Big Throws

Sequencing and core strength are the keys to a championship throwing program, explains a top collegiate track and field coach.

By Dr. Larry Judge

Larry Judge, PhD, CSCS, is the Associate Head Women’s Track and Field Coach at the University of Florida. He was named USATF Assistant Throws Coach of the Year in 2003.

Training & Conditioning, 14.2, March 2004,

On the University of Florida women’s track and field team, throwers work very hard in the weight room to increase their strength, and it shows. They helped the team win the Southeastern Conference outdoor championships, place 2nd in the indoor and 4th in the outdoor NCAA Division I championships last year. As a group, they racked up 13 All-America honors including two national champions.

To help them achieve their best, we structure their yearly training program very carefully. First, we split the year into two macrocycles. One has athletes peaking for the indoor national championships, and the other has them peaking at the time of the outdoor nationals. Each macrocycle is then broken up into three phases, which emphasize general training exercises, special training exercises, and competition-specific exercises, respectively.

The physical components periodized over the year include resistance training, medicine ball throws, running, plyometrics, bodyweight circuits, and throws. Throughout all training, we give special attention to developing the neuromuscular and biomechanical qualities required of a thrower. We make extensive us of Olympic lift variations, which are ideal because they develop functional hypertrophy, strength, speed, speed-strength, coordination, balance, and kinesthetic awareness.

We also are careful to develop our athletes in a balanced manner. Overdevelopment of a given quality at the expense of other important qualities will diminish performance. A great example of this may be found in the general training period of throwers, where many coaches overemphasize hypertrophy in all muscle groups while sacrificing the basic development of the crucial explosive qualities needed for the events.

That said, however, strength remains the basis for all other aspects of training for throwers. A stronger individual will be able to do more things technically and will achieve higher levels of performance. The percentage of strength and power in the resistance training program will vary based on the stage of training, but strength training is always a major element in the training of our throwing athletes.

Specificity is another concept that is vital to success in the throws, as it is in all sports. The exercises performed in training must be specifically designed for the demands of the sport. Effective program design must consider bioenergetics and metabolic parameters and movement characteristics. Movement characteristics include force magnitude, velocity, power, movement patterns, and time factors. A great sport-specific exercise for the female thrower is the mid-thigh high pull. This exercise allows maximum power development without the wear and tear of the full movement.

The Cycles
Through the training year, we sequence exercises from high volume to low volume and from less to more sport-specific. The total program at the University of Florida is based on the concept of phase potentiation. This concept is based on the premise that specific physiological characteristics can be developed by emphasizing specific training variables. Previous phases of training will affect the outcome of future training.

As mentioned at the start of this article, our program is broken up into two macrocycles. These are further broken into three to four mesocycles, each lasting three to four weeks (which is the amount of time it usually takes for adaptation to occur). Each mesocycle has a specific theme and is designed to build on the previous one.

Here is how we structure our phases of training throughout the year:

1. We begin with a general preparation phase in the fall. Athletes perform 10 to 12 repetitions of strength lifts and 5 to 6 repetitions of Olympic lifts. This is when our athletes complete the first mesocycle, which emphasizes strength endurance and basic conditioning.

2. The special preparation phase extends through October and November. Repetitions for strength lifts go down to 6 or 8 and for Olympic lifts, they drop to 3 or 4. During this time our second and third mesocycles are completed: the second mesocycle emphasizes squat strength (basic strength), and the third focuses on pulling strength (speed and strength).

3. December is the specific preparation phase. Here, the number of repetitions goes up slightly from the previous phase and we complete our fourth mesocycle, which emphasizes power development (speed).

4. January and February are the months of the precompetitive phase, when strength development is the focus. Athletes perform 4 to 5 repetitions of strength lifts and 2 to 3 repetitions of Olympic lifts. We repeat our second and third mesocycles.

5. A three-week peaking and competitive phase coincides with the climax of the indoor season at the end of February and the beginning of March. In this phase, repetitions go down from the previous phase. We do sets of three on the strength lifts and singles on the Olympic lifts. The fourth mesocycle is repeated.

6. Another special preparation phase occurs in late March and early April, which is similar to the one in October/November, and we begin our first mesocycle again.

