Thinking Throwing Through

A new Loch Aidle Record for the Weight Toss

It will happen sooner or later, so you might as well plan and practice. “It”
is simply being asked to toss or hurl a heavy object a long way for distance.
The more time you spend snatching, cleaning, jerking, pressing and squatting,
the more likely it is that one day you will be standing around, innocently
enough, when someone will ask you to demonstrate your abilities by tossing a
large stone, a chained weight, or a tree trunk.

The competition you find yourself in may even be an organized affair, though
I use the term “organized” loosely. Local Highland Games competitions, as well
as statewide “Games” in a variety of Olympic and general sports, are becoming
more popular each year. Strongman competitions have seen a revival of sorts in
the past few years, too. Herein lies the problem: being strong is great, noble
and wonderful. But, being strong doesn’t necessarily lead to throwing objects a
long way. In this article, I hope to provide a few hints that can help you stay
on your feet and avoid the embarrassment of propelling yourself farther than the
implement you attempted to throw.

First, a few definitions outline the differences in throwing competitions.
The Olympic Games offer four throwing events: the shot put, the discus, the
javelin and the hammer. The implements are rigorously examined before
competition, judges keep a close eye for fouls (basically either crossing the
line or stepping over the ring), and the techniques are mastered over years of
patient and programmed training. Much the same could be said about Highland
Games competition. The events “generally” include stone putting (thrown without
moving the feet), weight tossing for distance (a weight connected to a chain
connected to a handle), weight tossing for height (using a pole vault or high
jump standard to measure) and the caber toss (the telephone pole or tree flip).
Based on local tradition, various other events are also often contested,
including standing triple jumps, sheaf tosses, sprints, or farmer’s walks.
Strongman competitions seem to include just about anything a sick mind can
imagine, but one standard is the tire toss. You almost can’t help but try to
join in these events. And then you do. And you wish you had listened and planned
ahead.

A few points to save your body and your humility: Coach Ralph Maughan at Utah
State University used to preach a simple throwing message. Memorize this: “If
your brains were in your feet, you would throw a lot farther.” Simply, while
proper lifting entails contact with the earth right down to the molten core of
the planet, such thinking will kill throwing. Move your feet, move your feet,
move your feet. Even if the event calls for stationary feet, like some Highland
Games stone put events, practice a one-inch foot movement with your back foot.
Let your feet move. Though this transition may be difficult for lifters, who are
taught to establish a firm base and “push the feet through the platform,” it is
vital that you alter your thinking when you move off the lifting platform and
onto the throwing field

The throws are not one huge “smack” at the end; rather one strives for
continuous acceleration of the implement. The ball, the spear, the weight or the
log needs to be moved faster and faster throughout the approach before the
release. What matters is the speed of the implement, not your speed. Many
athletes spin or sprint like their hair is on fire, yet the implement is not
accelerating. The easiest way to accelerate the weights and hammers is to let
them orbit farther away from the body. Of course, it takes some relaxation and
confidence, as well as experience, to allow the implement to go on its own
course.

It is really the opposite of powerlifting. The squat, deadlift and bench
press are sometimes simply summarized as “explode out of the hole” or “grip it
and rip it.” The Olympic lifts, however, mimic the acceleration of the throwing
events. The pull from the floor to the knees is certainly done at maximal speed,
yet the athlete must hold the proper positions or all that speed will go to
waste. The best lifts for the throws are the clean and press, the snatch, the
clean and jerk and all the one-arm variations.

One consistent “rookie” mistake is trying to throw as far as possible in warm
ups. All too often, the inexperienced thrower tries to use the warm up area as a
place to master the event in a few minutes. Save your energy. Try to achieve a
touch of sweat, a feeling of looseness and a simple mastery of the general
concept of the event. When you attempt your first legal throw, you should think
about tossing 80 percent of your best. Often, you will find that the 80 percent
throws go the farthest.

