Rethinking drills for the hammer throw

Back in December, I invited Sergej Litinov to Zurich to present a workshop and work with some of the Swiss hammer throwers. Since I first got to train with Litvinov in 2004, I have been impressed by the different perspective he brings to the event. He conceptualizes the hammer throw different than any other thrower I know. Back in August 2017 and September 2018 he joined member hangouts to try and explain his approach, but only seeing him with with athletes in person do you really get to understand how to put the concepts into practice.

» Related content: Learn more about the hammer throw on this week’s HMMR Podcast with guest Kevin McMahon.

Redefining drills

Ask a hammer throw coach why they do drills, and the answer is most likely related to technique, specific strength, or a combination therefor. Litvinov, on the other hand, thinks the primary purpose of drills should be to help athletes grasp a feeling. In this sense, his drills are more mental drills than physical drills.

Feeling is hard to define, but Litvinov and Kevin McMahon made an attempt at it in our the 2017 hangout when the said that the role of the coach is to teach a feeling. Learning physical movement is quite easy; the footwork in the hammer throw is hardly complex. But after the basics are there, we need to improve feeling in order to reach the next level. The best way to learn a feeling is to continue to explore and collect a library of feelings. Ultimately you should be one with the hammer, but this requires constant adjustments throughout each throw. The move feelings an athlete is exposed to, the more they will understand what the implement is doing and how to work with it. In other words, if you have a big library of feelings you will not have problems adapting as the thrower grows and results get better. Drills that focus on the movement, therefore, are focusing on the wrong them. Drills need to focus on feeling.

Feeling the orbit

Litvinov shared a few examples of what this approach looks like. A good drill is one where the feedback lets the athlete know immediately if they’re doing it right or not. If you simply do standard drills with turn after turn, you don’t get that intrinsic feedback; after all you can do 10 turns in a row with bad technique and you might not know the difference.

The first drill is a simple variation of standard hammer turns. The big difference is that, rather than turning at normal speed and letting the hammer rise and fall, athletes focus on keeping the hammer as close to the ground as possible without touching the ground. You can only do that if you are patient and let the ball lead the body past 0°. Athletes should literally focus on the hammer with their eyes and see when it gets higher or hits the ground so they can learn to react to it and work with it. This develops their ability to feel and react to the hammer. Most importantly, they should be able to feel the hammer in the hand. When this exercise is done well, they will feel steady pressure throughout the turns from a nice round orbit.

Another advantage I like about this drill is that it also teaches athletes to move slow. Of course we need to move fast in the throw, but moving slow is a skill that is often overlooked. Just like riding a bike slowly, turning slow often takes more skill and definitely requires more feeling and patience. With standard turn drills we often just go through the motions, but slow drills force focus. Just look at the focus when Litvinov demonstrates the drill below.


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Feeling the phases of the throw

Another feeling athletes need to learn is the difference between the active and passive phases of the throw. For a right handed thrower, the left side should be active, the right side patience. Sergej shared two drills to help teach this feeling.

The first example is simply letting the hammer go where the two phases change. Like the drill above, you get immediate feedback about your timing from the result of the drill. If the hammer shoots to the left, then you’re being active too long. If it goes to the right, you’re passive too early. Hit the throw in the middle and you’re on your way.

Similar, you can do a variation of the drill with a medicine ball and integrate a turn. The idea and concept is the same: release the ball between the phases and if you throw it straight you are one the right track.


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Creativity is key

These are just a few examples of how drills can be used as mental training to teach feelings. But they are hardly the only drills out there. Be creative and find your own exercises to help teach the concepts you want to see in the throw.