Question: I just read this interview with Dr. Bondarchuk. In it, he says the two reasons U.S. hammer throwing lags behind is because of the way we train (lack of special strength) and technique issues. You have talked a lot about how to train special strength, I would like to know what you think some of the major flaws in the U.S. style of technique is compared to what Dr. B teaches. -Jeff
The biggest technical issue holding Americans back is that we like to pull the hammer. We tend to be big and strong and try to muscle the hammer instead of pushing it and working with it. In fact, this is the biggest problem among all the world’s throwers, myself included. Take, for example some of the top American throwers from the past decade: A.G. Kruger and Kibwé Johnson.
The first thing you notice about the photos above is that both of them have a bent right arm and the their body is turning ahead of the hammer. Look at my picture at the top of this page and you’ll even see a slight bend of the right arm. These are the tell tale signs of pulling the hammer and it has a huge effect on your result. If your arms are bent, the hammer is closer to your body. By cutting off the radius, you actually slow the hammer down. No matter how fast you accelerate, the hammer slows down as you pull it closer.
Now compare that with former world record holder and 1988 Olympic Gold Medalist Sergey Litvinov. Litvinov’s arms were straight throughout the throw. Straight arms allow you to keep a long radius, thus making the hammer go faster with no additional effort. In addition, by keeping the ball in front of him rather than behind him, Litvinov could push the hammer and make it go even faster. As Dr. Bondarchuk likes to say, pushing the hammer makes the throw easy since the hammer is doing most of the work. It’s the hammer’s momentum turns you.
Nearly every one of the top American throwers ever has pulled the hammer, from Harold Connolly to Jud Logan and all the way up to A.G. and Kibwé. While A.G. and many others have consistently throw 75 to 79 meters, they have mostly fallen short of being competitive at the Olympics. Eighty meters is typically needed for a medal and pulling is a huge handicap in reaching that distance. One of the few exceptions, according to Bondarchuk, was Lance Deal. Lance may not have pushed the ball as much as Bondarchuk would have liked, but he didn’t pull the ball and that is the reason he rose to the top. It is thus no surprise that Lance is the American record holder and the only American to win an Olympic medal in the past 54 years. Bondarchuk did not see Kevin McMahon throw much, but I bet he would have put him in that category too.
While pulling may seem like a simple problem, it is hard to fix. Kibwé was well aware that he pulled the hammer back in 2008. He posted on his blog earlier this year that “my arms were bent when I threw the hammer before. Everyone knew it. I knew it. God knows I tried to fix it. But as much as I tried, my right arm never really changed that much in my first 5 years of hammer throwing.”
But, unlike the story of many hammer throwers, that’s not where Kibwé’s story ends (I have to end on a better note since I’m leaving for his wedding tomorrow). For Kibwé, the solution came through an unexpected route. He moved to Kamloops to train with Bondarchuk right after the Olympic Trials. There, he learned how to push the hammer and before long his arms were straight without any conscious effort by him or comments about it by Bondarchuk. Now, with his new improved technique (see video here), he has thrown a new personal best and established himself as the most dangerous thrower in the country heading into next season.