LIFT TO THROW, DONT LIFT TO LIFT...
Written by John Smith with Glenn Thompson
Editors Note: Of all the nationally recognized throws coaches, John Smith may be perhaps the most accessible. He takes the time to speak with most anyone that approaches him, and is very active on the internet. He is a dilligent record-keeper, charting numbers and occurences that many would consider minutia. He speaks out frequently against performance enhancing drugs, and vows never to coach an athlete that is a user. As well as working with wife Connie, John coaches other throwers near his home in Bloomington, IN, ranging from multi-eventers, to preps, to elite-level athletes, as well as Power and Olympic lifters. Others travel good distances from neighboring states just to get in a weekend throwing session or two.
Most anyone that comes across John has an opinion on him, be it positive or not-so-positive. Count me in as one of the former. Through his postings on THE RING (internet site), e-mails and phone calls, I have learned a great deal, over the last 18 months, about training in general (for explosion in particular) and peaking. At age 35 this past season, based on Johns training schedules, I was repeatedly able to produce standing throws on meet days equal to what I had done only sporadically in my younger years. Take my words/experience as a testimonial, and open your mind. Youll find sound reasoning and outstanding results!
I am often asked by throwers of all skill and ability levels, what lifting program should I follow? How should I train? While there are many schemes and variations, one old adage has been proven over time: Lift to Throw, Dont Lift to Lift. In other words, every minute spent in the weight room should be with the intention of improving your performance in the circle. Ask yourself, Which is more important, adding an inch to my arms, or tacking 30 pounds on to my Power Cleans? If you answered the first, perhaps your subscription money would be better off with Muscle & Fitness.
There are many misconceptions as to what strength levels are necessary to achieve ones goals, be they qualifying for a league/county meet, or making an Olympic team. In my opinion the quick pulls are a throwers number one lift. The cleans and snatches usually identify the best athlete in the gym, and are more closely related to the explosive coordination of throwing than any of the other lifts. I have seen too many poor squatters and benchers that have had good Olympic lifts throw very far. My college roomate, John Sayre, a 6-foot, 3-inch, 170 pound decathlete, had only a 275 bench and 350 squat, but did have a 325 power clean and 255 power snatch. John scored 8381 points in 1985. That included a 171' discus, 47' foot shot, 222' javelin, and an 18 foot pole vault. Conversely, I have seen few good benchers and squatters with poor Olympic lifts throw far!
Remember, the weight of the implement will always be a small fraction of your best squat, bench press, etc. Once you step into the circle or on to the runway, your challenge is to apply as much speed/power as possible to an implement that weighs significantly less than any poundage you are using in the weightroom. Being able to bench press 225 pounds in a split-second is much more relevant than taking a half-hour to force up 400. Is this to say that working with heavier weights is irrelevant? Absolutely not! Absolute (maximum) strength can and must be converted through the proper application of speed/explosive training.
In throwing there are two different types of strengths: (1) throwing strength developed by throwing different weighted shots and different implements (shot, discus, wieght, etc., and (2) weight lifting strength, where the process of absolute power is converted to explosive power which is converted into throwing power. Im always looking for ways to start the top of the chain stronger, so I have more to convert into throwing at the bottom of the chain. The lifting for us is the easiest part of training. The throwing is physically harder on the body and a lot more technically demanding and time consuming.
Here is what my current off-season workout schedule looks like. This program lead Connie, at age 36, to PRs in several lifts. It is based on a two-week, alternating cycle of heavy and speed work. This combination has done wonders for the recovery time over months of training (especially joint soreness) of my athletes. The heavy work is structured to take place over a 42-hour period during week A. Typically well work Thursday and Friday evenings, and finish with the upper body Saturday morning. We come back the B week working all the same muscle groups, but at lighter weights in a more explosive fashion. Week B is essentially one core exercise per workout, complimented by three or four auxilary exercises. For what is printed here, Week 1 will include the Week A strength work and the Week B explosive work., then on to weeks 2, 3, and 4 in the same A and B pattern. Remember, there is no growth without recovery. This becomes increasingly important as the athlete ages, but even younger throwers can be overtrained. Train intelligently, not continually.
