In the book “Outliers”, author Malcolm Gladwell claims it takes roughly ten thousand hours of practice to achieve mastery in a field. In my sport of track and field, specifically javelin throwing, I have logged many tens of thousands of hours over my life time: lifting, running, bounding, swimming, stretching and throwing. Repetition is the name of the game as an athlete no matter what the discipline – I have even carried this theme into my other career as an artist. But the extent of repetition I have gone to would be considered extreme by most athletes and coaches!
Several weeks ago I posted a photo of an old training journal entry dated October 30th, 1983. The entry shows a throwing session in which I threw a 6lb medicine ball 10,000 times in 4 hours and 50 minutes! To my surprise the post was initially met with disbelief and cynicism. I even had one doctor “friend” suggest that I may suffer from obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD)! So what would the reaction have been if I added to my post my total number of throws to date has now surpassed 5 million?
Fortunately, in addition to my training journals as documentation and some magazine and newspaper articles, I have a lot of former teammates, coaches and friends that have witnessed my “excessive” throwing sessions over the years. And thankfully some of them came to my rescue defending me on Facebook and testified that they had witnessed some of my extreme workouts. Someone also added how annoying the hours of thud, thud, thud of the medicine ball hitting the concrete wall in the University weight room was. A sound so annoying that I was given my own key to the weight room by the strength coach at SMU and asked to please, please do my medicine ball routines in the evening when no one was there!
I have been throwing for almost 5 decades now – 47 years to be exact – and continue today even though it has been three years since I last competed.
I began “volume” throwing in 1979 after I banged my left knee into a door and couldn’t throw off an approach. My first “volume” throwing sessions were fairly modest in number with just a few hundred. But over the next few years I gradually increased these throwing sessions into the 1000s. The result was absolutely amazing, to say the least! In just three years I improved almost 100 feet in the javelin and went from being a 56m club athlete in 1978 aged 16 to becoming and International World ranked athlete with 83.20m in 1981 aged 19!
But it was in 1983 I took the concept of “volume” throwing to a whole new level after I hurt my back and could not throw javelin for 7 months. During this period I pushed the envelope to the max and beyond. This is when I started the “extreme volume” throwing sessions. Lying on a bench with my back supported I got up to 10,000 med ball per session and did this 3 times per week at my peak! I know, I know, it seems nuts and I would have to agree with you looking back but I was just so determined and frustrated with not being able to throw a javelin. The result: After a 7 month abstinence from spear chucking, I came out swinging and smashed the British Record within a month by 3 meters with a throw of 88.28m and set a World leading mark!
From 1986 to 2008 I cut back to a little under 50,000 throws per year – a mere pittance to my insane early / mid ’80s numbers. But after competing in my 7th Olympic Trials in 2008 aged 46 and being overweight I decided to really trim down and go back to the “extreme” volume throwing workouts in preparation for my 8th and final Olympic Trials in 2012. So I cranked the number up to almost 1000 throws per day on average for next four years. The result: Not only did I make my 8th Olympic Trials, aged 50, but I got the silver medal and smashed the World Masters Records (M50) with both the 700g and 800g javelin along the way (76.15m/700g and 72.78m/800g)!!!!!!!
It’s been almost 3 years now since I last competed, but I still do my volume throwing to keep in shape and keep my shoulders ( and elbows) healthy. On average I throw just under 500 throws per day now as part of a well round conditioning program that allows me to keep throwing and remain injury free.
One of my other findings and beliefs with regard to volume throwing is that in addition to helping me be able to throw far I believe, very strongly, that the reason I have NEVER had ANY shoulder or elbow problem EVER, even to this day’ is because my body – shoulders especially – are so well conditioned to throw from the “volume” training I have done over the years.
In the coming months I am going to do some more blogs to discuss my training methods, philosophies and ideas for those of you that are interested, but I did want to finish up and clarify my definition of “volume” throwing:
- Volume throwing is done with weighted throwing balls – 3kg /1 kg med balls & 1kg/200g throwing ball.
- Throws are executed with either one or two hands in sets of 25 to 500 repetitions.
- Throws are against a wall, fence or netting – important for speed and acceleration /deceleration.
- Throws in the hundreds can utilize all three planes.
- Throws in the thousands should be linear. The back should also be supported / resting on the floor, med ball, exercise ball or bench when doing this much volume.
- Intensity of throws ranges between 50% to 85% max effort.
As I mentioned at the beginning of this blog my obsessiveness with repetition has carried over into my artwork as I repeat lines, shapes and objects in my paintings.