If you do discover that, gasp, training before the competition may be of
value, learn from the generations of throwers who have gone before you. At Utah
State, we used a simple practice format: in a four throw series, take the first
three at three-fourths or 80 percent effort. Often, we would mark with a towel
an appropriate distance. On the fourth throw, let it all out. Often, the
three-fourths throws go farther than the all out attempts. But, here is the
secret: try to hit the towel or mark easier and easier with each set. See how
little effort you can expend in dropping the implement on the marker. This
eliminates what the Soviets used to call the “speed barrier.” If you throw hard
every attempt, your nervous system seems to learn that this amount of effort
should produce this result. Yet, if you ease off, allow a greater orbit or
smoother acceleration, the distances suddenly have a quantum leap. A common
response to following this advice is: “did I throw that thing that far?”

Be prepared to learn something new each day. One purchase that might help are
Gold Medal balls from Gill Athletics. These are medicine balls with a handle
that you add sand or lead shot to an appropriate weight. Throw these for height
with one or two hands. You can also toss them into a brick wall with little
damage, usually anyway, very little damage. One needs to practice accelerating
the ball in a variety of different ways. I am a great fan of overweight
throwing. As a high school discus coach, I always tell the athletes that if they
throw the heavier college discus in training, they can be assured the lighter
high school implement will go at least that far. This is not true with lighter
implements. However, light shots and weights do teach the nervous system to go
faster and amplify technique errors. Anytime you end up on the ground is usually
a sign of technique errors.

How do you put it all together? In my experience, a serious throws competitor
needs to break down the training by the time of year. Less serious competitors
can also learn from this approach. The simplest way to prepare is in three
steps: Heavy Lifting, Heavy Throws, and Competition.

Heavy Lifting, for Track athletes in the fall, is a period of, obviously,
heavy lifting. This is the time of year to devote three days a week to the long,
difficult workouts of “Go Heavy, Go Hard, Go Home.” I recommend doing the
Olympic lifts and this is a good time of year to clean and press, snatch and
clean and jerk all in one workout. Yes, it is exhausting but we should be
looking at the doughnut and not at the hole during this phase. Two days a week
should be dedicated to throwing. For an experienced competitor, work on your
weaknesses or try new ideas. For the neophyte, learn the events.

The second phase is Heavy Throwing. I believe strongly in a period of
overweight throwing. For javelin throwers, this would be weighted balls into a
wall and discus throwers can throw the Gold Medal balls. Keep Olympic lifting
but cut back on the volume. If you were lifting for an hour and half in the
heavy lifting period, cut to 45 minutes or less. I have coached athletes, with
great success, who only lifted a half an hour a day, three days a week. The
volume of throws should be very high, as well as the variety of throwing
exercises. Even beginners enjoy the challenges of all the games and
mini-contests that you can invent with weighted objects. Juri Tamm, Soviet
Hammer Thrower, spent two days a week with a weighted kettlebell called a “pud”
tossing the object every which way. One hand, two hands, overhead, backwards,
“discus style,” and every variation available were done by Tamm as he marched up
and down the field. He also clean grip snatched in the high 200’s, but he felt
that “throwing strength” came from “throwing.”

The Competition phase is the most difficult to understand. Why? For most
throwers, strength levels go down before maximal distances. Now, for the hybrid
lifter-thrower this fact leads to widespread panic. The body can only respond to
so many requests, one can’t run marathons and snatch max’s the same weekend with
respectable results. One idea that really helped my high school and collegiate
throwers was to back off to only two exercises: the overhead squat and the side
bend. Now, I would probably recommend a one-arm press or a bent press rather
than the side bends, but the athlete needs to stay strong, flexible and fresh.
This is the time of year to do the Coach Maughan drill of three three-quarters
throws and one maximal throw. If you are a multi-event thrower, only do them all
one day a week. Try to throw each event two or three times a week and play with
various combinations. My senior year at Utah State, I three the discus Monday,
Wednesday, and Friday, the Shot Put on Monday, Tuesday and Friday, and the
hammer on Monday, Tuesday and Thursday. Monday s were long practices, yet the
rest of the week allowed me to focus on almost only one throw. In the weight
room, Monday was a 70 percent for multiple singles in the lifts, Wednesday was
the heavy 90 percent day, and Friday, the day before meets, was a simple 80
percent for ONE single in the snatch, clean and squat to fire up my nervous
system.

With a little planning and a little practice, you may find yourself still
standing after throwing the 56 pound weight for distance. With a little extra
effort, you may be able to wear the blue ribbon under your kilt.

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