THURSDAY, (BACK DAY)
FRIDAY ( LEG DAY)
SATURDAY (UPPER BODY)
THURSDAY (BACK DAY)
FRIDAY (LEG DAY)
SATURDAY (UPPER BODY DAY)
Notes on the above:
· Recovery time is different for all depending on age, gender, and other factors. You may need less or more depending on your own personal characteristics.
· Rack benches (lowering the bar to a partial depth at preset pins, then raising it) are also good, but are totally different. Board presses are nothing but a normal bench partial. You need someone to hold the boards on your chest while you bench. We do these at the end of our regular bench workout. The bar sinks into the boards that sinks into your chest. On the bench, doing heavier board presses at the top end of the bench workout really seems to make the triceps much stronger and a better bench the next week. Pause presses (stopping the bar on the chest for a one count, then raising) are a good supplemental exercise for working through sticking points at the bottom of the pressing motion.
· In my opinion the safety squats provide the overload on the bodys core and give the glutes and hamstrings tremendous negative training which creates better growth than just squatting. During box squats, the athlete descends to a box. Once the buttocks hit the box, the athlete relaxes, pauses momentarily, then explodes up out of the bottom. Box squats are normally done below parallel during off-season training, on boxes anywhere from 10" to 15" high. The weight used should allow for a contraction phase of no longer than one second. Experiment in the 50% of one-rep-max range. Box squats create all the explosive positive training of the glutes and quads and hamstrings which drives up the explosive lifts. In season, heavier box squats at a 3/4 depth (above parallel) can be done to more closely imitate the range of motion of the lower body during a throw. Once, again, explosion, not poundage, is the focus.
· Reverse hypers are essentially a weighted Roman Chair sit-up, which emphasize the lower back.
· Lifts from the hang (bar resting just above the knees) position best mimic the throws. After all, implements are not thrown from the ground.
· Throw in some heavy partial deadlifts to help out those cleans.
· The heavy leg work is important because its responsible for driving the system and creating a situation to peak down from. When you back off the leg work you should see an increase in throwing, cleaning, and benching. The last heavy squat day 18-21 days out from a major meet has always worked well for us.
· The Hatfield (Safety Squat) bar and box squatting does the following: 1) enables an athlete to work their quads, glutes, and hamstrings far more effectively than front squatting or back squatting, 2) puts the athlete in a far better biomechanical squatting position, 3) saves the back which resulted in much better cleaning and snatching, 4) created a better back squat after only 3 weeks of use, 5) squats can be performed more ballistically (85% and below) than with a regular bar, 6) squat workouts can be done faster and safer, and 7) identified strong leg squatters and strong back squatters (had one athlete do 540x8 after two weeks, then normal squat 505x8 for a lifetime PR. Connie after two weeks did 420x8 [This exercise finally made her legs sore], and holds a lifetime PR at 325x8 with the normal bar. This bar and the box squatting also has produced a 220x5 box clean (all reps racked) for Connie (2 inches above kneecap level) which is also a lifetime PR. It also created a 35lb-40lb squat PR for a set of 8 for two 165lb powerlifters. No one went down, everyone went up. The Hatfield (Safety Squat) bar looks like a bent Olympic bar, with a yolk for the neck area. The bend in the bar is just inside both sleeves, and serves to better center the weight being lifted. Consequently, less stress is placed on the back and more work is done by the legs. Many back squatters tend to tire in the lower back before their legs are fully taxed.
· The in-season training goes to a Sunday clean/squat day with a Monday bench day. Thursday or Friday becomes the ballistic day (snatch/plyo/bench, maybe box squat day). Depending on how major meets fall, I might not go to this until May. The peaking stuff gets tricky (really have to watch your athletes progress according to how the throwing is going) and weightroom adjustments are based on throwing improvements or deceases.
