The break down: Dylan Armstrong and finding double support in the shot put

We started a series on HMMR Media at the end of last year that looks at breaks down the technique of top throwers through their own eyes. We started with a breakdown of Matty Denny’s discus technique. Up next is the shot put technique of 2008 Olympic medalist Dylan Armstong.

» Related content: Learn more about Dylan Armstrongs work with world champion hammer thrower Ethan Katzberg in HMMR Podcast 308.

Lessons from the hammer: double support

Armstrong had an unique path to the Olympic podium as he focused on the shot put quite late in his career. While he threw some shot put in high school, he was primarily a hammer prodigy growing up, having won the national title three years in a row starting at age 19. He then hit a ceiling and began the transition to shot put in 2004 at age 22 with coach Derek Evely. Things took off when Dr. Anatoliy Bondarchuk arrived in Canada in 2005.

Bondarchuk is primarily known as a hammer throw coach. A former world record holder and Olympic champion himself, he was a pioneer of modern hammer throw technique and training methods. Throughout his career he has coached champions in all the throwing events, including helping Aleksandr Baryshnikov over 22 meters in the shot put, but his roots in the hammer always shine through.

One example shows up in Armstrong’s technique. Perhaps the most important aspect of the throw is double support. This is a concept central to every hammer thrower, but rarely talked about by shot putters. As Armstrong puts it:

“You have to obviously be in the double support position to push/press the ball. You can’t do that in single support, just like you can’t accelerate a hammer in single support. This is just simple, basic biomechanics. Okay, you have to stay grounded.”

Armstrong’s central focus was double support. Below we take a look at several parts of the throw to see how he achieved that from start to finish.

Get down . . .

In the hammer throw you’re always connected with the ground. That’s not the case in the shot put. Therefore there are two key points to maximizing double support in the shot put: getting on the ground faster, and staying on the ground longer. Some people describe Armstrong’s technique as a bit more linear out of the back as he doesn’t have a big right leg sweep, but linear was the result not the cause. He was just trying to address the first point and get on the ground quickly:

“One of the big was just to pick up the right leg and try and get it down early down and down into the circle. So, and don’t ride it too long out of the back. I would think about keeping that left arm closed, a bit of a lower leg sweep, and just getting the right foot down in the middle. So that’s what I was trying to do: I was trying to go linear.”

This approach was also a bit individual to Armstrong. He had a tendency to over-rotate out of the back when we tried using a a bigger sweep. So he thought more directly about getting the foot down rather than sprinting or sweeping out of the back.

. . . and stay down . . .

Once you get down, a lot of throwers have an instinct to jump out of the middle. What goes down must come up, right? Well that was Armstong’s natural instinct as well:

“You see some of those guys where they just they hit the middle and jump and turn. It was so ingrained into my brain, you know, going up. I wasn’t like jumping, I would say, but I was just going up.”

How did he overcome this? It’s about patience. Again, this is similar to the hammer throw. In the hammer throw you often don’t try to actively bring the body weight over the left. You don’t actively lift the body to get the hammer steeper. You work together with the ball and have inertia carry you left and carry the ball up. It’s the same thing in the shot put. After the right foot is down it was about being patient for the left to come rather than already starting to jump.

“So when the right comes down, you keep the shot over the right knee and let the left come down and then transfer right to left. Don’t even think about the right leg, the left comes down and then that right leg should be bent.”

“Nobody’s ever done it better than Ryan Crouser in the middle. He sits on that shot for a long time and long double support. The right does not go up. It’s bent, it’s turning, and he has a long time in double support to be able to deliver the shot. Or Ulf Timmerman, look at his right leg. That right leg is under him, it is down, it is turning, and he is not going up.”

. . . and let it ride

From there, you just let it ride until you slam on the brakes:

“That right side comes through and it’s like you’re going down the highway and you’re slamming the brakes, right? That’s the block you want. Then your body goes forward.”

It’s important to note that he still thinks of this as a horizontal movement. Of course all throwers move vertical and leave the ground eventually (Armstrong included), but that is the result, not the intent. He’s not thinking about creating lift. This reminds me of Jean-Pierre Egger’s concept of the glide, which is based on the pole vault: the pole vaulter doesn’t jump up, he runs forward and that creates tension in the pole that pushes him up.

The idea is similar here: as you shift forward the forces push you up on their own.

Putting it together

Armstrong’s throw was about double support from start to finish: get the foot down, keep it down, and let it ride. Part of this strategy is science, but part of it is also understanding what makes Armstrong tick. He’s a big strong guy who knows how to accelerate things (see: hammer throw results above). And he’s also a really tight guy. So he’s not going to get his distance from a big wrap like an Adam Nelson. He’s not going to get his distance from big jumping ability like a Werner Günthör. He’s not going to get his distance from super long levers like Virgilijus Alekna in the discus. He’s going to get it by maximizing his time on the group to give him more of a chance to work the ball.

It’s a simple approach, but highly effective when you master it. And despite his late start in the shot put Armstrong walked away from his throwing career with an Olympic medal, three World Championship medals, several Canadian records, a personal best of 22.21 meters, plus multiple wins at the Commonwealth and Pan Am Games.