7. A precompetitive phase follows in May, similar to January/February.

8. A peaking phase winds up the outdoor season in June.

9. A transition phase will follow the last peaking phase.

Our mesocycles are broken down into one-week microcycles. One concept we use in planning each mesocycle is overreaching, which is a planned short-term increase in training volume and/or intensity (this may actually result in a short-term performance reduction). The first week in each mesocycle is an overreaching microcycle. The athletes get a huge hormonal and nervous system stimulation from this high-volume microcycle, which really sets up the mesocycle. The negative signs and symptoms of overreaching that can occur are not typically as extensive or severe as those associated with overtraining. This can be reversed in two to five days with a subsequent increase in performance.

The in-season peaking mesocycle is the same for the indoor and outdoor seasons. The phase is designed with a dual purpose in mind. Each week is designed for a mini-peak at the end of each week, with a major peak at the end of the phase.

A typical week consists of heavy weightlifting early in the week. The repetitions are low (1-3), the exercises are basic (bench, squat, clean), and the intensity is high (80-90 percent). The middle of the week consists of light lifting, mostly for nerve stimulation. The end of the week is issued for rest. As we get closer to the important competitions, the work load is decreased, and the quality is stressed. Two weeks prior to an important competition, heavy squats are discontinued and replaced with step ups, and the lifting becomes light and fast.

At the end of each alternating mesocycle, an unload/testing week is employed. An unload week is a low-volume week that is generally used for recovery and regeneration. We often use this week for some physical testing and performance trials. Tests include the standing long jump, overhead back shot throw, flying 30m, vertical jump, standing triple jump, sit and reach test, and the seated medicine ball throw. We also test our athletes on repetition maximums in the bench press, squat, power clean and snatch, and jerk.

When we move into the preparation phase, we hold performance trials, which include things like standing throw tests in the shot put and discus, one turn test in the weight throw, 12 lb. shot put test, 12 lb. hammer test, 1.5 kg discus test, and 25 lb. weight throw test. Certain tests are selected for different points in the preparation phase.

At The Core
One area that can not be stressed enough is core training. Trunk movements are the vital link in the body’s kinetic chain, especially for throwers. The energy transferred from the core to the arm results in a great amount of torque, which in turn exerts great demands on the musculature of the core—especially in an event like the javelin in which movements are performed with high accelerations.

The core also has a critical role in the maintenance of stability and balance when performing movements with the extremities. It is the center of all body movements in throwing and can be critical in maintaining the stability of an anatomically correct body position. This is important to achieve the "C" position at the end of a throw. Therefore, the development of a strong mid-torso should be a primary goal of all throwers.

The first phase of our core training program emphasizes static sustained contractions and serves as the foundation for later strength and speed training. We start with pedestal work as part of the training. The mid-torso musculature consists of postural muscles with a high percentage of slow-twitch muscle fibers. The athletes must hold contractions for long periods to maximize trunk stability. To best condition this region, we use variations on the weighted crunch and sit-up. Exercises should be performed slowly while working on all muscle groups in the mid-torso region in order to maximize abdominal development and minimize stress placed on the lower back.

A good exercise to begin with is the pelvic tilt. In this exercise, the athlete lies on her back and contracts the abdominals until the low back presses into the floor. The contraction should be held for three to six seconds, followed by three to six seconds of rest, and repeated for a total duration of a minute. Once the athlete can perform acceptable slow isotonic mid-torso exercises, more exercises that demand balance can be introduced, such as exercises with the physioballs.

The next step to a more powerful trunk is strength. Exercises using kettlebells, puds, and powerballs are usually employed during the pre-competitive phase. This is also accomplished through medicine ball exercises and the general strength circuit. These exercises are performed in a more active or ballistic manner.

Core exercises like the squat and variations of the squat and Olympic lifting movements are also essential for core strength. For optimal increases in strength, repetitions must be kept below 20 and all exercises must be performed with resistance. Have the athlete start with a weight she can do for 10 repetitions and keep it the same until she can perform 20. Then, increase the weight. In general, there should be a multi-faceted approach to core training that includes medicine ball work, body weight circuits, slow controlled movements, weighted abdominal exercises, ballistic release work with puds, squats, and Olympic lifts.

