We’re starting a new series here on HMMR Media focusing in detail on throwing technique. There are a lot of sites and YouTube channels that break down the technique of elite throwers. With this series we aim to do things differently: break down technique in the words of the athletes and coaches.
Technique is very dependent on context. Last year we wrote about 6 different styles to starting in the shot put. How Ryan Crouser starts is not objectively better or worse than how Reese Hoffa started. Each athlete simply starts in a way that best meets their own individual needs. Should you start like one or the other? It depends. By sharing the reasoning behind why an athlete throws the way they do, we learn more and see we can best develop our own technical model for our athletes.
To kick things off, we want to break down the technique of Diamond League discus champion Matty Denny. Denny joined us recently on HMMR Podcast 309. We covered a variety of topics such as parallels between the hammer and discus, his eventual hammer throw comeback, and strength training for the discus. He also went into deep detail about his technique and what elements he has been focusing on lately. Based on our conversation we’ve highlighted three key points in his technique below, using examples from video of his throw of 68.24 meters at the 2023 World Championships.
Create tension on the setup
For Denny, the start of his throw is about setting up proper tension through posture. There are two key things he does to build that tension in the wind: one old and one new.
The first point is how he turns over his hand as it extends back. This has been a staple of his technique for years, modeled after Virgilijus Alekna. Simply turning the hand over adds a lot of possiblites. The hand is connected to the arm, which is connected to the shoulder, and then the back. One little move helps build posture throughout the kinetic chain. As he mentioned in the podcast:
“There’s a lot more positional possibilities with that which sets you up into a longer catch, being able to just set your scapula to then glide back around your shoulder frame. It’s not pulling back, but actually just setting back and actually having a posture into the throw. Basically that side of your shoulder being able to set back behind your hip more. And that naturally leads to higher tension in the delivery.”
The second point is something newer that he has been working on for the past few months. It is named the Stevo step, after his new coach Dale Stevenson. For hammer throwers this might look familiar, as a small step in is a common move during the winds. For discus throwers the idea is new, but the intent is very similar to what Denny has been doing for years by turning his hand over: he wants to create tension through posture. This was a problem for him previously:
“One of the issues with my throw was that excessive pelvic tilt and that lordotic movement on the wind. So I would go chest over hips, my back would flare out and if you’re flared you can’t rotate as smoothly on that position as if you’re actually solidly stacked.”
So how does this fix it? The step in brings the hips forward so they are more stacked under the shoulders. The posture, combined with length, also generates elastic potential through tension.
“It just creates a lot more tension into that catch of the wind. The idea is once that right hand’s past your hip and you’re stepping in, you’re trying to catch and then push on the disc. You’re trying to create extra tension on the step in. Similar to hammer on that hammer step. And when that ball’s behind your head, you’re stepping in to then try and create that extra energy into the ball when you’re starting to push it.”
Maintain posture through the middle
Earlier Denny talked about his tendency to let the hips flare out. That’s not the posture he wants. He wants his chest neutral in a stacked posture. A good way to visualize that is how you hold an Atlas stone or even a Swiss ball.
“Hold the Swiss ball and actually be around that, creates extra length, extra posture through a spine and you actually can rotate a lot easier. It’s that and being able to let that left shoulder stay inside left knee, especially going onto the left leg into the drive.”
Here is how it looks in training:
Posture is not about how one body part is positioned. It is about how the body is connected from head to toes. If the left knee flares out, if the hip breaks, if the back rounds, then you’re going to lose posture and kinetic potential. Keep good posture and you’ll have a strong axis of rotation which can be the basis for êfficient acceleration.
Actually having some postural awareness on being able to go over the left, hold that, so then when I’m turning and driving, there’s an axis that I’m actually rotating off . . . And then from there, same thing, that feeling of Atlas stone length, postural catch into the center where the right hip is leading it.
It’s a work in progress, but here is how the currently looks in his throw:
You can see in the final frames above that the right foot is landing with tension and posture up the whole chain. Tension and posture are recurring themes here and are the key to setting up an effective release as well.
Keep the tension through the release
As most throwers know, 90% of the throw comes from how you set it up. About the only thing you can do on the release is screw it up. Denny has the same approach:
Keep that tension, keep that delay into the delivery. I’m not really thinking about a solid left side lockdown or anything like that. It’s just more keeping that tension because, once you’re throwing at that distance there’s no real time to think in the delivery. Once that left foot’s come down, you have to be set up. And it’s all going to come out quick enough where you’re not going to be able to make any adjustments in the throw.
So, I find, all my feeling is up to the point of left foot landing and then keeping that. If I don’t have it by then, it’s not going to come back. And that’s where that feel and delivery comes from is if I’ve got it set, when I catch it, then it’s going to hold to the delivery and keeping those positions that I was talking about at the start into the center and everything of the like.
Putting it together
While these three technical points dive in detail of very different parts of the throw from start to finish, the basic themes are the same. Posture creates tension. Tension creates elastic potential. Each point of the throw can be seen as an extension from this philosophy of discus: create tension through posture, maintain the posture through the middle, and then maintain the tension until the release.
Denny and coach Stevenson have a clear philosophy of how they want to throw the discus, and it trickles down into each facet of technique. Having a philosophy is key because it links together each element of the throw, making it easier to develop technique holisitcally and tie together each part of the throw.