IAAF INDOOR CHAMPS
BREAKING NEW GROUND
HAMMER IN FOCUS
GOING ROUND THE BLOCK
BIG LIFTS = BIG THROWS
LINE ĎEM UP
THIS IS HOW WE DO IT
GETTING THE WORD OUT
Leftist Rotational Thinking
By Scott Weiser, Millersville University
There is no question that what we know as "the block" is a huge addition to the power that the thrower can supply to the implement. It is a technique that aids the thrower in the summation of forces necessary to achieve the release speed that is essential to get the implement to go farther. However, there are some misconceptions and improper associations being made and passed along to young throwers. Letís take a look at the "blocking" effect as it relates to the shot put, discus, and javelin. Particularly what is going on with the upper body.
First, if you try to look up "block" in any biomechanical textbook, you will have trouble. That is a term relegated to us throws nuts. Movements similarly used in football and baseball are known in those sports as other terms, but one only has to open the sports section of your newspaper to see quarterback and pitchers demonstrate very commonly seen positions in the throwing events of Track & Field. Essentially, what the thrower is trying to do with the body is to develop a solid body position so that he/she can impart a huge accelerating force to the implement with the throwing arm. This involves turning of the body towards the sector, grounding of the non-throwing side lower body, stretching the upper body muscles used to deliver the implement, and finally stopping the non-throwing side upper body. Thus, the "block" is when the thrower stops one body segment in order to accelerate another body segment. The term "block" is most often referred to as what the thrower does with the non-throwing side of the upper body. However, the "blocking" effect can be seen elsewhere.
Any movement by the non-throwing body segments reduces the force that the thrower can impart on the implement. Has anyone ever heard of "itís like shooting cannon out of a canoe?" That is a comment on a weak foundation with a large accelerating force Ė the force just doesnít translate to the implement fully. If one can time these different elements properly you can minimize the deceleration of the implement prior to delivery giving one the feeling of the block accelerating the implement. The perception is that the implement "jumps" out of your hand; however, itís just that the implement maintains its momentum while your body stops to deliver. This is demonstrated greatly in the javelin and glide shot put which are, interestingly, both linear movements. However, this still occurs in rotational techniques.
One common mistake coaches and athletes make is watching video or seeing pictures of high-level performers and replicating the movements or positions without seeing the movement in real speed or understand what the thrower is trying to do. One thing that is pretty clear when watching the shot put (but in other events as well) is that prior to delivery the left arm moves quite rapidly from one side of the sector to the other. Oftentimes, the non-throwing arm will also shorten at the elbow and either stop in a position that is elbow back (towards the rear of the thrower) or elbow down (towards the throwerís non-throwing side hip). It is often interpreted as a "pulling" or "rip-cord" type action and assumed that the more powerful the non-throwing side arm moves, the greater the delivery action of the throwing arm, however, this is purely coincidental. It is important to mention at this point that for most high-level performers you see the delivery happen after the non-throwing arm stops, but not before. This has evolved into a common coaching cue of "elbow the midget and punch the giant." One of the most dangerous practices with this is that it is taught as simultaneous movements. It is most certainly not, but letís look deeper into this.
What is the thrower trying to accomplish? Certainly we SEE something, but does that accurately reflect what the thrower is trying to do or even that the thrower is intentionally doing something? Certainly when you run, you donít have to think about lifting one leg at the same time you push the other into the ground. Itís a movement that is central to being human or a quadraped. So do you push against the ground because you lift the other leg? Or do you lift the other leg because you pushed against the ground? Both. However, one is more important depending on what you are trying to accomplish. Initially, one should teach the movement fully so that the athlete is hitting the positions to the degree that they have to (technique work); however, once this movement feeling is achieved and reproduced, the athlete will not have time in performance to think about so much in such a short amount of time. Therefore, you want to use, what I call, TRIGGERING MOVEMENTS. This is the practice of focusing on movements that will elicit automatic movements elsewhere or a series of events. For example, with our runner, if they are running short sprints, the focus should be on power into the ground and, therefore, focusing on driving one leg into the ground explosively should (if taught well from the beginning) lift the opposite leg into a position that will allow the runner to repeat that explosive movement. So you accomplish two things with the athleteís mind only on one movement. Certainly, breaking down movements, you can find many intricate things going on, but the athlete will perform at their best when their mind is only focusing on one thing or nothing at all.
