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Bondarchuk and Dylan Armstrong. Photo by Kamloops This Week.

Ask Martin Vol. 17: In Defense of Bondarchuk

Question: I know you’ve written in the past about some of Dr. Bondarchuk’s concepts. Let me share two arguments that could be made:

  • For: Bondarchuk understand the science of throwing after decades of coaching and research. The periodization cycles that you discuss of being up, down, etc. are all based experience and data and have been proven through results.
  • Against: The general hammer community gets trickles of Bondarchuk’s wisdom, but it all seems vague and hard to grasp. Fuzzy science. It’s a community of people who have drank the cool aid. His record can’t be argued with, but he doesn’t walk on water as some may say. If I had access to some of the best athletes in the world, I’d look pretty smart too. At the end of the day, sound training theory, good technique, strength training, and special strength, etc. will determine performance. It doesn’t have to be as mysterious as it has been presented.

Discuss. -Coach Lynden
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The group at dinner.

Portugal Training Camp: Wrap-up

Alongside a former Olympic champion and a couple of 2012 Olympians.

As my training camp came to a close yesterday, I couldn’t have been happier with the progress I made over 10 days and 16 training sessions. My season plan may have been interrupted by setbacks in May, but now I am in the best shape of my life. In addition to the personal best with the 9-kilogram hammer on Monday I had personal training bests with the competition weight 7.26-kilogram hammer on both Friday and Saturday. First I launched 67.30 meters (video below) and then came back the next day to toss 67.70 meters. I had only thrown over 67 meters twice in training before, but this week I had nearly a dozen throws at or over that distance and am capable of more.
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baywatch

Back to Training

While the Weltklasse Zürich Diamond League bills itself as the “Olympics in a day”, it is hardly a one-day event. For me, the action began on Tuesday as I coached some kids to throw medicine balls and toy javelins with Valerie Adams at the Weltklasse Zürich Kids Clinic.

On Wednesday I attended the “Big Shot” shot put competition with Kibwe. For the second year in a row, the shot put competition was held one day before the main meet and placed in the center of Zürich’s main train station. With over 350,000 people a day passing through there, it made for a packed and energetic venue. We produced a video for Flotrack (see below) showing a behind the scenes look at the venue, the competition, and the competitors. The competition was thrilling. Valerie Adams controlled the women’s competition until Nadzeya Ostapchuk took a brief lead. Adam responded for the win. The podium for the meet (and the final podium for the overall Diamond Race) were the same as in Daegu. The men’s competition was very close and the top five throwers were nearly within a foot of each other. Reese Hoffa led for much of the competition before a struggling Ryan Whiting found his technique in the final round. Then, on his last attempt, my old training partner Dylan Armstrong responded for the win. His first place also secures a victory in the Diamond Race for him. Young Swiss shot putter Gergori Ott also got to throw with the big boys and set a new national under 18 record of 20.00 meters with the 5-kilogram shot put.

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Coach Evely with Sophie Hitchon, the UK record holder. Photo used with permission from Jonathan Mulkeen.

Training Talk with Derek Evely (Part 2)

Last week I posted a discussion I had with Derek Evely regarding training theory. Despite it’s length, that was just part one. Part two is below and part three is on the way soon. All of these touch on a common theme: discussing how to implement Bondarchuk’s methods. For those of you unfamiliar with Coach Evely’s background, he is currently the director of the Loughborough (UK) University High Performance Centre. He had the opportunity to learn from Bondarchuk first hand when they worked together in Kamloops, and has been fine tuning his approach ever since. As I mentioned in the last post, to get the most out of this interview it helps to have a little understanding of Bondarchuk’s approach to training. You can learn more about that through this link, or by reading Part I. If you have any questions, feel free to ask them in the comments below.


Part 1: Turning Theories Into Practice (17 May 2011)

Part 2: More About Hammer Throw Training

Maximum Strength Training

Coach Evely with Sophi Hitchon, the UK record holder at just 19 years old. Photo used with permission from Jonathan Mulkeen.

Martin: As I was saying, it might seem strange to some people but I’ve been able to make strength gains despite never lifting at a higher intensity.

