This week's guest is BRAD MEARS, one of the top shot putters in the country. You might recognize him as a frequent poster in THE RING. Brad finished sixth at nationals this year, and will be competing in the World University Games in Sicily. Enjoy!!!
Long & Strong: Brad, can you give our visitors a little background information on yourself?
Brad Mears: I went to Neosho High School In Neosho Missouri, from there I attended Central Missouri State University where I received my B.S. in Education (Physical Education K-12), Masters in Pedagogy with emphasis in biomechanics, and childhood development. I am currently pursuing my PhD in Pedagogy with emphasis in biomechanics, technology, and childhood development.
L&S: Can you give us your throwing progression (marks and titles) from high school up to present?
High School: Freshman-42' (glide), Sophomore-53' (rotation), Junior-57', Senior- 60'+
Collegiate: Freshman-53', Sophomore- 55', Junior-57', Redshirt-60', Senior-62'(NCAA DII Champion), 1995-64', 1996-66' 5" (Seventh Olympic Trials), 1997-65' (Sixth National Championships)
L&S: You are a rotational thrower, correct? Why the spin, and were you ever a glider?
BM: Yes I am a rotator. I have never had the strength that big gliders generally have. I did glide as a freshman in high school, and I was very small. I was small all through high school. At my biggest I was a Sr. at 6'4" 200#. I never had a coach (even today), so I taught myself how to throw. When I learned how to reverse, or throw a standing throw my freshman year in H.S. I didn't know what I was doing, and I actually developed a rotator finish. So I spent a year trying to glide and then finish like a spinner. Of course that did not work, so I spent all summer working on the spin, and it worked out much better. I also would have to say that another reason I tried to spin was because there was no one in high school in Missouri who was using it at that time, so it was something different.
L&S: What do you consider the strong points of your technique? How about weaknesses?
BM: Well I wouldn't say that I have as many strong points as I do weak ones. I have a very good ball path, but most of all when I hit my double leg support at the front of the ring, I have a extremely long pull on the ball. It is a great amount of time and distance to apply force to the ball. My weakness is just that. Compared to most throwers I am very weak. I have had the benefit of working with one of the best strength coaches in the world for the past 5 years, and the workouts are doing well for me, but some people do not show strength gains the way others do. I lift my butt off, and I do not gain the strength as fast as most of the people I coach. I am definitely not bragging on being weak, but no one ever believes me when I tell them how weak I am, and how slow I am, when I throw as far as I do. That just tells me that I am making up for it in technique.
L&S: Are there any particular drills that you rely on?
BM: Oh yes, I spend a great deal of time on drill work. I do Quarters, Haves, Shambools (half turn), South African, line drills, line drills on balance beam, Balance drills on Balance boards, jog/line drills, hip rotation drills, etc...
L&S: Are there any particular books or videos which are your personal favorites?
BM: No, I do not read any books. I do try to read every biomechanical journal that I can get my hands on that deals with throwing, or efficiency of movements that relate to throwing. With my strong experience in motor learning, and form learning the hard way, I have found that video is one of the worst things that you can do. So many times people watch videos of 6-7 different throwers (different techniques, different body types), and they video and watch themselves, and there is 7-8 different techniques that you have just stored in your brain, and only one of them is yours.
To explain this in greater detail you have to understand that both halves of your brain have important rolls in throwing. The left brain stores motor patterns, and the right brain controls the movements, or the interpretation of the motor pattern stored. Your left brain can store more than one version of a motor pattern. Which pattern is sent to the right brain for interpretation, or movement relies on how many different patterns you have stored (1, 8, or even more), and also on the state of mind you are in relaxed, or stressed. If stressed, or uptight, you have a very very small chance of retrieving the pattern that you want. That is because stress turns the usually permeable corpus coliseum into a brick wall letting each side fend for itself, and not work together. If relaxed, the corpus coliseum is very permeable and you stand a greater chance of having the correct pattern. One way to make sure that you have a greater chance of pulling the correct motor pattern is to only have one pattern stored (yours). It is almost impossible to only store a single motor pattern for a movement, because you may have started out doing the technique one way, then down the road made some changes. This is what we call bad habits. You are pulling up the old pattern. Now when using video to aid in technique corrections you need to understand how the left side (the side that stores motor patterns) learns.
Here is a common scenario; A coach sets his athlete down to watch film of the athlete throwing. He finds a section of the throw that needs work, so the go over that section of the video over and over, and the coach is telling the athlete that he/she needs to do something different, or that they are doing this when they should be doing that.
