This site is not the only place I write for. Below is an article I wrote for the Australian periodical Modern Athlete and Coach. They put together what is, in my opinion, the top athletics training periodical in the world with regular contributions from some of the leading names in the sport. They are kind enough to let me repost my article in full below. Read more
Last week I wrote about the scientific process, and what a scientific research paper entails. In this article we will take a closer look at some issues we need to consider when evaluating the results of a given study. Taking results at face value can sometimes be misleading, as we will see. Read more
Coaches have been using periodization for more than a century to create training plans. Over the years the concept of periodization has become broader to include a wide variety of training plans all seemingly based on the premise that biological adaptation to a given training follows a predictable course and future training can therefore be adequately forecasted to meet the goals of the athlete. Matveyev was one of the early researchers involved in developing modern concepts, but many other since have built on his work.
A topic that has interested me a lot this year is how to identify and develop talent. Recently Vern Gambetta shared a good article on his blog about a counterintuitive article recently published in journal Sports Medicine. The abstract describes the article best:
[T]he vast majority of [talent development] systems expend a great deal of effort maximizing support to the young athletes and trying to counter the impact of naturally occurring life stressors. In this article, we suggest that much of this effort is misdirected; that, in fact, talented potential can often benefit from, or even need, a variety of challenges to facilitate eventual adult performance.
“The Rocky Road to the Top: Why Talent Needs Trauma” by Dave Collins and Áine MacNamara of Institute of Coaching and Performance, University of Central Lancashire, Lancashire, UK.
Here in Switzerland you can see first hand that the hammer throw has been declining over the past decade. Youth participation is so low that the hammer throw was cancelled at the national under-23 championships for lack of participation this year. But the problem isn’t isolated in Switzerland; neighboring Germany has seen youth hammer results in decline recently and what was once the strongest hammer throwing nation had results of 70 and 60 meters win medals at this years national senior men’s and women’s championships in the hammer throw. But while many countries are struggling, at least one has not just witnessed growth, but a growth level perhaps unmatched in history. That country is the United States.
Spearheaded by the efforts of Harold Connolly and many others in the mid-1990s, the number of US youth hammer throwers has increased fivefold at beginning and elite levels by almost every measure. This success is remarkable and something that other countries and other events can analyze when trying to replicate such success.
There are a few genuine treasure troves of coaching information available free online. The first is Hammer Notes, which I devoured when I was first learning the hammer. For better or worse, it remains a great way to survey the current theories of hammer training 30 years after its initial publication. The other is the free online archive of New Studies in Athletics, the IAAF’s official technical publication. In browsing it the other day I came across a 2001 analysis of the current IAAF hammer throw cage by a team of Japanese researchers including Olympic and world champion Koji Murofushi.
Last week I published my second article on the throwing events in the UK publication Athletics Weekly. It focuses on the Karlstad Grand Prix event I featured last August and some of the innovative shot put formats I have mentioned before. Athletics Weekly is the best track and field print publication in the world and they have been a great supporter of the throwing events by publishing articles such as this one. Their magazine combines all the great analysis and insight you often see in Track and Field News with original coaching articles and in-depth profiles. In addition, it is much more timely since it arrives weekly. I subscribe to their great iPad app which lets me view each issue as soon as it comes out without waiting for international shipping. They have been kind enough to let me post the article here for non-subscribers, and a PDF version with the print layout is available after the text.
My old training partner Ryan Jensen and I published a short article in Track Coach last winter about coaching beginners. Ryan coaches the youth throwers at the Kamloops Track and Field Club, and we worked together to lay out a method for getting a beginner to easily complete a three turn throw. This fall, we published a follow-up where we discuss what to do next. Finishing a throw is step one; perfecting it is the next step.
The second article focuses on some common errors and ways to approach fixing them. I talk about technical issues on here from time to time, but I often stay on the theoretical level and have never attempted to put the different pieces together. This was an attempt to do so in a very quick and readable way. As always, we look forward to hearing your feedback.
This is the time of year when many throwers are in their “hypertrophy” phase of training where the focus is on increasing muscle mass. As I mentioned in my interview with Vern Gambetta, the concept of building a base in the off-season is a bit outdated for elite athletes. So is the related concept of hypertrophy. To put it simply: bigger is not better.It is a time honored tradition for men to work on getting bigger muscles. But bigger muscles are not necessarily better for the throwing events. You need more powerful muscles and, contrary to popular belief, the two do not go hand in hand. Read more
The follow-up is often along the lines of “Well then, you must use ‘spotting’ like dancers.” Again, the answer is no. Spotting is actually considered a bad habit in throwing. But when they ask why we don’t get dizzy, I don’t really have an answer.
Just a few weeks ago I was complaining about the lack of research going on in the event and someone must have heard me because the question the puzzled me also stumped a team of European researchers, especially when they noticed that discus throwers can get dizzy. The researchers surveyed 22 discus and hammer throwers. About half of the discus throwers experienced dizzyness, while none of the hammer throwers did. Even more puzzling was that some of the throwers did both events and only experienced symptoms in the discus. This lead them to believe that it was the different movements, and not simply different physiology among athletes, that caused the different results.
After completing the research, the researchers published the paper “Dizziness in Discus Throwers is Related to Motion Sickness Generated While Spinning”. And the reason I found out about this paper is because the intuitive conclusion in the paper’s title earned it the Ig Nobel Prize in physics and was featured on the Scientific American homepage. (The Ig Nobel Prizes are a parody of the Nobel Prizes given every year to research that “first make people laugh, and then make them think.”) Indeed, the funny premise for a study turns out to be quite interesting for hammer throwers and also has implications on research the team is doing on motion sickness in general, which is a concept that is still not fully understood. They identified three distinguishing factors that likely prevent hammer throwers from getting dizzy.
- Hammer throwers use the arms and hammer to visually orient themselves. While the surroundings whirls around, the hammer and arms remain in front of the thrower through the throw. This provides them with spatial orientation. In a way, the hammer thrower is actually ‘spotting’ like a dancer. But rather than spotting on a fixed point as the dancer does, they are spotting on a point that is moving along with them. In the discus, both the surroundings and the implement are constantly changing position relative to the thrower, making it impossible for the throw to fix their eyes on anything.
- In the hammer throw, the head remains immobile in comparison to the torso. There are slight movements throughout the throw, but generally the head looks straight ahead. In the discus, on the other hand, the head is constantly in a new position compared to the torso as the torso twists and the head moves. According to the authors, this produces “Coriolis forces”, which are known to prompt motion sickness.
- Hammer throwers always keep contact with the ground, while discus throwers spend some time suspended in the air. Jumping can significantly hamper spatial orientation.
The best way to demonstrate the first two points is by showing a video of Olympic champion Primoz Kozmus throwing with a camera attached to his head. While the camera is above his head (and thus reduces the amount of arm that his eyes would actually see), you can see that the hammer provides a point of visual fixation and that the head is relatively immobile compared to the torso. I watched the video twice, first looking at the surroundings and then focusing on the ball and actually noticed a small difference from the comfort of my computer. Maybe next time this team can work on a topic that can help me throw farther.