Hammer Throwing: The Right Foot Liftoff, 180 Degrees Dilemma

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Some helpful comments for teaching beginning hammer throwers from the former world record holder.

By Harold Connolly, 1956 Olympic Champion


    Most American beginning hammer throwers were introduced to the event by being handed a hammer or a 25or 35-pound weight with which they were taught the winds, the release, and the rotations. Most such beginners had previous experience with the shot put and/or discus and brought with them the movement patterns they had learned in these events that required maximum torque between the shoulder axis and hip axis. Naturally, if introduced to the hammer throw in this way the thrower is going to lift his right foot off early and drag the hammer as he tries to execute the turns with any semblance of balance and control.
    My experience coaching the hammer has brought me to the conviction that the primary essential steps in teaching the hammer throw to a beginner are the following:

  1. Using an aluminum baseball bat, a metal rod, or a 4-foot wooden dowel, teach a balanced, long-arms, head-back, eyes-to-the-sky, hands-finishing-over-the-head release.

  2. Then, with a regular hammer, teach the correct grip on the hammer handle immediately followed by introducing the walk-around drill, where the thrower assumes a bent-knee, straight-back position holding the hammer handle appropriately with long arms and the hammer lying on the surface behind him! her. From there the thrower begins to walk in tight circles on the balls of the feet, letting the hammer roll along the ground until the speed of the rotations makes it rise. The thrower continues to walk in 360-degree rapid steps with the feet close together, back straight, arms long and relaxed, head erect, and the hammer low and at a right angle to the hip and shoulder axes. The thrower should make these rotational, close-footed steps across the throwing surface, experiencing how the hammer should feel in an actual throw after the thrower has learned the heel-toe footwork.

Gymboss Timers

    To teach the technique of hammer throw turns footwork correctly with no separation of the hip and shoulder axis during the first half of each turn from the low point to the high point, (from zero to 180 degrees) and with minimal separation of the shoulder axis and hip axes in the second half of the turn from the high point to the low point (180 to 360 or zero degrees), it is very effective to coach the heel-toe turns without the use of the hammer or the weight throw implement.
    Why? Because correct hammer throw turning positions cannot be done initially with a hammer or a weight because those implements move too fast, cannot be stopped, and will force the athlete to drag the hammer into the turn in order to maintain any sense of control of the implement and landing balance.
    By using a rod, a wooden pole, a broom handle, or an aluminum baseball bat to teach an athlete the complicated footwork in a segmented manner throughout a 360-degrees rotation, he or she can maintain the balance required in single-foot and double-foot support while keeping the proper alignment of the head, shoulder axis and hip axis throughout the movement. Only by using such a rod held in both hands while rotating both feet on the ground until the rod reaches the high point in the back of the throw, can the athlete maintain controlled balance through the first half of the turn to 180 degrees.
    The athlete can also stop the rod and his feet at each designated segment of the movement to internalize the feeling of correct head alignment and no separation between the shoulder axis and hip axis during the first half of the turns. Coaching the beginning thrower through the unproductive frustrations of learning a single-turn throw and release with a regulation hammer or weight, then moving to a two-turn throw instead of learning initially to throw from multiple turns, I believe significantly retards the ultimate development of young American hammer throwers.
    After the correct footwork and alignment of shoulders, hips, and head with the training rod or aluminum bat in the turns have been internalized and learned, the thrower can be transitioned from the feelings experienced in the walk-around drill by moving from rotations on the balls of the feet into the learned series of heel-toe turns with the actual hammer, which could be shortened two inches for ease of adaptation to the implement.
    Doing multiple-turn drills or throwing slowly, a thrower can and should work to keep his two feet on the ground as long as possible past 90 degrees and around in order to fully internalize the feeling of letting the hammer lead him into the first half of the turns with hips, shoulders, head, and hammer in alignment.
    However, at the next stage in the learning process, in order for the thrower to achieve an early right foot landing in the second half of the turn with his line of vision back above the hammer and a long double-support hammer stroking position, it is inadvisable to push the hammer in the first half of the turn keeping both feet on the ground all the way around to 180 degrees. In order to maintain the feeling of letting the hammer lead him into the first half of the turn and still land the right foot sufficiently early to attain the most effective part of a long double-support phase, at best in the first turn of a three-turn throw, the athlete may be able to keep his right foot on the ground until 90 degrees, but at that point the right foot must come off. Hammer speed is generated mostly from as early a right-foot touch down as possible with a long double-support phase from touchdown through zero.
    In a three-turn competition throw, the increased centrifugal pull of the hammer will allow the thrower to counter and require him to lift off the right foot and go into an earlier single-support phase, before 90 degrees, in order to achieve the early right-foot placement to give him the longer part of the double-support system before the hammer reaches zero degrees.
    Biomechanists have demonstrated that the thrower can add very little speed to the hammer after it passes zero degrees and begins to rise against gravity. This means the following: you want the major part of your double-support phase to be from an early right-foot placement through zero degrees, and in order to achieve progressively earlier right-foot placements, the right foot must progressively lift off earlier than 90 degrees in the each subsequent turn. To attempt to push the hammer around to 180 degrees with both feet on the ground in a competitive throw will reduce the velocity of the hammer and result in a shorter throw.


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