Derek: I think that the single most difficult hurdle in describing Dr. B’s methodology is interpretation. I’ve done a number of presentations both with Dr. B. and without him, and I’ve talked to a lot of throws coaches about this because they hear the stories; they hear it about Dylan most of all, how he doesn’t really lift heavy, he doesn’t lift anything over a certain amount of weight, and it really messes with a lot of people’s heads and they really battle with that kind of concept. And I see why, but the biggest problem with it is that people look at it in such black and white terms, and they struggle with getting what the real message is.

And the real message is not that you don’t do maximal strength, or even that maximal strength doesn’t transfer, the real message is how much do you need and once you’re there then what are you going to do? People think that Bondarchuk’s message is “don’t do any maximal strength”. That is not it at all. You absolutely need a certain level of it, and you need a fairly high level relative to most athletes. Let’s face it; you’re not going to throw 20m in the shot with only a 100 kilo bench. Maybe someone’s done it, but it is going to be the exception not the rule. So absolutely you need it. The problem is we love the weight room, especially in North America and here in Britain. At the point where the pursuit of absolute strength starts taking away from the throwing, and it can take away from it really easily and really quickly, then you have to ask yourself is this all worth it and is there something else I could be doing or implementing, perhaps another direction, that may pay bigger dividends. In order to get very strong in a short period of time you have to lift a lot and it will really affect your throwing. If this is your plan, then fine, but as we know block periodization schemes (by Verkhoshanki’s definition, not the misleading title given to Dr. B’s work) are difficult to implement and can wreak havoc on event-specific abilities. You have to look at it over the long term.
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Evely

Training Talk with Derek Evely (Part 1)

One of the most overlooked names in coaching circles is that of Derek Evely. His coaching career has been going strong for more than fifteen years. After successful stops in Kamloops and Edmonton, he is now the director of the Loughborough (UK) University High Performance Centre, one of the country’s two national training centers as the UK prepares to host the 2012 Olympics.

Derek Evely is currently the director of the Loughborough HiPAC

Evely started his career at the Kamloops track club, which has a history of success that predates Dr. Bondarchuk’s arrival. As a coach, Evely trained Shane Niemi to a national junior record of 45.83 seconds in the 400 meters. He guided a young Gary Reed, who went on to win a silver medal in the 800 meters at the 2007 World Championships. Many people also forget that Dylan Armstrong started as a successful hammer thrower. Evely coached Armstrong to the North American junior record in the hammer throw of 70.66m in the hammer throw (since broken by Conor McCullough), a second place finished at the World Junior Championships. He then began transitioning Armstrong to the shot put, where he quickly approached 20 meters. However, what he may be best known for in Kamloops is bringing in Dr. Bondarchuk to help Armstrong further progress in his new event.

Since leaving Kamloops in 2005, Evely worked for four years with the Canadian Athletics Coaching Centre in Edmonton. There he helped develop one of the world’s best online coaching resources, athleticscoaching.ca, and coach a stable of athletes including world 400 meter medalist Tyler Christopher and Canadian national 400 meter hurdle record holder Adam Kunkel.

Evely has been in the U.K. since 2009. While his new role is as an administrator, he has also found time to start coaching the throws again and apply the concepts he learned from Bondarchuk and others. In his first season working with Sophie Hitchon, Evely guided her to a World Junior Championship. Now in their second season together, Hitchon has already broken the U.K. senior record with a throw of 69.43 meters and she is still a teenager.

Since my experience with Bondarchuk has been almost exclusively from an athlete’s point of view, it was great to talk with Derek on Sunday about how he applies the methods as a coach. Below is part one in a three-part edited transcript of our conversation. Just to forewarn you, to get the most out of this interview it helps to have a little understanding of Bondarchuk’s methods, which you can learn more about here. If you have any questions, feel free to ask them in the comments below.


Part 1: Turning Theories Into Practice

Finding the Right Exercises for Your Training Program

Martin: Yesterday I was listening again to some of the podcasts you put together when you were in Edmonton and it made me think once again about the putting training theory into practice. If I understand it correctly, you are basing your training methods for Sophie Hitchon and Mark Dry on the Bondarchuk methods, is that correct?

Derek: Yes, absolutely. I would say it is probably 70, 80 percent or more based on that.

