Posts

Can You Repeat That Please?

You might not know it, but scientific research is facing a crisis. Swathes of previously accepted research findings are being called into question, as subsequent experiments have failed to reproduce the same findings as the original papers. This replications crisis is strongest in psychology, especially social psychology, but has roots in, and implications for, all branches of science. And as more coaches are looking for an edge in the latest scientific research and social psychology findings, this has a large impact on coaching too. Read more

Do Non-Responders To Exercise Exist?

When we exercise, we expect to see improvements in health, fitness, or both. However, substantial research over the past couple of decades has illustrated that the magnitude of training improvements is highly variable between individuals, and a small number of people show no, or perhaps even negative, improvements to an exercise training intervention. These individuals are typically referred to as “non-responders.” Whis phenomenon is not unique to exercise, but new research is finally starting to take a closer look at this topic. Read more

Training With Multiple Weighted Implements

In Martin’s post from earlier this week he mentioned that coach Jean-Pierre Egger had expanded his rule of not using implement more or less than 10% of the competition weight. With Valerie Adams now uses a range of plus or minus 25%. Larry Judge is one of the few American coaches to write about the topic and he mentions a similar 10% rule, although he noted that it is not uncommon to throw an implement upwards of 20% higher then the competition weight to develop special strength. Is there such a simple rule that can be easily applied to throwing heavy and light implements?

When working on my graduate degree I chose to do my thesis project on just this topic. The final thesis was titled “Resistance Training Methods of Elite Shot Putters” and I asked nine of the top shot put coaches in the USA to participate in the project. These coaches were chosen based off of the results they had in International Championships, USA National Championships, and NCAA National Championships. One of the questions I asked each of these coaches was if they used multiple weighted implements as a means of training. I included this question because using multiple weighted implements for training was widely accepted and at this time there had been very little research done using this training method.
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Observing the Kinetic Chain

While most countries saw their sport-science research nearly dissapear after the cold war ended, a united Germany continued with the same determination ever since and have pushed out new studies with regularity. Just last month, an Egyptian doctoral student Marwa Sakr completed a doctoral dissertation at the Universität Konstanz in Southern Germany focusing solely on the biomechanics on the women’s hammer throw. After hearing about her initial plans two years ago, I was eagerly awaiting the results.

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Betty Heidler, Kathrin Klaas, and Mareike Nannen show off the study’s measurement equipment.

Sakr’s research in many ways was an extension of Koji Murofushi’s research from several years ago. She created a device similar to Koji’s to help measure the energy throughout the throw. But the focus of her work was not simply measuring the kinetic energy levels throughout the body and hammer during the throw, but also to look at how the energy moved sequentially through the human body by looking at correlations between the energy levels of different parts. This was the first time a study has looked at the kinetic chain in the hammer throw and it is built upon the “kinetic link principle” which says that segments reach their maximum of speed consecutively beginning with those at the far end of the kinetic chain. In other words, the theory is that the kinetic energy travels from the ground up and into the hammer.
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How Mental Stress Affects Throwing

Distance coach Steve Magness. As I like to say, you can always trust a man in glasses.

Sometimes learning more about throwing can lead you to some weird places. Over the last year or two it has led me to read a lot of work by distance coaches. There is so little throws-related research and writing taking place that I am always looking for some nugget of information in another sport that might carry over to throwing. The mass participation in distance running means there are a lot of new ideas, research, and writing on training topics. Former Nike Oregon Project assistant coach and current University of Houston distance coach Steve Magness does a good job of keeping track of what is going in the field and contributing his own ideas on his blog, the Science of Running. His most recent post is definitely one that throwers can learn from too.

As I mentioned last year, mental fatigue can hurt your training. A recent study showed that cyclists peak power output was reduced 20% after being put through demanding cognitive tasks. I notice this first hand: since I’ve started to work my post-work training results have dropped and my morning training is now regularly better.
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What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Stronger

A topic that has interested me a lot this year is how to identify and develop talent. Recently Vern Gambetta shared a good article on his blog about a counterintuitive article recently published in journal Sports Medicine. The abstract describes the article best:

[T]he vast majority of [talent development] systems expend a great deal of effort maximizing support to the young athletes and trying to counter the impact of naturally occurring life stressors. In this article, we suggest that much of this effort is misdirected; that, in fact, talented potential can often benefit from, or even need, a variety of challenges to facilitate eventual adult performance.

