Roundtable: Rotational Versus Glide Technique In The Shot Put

With Steven Lemke, Kirsten Hellier, Rudolf Supko and Scott Murphy

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In this superb panel discussion, four articulate, knowledgeable coaches from Australia and New Zealand elaborate on the different requirements for the spin shot technique, as compared to the glide. Reprinted in edited form from Modem Athlete & Coach, Volume 41, Number 1, January 2003.


    In recent years there has been a steady increase in the number of athletes who use the rotation technique in shot put. Why is this so? What are some of the advantages and disadvantages of the rotation technique compared with the glide technique? This round- table attempts to bring some healthy discussion about the rotation technique in comparison with the glide technique in shot put from four coaches of elite throwers.

    Steve Lemke is currently Head Coach for the Queensland Academy of Sport and one of the national coaches for throws with Athletics Australia. He has coached both in the United States as well as Norway where he was Head Coach for Throws. He has coached four athletes over 20m in the shot put.

    Kirsten Hellier, whose competitive career as a javelin thrower for New Zealand spanned the 1988 World Juniors, the 1992 Barcelona Olympics and the 1994 Commonwealth Games, is coach to Val Adams, the 2001 World Youth Champion, 2002 World Junior Champion, and 2002 Commonwealth Games silver medalist in the shot.

    Rudolf Supko, originally from the Czech Republic, is employed full-time as a track & field coach by the New South Wales Institute of Sport. He is also one of the national coaches for throws (Athletics Australia). Rudolf currently coaches Andrew Currey, the Australian national record holder for the javelin.

Gymboss Timers

    Scott Murphy is one of Australia's new generation of young coaches. He has catapulted the international career of Justin Anlezark to the highest level, as he won the silver medal in the 2002 World Cup in Madrid, as well as the gold medal in the Commonwealth Games in Manchester. Scott has coached Justin for several years steadily improving his charge's performance from an 18m glider to consistently producing 20m throws as a rotator, including a personal best of 20.91m (68-71/4) in 2002.


Lemke: I believe that there is a misconception concerning the type of athlete who is suited to the rotational style. It has been a long held belief that the style fits the shorter, smaller athlete, who would then be able to compete with the larger, physically stronger gliders. While the 2002 world leader, Adam Nelson (a rotator), is diminutive in comparison to most throwers, the current trend is that most of the top rotational throwers are fairly large. Randy Barnes (world record holder) and John Godina (2001 World Champ) are both over 6' 4" tall. There have been instances of very small throwers throwing far with the rotary technique, Mike Spiritoso of Canada, who at 1.76m and 103 kilos threw 20.83m, being the best example. On the other end of the scale, Oliver Duck of Germany uses the rotation and is almost 7 feet tall. My conclusion is, in regard to rotational shot putting, size doesn't matter!

Hellier: When one considers that the most important element in the shot put is the speed/velocity of release, it is not surprising that many coaches and athletes favor the rotational technique. However, there appears not to be a set "rule of thumb" that determines who will pursue this technique. Taller athletes might find the rotational method allows them the ability to make use of more area in the circle, while athletes not blessed with "long levers," but who possess speed, may use the rotational method in order to make up for the lack of height at release.
For an athlete to excel using the rotation method, he would certainly need to possess, speed, strength and coordination. Perhaps the most important element is the athlete's ability to manage with the delivery of the shot after the turn.

Supko: Physical attributes include:

Murphy: I look for the same attributes for anyone who aspires to be a successful thrower in any discipline. A successful rotational shot putter should possess a strong physique with good coordination and high levels of explosive power. It is important that he demonstrate a natural feeling and awareness for turning. Previous discus experience is frequently a plus.
    There is a common belief that taller athletes should glide while shorter athletes should rotate. Keep in mind however, that the first internationally successful proponent of the spin, Aleksandr Baryshnikov (22.00), was 1.98m (6' 6") tall. The current world leader Adam Nelson (22.52m) comparatively stands a mere 1.84m (6' 1/2"). It would appear that height should not be a factor when determining the most applicable technique.


Lemke: Of greatest importance is the ability to deliver the shot out of a rotary system. Many times you will notice a thrower who is proficient out of the back of the circle, active in the middle, but attempts to deliver in a straight or linear pathway. The athlete has effectively lost all rotary momentum and has combined aspects from both techniques. An important point to be made here is that the thrower actually rotates three times during the performance of the rotary throw: at entry, during right foot contact (single support into double support), and at release! At release seems to be where most athletes turn back into gliders. . . they forget to lift and rotate during delivery! With beginning shot putters, you will be able to ascertain quickly if their natural delivery pattern or arm strike is rotational or linear in nature.
    Another factor to consider is whether the athlete has good natural rhythmic qualities. This will of course be of great benefit to someone learning to rotate. Also, general ability to rotate, the ability to attain separation, balance, and kinesthetic awareness will enable the beginner to adapt quickly to the technique.

