Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Weight Training for Throwing

By Ollie Whaley, CSCS

For the modern day thrower, resistance training, or lifting weights, is a major component of training. At the post high school level any competent thrower who doesn’t lift would surely be a rare exception. A statement that we hear often is, “We want to develop throwers, not weightlifters”. Fair enough, training throwers exactly like weightlifters wouldn’t be optimal. However, weightlifters and throwers do have a lot in common.
There are some important similarities in the two sports. Both require maximum explosiveness combined with some specific flexibility and ability to move quickly with precision. Weightlifting consists of two lifts, the Snatch and the Clean and Jerk which are done for 3 attempts each. So a weightlifting competition consists of 6 single attempts of maximum effort. Of course a throwing event follows that same pattern. It makes sense that throwers and weightlifters would share a great deal of training commonalities.
That being the case, there are a few select athletes who have excelled in both sports. Al Feuerbach may be the foremost example as a world record thrower who won a national championship in weightlifting also. But others who reached high levels competing in both sports include Ken Patera, Bruce Wilhelm, Gary Gubner, Kevin Coleman, and others of whom I may have forgotten or am unaware of. It is also not at all uncommon for competitive lifters and throwers to train together as the demands of their sports are so similar. I have a picture in my weight room of George Frenn (hammer thrower)spotting Phil Grippaldi (weightlifter) as he squats in Munich prior to the 1972 Olympics which they were both competing in.(as shown below) Harold Connolly also mentions training with the weightlifters at Olympic and Pan-Am championships. The two sports are closely knit.

On the other hand there are important differences as well. In weightlifting the objective is to lift the maximum amount possible, while in throwing the objective is to throw a relatively light weight for maximum distance. It is not who can throw the heaviest weight a fixed distance.

With these similarities and differences in mind, we would like to offer some guidelines for effective weight room training for throwing.

Here are some concise, basic guidelines I would recommend.

1. Once a basic strength foundation is built, power, not strength, is the highest priority. Since the competition is not to see who can throw the heaviest weight a set distance, but who can throw a set (and relatively light) weight the farthest; speed of release is the major component that can be affected by weight training. (Women’s implements are even lighter and therefore more speed driven) While it is true that an increase in force production (strength) is a big factor in increase rate of force production (power), there must consistently be a focus on moving the weights quickly.
2. Power is best achieved with olympic style lifts and their variations. Variations can include lifts from the hang above the knee, hang below the knee, pulls from the floor or blocks,…etc. Repetitions in the quick lifts should rarely exceed 3 and never exceed 5. Singles and doubles should be used often. The reason for the lower repetition range is that these explosive lifts tax the neuromuscular system and both speed and technique break down with higher reps. The result is counterproductive in terms of performance and dangerous in terms of safety. I cringe when I see high repetition (6 reps or more) sets of snatches or cleans. If the goal is to build endurance,(which is not really what throwing is about) then other movements are more appropriate.
3. Throwing is done in single attempt fashion with breaks in between. Sometimes the breaks can be long. Training with “clusters” or sets of single attempts should be a part of the training program. This develops that ability to exert maximum effort repetitively with breaks in between. Throwing is performed one throw at a time, not in sets of multiple throws one after the other in rapid fire fashion. Train to develop the qualities you need in competition.

4. There is no such thing as a “one size fits all” program. The program needs to be tailored to the needs of each individual, taking into consideration the training backround, body proportions, recovery ability, past injuries, inherent strengths and weaknesses, work and school schedule…etc. Once a program is formulated, then continual adjustments need to be made according to the immediate circumstances.

5. Listen to every one, worship no one. There are so many “gurus” out there. I have learned a great deal from many other coaches, but I never buy completely into any “system”. The art of training and coaching is being able to understand basic principles and apply them to individual situations. You cannot copy success out of a single book or find it in a bottle. Become your own coach.

6. Coach technique, not just effort. Throwers (or any athlete) should be as fanatical about lifting technique as they are about the technical aspects of their event. Good lifting technique maximizes results and prevents injury. Learning to always keep a rigid lumbar arch and a tight core is vital to success in lifting and throwing. Sufficient flexibility in wrists, shoulders, and ankles is also a necessity in lifting and a plus in throwing. Being able to perform a full overhead squat with flat feet is a good flexibility screen. If I had an athlete who could not perform an overhead squat properly, I would work with them until they could.

7. Weight training needs to be balanced with the throwing workouts as power training and throwing are both stressful to the CNS and Endocrine systems. Don’t overdo heavy structural exercises like squats. Less can be more when combined with throwing. This takes both knowledge and experience to manage proficiently. This is why the ideal situation is to have a throwing coach designing the strength training programs. The amount of work that can be handled will vary greatly from individual to individual. Quality of work is more important than volume of work. Avoid overtraining and injury at all costs. It is better to be slightly undertrained than even slightly over-trained. If your weight room workouts leave you stiff and/or sore when it comes time to throw, you need to make some adjustments.

8. Training exercises and/or sets and reps need to be changed every 2-3 weeks. Everything works for awhile, nothing works forever. Variation keeps you mentally and physically fresh. Changes in exercises, sets and reps, and training times all add variation.

9. Recovery is a component of training. Make it part of your plan. Training is a three sided affair. The workout is a stressor that has the immediate effect of making your weaker. Our miraculous human bodies will rebuild and regenerate stronger than before IF it has sufficient building materials (nutrients) and time (rest, particularly sleep). All the hard work will be for nothing without adequate nutrition and rest.

10. Training should lead to improvement in distance. Never lose sight of that. If you are not throwing farther with less effort, then your training should be adjusted. If you are throwing farther, then resist the temptation to increase your training. It is too easy to get caught up in the weight room numbers. One advantage of adjustable barbells as resistance exercise is that they are so measurable, but one should never become a slave to the numbers. Having said that, it is a good practice to keep a training log of both lifting and throwing. That way you can evaluate and see patterns over time. You can more readily identify what is effective and what isn’t.

-Ollie Whaley, CSCS
Hammer thrower George Frenn spotting for weightlifter Phil Grippaldi in training hall at the 1972 Olympics.

Al Feurbach, world record holder in the Shot, won a national championship in weightlifting in about 1974.


  1. Another key difference: the extension of the throwing movements are greater than that of the Olympic weightlifting lifts. So for example, in the snatch or clean, the hips are fully extended at the shrug when the bar is at the navel, but then you pull yourself under the bar, whereas with the throws, you extend or follow through with the arms while maintaining the extended hip. For this reason, it is good to incorporate some clean-grip, or narrow-grip, no-drop snatches with lighter weight. Also if you are doing pulls, keep the hips extended (not Chinese style, where you break the hips to bring the chest down to the bar). Little nuances and variations like that make the exercises more relevant to throwers.

    Another interesting topic is that weight training is generally symmetric. Even if you do a cable trunk rotation, you usually do both sides. In contrast, throwing is generally asymmetric--always throwing from one side. there are a few exceptions--the OH shot throw is symmetric, but if you took an even number of throws from both left handed and right-handed, that is a waste of time. So a certain amount of work in both directions are good for bilateral balance, but how much is optimal? That would be a good discussion topic.

  2. Nice observations. Some things to think about.
    Thank you.