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The Future of Hammer Throw Research (Part 1)

Dr. Jesus Dapena is one of the worlds best athletics biomechanists.

Dr. Jesus Dapena is one of the worlds best athletics biomechanists.

Simultaneous with the growth in results, the 1980s produced a plethora of scientific research into the hammer throw. The Soviets had their teams of scientists, and, sports being central to the cold war, the Americans worked hard to decipher what the Soviets had discovered. East and West Germany were equally well invested in pushing the event forward. But since then new research has slowed. The best work in the past two decades has come from Marwa Sakr and Koji Murofushi, who have both used new technologies to measure many of the forces taking place in the throw, rather than simply looking at body positions. But most other papers seem to simply reanalyze old work or look at topics like effect of wind on a throw that are very interesting but offer few practical applications for athletes.

Research into training methods has been ever more sparse lately. While new translations of Dr. Anatoliy Bondarchuk’s work on the transfer of training and periodization have helped individuals like myself learn more about these topics, no one is continuing his research into event-specific training methods.

We obviously still have a lot that science can teach us about the event, but it is hard to determine what direction future research should head in. Recently I posed this question to some sports scientists. First up is Dr. Jesus Dapena. Dapena recently retired from Indiana University where he was a professor in the Department of Kinesiology and ran their Biomechanics Laboratory. While he has not published any recent work on the hammer throw, he produced seven influential biomechanics papers in the 1980s that were essential in helping the English-speaking world start to understand the Soviet advances in hammer technique. His comments are below. In Part 2 I chat with Dr. Klaus Bartonietz, a biomechanist who worked for more than 15 years at the German Olympic Training Center in Rheinland-Pfalz/Saarland and was the personal coach for 90-meter javelin thrower Boris Henry.

If you are a student or scientist that would like to do research in this area, or are already doing research on another topic, please get in touch with me since I would love to follow your progress.
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A Different Perspective on Short and Heavy Hammers

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My thoughts on short hammers sparked a lively discussion over the weekend. One comment by Tony Dziepak sparked my interest by touching on the science of both heavy and short hammers. Dziepak noted that in order to replicate the body’s counter against the competition hammer, the weight and length should be adjusted proportionally. He also noted that when throwing a short implement, the hammer is closer to the thrower’s body and the transfer of kinetic energy to the hammer therefore happens faster. This latter point is important to me since I find it harder to develop patience with these shorter hammers for this exact reason.

These comments had me thinking of a 1994 article from the Australian journal Modern Athlete and Coach. In the article, German coach and biomechanist Dr. Klaus Bartonietz provided some scientific insight into throwing light, heavy, and short hammers. He noted a few things: Read more

Observing the Kinetic Chain

While most countries saw their sport-science research nearly dissapear after the cold war ended, a united Germany continued with the same determination ever since and have pushed out new studies with regularity. Just last month, an Egyptian doctoral student Marwa Sakr completed a doctoral dissertation at the Universität Konstanz in Southern Germany focusing solely on the biomechanics on the women’s hammer throw. After hearing about her initial plans two years ago, I was eagerly awaiting the results.

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Betty Heidler, Kathrin Klaas, and Mareike Nannen show off the study’s measurement equipment.

Sakr’s research in many ways was an extension of Koji Murofushi’s research from several years ago. She created a device similar to Koji’s to help measure the energy throughout the throw. But the focus of her work was not simply measuring the kinetic energy levels throughout the body and hammer during the throw, but also to look at how the energy moved sequentially through the human body by looking at correlations between the energy levels of different parts. This was the first time a study has looked at the kinetic chain in the hammer throw and it is built upon the “kinetic link principle” which says that segments reach their maximum of speed consecutively beginning with those at the far end of the kinetic chain. In other words, the theory is that the kinetic energy travels from the ground up and into the hammer.
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Koji The Biomechanist

Many people often forget that the current men’s hammer throw world champion is also one of the foremost contributors to advancing the science of hammer throwing. Koji Murofushi, or maybe I should say Dr. Koji, received his doctorate in physical education from Chyukyo University. His dissertation and research focused on the biomechanics of hammer throwing and is one of the few contributors to a field that has been relatively dormant over the past two decades.
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Training Talk With Erik Cadee

Twenty-seven year old adidas discus thrower Erik Cadée brought a fresh new idea into the discus ring last season. The Dutchman was already among the world’s best, but he took a risk and began training with a new technical style. It paid off and Cadée threw a new personal best of 66.95 meters in the spring. That ranks him just barely behind former World Championship medalists Erik de Bruin and Rutger Smith on the Dutch all-time list.

For years the major difference in technical styles at the elite level could be boiled down to whether or not a thrower ‘reversed’ at the end of the throw. Cadée’s style plays with the orbit and adds another quarter turn of rotation at the start of the throw. After seeing him train and throw in Turkey last year and talking with his coach about the technique, I figured it was time to ask him a few questions directly.

The style itself is so unique that it doesn’t even have a name yet. Feel free to share your thoughts on the technique and a potential name in the comments after the article. My suggestions are either ‘540’ (for the number of degrees you rotate to get to the power position) or ‘Neu’ (after a German who used a variation of the technique in the seventies; the word also has the relevant meaning of ‘new’ in German).


Martin: For people who are unfamiliar with the technical changes you have made in the last year, can you give a brief overview of what you are doing differently?

Erik: As you can see from my throwing videos I get into the throw from a slightly different starting position where I put my right leg further back and keep the disc higher. From there I let the discus drop and make a longer turn. During the throw I try to keep things more relaxed and let it happen, instead of forcing it all. By using this technique I try to generate more energy and create more time and easier positions the get the most efficient path for the discus before releasing it at the end.
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An Introduction to Biomechanics

I recently came across a biomechanical analysis of the hammer throw at the 2009 World Championships in Berlin. While the report is brief, it perfectly illustrates a few points that all hammer throwers need to know.

2009 World Champion Primož Kozmus showing a solid hammer position.

Basic physics tells us that there are three main variables that impact the distance of the throw: (1) the velocity of the hammer at the time of release; (2) the angle of release; (3) and the height of release. Obviously other factors also come into play, such as the wind, the density of the air, and so on, but these factors are the same for everyone and cannot be influenced by the throw. The height of release also plays a relatively small role since it remains fairly constant despite attempts by Harold Connolly in his prime to try to throw will taller shoes.
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Positive running

When I was in Holland Frans Bosch introduced the concept of Positive Running to me. I thought it was thought provoking and should be put on the table for discussion. Frans was kind enough to translate some of his remarks on his idea into English. Read more