Understanding the orbit in the hammer throw

Hammer throwers have a tendency to be isolated. To start with, we spend most of our times turning around in circles in a cage. But beyond that, we sometimes get so focused on what we are trying to do that we forget why we are trying to do that.

With that in mind, we try to host the occasional discussion on hammer throw technique to help share different perspectives and hopefully spark some new ideas amongst throwers and coaches. Last summer we recorded an insightful member hangout on hammer throw technique with Sergej Litvinov and Kevin McMahon, with some great highlights that helped me reassess my understanding of the event. Last weekend we hosted another hangout with Sergej Litvinov and Sean Donnelly. Litvinov was on a roll in outlining his approach to hammer throw technique. Below are some of the key quotes and highlights from his comments.

Turning in a straight line

The hammer throw is a complex event full of paradoxes. One paradox is that while turning itself is somewhat of an illusion. Litvinov explained that “The problem in the hammer is that we turn around, but the movement is straight.

The concept comes from physics, but is fairly easy to understand, as I wrote about this several years ago. Essentially the hammer always wants to go in a straight line, and can you see that by the fact that if you let go of the hammer at any point it does not continue to turn. The only reason the hammer turns in a circle is because the thrower provides a fixed axis of rotation in the middle.

How does this impact training? If the hammer wants to go straight, push it straight. Give it direction and push it out in the winds. Pushing to much to the left will just shift the axis and low point. Litvinov explains his approach: “If you want a low point in the middle, you have to push the hammer out. If you push to the low point, the low point will move left.

How the hammer moves vs. how the body moves

We often confuse what happens with the body with what is happening with the hammer. The simplest example is with an athlete that turns fast, but has a short orbit. Their speed is deceptive since the hammer speed is what matters and it is moving slower.

The same is true in other aspects of the throw. Litvinov provided two more examples. First, he reminded us to focus on hammer positions, not body positions: “The body may look like it has good movements, but that doesn’t always make a good throw. Look at the hammer; the hammer never lies. If the hammer movement is right, that is the most important thing because we throw the hammer. ” A great case study of this is Jüri Tamm, who sometimes jumped during his throw, but the hammer movement was beautiful and helped him throw 84 meters and set a world record.

Another example is focusing on the power of the body vs. the power of the hammer: “We get strong in hopes that the power will help the hammer and sometimes it does, but you have to see how many people are powerful but the body doesn’t let them throw far.

Tips on the orbit

While we must think about the event in a linear manner, we still get great feedback by looking at the circles the hammer is making. The size and shape of that circle give the athlete feedback. Litvinov gave several examples of how you can learn about your throw based on the orbit:

Learning from the history of technique

If you look at modern hammer throwing technique, one of the most common issues is that orbit drifts to the left, with the low point moving over the left foot already in the early turns. Litvinov provided an interesting explanation of how that happened. Essentially, by the 1960s footwork had been mastered by most athletes, but they still dragged the hammer behind them, with the orbit to the right. Slowly a few athletes found that by pushing the hammer to the left, they could throw better. As a coach in the 1970s, Bondarchuk mastered the model of finding a balanced orbit and this helped propel the world record to a new level in the 1980s.

In the 1990s, however, athletes kept moving the orbit further to the left. We have now overcorrected the technical problems we saw in the 1960s. Litvinov summarized his theory: “The problem is that we passed our vision in the hammer throw movement. It is easy to come to the left; when the hammer comes to the left foot it feels very good because there is no tension. So the low point has kept going left.

Learn more

The full hangout discusses hammer throw technique in more detail, as well as outlining importance of focusing on the process versus the results, why Germany and Russia are now struggling in the hammer throw, what Americans do well, and more. Become a Plus Member to watch it and other videos in our library.