Rhythm and the hammer throw are inseparable. A good throw needs it and bad throws lack it. As a coach I often have my throwers focus on the the rhythm of the throw as much as any other aspect. But as a thrower training alone, rhythm is something that is difficult for me to focus on in my own throw. Perhaps it is just me, but rhythm seems much easier to watch or hear than to feel. The blur of the throw prevents me from getting much feedback about the rhythm. I can feel when a throw is smooth or easy, but I can tell you little about the rhythm. Harold Connolly told me that at least one of his athletes must have felt the same way so he altered his hammer to whistle as he threw, with the pitch varying as speed increased.
Thankfully I can sometimes get others to come and watch me throw. Yesterday Terry McHugh was once again able to watch me practice and his sole focus was on rhythm. Terry has little experience with the hammer, but he is a talented javelin coach and has a good eye. As with focusing, rhythm is universal and something Terry can help me with as much as any hammer coach can.
What I appreciated was that Terry let me perfect my own rhythm, rather than trying to get me to match a specific rhythm. Just like hammer throwers have different styles of technique, they also have different rhythm. Hammer throwers fall into three categories of overall rhythm in the throw. The first group begins slowly with a drastic increase in speed during each turn. The second group is the opposite: they begin with a lot of speed already in the winds but then have very minimal acceleration during the turns. A final group begins with average speed and moderate acceleration in each turn.
No one approach is better than the other. What is important about the rhythm is that it is there and fits the individual. I firmly fall into the first category. Throwers like Lance Deal fall into first category, and many more fall into the final category. But throwers from all categories have been successful. As Anatoliy Bondarchuk has said:
The difference in structure of the rhythm of throwing not only does not prevent the athlete from showing a high level of athletic achievement, but also, on the contrary, in all cases facilities this.
A coach needs to find what rhythm is natural to the athlete and cultivate that. This will allow the athlete to best accelerate the hammer throughout the throw.
Terry competed for more than two decades as a thrower, made four summer Olympic teams for Ireland (plus two Winter teams), and one World Championships final. During his career he was considered a slow starter. When his approach was compared to his competitors, they were sometimes more than twice as fast as the beginning. Terry said he merely started as fast as he felt comfortable and controlled. The speed of the implement at the end was all that mattered and by that point his speed was up there with the best throwers.
The same is true in the hammer. All that really matters is how fast the hammer is travelling when it is released. The coach and thrower need to find the rhythm that they are comfortable with and will best get them to the fastest release speed. Focusing on finding an athlete’s own rhythm in training is therefore essential.