Training Talk With Nick Garcia (Part 1)

My collegiate career got off to a rocky start. Back in August 2002 I showed up at Cal State-Northridge only to have my coach, the man I had moved more than a thousand miles to work with, resign. The next six months were filled with ups and downs before I decided to transfer a few months before the school year ended. At that point, the recently graduated shot putter Nick Garcia took me under his wing to finish out the season. He helped write a training plan that led to a five-meter improvement. He offered me lifting facilities. And he offered me work as an assistant for his hammer wire making business in John Godina’s garage. I learned a lot about training from him and even more about dedication. With this in mind, I was happy that he called me a year ago to ask a few questions about Bondarchuk. Finally, I had a chance to return the favor.

This training talk is also a case study in converting to a training system based on the teachings of coach Anatoliy Bondarchuk. Nick has been training now for one year under this system and I figured it was a good point to get his feedback on the transition and also provide a shot putter’s point of view to counterbalance my hammer throw commentary.


Nick, who turns 34 in April, has been throwing for more than fifteen years and compiled a long list of accomplishments in that time. While a student at Northridge, he was a two-time Big Sky conference champion in the shot put. In ten years of post-collegiate training he increased his personal best to 18.33 meters. This was also done even though, by shot put standards, he is not the typical thrower. He measures just 170-centimeters (5-foot 7-inches) tall and has a snatch of just 105-kilograms. Since changing his training last season he not only threw a personal best, but had his most consistent results ever. Already this February he has come within inches of another new personal best.

Since graduating, he has had just as much success outside the ring. He completed a masters degree in kinesiology, where his 66-page thesis looked at training methods in the shot put. For the past ten seasons he has served as the throwing coach at Notre Dame High School in Sherman Oaks, California where he has guided twenty throwers over 50-feet, including eight spinners and twelve gliders. He is a level two USATF coach and is nearly completed with level three USATF certification and level five IAAF certification.

If you enjoy reading this interview, continue on to part two where we discuss what Nick likes and dislikes about this approach, how he’s started using the training system for his successful high school group, and how difficult it was to learn about and implement.
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Training Talk With Don Babbitt (Part 2)

In part one of my interview with throwing coach Don Babbitt, he discussed how he indizidualizes the training plans of his athletes like Adam Nelson and Reese Hoffa. Coach Babbitt continued the discussion by talking about what factors he looks at when tailoring a plan to an athlete how he came about this approach after learning under a quite different system as a thrower at UCLA.

Despite training together, Coach Babbitt has made quite different plans for Olympic medalists Adam Nelson and Reese Hoffa.

Martin: When you mention what factors you look at before individualizing something and what you adjust, it sounds like most of the adjustments are made to fit an athletes schedule and prevent overtraining. Is that the focus of the individualization, or is it also adjusted to address shortcomings or other aspects of training?

Don: The answer is yes to both. When setting up a training plan, I try to look at the overall situation, and then prescribe a plan. The base of the plan will be to address the basic needs of the event from both a physical standpoint and a technical standpoint. There is not a preset plan that I could say is “my system.” If the athlete is new to the program, or a new athlete that I am working with the has been training for some years, I take a look at what they have done in the past as the “base” and then modify it to the situation at hand. Koji had expressed this to me in the past as if you have a training footprint or path is one direction. You have to continue to work down that path or deviate it slightly if this is the case, you cannot just pickup and go a completely different direction. This is the foundation of my training philosophy. Each athlete will also have a plan based upon addressing certain weaknesses and body balance issues, and with regard to technique, the technical model will be based around their strength and weaknesses too. It takes a lot of thought and time preparing, but it seems to be the only way to get the most out of someone in each case. A one size fits all system just does not meet the specific needs of every individual.
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Training Talk With Don Babbitt (Part 1)

One of the most successful throwing coaches in the world over the past decade without a doubt is Don Babbitt. Coach Babbitt has been at the University of Georgia for sixteen years in which his athletes captured 11 NCAA titles, and 55 All-American certificates. Chris Hill (javelin) and Jenny Dahlgren (hammer) also set NCAA records under his guidance. In addition, he has worked with athletes like Adam Nelson (shot put), Reese Hoffa (shot put), Breaux Greer (javelin), Jason Tunks (discus), Brad Snyder (shot put), Andras Haklits (hammer) and many other international champions.