Martin: My first question then is: on one of the podcasts you said that one of the more difficult things for you to learn from watching Bondarchuk was how he chose exercises for his athletes. I understand the big picture: more throwing and special strength exercises, no exercises like curls and the bench press. But at the smaller level, why does he pick a 6.3kg hammer instead of a 6kg hammer or the back squat instead of the front squat. You said they seemed kind of randomly chosen and I’ve observed the same. I am sure there is some methodology to how he chooses them, but I have no clue what it is sometimes. It seems almost more of an art form at that point than a science. As you’ve coached more and more athletes under his methods, how have you figured out what exercises to use at what time?
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Ken Goe, one of the nation's best track and field writers (photo courtesy of the Oregonian).

Tips for Bringing Fans to the Hammer with Ken Goe

Ken Goe, one of the nation's best track and field writers (photo courtesy of the Oregonian).

Back in February, Oregonian sportswriter Ken Goe wrote a persuasive article about why the USATF needs to switch its focus from the athletes to the fans. Ken has been writing about track and field for more than two decades and is one of the last print journalists in America that continues to cover the sport. In his piece he stated “If track and field ever is going to regain its foothold in the U.S. sports scene, somebody is going to have to care about the people who buy tickets and tune into televised meets.” I couldn’t agree more. It sounds backwards, but if you focus on the fans, the athletes will be better off. More fans means a more exciting competitive environment. And more fans will bring more sponsors and money for the athletes.
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Our training group is ready to kick some butt once the season starts.

Offseason Training Recap

My year typically can be broken down into three phases: the offseason, the preseason, and the competitive season. The offseason lasts from September until February and can hardly be thought of as time off. This is the time when I dedicate myself to training and put in the highest amount of volume during the year. The preseason begins in March and lasts until the end of May. During this time my training will remain the same, but I will begin to do a few competitions to test my form. Then, from June until August the big meets begin and I start to back off the training a little to try and reach new bests.
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A young Koji Murofushi was featured in a IAAF instructional video at age 10 (click to view). By age 29, he was the Olympic champion.

The Hammer Throw: A Political Cause You Can Believe In

Update: I’ve responded to critics and written more on this topic in a follow up post. Click here to read it.

Those of you in America probably woke up this morning and were welcomed by the joyous void created by the absence of non-stop election ads. Well, I hate to be the one to do this, but I’m here to lobby for one more cause before you stop thinking about politics for the year. The USATF Annual Meeting will start on December 4th in Virginia Beach. On the agenda is a rule change (Item 92) that would add the hammer throw to the youth age group for 13 and 14 year old throwers. I encourage you all to reach out to the chair of the USATF Youth Committee, Lionel Leach, in support of this amendment.

As with anything, starting young helps in the hammer throw

A young Koji Murofushi was featured in an IAAF instructional video at age 10 (click to view). By age 29, he was the Olympic champion.

Time and time again, the importance of starting young in the hammer throw has shown its benefits. Koji Murofushi, 2004 Olympic Champion, began throwing at age 10. While attending a clinic by Yuri Sedych in 2003, I saw his then nine-year-old daughter Alexia Sedych throwing the hammer. This summer she won the inaugural Youth Olympic Games in Singapore. Later that year, a 12-year-old Conor McCullough attended the USATF Junior Elite Camp at the USATF Olympic Training Center. Now he is the U.S. junior record holder and the most recent world junior champion. This, along with Walter Henning’s 2008 win, was only America’s second gold medal in a major international competition in more than a half century. The hammer throw is an event centered around rhythm and technique. Both take more than a decade to master and it is essential to start the process young.

The IAAF recognizes that starting young is important. They currently sanction the event and recommend using lightweight 4-kilogram (boys) and 3-kilogram (girls) hammers for the age group. These are also the weights proposed by this amendment. The International Olympic Committee also recognizes the event at youth level, most recently allowing 14 year olds to compete at the Youth Olympic Games. Countries across the world follow this lead, even our neighbors to the north. In the U.S., however, the USATF does not allow 13 or 14 year olds to compete.

