Creating Robots

karate_kidIn the name of teaching technique beware of the tendency to needlessly segment and break skill into disconnected parts. This takes away the flow of the movement and disconnects rather than connects. Read more

Training Talk with Gary Winckler (Part 3)

winckler_uiI had the chance to pick the brain of sprint and hurdle coach Gary Winckler last month and the post below is the latest installment of our training talk. We began by talking about reactivity training and then moved on to discuss periodization. This part of the talk focuses on posture and coaching technique.

Before I let you start reading I do have to mention that this was one of the most interesting training talks I have done. Obviously it was fascinating to learn from a master coach and go into much more detail about a non-throwing event than any other training talk I have done. But I found it the most interesting that as we dove deeper into the intricacies of hurdling, the conversation became inexplicably more relvant to hammer throwing. The events have more in common that I realized and likely have just as much in common with other events too. Read through Part 3 and let me know your thoughts below.
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Looking Back at 2013: Best Training Posts

A lot has changed on this site over the past year. Just before the year started I launched memberships to the site. At the start of 2013 I completely redesigned the site. In November I relaunched the site as HMMR Media and brought on board great content from Kibwé Johnson, Nick Garcia, and And to end the year we launched a store which includes custom hammer wires, premium memberships, books, and coaching. All the while our readership has grown, which makes all the work worthwhile. I started this site to help myself and others learn more. With more people joining in the conversation we all benefit.

Looking back at the year, I wrote about a lot of interesting topics. In years past my most popular posts tended to be about current events. But this year training was the popular topic:

But many more were my favorites. Below is a compilation of my favorite training posts from 2013. A HMMR Media membership is required to read many of the articles, so if you haven’t joined yet it is a perfect way to start the new year.
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Youth Athletics and Specialization

tiger_woodsOver the last decade, youth sports have undergone a drastic transformation: general athletic development is being replaced with specialized preparation at earlier ages. This transformation began a long time ago, but has been accelerated as people saw the success of Tiger Woods (shown to the right) and the Williams sisters. Now I see more kids choosing to focus on one sport year-round than the three-sport letterman of years past. This is the topic of my most recent article for Juggernaut Training Systems.

This trend is bad, but the common reaction against it is to focus again on only generalized training. As I argue in the article, there doesn’t need to be a choice between specialized and generalized. A combination can work even better and I bring in some examples from the throwing world.
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Practice Maker – Refinement

Refinement is fine tuning the practice after the basic technical model has been mastered. When that is robust then and only then should you think about attending to the finer points in a skill. Often we are in a hurry and try to do this too early in the process and the whole technical model erodes. Read more

Practice Maker – Repetition

Repetition is the mother of learning. We are what we repeatedly do. I doubt anyone would argue with those points. The task then becomes to carefully choose what we repeat. It is necessary to have a clear idea of the technical model you wish to achieve and a plan to achieve the desired technique. We know that practice makes permanent so repeating incorrect or flawed movements will ingrain the faults. Read more

How and When Elite Coaches Use Light and Heavy Shots

My first post for HMMR Media laid out how top American shot put coaches choose what weight implements to throw in training. The data came from my master’s thesis on the resistance training methods of elite shot putters, where I asked nine of the top shot put coaches in the USA a wide range of questions. These coaches were chosen based off of the results they had in International Championships, USA National Championships, and NCAA National Championships.

After I asked them what weighted implement they used, the next logical question was to ask how and why they used each one in training. Just as each coach had a different formula for what implements to use, they also had their own approaches to when they would use them. Read more

Ask Martin Vol. 26: Throwing In The Other Direction

Do you have a question for me? “Ask Martin” questions are chosen from inquiries submitted by members. So join now to get this and many other benefits.