The left brain is a very strong kinesthetic and visual learner, but a bad auditory learner. What is reinforced in that athletes mind is what he sees no matter how many times you try to tell them that it is wrong, or that they need to do something else. The Left Side Is A Much Stronger Visual Learner Than A Auditory Learner. This is also the case of the coach who tries to keep every thing positive, so they only pick out the good things and talk about them. "You did this real well, You ran the hips great on that throw." Yes they are focussing on the good things, but the key is what is the athlete seeing. If they are doing one section of the throw great, and they are only looking at that one section, and not letting the entire throw go on the video, then video can be a good useful tool, but if they are letting the entire throw go and then focussing on the great part, the athlete saw the entire throw and it was ALL reinforced, not just the good parts.
I coach an athlete who likes to watch videos of other throwers, and himself. He is a elite athlete in the hammer and the discus, and especially in the hammer if I knew who the videos were of that he has, I could tell him at the beginning of each practice which video he watched. He sometimes comes to practice and will throw like a different person every day he throws. Now you ask what is wrong with this thrower throwing like the best throwers in the world? A Lot! He is not those people, he is not as strong as many of them, he is taller than some of them, and shorter than others, he is faster than some, but slower than most. He as with everyone has his adaptations to the technique that makes things work for him. The more he throws like the worlds best, the shorter he throws.
One of the best things that any coach can do for his/her athletes is to learn as much as they can about sport psychology, and motor learning. These are the two most neglected aspects in coaching.
L&S: Can you outline your weight training plan, off season, and in?
BM: I follow basic periodization, but I only have three sections. I just call them Conditioning, Preparatory, and Competition. All cycles lift four days per week. Conditioning is a 6 week cycle of 70% average for 1500 repetitions. Week one is 60% average with Monday at 55%, Tuesday at 60%, Thursday at 65%, and Friday at 60%. Separate lifts fluctuate with the same wave patterns. Week two is 70% average 250 reps, week three is 65% average 350 reps, week four 75% average 150 reps, week five 70% average 250 reps, week six 80% average for 150 reps. Then I have a max week between each cycle, using one rep max. Those charts that have a rep count at a weight equals a certain max are always off between 25-65# depending upon the lift. My Preparatory cycle is six weeks 80% average 1150 reps. And my competition cycle is four week 90% average at 800 reps. These all of course fluctuate depending upon the length of my off season, and big meets. Lifts that I do (not all on the same day or in this order) are cleans (pull,full, from a box w/catch,from a box pull, hang), snatch (pull,full, form a box w/catch, from a box pull, and hang), jerks, push press, full front and back squats, combination lifts such as snatch into over head squats, or snatch into a wide grip push press, or even clean pull clean push press, Incline, Bench, and auxiliary lifts.
L&S: Can you give us some insight into your lifting totals and your standing throw distances.
BM: I will put these into pounds instead of kilos. Bench- 330, Incline- 275, Front full squat- 460 Back full squat- 500, Clean- 360, Jerk- 405 Snatch- 270, Push Press- 350, 40 yd dash- 4.9 sec Stand Throw Avg.- 49-50'(Best 54') Half turn or shambool- 60'
Now you can see why I think I have great room for improvement over time.
L&S: As a percent of your standing throw, what do you expect from your full movement?
BM: I am not sure what percentage you want, but I can just give the feet, and if you want to switch it over to a percentage you can. I expect 12 feet from my rotation. If I stand 52' I throw usually 64'.
L&S: Other than weights, what other types of training do you employ?
BM: All of the regulars, sprint work, jumps, med ball, multiple weighted shots, Balance training, mental relaxation.
L&S: At this point in your career, you are probably a notch below the big names, i.e. Barns, Hunter, Toth, and Godina. Do you envision yourself as a 70-footer? How do you get there from where you are presently?
BM: Yes I would say I am a mountain away from the big boys. They are the worlds best #1-4 in the world. The way these guys are going I need to find another country. Many countries had trouble finding throwers to make the A standard in the shot, we had 13! When you compare to the US, you are comparing to the world, we are the country that everyone is chasing. I would love to one day be a 70 footer, I am not setting that to be a goal, because often people set goals like that and if they do not reach them they feel they have failed, and I don't feel like a failure now, or they will reach the goal and then it becomes a barrier. I can remember setting my last goal at 60', and when I broke 60' it was then very hard to get away from. My goal is to do my best, work as hard as I possibly can, and have fun doing it. To get to the next level I just need to "RIDE THE HORSE THAT BROUGHT ME!" Stay after it and be patient, and work on my strength levels. I have a lot of room for improvement.