· I use squats and safety squats for the absolute strength of the legs and torso. The explosive strength is the box squats. The cleans and snatches are the ballistic full body back movements, followed by partial above knee and below knee in the rack deadlifts which develop the absolute strength of the back. The upperbody body ballistic work consists of explosive benching and push pressing mixed in with controlled benching, overhead pressing, partial benches, and other upper body auxiliary work. Once again, I simply work the absolute strength to drive the explosive strength and vise-versa. I have found that pure Olympic lifters neglect absolute strength (this is why many track athletes can out clean real Olympic lifters) and powerlifters neglect explosive strength (this is why some 650 lbs. plus deadlifters cant clean 300). The athletes that Connie has witnessed overseas work both ends of the strength vs. explosive strength question.
· The triangle is the throwing position that proceeds the firing of the right leg, hip and shoulder. Its the angle between the right hip, right shoulder, and right knee (power position). This position, when violently closed, creates and transfers power through the backward C delivery position. This position and action is very similar to the position created when you do a hang clean or box clean. I prefer these two lifts over power cleans because of the stretch reflex that is created, as the body arrives to this position from the back of the ring. Landing against the ground creates a stretch reflex, which is better simulated in the weight room from the hang position. For this reason the clean and snatch is critical to teach and perform the quick transition from linear power (gliding off the back) to vertical power (the right leg, hip and shoulder working first UP, then OUT.) If a thrower does not work up in time you will get a flat, decelerating throw. I have studied many throwers who possessed big bench presses and big squats and could not understand why they had so much trouble getting the ball into the air. I even asked these throwers why they couldnt work their hip up in time before the ball drifted forward. The usual response was that they knew what they had to do, but couldnt, no matter how hard they tried. I started to look at this common problem from a physical point of view. Even though I believe there is no such thing as being too strong, I do believe that being overly strong in one area will cause unfixable technique problems in the throw. Shot putters with cleans (catching high, not a drop clean) that totaled less than 50% of their squat tend to throw low and have poor technique because the strength of their squat and bench (main contributors to linear motion) caused the body and ball to blow through the transition phase of the throw. I found that people who had over a 60% of clean to squat ratio threw with much better technique and got the ball in the air with a whole lot less squat and bench power. In essence, being too strong in one area causes another area to fail at its critical job. This is why throwers with a big clean and a poor squat and bench can throw relatively far. However if your squat, bench and clean get stronger in the proper ratio, then you will throw even farther. This is why the Germans put so much value on their snatch and cleans and use the squat and bench to better exploit the critical explosive throwing power that the clean and snatch can teach.
The half squats I have Connie and my throwers perform usually happen at least every three weeks. I like to emphasize them closer to a major competition like Nationals, Worlds, or Gran Prix finals. I have Connie place the bar inside a heavy duty squat rack on the pins at a half squat position (similar to the leg angle she will throw with). From a stand still position, she will get under the bar and fire it up for a single, return it to the pins, pause, and fire it up again for each of the three reps. I like to use these on the top end of a squat workout. A good Connie squat workout looks like this: 90 degree squats (powerlifting legal) 5x135,5x225,5x315,3x 365, 3x405, 1/2 squats (in rack) 3x495,3x585, and if this goes up quickly I will let her do one more set between 625-650 range. If the bar doesnt move quickly the squat workout is finished. I also like to do knee level in the rack deadlifts, exploding it off the rack at the end of a clean workout. This is how I got Connie to put 45lbs on her cleans back in 1990. Her PRs are 650x3 knee level dead lifts, and 650x3 half squats in the rack and a 3x455 full squat pr.. This builds good overall strength, even for powerlifters. I have one boy that has been doing this for 5 years, who deadlifted 650x3 at 235lbs one day without ever deadlifting once in his life. This boy could 1/2 deadlift 775x3 in the rack. Explosive partial lifts I feel are a very neglected area of throwers weight training.
Training, like most anything else in life, is an inexact
science. What has worked for us, may not work for you. But it has been our experience that
this off-season training program lays a sound foundation for success in the spring and
summer. Once again, remember: LIFT TO THROW, DONT LIFT TO LIFT! *LSTJ*