The break down: 6 ways to start in the shot put

A few weeks ago we wrote about how throwers need to find their own throw. Technique is a movement problem that we all have to solve differently based on our size, strengths, and predispositions. But where do you start? To help give throwers an idea of the vast amount of variety among elite shot putters, we’ve taken 6 examples below of different ways to start the throw. This isn’t meant to show all the possible variations or even the best variations, but to illustrate some key differences, which each variety aims to do, and who it might work best for.

» Related content: Coach Don Babbitt’s master class on the rotational shot put includes a breakdown and comparison of the top American shot putters from the last four decades.

Andy Bloom: the gorilla start

What he did: Andy Bloom hunched over at the start of the throw with his shoulders bent forward and left knuckles nearly scraping the ground.

Why he did it: As he explained on our podcast last month, this unique start was designed to help him get and stay over his left side. Bloom had a tendency to bail into the middle of the circle. By learning forward he was trying to counteract his tendency to fall back.

Is it for you? This can be an effective strategy for athletes that have a similar issue as Bloom had in staying forward and stay left. But it isn’t for everyone. Staying this low requires great mobility and athleticism.

Joachim Olsen: the static start

What he did: It is more about what Olsen didn’t do. The 2004 Olympic silver medalist didn’t wind up. He started from a static position. Just a little squat, and then throw.

Why he did it: Simplicity. Less pre-movement means there are fewer degrees of freedom during the throw, and less chance of something going wrong. In other words: keep it simple stupid.

Is it for you? Are you having some consistency issues at the start or balance issues coming out of the back? Try using a static start to simplify the throw and get back to basics. I’ve used it with athletes as a temporary fix to help reset the technique. Or you can try slight variations such as that used by 2000 Olympic champion Arsi Harju with a slight backswing. As far as a long-term technical model you also need to keep in mind the flip side of a simple start. Less movement might be less time for something to go wrong, but it also means you have a short path to accerlate the implement. Therefore you better be able to produce some power afterwards. Olsen was an ox and he could produce massive amounts of power from a standstill, but not everyone can.

Adam Nelson: the whip

What he did: Using a big wind-up, Olympic champion Adam Nelson developed a huge pre-stretch through the core at the start of the throw. He focussed less on the legs and more on the stretch reflex in setting up his throw.

Why he did it: Throwers can be described as strength or elastic dominant. Like all elite shot putters, Nelson was strong. But what made him different was that he was incredibly reactive and explosive. He may have been shorter than Ryan Crouser or Christian Cantwell, but he was more dynamic. This gets the most out of those aspects.

If it for you? I don’t think that Nelson would have thrown quite as far using Olsen’s technique. Choose a strength-based technique and you better have the right size/leverage or horsepower. If you are elastic and reactive, choose a technique that helps you get the most out of it. The key downside of this technique is that starting fast means things can go wrong fast as well. Speed without stability is useless. Nelson developed this technique throughout his career and could maintain stability at high speeds. Not everyone can.

Tom Walsh: the long path

What he did: Rather than standing with both feet at the back of the circle, world champion Tom Walsh starts with his right foot pulled back from the edge of the circle. This rotates his whole body more at the starting, given him more time to spin during the throw.

Why he did it: Starting with the right foot back increases the path of implement throughout the throw. Olsen’s static start gives him 540º of turning. Start with the right foot back and take a longer wind up and Walsh gets nearly 720º of rotation during the throw. Therefore he has more time to accelerate than his competitors. This is similar to the discus technique from Eric Cadee and others have tried out over the last decade.

Is it for you? Walsh is strong, but he isn’t squatting the house like Joe Kovacs, or NFL-sized like Crouser. He has to find a technique that works for him. His advantage is applying force over a long period, which this technique allows him to do. In his throw he gets a good pre-stretch like Adam Nelson, but he doesn’t start as fast as Nelson. He also doesn’t slow down as much in the middle of the throw like most throwers do. Instead he aims for constant acceleration. A long path allows him to develop a throw with long constant acceleration.

Reese Hoffa: the heel turn

What he did: Coming out of the back of the circle, world champion Reese Hoffa shifts his weight to the heel of his left foot rather than staying on the forefoot like most spinners.

Why he did it: This technique was developed by accident. We’ve spoken with his coach Don Babbitt a lot about it over the years, and he even wrote a great article dissecting technical and physical development over Hoffa’s whole career. Hoffa did not bend his left leg that much. This caused him to roll on to the side of his foot which would morph into a heel turn if done with more force. Try turning with a straight left leg and you’ll see the heel turn develops automatically.

Is it for you? Babbitt and Hoffa tried to change this technique, but towards the end of his career they leaned in to it. It’s an important lesson: you can have little individual differences and throw far. Maybe the start doesn’t look traditional, but if it gets you to the right positions at the end of the throw then why change it? It is also worth noting that some throwers intentionally use this technique as well. Art Venegas had Dave Wilson try this out in the 1980s. For athletes that have the issue of falling into the middle, starting on the heel can help counteract that; it’s simply hard to fall forward if you start more back. In any event, the key point for me is to find your own technique, don’t just copy someone else’s.

Dylan Armstrong: the linear spin

What he did: Olympic medalist Dylan Armstrong focused on loading the left and trying to keep the left side closed at the start, almost blocking the left side at the start in some throws. He also has a less dramatic sweep with the right leg than most throwers. The right leg starts out wide, but then cuts short and drives more linearly as it passes his left leg towards the middle of the ring.

Why he did it: Armstrong had a similar problem to Andy Bloom. He would open the left shoulder too early and, once that happened, the throw was over. Bloom tried to fix this by leaning forward. But leaning so far forward wouldn’t work with the linear drive Armstrong wanted as that required him to be more upright. Armstrong instead tried to make the left side more static at the start to solve the problem.

Is it for you: Armstrong took a very linear approach to the shot put. For example he could do linear South African-style throws in training over 22m. But to do this he needed a more fixed starting point. If there is too much rotation at the start, a strong linear push afterwards isn’t possible. His approach can be useful for more throwers looking for more linear drive in their throw, as well as a solution to any type of throwers that is opening up too early out of the back of the circle.