Hellier: The actual physical capabilities of the individual may determine whether one uses the glide or rotational method. While an athlete may possess the attributes of speed and height, if he is unable to grasp the technical requirements of the rotational method, then the more conventional linear method might be more appropriate. However, the attributes that make a particular athlete a good rotational putter would not be lost with the linear technique.
    Another factor in determining the method of throwing is the age of the athlete. Coordination and physical maturity should be a consideration. Generally good shot putters possess the physical abilities to perform either the glide or rotational technique. Often the training environment will determine which technique is used (i.e., the technique favored by their coach/teacher). Athletes who also compete in the discus are more inclined to rotate, as the pivot on the front lead leg after the nonsupport phase on the ball of the foot is applicable to both events.

Supko: Determining factors include:

Murphy: In my opinion, there are three main determinants. First, whether or not the athlete demonstrates a natural inclination to turn. That is, is he balanced, rhythmical and can he adapt to new spinning skills readily? Second, is he able to lead the shot through the circle and maintain separation into the power position? Third, the ability to rotate up and through the shot at delivery and not lapse into a linear glide type release is a critical determinant.
    A coach over a period of several months can develop the basics of rotational shot technique. If the athlete possesses good levels of kinesthetic awareness and coordination he should quickly demonstrate a natural feel and orientation for the technique. Conversely, if after 6-12 months he still lacks the feel for rotational shot putting, it is unlikely that the technique would be suited to him.



Lemke: I don't think that there are any limiting factors concerning the technique. As with any other event, the only limitation of the technique is the ability to repeatedly execute the movements in proficient manner. If the coach has n understanding of the technique and an effectively communicate this to the athlete, technical improvement should be constantly happening. Many coaches re fearful of the technique being too unstable and inconsistent, but with increased understanding of the technique this shouldn't be an issue, again, just as with any other technical event. Recently, some of the more elite decathletes have taken up the rotational technique with great success.

Hellier: There are two main limitations I see for the rotational method. One is the athlete not being able to transfer rotational movement into linear movement for the delivery of the shot. The inability of the athlete to "block" and prevent "overrotation" once the arm and legs have reached their full extension (during the delivery) creates a higher rate of foul throws. This is perhaps one of the most significant reasons why early introduction and development of the rotational method is essential in order to develop consistency in technique, and thus higher performance levels.
    The second difficulty for throwers being introduced to the rotational technique is the dramatic decrease in acceleration after the nonsupport phase, and prior to the "power" or "double support position." The athlete's ability to once again accelerate the shot is dependent on specific speed, strength and timing. A novice thrower will need time to develop such skills. At times, the gains in technique will be slow and improvement in the distance thrown may be gradual, which might prove frustrating for the athlete.

Limitations of technique include:

Murphy: For a competent thrower who is suited to the technique there is, in my view, little that detracts from turning. Problems of frequent fouling and over- rotation at delivery can be avoided with effective coaching. The real issue lies with our current developmental environment. Too few putters are taught the fundamentals of spinning in their "skill-hungry years." They often attempt to make a complete transition from gliding to rotating in their early 20's. This is a difficult assignment when you are competing against established motor patterns. I believe that from an early age throwers need to be taught the basic skills of both techniques.


Lemke: In training situations, a thrower is able to perform more repetitions using the rotational technique. The glide is very hard on the lower body in regard to the physical nature of the block, as well as having a more static starting position to move the shot out of, which requires a greater energy expenditure. Rotators also are able to get much more lift from their legs on delivery, if the throw is performed properly and patience is used in getting over the left leg in the front of the circle.
    Much has been written on the in- creased acceleration path that the shot will travel using the rotational style. In actuality, while the athlete's body is rotating, the shot travels in a some- what linear path. The preliminary path of the shot is immaterial if torque is not maintained as the left leg makes contact in the front of the circle and puts the thrower back into double support. Also, if rotary momentum is not maintained leading into this phase, acceleration is greatly reduced. So this increase in release speed is an advantage only if the athlete is technically able to use it as an advantage!
    Although the rotary shot technique and the discus have some nuances that make each a separate and different technique, there are enough similarities that make it advantageous to train in the rotational style if throwing both the discus and shot. For the young thrower, the more chances to rotate and develop the active right leg the better! Also, with demands on time, some of the drills will be quite similar and have some crossover value.
    Another advantage, while mostly helping the thrower on a psychological and motivational level, is that improvements for the beginner can come in big increments as technical proficiency is gained. While the novice can at some times be very erratic with the technique, the big gains will help keep the interest level high.

Hellier: The overwhelming advantage of using the rotational technique is the increased ability to speed up the shot over a greater acceleration path. This increased acceleration path can be up to 1.5m more in the rotational as opposed to the linear technique. The speed of the shot at the end of the nonsupport phase can be up to 1 m/sec higher than the glide technique. Although the decrease in acceleration during the single-support phase is greater than the linear method, the ability to increase velocity during the power position phase is much greater with the rotational. The decrease in the width of the power position, compared to the linear technique, also allows for the thrower's hips to be closer to the stopboard. This, in turn, increases the reach over the circle rim and stopboard quite markedly.

