Question: When you talk about focusing on the orbit, what do you mean? -James
People like to focus on footwork, but it is the orbit of the hammer that is the most important element of technique. This isn’t even a debatable question. But, what is the orbit? And what should a hammer thrower know about it?
In short, the orbit is the path that the hammer itself travels. The most discussed part of the orbit is the low point, with coaches often talking about if it should be to the left or right. But focusing on this is just focusing on a two-dimensional snapshot of the orbit. In addition to being left or right, the hammer can be too high or too low. And the most important aspect is yet another dimension: time. Where the hammer was and where the hammer is going is just as important as where it is.
When I talk about focusing on the orbit, I mean several things. Here are a few of the major points of focus.
Point 1 – Big circles. The hammer throw is about rhythm and rhythm requires fluidity. The more you jerk the hammer around, the more you will disrupt its momentum. Ideally, you want to make big circles with the hammer. The middle of this circle is your left side, which serves as the axis of rotation. Take a look at the overhead view of Heinz Weis’s orbit (shown to the left) and you have an idea of what I’m talking about. If you compare this with someone who drags the hammer, the circles would not be nearly as nice and each circle would be progressively smaller. And if your axis shifts to the right side, you also start making some weird shapes.
Point 2 – Make the path long. In scientific terms, the way to throw far is to increase the speed of the hammer. Most people think this means that the thrower has to go fast, but that isn’t necessarily true. The thrower can actually accelerate the hammer while going the same speed. This is done by increasing radius, i.e. the distance between the thrower and the ball. A long radius means the hammer will make a bigger circle. And if the hammer has to travel a longer distance in the same amount of time, it will be moving faster.
Point 3 – Push through the points. I first started to understand the orbit when I visited Litvinov in 2004. Rather than talking about the low point, he told me to focus on hitting consistent points to the left and right of the low point (at 45º and 315º). If I focused on making sure the hammer travelled through these imaginary points, then it would create the right orbit. After all, you can have a perfect low point and terrible orbit at the same time. But if you focus more on the path of the hammer, then a good orbit will start to appear.
Point 4 – Leave the hammer in control. As I said above, you can’t jerk the hammer around. Instead, let the hammer’s momentum turn you. The hammer is an inanimate object, but it knows what to do as long as you give it an axis to turn on. Stay centered during the throw and it will do the work. Here is an experiment Harold Connolly taught me. Attach a string with a weight on it to the top of a pencil. Now start swinging the weight around. Immediately you will notice that the more weird movements to suddenly add speed, the weight actually loses its momentum. But if you keep the pencil centered with a good axis, the weight will move and even accelerate with very little effort of your own. The same is true in the hammer.