Training Talk With Vern Gambetta (Part 1)

Several months ago I came across an audio interview with coach Vern Gambetta. Vern is not a throwing coach; instead is a training expert that has been called a jack of all trades. He started as a decathlete and multi-event coach, but has since coached athletes in every event group. He was a cofounder of the USATF coaching education program, has written several books, and serves on the editorial board for the IAAF technical journal. But a large chunk of his career was spent outside of track and field as a pioneer in the field of strength and conditioning with several professional teams in baseball, basketball, and other sports.

When I heard Vern talk, nearly everything he was saying rung true to what I have learned from Bondarchuk and others. But, as always, I had some additional questions and finally had the time to speak to him about training last weekend. Part one below discusses where throwers tend to be ahead of or behind other sports in terms of training. Part two will discuss the timely topic of off-season training and what scientific advances he sees on the horizon.

If you are interested in learning more about Vern’s ideas, pick up one of his books, read his blog, or follow him on Twitter.


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17 replies
    • Martin
      Martin says:

      Multi-throws generally are throws that aren’t competition-style. In other words, medicine ball, kettlebell, puds, or throwing the implement in different ways (overhead shot, hammer releases, etc.).

  1. Lynden Reder
    Lynden Reder says:

    I enjoyed this interview. Vern and my head college coach were colleauges back in the day… Phil Lundin. I believe they even published some stuff together.

    My defensiveness as a throws coach who has probably fallen into some pitfalls he mentioned did kick in a few times though.

    I just think its different for athletes at different levels.

    Sure, does Carl Lewis need to be doing drills? Probably not. Does David Storl need to be doing glide drills at a WC, probably not, but did he when he was learning the event? I would guess so.

    I also have a hard time believing that the Americans were at the WC rocking a bunch of drills while no one else was. My guess is at that level, NO ONE is doing drills, but I wasn’t there, which might say something about my coaching 😉

    This is very different topic when you’re teaching a kid who glided 55′ in high school how to spin in college. That same kid hypothetical kid probably has a 225lb bench press and a 200lb power clean, but I’m not supposed to focus tooooo much on getting him stronger.

    My overall point is this: Its all about context of who you are training, what their training age is, their background in the event, etc. I think the interview painted with too broad a brush.

    I can just say that for the guys I coach at a pretty successful D1 program, we incorporate just about everything into our program. We can’t afford to not develop some max strength, because many come in with non. We can’t focus on it too much though of course, so we have to incorparate speed when and where we can, especially as guys get older and have gotten to a certain level of overall max strength. This is in regard to the weight room and in their throwing. We can’t NOT do drills, because the WHOLE movement, which ideal as it is, is often out of reach for a relative beginner.

    Just my two cents,
    University of Minnesota

    • Martin
      Martin says:

      I think the point he is making about drills is just because “just because it looks like the event, the dynamics are different.” If you throw the shot put from the knees, then it likely has little impact on the actual throw. Using some obscure hammer drills has the same problem: it does not replicate the rhythm of the throw, so it is hard to transfer over the right positions. The whole movement in perfect form may be out of reach of beginners, but the whole movement is not. You can get a kid to do a three turn throw or a spin in the shot put in a few days. Perfecting it is another matter. As far as max strength goes, no one is advocating not developing max strength. But max strength should not be the top priority. As Vern said, it should be worked in parallel with technique (rather than building up the strength first and technique later). I would also add that while I do not lift much as maximum intensities, I am still working on max strength. Over the longer term, medium intensity lifting can improve your overall strength as much as high intensity lifting.

  2. Lynden Reder
    Lynden Reder says:

    Thanks Martin for the feedback on my post. In reading the interview again I can see the points you are making. I may have projected some of my own sensitivities into my response 😉

    That said, lets take your example of throwing the shot put from the knees. Is this the full shot movement – no. Does it isolate the arm strike, a key factor in the throw – yes. From the knees can you isolate that movement, and then develop specific training to work on a throwers weekness in that particular area of their throw? – I would argue yes.

    I think this is similar to throwing heavy puds in training for specific strength in hammer. It isn’t the hammer movement exactly, but helps develop specific strength and/or speed.

    My overall point is this: I think there is value in isolating a movement WITHIN the movement, regardless of the event. Is this called a drill? …A specific strength exercise? I don’t care what you call it really, but I do think it has value to break things down a bit and isolate. Is there a tipping point where people do this too much… sure.