Table One: Periodization Sample
This table can be used for all of the mesocycles. The only change is the number of repetitions. These percentages are based on a repetition maximum.

WEEK --M ---T --- W -- TH -- F -- S
1 -------- MH-- M--- H---- M --ML-- M
2 ------- H---- L ---M -----H-- L---- M
3 -------VH--- VL-- L -----M --L---- ML
4 --------L-----VL-- M ----L--- L---- ML

Very Heavy (VH) = 95-100%
Heavy (H) = 85-90%
Medium Heavy (MH) = 80-85%
Medium (M) = 75-80%
Medium Light (ML) = 70-75%
Light (L) = 65-70%
Very Light (VL) = 60-65%

Table Two: One Week
The following is an example of a one-week microcycle during the general preparation phase for throwers.

Monday: Warm Up, Form Drills, Plyometrics, Technique, Long Sprints, Weights, Flexibility, Cool Down

Tuesday: Warm Up, Strength Circuit, Technique, Medicine Ball, Short Sprints, Weights, Flexibility, Cool Down

Wednesday: Warm Up, Jump Rope Circuit, Individual Technique Work, Weights, Cool Down, Flexibility

Thursday: Warm Up, Strength Circuit, Technique, Medicine Ball, Short Sprints, Weights, Flexibility, Cool Down

Friday: Warm Up, Form Drills, Plyometrics, Technique, Long Sprints, Weights, Flexibility, Cool Down

Saturday: Warm Up, Flexibility, Time Trial, Weights

Sunday: 10-15 Min. Easy Recovery Run, Heart Rate <100

Table Three: Exercises
The following are the exercises we use during the first week of the third mesocycle.

Day 1 (85%)
Bench Press ----- 4x8, 1x3
Speed Bench ---- 3x3
Incline Press ---- 3x8
Push Jerks ------- 4x4
Close Grips ------ 3x8
Push Downs ----- 3x8
Dips---------------- 3x8
D.B. Pullovers --- 2x8
Russian Twists--3x20
Tri Crunches----- 3x30
V-ups -------------- 3x20

Day 2 (85%)
Cleans---------------------4x4, 1x2
Clean Pull --------------- 3x4
Squats -------------------- 4x8
Speed Squats----------- 2x3
Leg Curls ---------------- 3x8
Leg Extensions----------3x8
Calf Raises ------------- 3x15
Back Hypers (bands)--3x10
Leg Raises ------------- 3x20
Russian Twists -------- 3x10
Wtd Crunch ------------- 3x20

Day 3 (85%)
Hang Snatch -------------- 4x4, 1x2
Snatch Pull ---------------- 3x4
Chin Ups ------------------ 3x6
Lat Pulls ------------------- 3x8
Seated Row ---------------3x8
D.B. Row ------------------ 3x8
Preacher Curl ---------- --3x8
D.B. Curl ------------------- 3x8
Roman Situp (bands)---3x20
Plate Walk ---------------- 3x20

Day 4 (75%)
Bench Press------------ 5x8
Speed Bench----------- 3x4
Incline Press----------- 3x8
Push Jerks --------------5x4
Close Grips -------------3x8
Push Downs------------ 3x8
Dips -----------------------3x8
D.B. Pullovers ----------2x8
Russian Twists ------- 3x20
Tri Crunches---------- 3x30
V-ups -------------------- 3x20

Day 5 (75%)
Cleans ----------------------5x4
Clean Pull ------------------3x4
Squats ---------------------- 5x8
Speed Squats ------------ 2x4
Leg Curls ------------------ 3x8
Leg Extensions ---------- 3x8
Calf Raises --------------- 3x15
Back Hypers (bands) -- 3x10
Leg Raises --------------- 3x20
Russian Twists ---------- 3x10
Wtd Crunch --------------- 3x20

Day 6 (75%)
Hang Snatch ---------------- 5x4
Snatch Pull------------------ 3x4
Chip Ups -------------------- 3x6
Lat Pulls--------------------- 3x8
Seated Row ---------------- 3x8
D.B. Row -------------------- 3x8
Preacher Curl-------------- 3x8
D.B. Curl --------------------- 3x8
Roman Situp (bands) --- 3x20
Plate Walk ------------------ 3x20