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Strength Training for Throwers

Article By: Bill Pendleton

Without question, weight training has to be a major component in the development of a successful thrower. A skilled athlete can be a good thrower without weight training, but that athlete will never reach his/her potential without weighttraining. Whatever a muscle can do, a stronger, faster, more flexible muscle can do better.

As coaches, we are trying to develop maximum power (as opposed to strength) in our throwers. First of all, we must understand the difference between strength and power. "Strength" is only a flat measure of how much weight can be moved. "Power", on the other hand, has a time component. How long is it taking to move that fixed weight a specific distance. For example, a lifter who takes 2 seconds to move a 300 pound bar 2 feet in the bench press is generating far less power than a lifter who moves a 300 lb. bar 7 feet in the snatch. Raw strength is desirable, but much less so than power. Any thrower has no problem lifting a shot or discus.

The real variable is how fast can they accelerate that implement as it leaves the ring. Power and technique are the two ways to improve the velocity of the implement. Strength training can be broken down into two broad areas.

  1. What lifts should be performed
  2. How should the workout programs for these lifts be cycled. Anyone who talks to throwing coaches in person, reads their articles in print or on the internet will find a fairly wide spectrum of opinion on what is most desirable. I think we have a fairly middle of the road approach which I will discuss. Some general principles are:
  • Use lifts that are ground based. (where the lifter is driving from the feet) They are most desirable since they imitate a thrower driving from his/her feet. The more force an athlete can apply against the ground, the more explosive they will be.
  • Multi-joint lifts are better suited to train the body's muscles to work as a unit generating explosive force.
  • Lifts that utilize free weights are best, so the stabilizing forces, i.e. balance, are provided by the lifter and not the bench or seat on a machine. (For a more detailed discussion of these points see the Un. of Nebraska website. info@HuskerPower.com)


I ). What lifts?
The basis for training any athlete should be the Olympic lifts augmented by strength lifts. The Olympic lifts (the Clean & Jerk and Snatch and their variations) train throwers to generate power better than any other group of lifts. Studies done at the Montreal and Barcelona Olympic games showed olympic weightlifters to be second only to gymnasts as a group in flexibility and to be the best group of athletes in standing vertical jump. The following table from a study done at the Air Force Academy details the power output generated by various lifts.

Exercise       Absolute Power (W)

100 Kg Male


75 Kg Female

Bench Press  






Snatch *  




2nd Pull ** Snatch  




Clean *  




2nd Pull ** Clean  








The following chart was taken from Weightlifting and Age (a Russian lifting text) by L. S. Dvorkin. It illustrates the development of the standing long jump (a good indicator of explosive power) in olympic lifters.

The Relative Changes in Standing Long Jump Results in the Period 12 - 22 Years of Age.





Initial 12 years




% increase to 16 years




% increase to 20 years




% increase to 22 years




Clearly, as a general type of lifting, Cleans and Snatches are best suited to producing power development.

Olympic lifts should be done as the first strenuous lifts (after a warm-up) in the workout. This is because olympic lifts are very technique oriented. A fresher lifter will do a better job of executing the lifts than a fatigued lifter. For the same reasons, the repetition involved with Olympic lifts are fewer. Competitive Olympic lifters generally use sets of triples, doubles, or singles. The strength oriented lifts that come later in the workout are less technique oriented and can have greater numbers of reps.

By varying the workout, we change the stimulus to the system. A body that is always subjected to the same workout pattern will soon cease to adapt (get stronger).We can vary the workout in terms of lifts by varying the type of cleans. Experienced lifters can do cleans (where the bar is caught in a deep position with knees fully flexed) power cleans (where the bar is caught higher with the knees bent less than 90 degrees) and hang power cleans (where the lifter starts with the bar at his/her waist). The majority of throwing programs emphasize the latter two types. Snatch also can be done in these three variations.

Following the Olympic oriented lifts, we finish with strength oriented lifts such as the presses, squats, single joint lifts i.e. triceps extensions or curls) and event specific assistance lifts such as rotational exercises).

II ). Periodization (How the lifts should be cycled)
The golden rule for periodization is progressive overload. Overload occurs when the body responds to training weights higher than normal usually slightly more than what the body is accustomed to. The overload forces the muscle tissue to break down and then through rest and proper nutrition, the body compensates by developing greater strength. Varying the sets and repetition in a specific pattern helps avoid injury and develop strength efficiently.