In addition to his success across all the throwing events, what sets Coach Babbitt apart from other elite coaches is the way he individualizes training. Many successful programs have a system which they apply to all their athletes. Coach Babbitt, on the other hand, adapts his system to the individual athletes’ needs. Just listen to Reese Hoffa and Adam Nelson describe their training and you’ll immediately notice major differences even though they are training partners and produce similar results. Despite his recent trip to Japan for a seminar, Coach Babbitt found time to exchange some thoughts on how he fits individualization into the training of his athletes.

Coach Don Babbitt has guided multiple world class athletes as well as a steady crew of All-Americans at the University of Georgia.

Martin: For starters, could you give us a quick overview of what are the major differences in the training of Reese Hoffa and Adam Nelson and why that is the case?

Don: Adam and Reese are quite different in a number of ways, and this may actually be a reason why they can train together so well. In terms of mentality, Adam is a gambler by nature, and sets very high goals for himself. In a way it is manifested in his technique, high risk, high reward. It is challenge for him to stay on a certain course for more than about 3-4 months without a change. He needs and likes change. The key for him in this regard is to change things up to make it fresh without changing too much and getting of task. His training varies from year to year, and it may cycle back around to the same thing over a 2-3 year cycle.

Reese is much more steady and methodical, which again is manifested in his performance and results (very steady). Reese does not like change, he likes to keep homeostasis, so to speak, and do the same schedule and train the same way each year. Sure, there will me minor variations because of schedule, injury, etc., but he tries to replicate the same high level results each year. When things go a little off for Reese, he does not respond too well, and likes to keep things in a controlled situation. He does not like experiments.
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The Post-Ostapchuk World

Two-time Olympic champion Valerie Adams competing in Zurich last Wednesday.

The shot put once again returned to the spotlight on Thursday at Zurich’s main train station. In front of thousands of fans, the shot putters put on a memorable show to kick off this year’s Weltklasse Zurich Diamond League meeting. Reese Hoffa continued his post-Olympic dominance and redemption tour with a convincing victory over Olympic champion Pawel Majewski and the rest of the world’s best throwers. The intensity was also high for the women’s competition. Cleopatra Borel was so focused on her celebration dance that she inadvertently fouled two throws by walking out the front of the ring mid-dance. But while the women were amped up, the competition itself lacked any compelling moments. The victor was clear from the start and most of the field posted mediocre results. Unfortunately, this is what shot putting may look like in a post-Ostapchuk world.
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Previewing the Rest of the Trials: Part 2

So far the trials have been non-stop action as far as the throwers are concerned. Over the weekend the men’s shot putters, women’s discus throwers, and javelin guys continued the momentum started in the hammer throw. Reese Hoffa threw a world leading mark to win the shot put. While the three favorites all qualified for the team, it was not without a little pressure when Joe Kovacs’ big personal best briefly overtook Christian Cantwell. Stephanie Brown-Trafton and Aretha Thurmond led the women’s discus, while Sam Humphreys threw a personal best to take the men’s javelin over a last throw breakthrough by young talent Sam Crouser. While Humpreys’ mark did not qualify him for the Olympic team (it landed just 14 centimeters short of the qualifying standard), he still seized the day. Even the meet’s biggest highlight thus far, Ashton Eaton’s world record in the decathlon, has the throwing events to thank. The record was only possible due to the progress Eaton has made in throwing over the past few seasons.

With all this excitement, it is hard to believe that the trials are only half-finished. Action starts again on Thursday and this weekend will feature three more finals in the throwing events. Take a look below to get a taste of what’s to come.
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Previewing the Rest of the Trials: Part 1

An epic hammer throw competition started off the 2012 US Olympic Trials off on the right foot, but we still have more than a week of action ahead of us including the shot put, discus, and javelin throws. As the hammer throw competition showed, there will be drama even in events where the Olympic team is all but set already. Overall, the throwing events feature a mixture of known stars in established events and young guns trying to resurrect dormant events. Throwers rarely get a chance at the spotlight, so expect a week of surprises as they fight for a little glory. Below is a quick preview of the events that will have finals in the coming days. Check back next week for previews of the remaining events.
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Training Talk with Adam Nelson

Perhaps no athlete has had the high level consistency that Adam Nelson has demonstrated over the past 15 years. Since winning the NCAA title in 1997, Nelson went on to win a world championship and take second at three more. He has also captured two Olympic silver medals. Throughout this whole period many other shot putters come and went. Sydney Olympic champion Arsi Harju exited the international scene as quickly as he entered. Athens champion Yuriy Bilonog had a longer career but still failed to maintain form years later. Young talents like Janus Robberts never were able to make it on a podium, while others like CJ Hunter and Kevin Toth were sidelined by positive drug tests. But Nelson has continued to thrill crowds and with his win at last year’s US Championships he showed the world he will still be a contender in London at age 37.

