Ten years ago I wrote an article for American Track and Field magazine titled “Some Things I’ve Learned in 33 Year of Javelin Throwing”. Since I initially wrote this piece I have broken the World Masters Record half a dozen times and competed in two more Olympic Trials for a total of 8 times without a single surgery so I figured it was time to re-post and just add 10 years to the title.
M50 World Javelin Record Holder 76.16m (w/700g)
M50 World Javelin Record Holder 72.78m (w/800g)
Here are the 10 most important things I’ve learned in the past 43 years of throwing:
- Build a foundation of overall conditioning, strength, and fitness.
You throw a javelin with your entire body, literally from your toes to your fingertips..
What to do: Spend half an hour every day doing basic fitness exercises.
Throughout the entire year have your throwers run, bike and swim – half an hour a day, 6 days per week in addition to anything else they are doing.
During the conditioning phase the half hour can be increased in its intensity and have your athlete run more (3 run / 2 bike / 1 swim).
In the heavy lifting phase do more of the stationary bike and swim (1 run / 3 bike / 2 swim). During the season really focus on the swimming (1 run / 1 bike / 4 swim).
After the season, during the summer months, keep active and add other fun activities: hiking, rollerblading, rock climbing, surfing.
- Warm up thoroughly before you work out.
Whether you are going to throw, lift weights or stretch, you must prepare your body for the workout.
What to do: Before every workout or competition, take an easy 10- minute jog or bike (stationary), followed by 10 minutes of flexibility exercises. Stretch the calf muscles, hamstrings, adductors, hip flexors, lower back, chest and shoulders. Hold each position for at least 30 seconds, to a point where you feel a good stretch — and never, never bounce! Afterwards, cool down with a 5-minute jog and stretches for lower back, hamstring and calf muscles. On days the thrower lifts weights, add triceps and lower abdominal stretches.
- Work on flexibility to improve range of motion. Flexibility is the most overlooked component of a thrower’s training. I have seen many very fit, very strong athletes with fast arms and explosive legs not fulfill their potential as they could have if they had been more flexible. Lack of flexibility leads to a smaller range of motion which in turn leads to shorter throws that paradoxically put the athlete under greater physical strain, resulting in more severe injuries with more frequency. The most common areas for injury are the throwing elbow and shoulder, the lower back, and the lower abdominals, adductors and left knee (for right-handed throwers).
What to do:
There are two essential things to do:
(1) The first is to improve the thrower’s flexibility.
Here are some guidelines:
Target areas: Shoulder, chest, triceps, lats, obliques, lower abdominals, lower back, adductors, hip flexors, hamstrings and quads.
Frequency: 2 to 3 days per week. Intensity: Hard.
Warm up well. Put heat lotion/balm on specific target areas, especially lower back, hamstrings and shoulders, and keep enough clothing on to stay warm even in the summer time. Each stretch should be held for at least a minute to 90 seconds if not more. Push the stretch to discomfort, not pain, and hold and breath and try and relax into the stretch. As the muscle relaxes and the discomfort subsides increase the stretch even more. The only time of the year not to really overdo the intense stretching is during the heavy lifting phase. The rest of the year, push your throwers to become incredible, flexible throwing machines.
(2) At the same time the flexibility is being improved, increasing the throwing range of motion must be worked on. This is done by working on technique when throwing a javelin, weighted balls and medicine balls. Focus on trying to have as long a pull as possible: reach back as far as you can, forward – as you throw- as far as you can, and chase after the implement as you release it.
Improving flexibility and increasing the throwing range of motion will greatly improve your athletes’ ability to exert greater force on the implement, especially as their strength improves.
- Use the appropriate lifts to build strength. Many javelin throwers focus their training in the wrong areas: on slow-moving strength exercises, which coupled with little or no stretching and minimal plyometric work, results in frustrating distances and injuries. Olympic lifts (power cleans, power snatch, split jerks) and lat pulls and pullovers should be the exercises that predominate in a javelin thrower’s lifting routine but avoid dead lifts, heavy lunges and bicep curls. Upper-body pressing exercises are fine if not overdone and balanced well with plenty of stretching and medicine ball throwing.
What to do: (The reps and sets for the exercises do not include warm-up or cool-down sets).
Pullovers (straight and bent arm )/ 6 to 15 reps / 3 to 5 sets / 2 x per week
*Lat pulldowns or pull-ups (wide grip) 10 to 20/25 reps / 3 sets / 2 x per week
Incline bench press 3 to 12 reps / 3 to 5 sets / 1 x per week
Flat bench press 3 to 12 reps / 3 to 5 sets / 1 x per week
*Power cleans ( from the floor ) 3 to 8 reps / 5 to 6 sets / 2 x per week
*Power snatch ( from the floor ) 3 to 8 reps / 5 to 6 sets / 2 x per week
Split jerk (take off the rack) / 3 to 5 reps / 3 sets / 2 x per week
Squats ( back and front ) 3 to 10 reps / 3 to 5 sets / 2 x per week ( 1 back , 1 front )
*Always use lifting straps. It will allow your athlete to do more weight and complete more repetitions. Also, it will help keep the forearms from becoming over developed (from gripping). This is one body part a javelin thrower does not want to build up as it will tighten up the throwing arm up which will lead to elbow problems.
Plyometrics: (Bounding 2 times per week, ball throwing 2 to 4 times per week)
Stadium: Running, hopping and two-footed bounding
Track: Jumping into sand pit: standing long jumps, standing triple jumps, 3 to 5 single-leg hops, 3 to 5 two- footed bounds.