    • Martin
      Martin says:

      I definitely think there is some value you in it, but you have to look at why you are doing it. I do pud throws not to improve technique, but to increase special strength. In fact, the 10kg hammer may even have a slightly negative impact on technique, but the special strength gains still make it a net benefit. Throwing will help gain some special strength and it will help work on that “punch”, but in doing so it disconnects the punch movement from all the other muscles that work with it in the release. It disconnects it from all the movements that get you to the release. In that sense, I’d think there is little technical carry over. The release isn’t just about the punch. It is a whole body movement (that begins at the start of the throw). I think it is hard to really improve it without working on what got you there and using all the muscles involved. The same is even more true with the hammer. You can do pud releases to your heart’s content and it will build up your special strength, but it won’t affect your release in the throw. I can do a perfect pud release, but still yank the hammer after four turns in the ring.

  3. Mohamad Saatara
    Mohamad Saatara says:


    Hello and thank you for once again sharing some great information with us all. I think a main issue that we all should look at is that we, especially in the US, look at technique as a set of positions and that’s it. How many times have you heard coaches in meets tell their athletes “…if you hit your positions…”, or “…those were great positions…” meanwhile the attempt that thrower just achieved was not very successful. We have created a dogma in regards to this. We fail to understand that technique is not just a set of ideal positions, it also includes speed and strength of movement, acceleration through the throw and rate of acceleration of the implement, and achieving a maximal final velocity. Unfortunately we do drills only focusing on the position aspect and generally forget the other factors which are proven to be much more critical to success. The same goes with maximal strength training. We have created a dogma in terms of what maximal strength means and we become very resistant to any other ideas because they do not fit our definition. I think that we should be much more open minded and take into account other factors and others experiences and differing views.
    In regards to the comment about Storl and doing drills, I trained my shot putter not more than 3 meters away from the German group during the WCs and watched him train. He did drills, but they were all done with a shot in hand and in between he took none reverse throws all over 20.50m, so there is use for drills but they should be used in context of being able to achieve maximal throwing ability, not to blindly hit positions.
    Once again thank you Martin for sharing all this great stuff with everyone and best of luck.

    Mohamad Saatara
    University of Michigan
    Men’s Track and Field

  4. Jeff
    Jeff says:

    I’m not a fan of drills almost at all. At most I’ll use them one or two practices to let the athlete understand what I mean then I’m talking them through how to do it during the full movement.

    Gambetta made a strong point that doesn’t get addressed enough when it comes to drilling, kinetic linking. Any drills you do at the end of the throw are almost useless because you are isolating the muscles that do it rather than the movements. For example the kneeling shot throw, is a completely useless drill. The arm strike is pretty simple to coach and I see no need to have a big production of something I’ve literally taught 12 year olds how to do while they waited for circle time, many times.

    Second the arm strike during the throw is completely reliant on ground force production. The reaction, speed and movement isn’t the same without it. Removing it from the movement is training a different sequence of events, not isolating the arm.

    In rotational shot and discus any drill pass the entry cannot simulate the torque, stretch and movement that are working at the front of the circle (at least I haven’t found one). There’s also no drill that can fix a 4th turn in hammer. Hell most drills for the first turn mess up the 2nd turn.

    I’ll admit I’m a little radical in my hatred for drills sometimes but I see too many coaches rely on drills.

    And I mean no disrespect. I’m just a community college coach, I doubt I’m better or more experienced then two D1 coaches. I’ve been fighting against drills locally for a while and always get blasted so I like when I can speak out and don’t just get insulted.


Trackbacks & Pingbacks

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  7. […] Vern Gambetta has been a great mentor to me and his book on Athletic Development is an essential guide that gets coaches to think about every aspect of physical preparation and coaching. A big topic of conversation online recently has been nature versus nurture, which was brought on by David Epstein’s new book Sports Gene. The debate is over whether elite athletes are born that way, or sculpted through long hours of training. The answer is somewhere in between, but rather than focusing too much on the debate Gambetta moved the discussion to a more important topic: developing youth athletes. Whether an athlete has talent or not, the goal of a coach is to develop them to the best of their abilities. […]

  8. […] The more I read, the more I liked. His blog provides frequent insight on training, and I posted my own training talk with him at the end of last summer and had the pleasure of meeting him in London last month. In my view, […]

  9. […] this week I posted part one of my interview with athletic development expert Vern Gambetta. Among other topics, we discussed how throws training stacks up to other events and sports. As we […]

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