Back to our throwers. We see the non-throwing arm move. We see it "lock" into position either elbow back or elbow down. And then we see a powerful delivery. The movement of the non-throwing arm has been associated with the "blocking" effect. So much so that it is commonly taught that moving the non-throwing arm will create the "blocking" effect. However, is that a correct assumption? There are a couple of things happening with the non-throwing arm NOT associated with the "blocking" effect. First the delivery muscles, mainly the pectoralis major, must be stretched if one wants to exert maximal force. That is done by the muscles of the upper back contracting to produce a stretch in the pectoralis major. So by contracting the upper back muscles, you produce a stretch in the major muscles involved in the delivery of the implement, but you also move the non-throwing arm laterally towards the outside of the body and consequently, as the body is turned toward the sector, the non-throwing arm moves towards the non-throwing side of the sector. So the athlete is simply "opening up" to the throw or turning the body to the center of the sector. At the same time, the thrower is stretching the delivery muscles to maximize the force that can be created. That is strength 101. Stretch a muscle and it can contract. Stretch it more and you can contract it with greater force. Going beyond that one can stretch the muscle so fast and to such a degree that you can elicit a myotatic-reflex ("Stretch-reflex") which is a protective mechanism of the muscular system that does not involve conscious action so therefore it can be faster and produce higher force than when you consciously think about contracting the muscle. This is most often seen in the javelin and discus where there is greater shoulder movement.
Given this, there may be two reasons why one would swing the non-throwing arm in a vigorous action. One, if the movement prior to grounding/landing is fast, one must "open up" to the sector commensurately fast to take advantage of the speed that has been developed and the acceleration necessary. The other reason might be to elicit a stretch reflex in the pectoralis major of the throwing side.
However, there is a down-side to that last strategy. Given the short amount of time one has to deliver the implement ,it is much to think that the thrower will have time to think about a fast left side and powerful right side. In this coachís humble opinion, itís the right side that is most important and that is where the mind should be. Either in imparting force to the implement (in the shot put) or in setting up the position (which is often the case in the javelin and discus). Either way, the throwerís mind should be focused on the right side. The assumption is that, to actively pull the left arm would be to effectively "turn off" the right side. 9 times out of 10 when doing video review with my athletes who display proper movements/positions ,they report not consciously doing anything with the non-throwing side. Their focus was totally on getting into position and firing the throwing side. The non-throwing side arm collapses into position automatically. The delivery action of the throwing side is the TRIGGERING MOVEMENT to stopping the non-throwing side. Look at pictures of baseball pitchers and quarterbacks. They display the same non-throwing arm positions. With a linebacker in your face, Iím sure you donít have time to think about "elbowing the midget" before getting rid of the ball.
One must keep the non-throwing arm out for balance. Passively held, it helps in achieving proper body positions. However, using the non-throwing arm often times pulls the thrower off-balance and reduces torque in the mid-section. Teach the thrower to keep it out. Teach the thrower to use the upper back to stretch the delivery muscles. Allow the non-throwing arm to "get out of the way" so the right side can move to the front. But, donít teach the athlete to pull or rip the non-throwing arm. It will not enhance what the throwing side can do. The thrower will achieve those positions automatically. The non-throwing side will diminish as the throwing side is activated. It will automatically shorten to the shoulder and stop. Using the non-throwing side will create undesired movement that will prevent the throwing side from imparting all of its force to the implement (remember that canoe?). You canít actively stop a body segment without an external force. You can actively block the non-throwing leg because of it being grounded. You canít stop the non-throwing arm in the same way. By "turning on" the throwing side, you "turn off" and stop the non-throwing side.
There is much to teach a young and/or developing thrower. If we can cross off one thing that keeps it simple for the thrower. *L&S*