Hurdles: 6 to10 hurdles: single leg hops, two-legged bounds
Sandpit: One- and two-legged bounding in the sand
Gym: Box jumping. Jumping and hopping on, off and over boxes of different heights
Shot ( 4kg/7.25kg): Overhead and underarm throwing of shot puts.
Medicine ball ( 1kg to 3 kg – no heavier): Two-handed overhead throws forward, backward and sideways.
- Work on improvement through specific drills. The run-up and throw can be broken down into a number of elements, and you can improve on each element by repetitive drills which allow you to master each element. When you put them together, your overall throwing will improve. Javelin throwing requires doing a lot of drills.
The plain fact is that javelin throwing by itself is too destructive on the body to allow an endless amount of throws. The solution is…drills. They will allow the athlete and the coach to focus on the different elements of the throw from the run-up, to the withdrawal, to the throw without the full strain of hundreds of throws.
What to do (the drills are done over 40 to 60 meters):
Running (accelerating run) with javelin held horizontal. Focus on speed, staying relaxed and keeping javelin absolutely still.
Approach and withdrawal (repeat 3 to 5 times per run. Focus on rhythm, control and acceleration; keep looking forward.
Crossover, repeats: Focus on driving up off the left leg, pushing and reaching forward with the right leg. Keep the chest closed and shoulders turned sideways, with eyes looking forward over the left shoulder.
- Throw year-round to be consistent. I believe it’s essential to throw year-round; taking even a month off is a big mistake. You don’t have to throw hard year-round, but you should be throwing all the time. Vary the intensity of the throwing workouts depending on where in the training cycle you are and weather conditions but throw continuously and consistently.
What to do: Never take more than two weeks off from throwing. In the off- season, throw lighter javelins, throw at targets, work on drills at varying intensities, et cetera. Make it fun, but keep throwing. Never stop.
- Accelerate into the throw. Many American throwers don’t really seem to understand the javelin throw. Instead of accelerating into the throw, some throwers actually do the exact opposite: they slow down or even stop, and then throw. Accelerate, accelerate, accelerate!
The javelin throw is an elastic, dynamic, explosive throw at the end of an accelerating, horizontal approach. That means you can’t think of – or execute –the run-up and the throw separately. The entire process should be one continuous build-up. The speed of the run-up will affect the speed the athlete can move through the throwing position which in turn will affect the release speed of the javelin which is ultimately what determines distance.
It is one thing to hit great throwing positions at slow speeds, but it is entirely another to hit those same positions at greater speed. There are very few throwers (Nemeth, Petranoff, Zelezney, Backley) that I have seen over the last 30 years that get better positions the more they accelerate. To me all of them start the throw at the beginning of the approach not just at the end. Breaux Greer is the latest athlete I would add to this elite list up until he tore his ACL. The positions he has been hitting last summer have quite frankly been awful, which makes his achievements all the more remarkable. With his leg fixed and his skill for really accelerating into the throw combined with being able to get into and hold the power position throughout the throw, he will be unstoppable.
- Manage the wind. The javelin is an aerodynamic implement, and its flight is governed by aerodynamics. The strength and direction of the wind can greatly affect the distance of the throw. Here are some considerations to help you master the wind, no matter where it’s coming from.
- Your approach run: A strong headwind or tailwind will change your normal approach by as much as 3 or 4 feet — a meter or more. Use your practice sessions to learn to adjust the length of your run with different strengths of headwind and tailwind. Then, when you compete, you can make your adjustment easily and throw with confidence.
If a tailwind or headwind is coming at an angle, you may be able to improve your throw, by changing the direction of your approach by 10-15 degrees by running toward the right or left sector line to get a more favorable angle for the wind. For example, if the wind is coming behind you and from the left, you start at the left edge of the runway and run toward the right end of the arc. It may not seem like much, but every inch counts.
Side winds are tricky. When you have a side wind during your workout, experiment and watch what the wind does to your throw. Again, if you are familiar with the wind in all its variations, you’ll be much more confident than your opponents.
- Your release angle (angle of attack): For a strong headwind, you should throw flat or even have a negative angle of attack. For a strong tailwind, throw with a steeper-than-usual angle of attack.
- Release height. The stronger the headwind, the lower you should throw the spear. The stronger the tailwind coming from behind you, the higher the spear needs to be thrown.
- Javelin selection. Javelins with thick points are designed to be thrown with tail winds. Javelins with a sharper, narrower point fly better into a head wind.
Always be conscious of the wind when you practice. Make the wind your friend, and it will help you throw farther than the throwers who don’t know how to handle wind.
- Sequence your throw. To maximize the power you place on a spear it is crucial to sequence the body through the throw in the correct order: from the ground up. The stronger but slower muscles come into play early before the faster, but relatively weaker, upper body muscles are activated. Unfortunately, many throwers bring the upper body in far too soon, which limits the force produced and increases the stress on the shoulder and elbow. To be a javelin thrower you need a good throwing arm, to become a great javelin thrower you need to use your entire body. To throw really far your athlete needs to become fitter, more flexible and increase his or her event specific strength through the entire throwing range of motion. As your athlete develops and gets stronger, he or she will be able to get into and out of more advanced technical positions with greater ease and with greater speed and bring each body part into action at the optimum time.
- Visualize. Visualization is so important. It is not just for the elite athlete. It works for athletes of all levels; don’t under estimate its power. Visualization is not a crock. Get your athlete to imagine launching a huge throw, picture the javelin sailing to other end of the track, imagine the excitement how other people react. That kind of visualization with lots of hard and smart training will take you athletes a long, long way.