L&S: I do not train with or personally know any elite throwers. Tell me if my perception is wrong that there are a number of national/world-class throwers who are immensely strong and are not the technical marvels that many assume them to be. I've watched tapes of some big throws at some major competitions and wondered how in the world someone could possibly throw that far and seemingly break most of the laws of physics while doing so.
BM: I know that feeling well. I always hope that Barnes gets his left leg down in time to lift up on top of it and throw 76'. I have no doubt in my mind he could throw that far right now. Brian Miller is another one that with just hitting one right could throw 70' now. At the championships he threw 67' and was blocked off by his left. If he gets it where he can rotate his hips through watch out!!! Kevin Toth is ready to go 73'. I threw against his at KU when he threw over 71' early in the season, and he fouled all but that one throw. He was planting on top of the toe board and still going 69-70' The thing that really WOWs me is to get into a meet and see five people (the four big boys, and Miller) all front 58-59 feet. I felt like I was in the presence of greatness seeing five people accelerate the ball that much in such a short range of motion.
L&S: Does the general public have an over-inflated view of the frequency alleged wide-spread use of performance-enhancing drugs? Is it often envy speaking, or is the use actually under-estimated?
BM: I will not single out the throws, because the media does that enough for us all. There is no more drug usage in the throws than in every other event. It is frequent in all events, because you keep seeing people getting caught. With the high maximum level of testosterone ratios in tests, and the ease of changing of codes in steroids so they can not be detected it is hard to get caught. I once read an article that interviewed like 150 athletes. One question was if I had a substance and you knew it was banned, but it would make you win every competition this year would you take it. Like 143 said they would. If I had a substance that you knew was banned, but it would make you win every competition for the next five years, and at the end of those five years it will kill you would you take it. Like 130 said they would. These are not the exact numbers of the study, but the ethics in sport is dead.
The article went on to say that "If someone does get banned for using a controlled substance they are just stupid, because there are two many ways around it." Every time they come up with a test there will be someone there to find a way around it. They have developed a test that could clean up the sport. It is a hair DNA test that can tell if a subject has used a performance enhancing drug since birth. Yes it is expensive, but it is more accurate than anything they are using now. I would gladly consider it as paying dues and pay for my own each year if they would enforce a life ban on anyone who failed the test. What they do not realize is that you can ban someone for two or four years, but they are still going to have the benefits form the drug, because they would not have gotten as fast, or as strong, or the endurance they have with out the drug. It is not like you take the drug, and then as soon as you go off of it all the gains you have found vanish from your body into thin air. That s why even with two or four year bans the sport will not be clean until there is only one ban, a life long ban. I think that society is always looking for a hero, a superman/woman with phenomenal abilities. All through history there has been one here and one there. Like Babe Ruth. But there are so many now with this freakish ability it would be like Babe having to play with 6-7 other Babes on his team, and every team would have 6-7. There are some natural phenomenons out there, but look back into history they do not come in the thousands.
L&S: Is there a since of camaraderie before and after a national-level competition?
BM: With most of the athletes there are. I had the opportunity to talk to Randy and congratulate him on his gold win, and he is always easy to talk to, and after the National qualifying round about 6-8 of the shot putters all went out to dinner that night. We have a once a year get together of like the top 15. This year we had it at the Olympic Training Center in San Diego, and we all had a lot of fun, there were a few that could not come, and some that would not, but most of all the throwers get along real well, and I consider them good people and great friends. You have to remember the spirit of the Olympic Games. It was an opportunity for all of the worlds best to come compete TOGETHER. It was not and never will be a war, no matter how many countries, or TV stations try to count which country received the most golds, silvers, and bronzes. It is not about competing for your country, it is about competing for the world and your sport.
L&S: Who do you consider the most influential person in your throwing career?
BM: Well, I never had a coach, and when I was young, I would have to say my parents for always planning family vacations around where the AAU or the USATF meets were. Now it is my wife. She is very supportive, and understanding.
L&S: Being a post-collegiate thrower, how are you able to manage career and competition?
BM: It is not easy at all. I am a kindergarten teacher from 7:30-3:40. I am a coach at Central Missouri State University and do part of my training from 4:00-6:00. I am a grad student from 6:00-9:00 on most week nights, and four days a week I lift weights from 9:00-12:00 midnight. In between all of that and weekends I am a husband and we have a dog named Baxter. You can see why I am so lucky to have a wife who is so understanding and supportive. There will come a day when we decide to have children that I will stop being a thrower and become a dad, but until then I am just going to be the best that I can be and have fun doing it.
As you can tell, Brad's training starts between the ears! Much thanks to Brad for sharing his knowledge and experience with us!