The hammer throw is safe

While there are many opponents to this amendments, there is little sound reasoning behind the opposition. The arguments against the amendment normally begin with a mention of safety concerns. But all the data that exists shows the hammer throw is no more dangerous than any other track and field event. Former USATF President Bill Roe also feels “[w]e should investigate the medical issues surround introduction of the events to younger athletes.” He argues that the hammer may not be appropriate at the youth level for the same reason that youth runners may not compete at longer distances. But, runners are not banned from running, they just have to run the 3k instead of a 5k. Similarly, hammer throwers should not be banned, but should throw a lighter weight implement (as proposed). Personally, I think that the idea that hammer throwing can be unhealthy stems from the urban legend that lifting weights can stunt growth. There is no clinical evidence of this, and weightlifting’s own federation includes an under 13 age group for both boys and girls with weight classes down to 35kg (77 pound). If their own sport allows power events, what are we doing?

If weightlifting is not a risk, I do not see the hammer throw as a risk. Kids as young as 9 and 10 are allowed to do the shot put, which is more of a strength event than the hammer throw. The youth age group is even allowed throw the real javelin, which is likely more dangerous for both the athlete and spectator (younger age groups use the TurboJav and if younger age groups were to adopt the hammer, it might be right to adopt a similar training tool in our event). If we are worried about injuries, a kid is more likely to tear an ACL playing basketball or break a bone playing youth football than they are of having a serious injury in the hammer throw. With the rates of childhood obesity climbing, we should do whatever we can to encourage youth participation in sports. Even if America fails to win another Olympic medal in the event, we can help a lot of kids by letting them find a sport they love.

The sport is growing, but needs support to continue to grow

The other common objection is that the hammer throw needs to grow more before it should be added as a youth event. First of all, the sport has already grown rapidly in the past ten years, as documented on an earlier post. The sport is doing its part, and now the USATF needs to live up to its motto of “Sport for Everyone” and fulfill its role of establishing grassroots programs. How many more 13 year olds are going to pick up the hammer if there are no sanctioned events for them to compete in? As was the case in Field of Dreams: if you make it they will come. If you add the hammer throw as a youth event, more athletes will pick up the sport. At least that was the case for me. I first competed in the hammer throw merely because I saw it offered as an exhibition event at the 1999 Junior Olympic Regional Championships in Cheney, Washington. I had already qualified in the shot put for the competition, but had no chance of winning a medal there. As a high school freshman, a medal was the coolest thing in the world and when I saw the hammer throw on the entry list, I immediately signed up. I had never thought of trying the hammer before, but entered my first meet simply because it was a new event where I had a chance. I would not have begun the event if there were no competitions to introduce me to it. Offering more competition opportunities is the quickest way to grow the sport since other kids like me will see a potential new event.

Let your voice be heard

I am likely preaching to the choir with this post, but that is the point. It is those of you that love the hammer throw that can give this amendment the support it needs to pass. The hammer throw likely has the least political support at the USATF. Harold Connolly worked tirelessly in support of this issue during his final years and I am hoping that we can continue the effort in his absence in order to further his legacy. With your help, we can. If you agree, please contact Mr. Leach (lionel@youthusatf.org). Contact other members of the executive committee (contact information is available here). Let them know that you support the amendment. And, more importantly, let them know why you support the amendment and how the event has changed your life. Feel free to CC me on your emails or copy your responses below since I’d also love to hear your stories.

2010 Season Review

I was looking back at my review of last season today and it is eerily similar to how I feel about this season. However, the two years were world’s apart. I not only threw three meters further this year, but I was also more consistent and had almost ten meets over my season’s best from last year. But, as always, I want more.

The Good – Like I said above, I threw better than last year. Much better. The highlight of the season was another win at the national championships by a convincing margin. I finished more than fourteen meters ahead of the next Swiss thrower (Björn, a German citizen, also threw great for second place), which by my research is the largest margin of victory at a Swiss Championship. Training has also gone very well. I improved my special strength and set lots of training bests from the 5-kilogram hammer all the way up to the 10-kilogram hammer. If I can get that strength into the throw, I know it will produce something over 70-meters. My technique also improved this year, although it is still not where I want it to be.
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Sports Reaction Center

One More Week

I’m back in Seattle for the week before heading to France to open my season at the European Cup-Winter Throwing next weekend. The entries for the meet were just released and it will feature an elite field, with more than 20 throwers with bests of over 70 meters. I’m hoping to gain some international experience at the meet and approach my best opener ever (66.47m). I started lifting heavier weights again last week and have been a little sore this weekend, but training has still been going well and I know I can throw 65-67 meters in the right conditions.
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