In other throwing events it is common to throw in each direction. How many throws should you take in the opposite direction and how good does technique need to be in that direction? My concern is that training just to one side might provoke scoliosis or other spinal injuries. -Thomas

Throwing in the opposite direction is indeed less common in the hammer throw than in other throwing events. Tony Dziepak has compiled a list of ambidextrous throwing records which include impressive performances like Hank Kraychir putting the shot 20.55-meters with his right hand and also going over 18-meters with his left hand. With the amount of technique involved, it is natural that hammer throwers generally do not throw as much in the other direction. But in looking at the necessity of it, the same rules apply to all throwing events.
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October Training Update

Last year I wrote about my training only sparsely since there was not that much new or exciting going on. But this year I am barely two weeks into training and I am already eager to give a training update. As I discussed in my season review a few days ago, there were several problems that kept me from reaching my goals last season. I hope to learn from those mistakes and make some improvements to my training. This year I have kept one of my goals from last year: technique. I need to improve the start of my throw by staying a little lower and getting more “range” on the first turn. Then I need to stay relaxed throughout the final turns. In addition, I have a new second goal, which is to keep my focus on these points even as the competition season begins. Last year this went well in the off-season, but as soon as a little extra stress was added to the formula (be it an injury, more work, house guests, travel for competitions, etc.), the wheels came off. I have also developed a plan for both of these points and am already implementing it. Read more

Training Talk With Dan Pfaff (Part 1)

During the first half of the 20th century is was quite common to see a distance coach working with throwers, or vice versa. Without a big staff of assistant coaches, collegiate track coaches were required to have a much broader skill set. Just look at the biography of the legendary Bill Bowerman as an example. In Seattle Ken Foreman did the same thing while across town Hec Edmundson not only coached the University of Washington track team (including several Olympic medalists in various events), but also guided the basketball team for nearly 30 years. As training has become more specialized, this legacy has been replaced with one-event specialists like myself.

Coach Dan Pfaff at his facility in Arizona with the World Athletics Center.

Coach Dan Pfaff at his facility in Arizona with the World Athletics Center. Photo by World Athletics Center.

But coach Dan Pfaff is proof that this rare breed still exists. Pfaff has had unprecedented success across nearly every event including the sprints (1996 Olympic 100-meter gold medalist and former world-record-holder Donovan Bailey), jumps (2012 Olympic long jump champion Greg Rutherford), vaulting (2007 World Champion and US record holder Brad Walker), and throws (US discus record holder Suzy Powell). Throughout his career he has coached at major universities like LSU, Texas and Florida. More recently he has spent time leading the USOC Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista and the UK Athletics High Performance Centre in London. After the London Olympics he took on a new role as coach for the World Athletics Center in Phoenix where he will work with Walker and many other world class field event athletes.

A few weeks ago I had the chance to pick Pfaff’s brain about a variety of topics including how to improve technique in older athletes, common themes in his approaches to the different events, the use of different intensities in training, and his experience and thoughts on the hammer throw. Due to the length of the talk I will be posting it in three parts. Below is the first part which covers technical learning and the common themes between all events.

Part 1: Improving Technique and Finding Commonalities Between Events

Improving Technique

Martin: I’d like to start off with a question that’s more personal in nature. I’m curious to hear your approach to fixing the technical problems of someone with very engrained bad habits. In other words, how do you teach an old dog like myself new tricks?

Dan: I think there are two directions from which you can attack problems. If you are looking at film you can look at frames that occur before the problem and frames that occur after. Sometimes working on things further down the road can go back and fix the cause. And sometimes the art is looking at how many frames earlier do you have to intervene to get an effectual change at a certain point in time.

A lot of times, especially in the throws, the resistance to change is an alarm theory. We set alarms like single support, double support, ball position, time in the air, and so on and so forth. We set up this alarm system for executing movements. These alarms are pretty dominant for elite athletes and override spatial and temporal awareness. Once you are set in a certain pattern the alarms are the central governor so to speak.

Martin: I know you generally prefer focusing on the movement in its entirety. But when trying to focus on these alarms will you break down the technique into its component parts?

Dan: I am pretty much a whole movement guy. Drills and part-whole learning have their place as you evolve as an athlete from a beginner to an elite athlete. But I haven’t had much success with drills or isolated part-whole integration with advanced athletes. We use real-time tasks.

Martin: So it sounds like to alter the alarms you simply want to make things feel different for the body so that it can relearn things. What inputs do you use to change the alarms?

Dan: We may change positioning in the circle, the weight of implement, or other entities. But we are always working in real-time with the whole movement.

If some of the alarms are stuck on the entry of a throw, you can play with shoulder axis, hip axis, deflection angles, where is the head during the wind, etc. There are certain triggers that start the alarm process. Part of the art is figuring where the triggers are that set or reset the alarms.
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