I’ve always looked forward to watching him since I first saw him throw on TV at the 2000 Olympic Trials. His come from behind victory with a final attempt personal best was clutch, and his reaction was even better. He is known for the intensity he brings to the ring, but many people don’t know he brings that same intensity and success to all parts of his life. For example, he was an Ivy League graduate and holds an MBA from Virginia. He has also sought out and trained with the best coaches and was more than willing to share his thoughts with me. If you want to hear more from him, I suggest listening to the recent interview he gave on the Thrower’s Podcast. And be sure to support his sponsor Saucony, who plans to release its first throwing shoe this year.

Martin: Before we get to talk about training and throwing, I am very interested to hear what you are up to in your non-throwing life. In the past I’ve seen you involved with the Workout Source, a frozen yogurt venture, in addition to being a father. Have you been working on any new projects this year?

Adam: Yes, I recently accepted a position as Director of Sports Performance for a new training center in Athens, Georgia. The facility is part of an expansion by team of surgeons, physical therapists, physician assistants, and athletic trainers. The sports performance center will offer elite athletes a complete offering of performance enhancing services and access to world class coaches like Don Babbitt at the University of Georgia. The Athens Orthopedic Sports Performance Center will open in the fall of this year.
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New Formats Liven Up Throwing Events

Last week I published my second article on the throwing events in the UK publication Athletics Weekly. It focuses on the Karlstad Grand Prix event I featured last August and some of the innovative shot put formats I have mentioned before. Athletics Weekly is the best track and field print publication in the world and they have been a great supporter of the throwing events by publishing articles such as this one. Their magazine combines all the great analysis and insight you often see in Track and Field News with original coaching articles and in-depth profiles. In addition, it is much more timely since it arrives weekly. I subscribe to their great iPad app which lets me view each issue as soon as it comes out without waiting for international shipping. They have been kind enough to let me post the article here for non-subscribers, and a PDF version with the print layout is available after the text.
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Bigger Is Not Better

This is the time of year when many throwers are in their “hypertrophy” phase of training where the focus is on increasing muscle mass. As I mentioned in my interview with Vern Gambetta, the concept of building a base in the off-season is a bit outdated for elite athletes. So is the related concept of hypertrophy. To put it simply: bigger is not better.

At a bodyweight of just 207 pounds, Szymon Kolecki has a personal best in the clean and jerk of 518 pounds.

It is a time honored tradition for men to work on getting bigger muscles. But bigger muscles are not necessarily better for the throwing events. You need more powerful muscles and, contrary to popular belief, the two do not go hand in hand. Read more

The Big Shot Returns to Zurich

While the Weltklasse Zürich Diamond League bills itself as the “Olympics in a day”, it is hardly a one-day event. For me, the action began on Tuesday as I coached some kids to throw medicine balls and toy javelins with Valerie Adams at the Weltklasse Zürich Kids Clinic.

On Wednesday I attended the “Big Shot” shot put competition with Kibwe. For the second year in a row, the shot put competition was held one day before the main meet and placed in the center of Zürich’s main train station. With over 350,000 people a day passing through there, it made for a packed and energetic venue. We produced a video for Flotrack (see below) showing a behind the scenes look at the venue, the competition, and the competitors. The competition was thrilling. Valerie Adams controlled the women’s competition until Nadzeya Ostapchuk took a brief lead. Adam responded for the win. The podium for the meet (and the final podium for the overall Diamond Race) were the same as in Daegu. The men’s competition was very close and the top five throwers were nearly within a foot of each other. Reese Hoffa led for much of the competition before a struggling Ryan Whiting found his technique in the final round. Then, on his last attempt, my old training partner Dylan Armstrong responded for the win. His first place also secures a victory in the Diamond Race for him. Young Swiss shot putter Gergori Ott also got to throw with the big boys and set a new national under 18 record of 20.00 meters with the 5-kilogram shot put.

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