In summary:

Supko: Advantages of the rotational technique include:

Murphy: The biomechanics of a spin are superior to the glide as it (1) enables the development of more momentum into the power position and (2) allows force to be applied to the shot over a greater distance. This allows more efficient energy expenditure when compared to the "stop and go" nature of the glide. As a result, spinning is more forgiving on the body and consequently the rotational thrower should be able to have a greater training volume.
    Physiologically, the dynamic characteristics of the spin provide the musculature with a better environment to exploit the stretch-shortening cycle. This means massive power outputs can be achieved with slightly lesser levels of maximum strength, possibly allowing spinners to get to world-class levels before gliders.


Lemke: Two areas come to mind. The first, being something I have mentioned in an earlier question, is the ability of the rotator to perform more repetitions in a throwing session. Also, in my experience at the elite level, the rotator can throw more frequently than the glider because of less overall stress on the body. So throwing volume would be higher in the rotational thrower's program.
    Second, the rotator needs a tremendous level of core strength and flexibility to gain and keep separation and maintain rotary momentum. Although these attributes are of importance to an athlete in any of the throwing events, they are vital for the rotational shot putter, as the implement's close proximity to the rotary axis of the thrower makes separation much more difficult to maintain. With this in mind, I would spend a bit more time on core strength and flexibility than for a glider.
    As far as the components of the strength training program are concerned, the core of the lifting program remains the same (e.g., bench press, squats, cleans, snatches and jerks or push press).

Hellier: There should be noticeable differences in the training techniques based on the different directions of movement and the specific dynamics required for the rotational and linear methods. General strength conditioning for both techniques is very similar as the need for explosive power and core strength is essential in both techniques.

Specific strength development is gained via supplementary exercises again designed to mimic body position directly related to the technique.

For example:

    Technically, the linear method re- quires considerable leg strength to cater for the low center of mass in the start position and the actual extension of the legs during the glide and delivery positions. The blocking, torque and drive of the upper body via the delivery of power from the legs is only possible with the development of a strong torso. The back extensors and abdominals are an integral factor in being a successful putter.
    The rotational technique requires similar strength and agility traits to those of the linear. The leg strength required is significant and caters for the need of the athlete to drive from both the take-off into the nonsupport phase and, of course, the delivery. The rotational technique develops a huge amount of torque through the torso. This development of tension requires exceptionally strong abdominal, oblique and back areas in order to develop consistency in technique and therefore performance.


Murphy: From a strength perspective, there is no easy way to be a successful shot putter. Spinning and gliding both re- quire huge levels of strength and power. Basic conditioning therefore tends to be very similar consisting of sprinting, jumping, snatches, cleans, jerks, squats, bench press, shoulder press and all their variants. A rotary thrower needs to spend more time on thoracic flexibility and developing the rotational prime movers.
    Technical training obviously varies in terms of the specific skill drills. Generally a competent spinner has less emphasis on standing throws and spends more time attempting to hit a coiled position from a step or South African turn as the foundation of his basic throwing skills. As discussed previously, rotational shot putting inherently lends itself to a greater throwing volume.


Lemke: I don't believe there are any gender issues in regard to who rotates and who doesn't. Most times if a coach is experienced and comfortable with the rotational style, you will see both his male and female throwers rotating, or those athletes having at least tried to rotate to see if the technique suits them.
    I have seen many females using the rotation technique in the United States; it is quite popular at the university level, even though the best American women (e.g., Steer, Price-Smith) are gliders. I think that as soon as a female breaks through at the international level using the rotational technique, we will see more women employing the rotation at international events. When that happens, there will be a natural trickle-down effect. I would like to see more females and males rotate, as it is a technique that can be used with great success by a wide range of various body types and abilities.

Hellier: Throwers generally develop the technique which is the most used, therefore the most familiar. As a technique the rotational method is certainly not the most visible/used form of shot putting (in NZ). A young athlete's introduction to the techniques of putting the shot occurs via the schooling system where the linear technique is utilized more often than the rotational. Unless the rotary technique is introduced at the very early stages of a young athlete's development, then the linear method may remain the most favored.
    The physical strength levels required for the rotary method, in particular the power position and delivery phase are perhaps somewhat limiting for young female throwers. But with correct instruction at this very early stage of training, with a female athlete who possesses the more favorable attributes required for rotational, it would without doubt be most advantageous for the development of the athlete. One may therefore suggest that the lack of female rotational putters is not the lack of ability on the part of the athlete but rather that there appears to be an absence of coaches willing or able to instruct in this technique.

Supko: Females might not use the rotation technique because they may be too flexible especially in the hips (adductor and abductors) and consequently cannot get into a tightly coiled position like the men.

Murphy: There have been numerous reasons offered as possible explanations of the gender inequity, ranging from the light implement offering insufficient resistance to produce torque through to the over suppleness of women causing a lack of control. I believe that the higher bodyweight-to-implement ratio that females enjoy, in comparison to men, provides less implement inertia in the power position when gliding, partially negating one of the advantages highlighted previously. However, theoretically, rotating should be a superior biomechanical action.
    The single most important fact is that historically no female spinner has enjoyed significant international success. Should an athlete emerge who can consistently rotate over 20m at major championships, others will surely follow.


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