“The Rocky Road to the Top: Why Talent Needs Trauma” by Dave Collins and Áine MacNamara of Institute of Coaching and Performance, University of Central Lancashire, Lancashire, UK.
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The Effects of Mental Fatigue

I’ve began regularly throwing twice a day after I graduated from law school back in 2008. When I was living in Kamloops my training sessions would start at 9 in the morning and 3 in the afternoon. The results were almost always better in the afternoon. When I arrived in Switzerland in 2010, I continued training twice a day but had to adjust my training times. Since I have to work in between trainings, my morning session normally starts between 7:30 and 8:30 (often depending on the sunrise) and my afternoon training session normally begins closer to 4 (unless I can squeeze it in at lunch).

If anything, you would think this change would mean that my morning training sessions would get worse in comparison. But the opposite has happened. Now my morning training session is, without fail, my best of the day. This summer some of my best results were as early as 7 o’clock. And my afternoon sessions were continuously unimpressive.
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Hammer Throw Research Wins Ig Nobel Prize

Hammer throw research won its first, and perhaps only, international award.

As a hammer thrower, you get used to answering the same questions over and over from coworkers and onlookers. Away from training most people always ask “Do you throw, like, a real hammer?” But pedestrians that stroll by my training normally and see me throw always lead with another question: “Don’t you get dizzy?” The answer is no. I don’t get dizzy. Ever. I can complete dozens of turns in a row without getting dizzy. The only time I remember getting dizzy is when I was just starting out in the event ten years ago.

The follow-up is often along the lines of “Well then, you must use ‘spotting’ like dancers.” Again, the answer is no. Spotting is actually considered a bad habit in throwing. But when they ask why we don’t get dizzy, I don’t really have an answer.

Just a few weeks ago I was complaining about the lack of research going on in the event and someone must have heard me because the question the puzzled me also stumped a team of European researchers, especially when they noticed that discus throwers can get dizzy. The researchers surveyed 22 discus and hammer throwers. About half of the discus throwers experienced dizzyness, while none of the hammer throwers did. Even more puzzling was that some of the throwers did both events and only experienced symptoms in the discus. This lead them to believe that it was the different movements, and not simply different physiology among athletes, that caused the different results.

After completing the research, the researchers published the paper “Dizziness in Discus Throwers is Related to Motion Sickness Generated While Spinning”. And the reason I found out about this paper is because the intuitive conclusion in the paper’s title earned it the Ig Nobel Prize in physics and was featured on the Scientific American homepage. (The Ig Nobel Prizes are a parody of the Nobel Prizes given every year to research that “first make people laugh, and then make them think.”) Indeed, the funny premise for a study turns out to be quite interesting for hammer throwers and also has implications on research the team is doing on motion sickness in general, which is a concept that is still not fully understood. They identified three distinguishing factors that likely prevent hammer throwers from getting dizzy.

  • Hammer throwers use the arms and hammer to visually orient themselves. While the surroundings whirls around, the hammer and arms remain in front of the thrower through the throw. This provides them with spatial orientation. In a way, the hammer thrower is actually ‘spotting’ like a dancer. But rather than spotting on a fixed point as the dancer does, they are spotting on a point that is moving along with them. In the discus, both the surroundings and the implement are constantly changing position relative to the thrower, making it impossible for the throw to fix their eyes on anything.
  • In the hammer throw, the head remains immobile in comparison to the torso. There are slight movements throughout the throw, but generally the head looks straight ahead. In the discus, on the other hand, the head is constantly in a new position compared to the torso as the torso twists and the head moves. According to the authors, this produces “Coriolis forces”, which are known to prompt motion sickness.
  • Hammer throwers always keep contact with the ground, while discus throwers spend some time suspended in the air. Jumping can significantly hamper spatial orientation.

The best way to demonstrate the first two points is by showing a video of Olympic champion Primoz Kozmus throwing with a camera attached to his head. While the camera is above his head (and thus reduces the amount of arm that his eyes would actually see), you can see that the hammer provides a point of visual fixation and that the head is relatively immobile compared to the torso. I watched the video twice, first looking at the surroundings and then focusing on the ball and actually noticed a small difference from the comfort of my computer. Maybe next time this team can work on a topic that can help me throw farther.