.
John opened camp with an overview of "Can you do four things?" Simply, stretch, step, twist and jump. It seems that the discus can be broken down in four parts very easily. For some athletes, this way or that way is easier to understand. Use the same concepts with different terms to explain the throws.
The most common error I found at camp was that most athletes lose the "X" and "lean in" or "lead with the right shoulder" rather than struggling to keep the "X." One of the last points I relearned from camp was that you need to focus on turning the left foot at the start to get around the left side.
Good first workout, emphasizing these four terms: Stretch, Twist, Up and Crank.
By Wednesday of this camp, I came to a realization: there are only two keys: Hold the "X" and the "Two" position. Nothing else matters. A short two holding the X. A nice learning progression: On knees, multiple styles of throws with powerball, focus on learning X "Push Car" Position: Twist Feet, Get X, Twist! Step forward with Right Foot, Get X, Twist-Twist! Step forward with Left Foot, Get X, Step, Twist-Twist
One thing I liked about this camp was watching the Sedyck video from Springco. I was amazed at how much John"s thinking paralleled Sedych's. John emphasized the arch in the lower back is the same for all lifting movements as well as throwing movements. John's last lecture focused on: V, X, 1, 2, 3, or Stretch, Turn Left, Turn, Turn Jump
One thing I liked about this camp was the refocus on high protein, some running, hard abs, and passion. Great camp, maybe the all-time best.
Camp 2001: Two Weeks!
A couple of things helped me: my kids were here for two weeks and Tiffini arrived for the second week. I learned a lot, I hope the campers did too. John and I had an interesting talk about his first world record. For one thing, he was exhausted and didn't expect to throw all that well. But, as so often happens, good conditions and a long nap meant more than preparation.
John explained his 200 meter program to me. As many people know, he backed off on lifting and became more "fit" after 1976. His running program was simple: three to five 200 meter sprints (best of 25 seconds), in a pattern of "Slow-Medium-Fast" or "Slow-Medium-Fast-Fast." As always, simple stuff.
His lifting soon evolved entirely to the "Two minute drill" after his conversations with Sarul and the British Javelin throwers. He strived to incorporate one new "concept" a year to his throw. Examples: Slow-Fast Triceps lock Big Circle-Little Circle Drive off Left Leg
In the car on the final trek to the airport, he explained why he stopped using the word "step" with the right foot and shifted to the word "lift." If you step across, the left leg may or may not be pushing and if it is, you might not get the right foot rotation. Simply falling back, twisting the feet, and lifting the right foot will demand a left leg push leading to the right foot rotation.
I saw the results of this in a contest we had at camp with Bill Witt, Dr. Tom Fahey, and myself. I cranked a huge one kilo disc throw by simply locking the tricep, lifting the right foot and focusing on rotating the right foot. If it were not for the humidity, the disc would still be flying"it dropped, according to John, at 252 plus. Not bad for a 43 year old geezer.
The "Long" Position I learned from John...look at the right foot!
I took the book "Dinosaur Training" with me to camp and decided to try, again, two day a week lifting. Mike Rosenberg, an old schooler and neophyte Highland Gamer, brought me two thick bars weighing 55 pounds. I will add Thick Bar Clean Pulls (2 and " inch grips) as well as Farmer Walks to my training. I also decided to keep my real reps to two sets of five, or three sets of three, or six singles.
The great achievement of this camp was the invention, by me (well, and Bill Witt) of the "Two stick" Drill. Explaining the "X" position is nearly impossible, so we hooked a "bungee" cord to a broomstick and had the athlete step into this. This stick would slide up to the belt line, sticking a stick through the belt loops works the same. The stick is on the butt side making a "T" with the butt crack. (Scientific names only here) Another broomstick was held across the shoulders. Now do your drills.
Do you hold the "X"? We found that if we put some bright tape on the discus side of the waist stick, the athlete could instantly tell whether or not they held the "X." The athletes also stopping twisting and bending to the sides--it really is amazingly simple. So simple, most people will ignore it!
John made us teach the disc with this language--Stretch-Twist-L ift-Twist (into the Three or Power Position)-Jump! The only thing that matters in throwing is "settling," I discovered. Short Two, Big Three, and Twist around the LONG AXIS. The disc doesn't come down!