Ask Martin Vol. 13: Rocky IV and the Hammer Throw

Question: As a very stereotypical American hammer guy myself (I did not throw until college, focused on getting strong, threw the weight, etc.) I can tell you that I really wanted to outwork people when I was training. I wanted to grind it out and bleed to be good in a very Rocky IV kind of way. If we can agree that Americans are too obsessed with maximum strength and this is holding our hammer back… is this simply an individual track coach problem, or is it culturally influenced? Is our cultural heritage holding us back in in the hammer, while helping us in the shot put? Are the fine skills of hammer too nuanced for our firepower and bootstrap pulling things we tend to glorify? –Coach Lynden

The influence of culture on track and field and athletics has been a hot topic lately. Just this week, Sports Illustrated’s David Epstein just spoke about his current book project with the House of Run. There is a big reason for the attention: every culture has traits that leads to success in some sports and creates hurdles in others.


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6 replies
  1. Dave Ratcliffe
    Dave Ratcliffe says:

    Hi Martin

    My daughter is 17.

    Last season she trained once a day for a maximum of an hour – 6 days a week.

    She threw 4 times week and did weights twice a week.

    In competition, she has thrown over 60m ten times with a best throw of 62.28m

    Need I say any more.

    Kind regards


  2. Jeff
    Jeff says:

    I left high school throwing the 12lb hammer 50m and in college I don’t think I ever threw pass 45m. Although, I squatted 500, benched 350 and cleaned over 250 none of my throws improved. College is when I really realized that lifting can help but being the strongest thrower doesn’t mean you’ll throw the farthest.

  3. Coach Pascone
    Coach Pascone says:

    There is much to be said for the “overpower” mentality that pervades the world of athletics, some points esoteric and some rather concrete, but the biggest problem is, without fail, special strength. Yes, there’s Bondarchuk’s tremendously valuable input on the issue, but most coaches also fail to consider what else might be “special” and involve strength. Kundalini Kiryas quickly come to mind, as well as Kettlebells, Indian Clubs, the Hussefelt stone and 2″ diameter rope exercises. These are all part of creating well balanced athletes. To me, it’s not worth discussing strength training for hammer unless the other coach can recognize the names Bondarchuk, Poliquin, Tsatsouline and Simmons.

    Sure, if a population of over 350 million drives everyone to get big and strong, you’re going to have success in big and strong events. One of the best quotes I ever heard about training for the UFC was: “Strength can overcome a lot of technical deficits.” In an athletic event like UFC you can be finished off in seconds. Hammer finishes in seconds. Strength is clearly part of the equation for superiority in both. But hammer isn’t a smash you in the face kind of event. It is a delicate balance of grace and fury, a give and a take, that, like life, slowly improves when vast resources are not erroneously dedicated in a single area. The best of the best in my neck of the woods have long understood the paradox of hammer, but even that information hasn’t dislodged years of entrenched beliefs and cultural dogma.

    If you want to blow the average person’s mind, put on a pair of Vibram Fiver Fingers. If you want to blow a coach’s mind, suggest that the way he does things is wrong.

  4. Jeff
    Jeff says:

    While I definately agree technique is the most important aspect of training and worrying too much about maximum strength can hinder long term success, trying to get kids stronger and more explosive is pretty important in some instances. A lot of American throws coaches are in a similar situation as me. I definately care about the long term success of American hammer throwing on the international stage, but I am a Division III coach that asks athletes to throw at least one other event if not two or three others for the sake of the team. A lot of the athletes I work with were 2 or 3 sport athletes in High School and there initial general strength levels don’t allow them to get into a lot of the fundamental positions that they need to get into. At this point in my career, my job is to score points at our conference meet and hopefully develop a few DIII All-Americans each year. In most instances, I’m not trying to get kids to reach their ultimate potential because that usually doesn’t happen at age 21 or 22. I have 4 years with them and then they will moving on from the throwing and into their chosen careers. There is no question that good technique is the most important aspect of any throwing event, but I feel like the time we spend in the weight (shortcut or not)is also pretty important for success.


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