One of the big things that sets Coach Bondarchuk apart from the typical American coach is how he approaches weight training for the hammer throw. Most coaches simply think stronger is better. To a certain extent, this is true; strength is a necessary component to success since you need to be strong to throw the hammer far. However, strength is not sufficient to throw far, and after a certain baseline level of strength is attained, you reach a point of diminishing return where strength’s correlation to success falters. Coach Bondarchuk takes a slow and steady approach to weight training. This is an approach that will get his athletes to the level of strength they need over the long term. His athletes do not aim to be the strongest and will take plenty of time to develop strength. In the short term, this also means they will have more energy that can be used to take the volume of throws needed to improve their technique, another essential element to success.
In fact, it is Bondarchuk’s holistic view of the hammer throw that underlies this approach. In addition to strength, there are other factors that contribute to success, chiefly technique and special strength. It is an appreciation of these other factors that gives balance to Bondarchuk’s training programs. No one factor is allowed to dominate; room is made to focus on all three, with the most attention being given to those factors that have the highest correction to success. Obviously there is the highest correlation between throwing hammer far in training and throwing them far in competition, just as practicing push ups is the best exercise to do if you want to be good at push ups. So, most of our time in training is spent working on technique with implements of various weights. While many throwers do not have good technique, I think most realize the importance of this factor.
However, special strength is neglected by many American coaches despite that fact that it is a fairly straightforward concept. The term “special strength” means exercises that use the same muscles as the competitive movement by closely mimicking it. For the hammer throw, this includes exercises such as twisting movements and med ball throws that work the muscles used during the hammer throw. Such exercises help the hammer throw just as exercises that mimic push ups by working certain upper body muscles will help an athlete get better at push ups. After technique, special strength has the next highest correlation to success and therefore plays a pivotal role in our training. The lack of special strength is one of the shortcomings of most American throwers and I feel it is a factor that prevents many from reaching an international level of competitiveness. American throwers may be among the strongest in the world, but most elite international throwers, on the other hand, can count special strength as one of their best assets. For instance, Olympic Champion Primož Kozmus models his training on Bondarchuk’s theories and incorporates a high volume of special strength exercises, such as the one in the below video I recorded earlier this summer. Maybe I’m wrong, but I’ve never seen an American thrower doing a high volume of exercises like the one in the video and it is one of the things keeping Americans off the podium at big meets.