Throwing light and heavy hammers should be a major part of hammer throw training. But in addition to playing around with different weights, many throwers also add variety to the length of the hammer. This is another way to add variety to training, but one method I am not a fan of.
In most of Western Europe, short hammers and heavy hammers go hand in hand. I have never met a Swiss or German coach that has thrown a normal length 10-kilogram hammer for men, and few that even utilize a normal length 9-kilogram. The theory is that heavy hammers can develop bad technical habits, but shortening a heavy hammer makes the hammer feel lighter and easier for the athlete to throw with proper technique.
There are several problems with this approach. First, it is based on the assumption that technique will get worse as the implement gets heavier. That is not always the case and many athletes I have seen actually have better, more patient technique with heavier hammers. Second, one main point of throwing a heavy hammer is to work on specific strength. By shortening the hammer, the impact is minimized and the training effect becomes more like a lighter hammer. Therefore I just choose between the two normal length hammers depending on what my training goal is; mixing up the two by shortening the length needlessly complicates things that were already working well.
The final point, however, is the most important. On Facebook earlier this month one athlete asked for input on the use of short hammers. Sergej Litvinov Jr. was quick to respond “That is two different sports.” He continued to discuss why:
Let’s try to analyze what is the difference between different weight hammers and different length hammers. The difference between the standard length 5-kilogram hammer and standard length 7.26-kilogram hammer is the rhythm and speed. The orbit and the technique stay the same; everything is just faster with a 5-kilogram hammer. But with hammers of two difference lengths the difference is that the technique is very difference. One has a push action and the other pulling. The body saves this feeling. A short hammer can be used as an exercise, but it is not like a similar throws session.
As always Litvinov brilliantly summarizes a complex topic. A short hammer has a vastly different orbit and this has a major effect on technique since the orbit is one of the key points of technique. Therefore, as Litvinov pointed out, training too much with a different orbit will have a negative impact on technique. Just take the weight throw as an example.
I am currently using short hammers in training for myself and my athletes, but only as a special exercise to develop strength. My athletes do not take full throws with the short implements. It sounds like Litvinov has a similar approach. In throwing heavy hammers we aways use them at normal length. Bondarchuk even has Kibwe Johnson throw the 12-kilogram hammer that way. While my technique starts breaking down with such heavy hammers, and Litvinov is not an advocate of throwing more than 9-kilograms, Kibwe’s technique doesn’t seem affected by the heavier weight.
The key point for me is not just that short hammers can be bad, but that we also should’t be afraid to use normal length heavy hammers in training. As Bondarchuk’s research has shown, the normal length 10-kilogram hammer offers men over 75-meters a higher correlation than any other implement. The same can be said for women over 65-meters and the 6-kilogram hammer. Get rid of the short hammers and throw them long in both senses of the word.