The season long training plan (from November to June or Shorter if you have a winter sport athlete) is called the Macrocycle. We will break that Macrocycle down into smaller segments:

Off Season - November to January (9 weeks)
In Season - February to April (12 weeks)
Post Season Meets- May to June (depending on success) (1 - 4 weeks)

The two patterns that carry on throughout the entire Macrocycle are

  • Decrease in volume as the season goes along. The highest number of sets and reps are in the early season. For example: an early season back squat workout may have 5 sets of 1 0 reps (50 reps); a mid season workout may have 5 sets of 5 reps (25 reps) and a very late season workout might have 5 sets of 1 rep. (5 reps).
  • Increase in intensity as the season goes along. Intensity is the average amount of weight lifted per rep. For example, a lifter doing 5 reps with 200 pounds is averaging 200 pounds per lift whereas a lifter doing 3 reps with 200 pounds and 2 reps with 220 pounds has a higher intensity level (total of 1040 lbs. /reps =208). The early season workout of 10 reps described above would probably be done at about 60 or 70 % of a lifter's single repetition max. while the late season sets of 1 would probably be done at 95 or 100 % of the single rep. max.

- The off-season cycle is for throwers who are not in winter sports. If the thrower is not in football, you have a double length cycle and probably repeat the cycle twice using two 5 week cycles.. For the thrower who starts at the end of November, we will try to build a good strength base through emphasized technique work and a lot of repetition. This is also the best time to work on hypertrophy (increased size) which results from greater numbers of repetitions. Generally, either a three day (Mon., Wed., Fri. workout schedule or a four day (Mon., Tues., Thurs., Fri.) schedule is used. Our usual schedule for the major lifts is:

  • Mon.- Snatch, Snatch Pull, Push Press, Back Squat, Bench
  • Tues.- Clean Jerk, Clean Pull, Incline Bench
  • Thurs.- Power Snatch, Snatch Pull, Push Press, Front Squat, Bench
  • Fri.- Power Clean, Clean Pull, Jump Squat or Overhead Squat, Incline

Daily Workout = The first thing to remember is that not all lifts have equal value. Concentrate on the Core (most important) lifts which are Snatch, Clean, Squat and Bench. If you have one hour to workout, don't spend 10 minutes on cleans, 10 minutes on curls, 10 minutes on squats, 10 minutes on tricep extensions etc. Do the best job you can on the Core lifts for the day, then work on whatever else you think is important. One problem is that there are too many good things to work on for throwers (drills, actual throwing, medicine ball work, plyometrics, weightlifting etc.). You can easily fill a 5 hour daily workout, but that isn't practical, so prioritize. In the weight room that means focus on the core lifts first. A sample daily early cycle Monday workout:

  • P.C./F.S./P.P. 5011+1+1 x 3 (Warm-up combination lift- Powerclean, then front squat, then push press in sequence with 50% of clean max for three reps.
  • POWER SNATCH 7015 x 5 (70% of snatch max 5 reps for 5 sets)
  • SNATCH PULLS 100/8 x 5 (100% of snatch max 8 reps for 5 sets
  • PUSH PRESS 75110 x 5 75% of jerk max 10 reps for 5 sets)
  • BACK SQUAT 75110 x 5 75% of squat max 10 reps for 5 sets
  • BENCH PRESS 75110 x 5 75% of bench max 10 reps for 5 sets
  • CURLS 10 x 4
  • ABDOMINAL WORK (sit-ups, back raises etc.)

Max week = Once the lifter has adequate technique to be safe, we will test for single rep. maxes. We will test for the Core lifts . After the testing all workouts are based on a percentage of the one rep. max. For example a sample workout might be :

Power Clean 70/5 x 5 (70% of the P.C. max 5 reps for 5 sets) The earlier cycles are also the best time to build hypertrophy (increased size), and higher repetitions are best to develop this. We will vary the workout by increasing the percentage each week. Such as:

Power Clean

  • Week 1 = 6515 x 5
  • Week 2 = 70/ 5 x 5
  • Week 3 = 75/5 x 5
  • Week 4 = 80/5 x 5
  • Week 5 Test again

You can also increase for two weeks, drop 5 % the third week and then increase again. Because we are dealing with Olympic lifts, the reps won't go above 5. In the squat, military press, or bench press, we can use higher reps.

Cycle 1 Back Squat

  • Week 1 = 65/10 x 5
  • Week 2 = 701 10 x 5
  • Week 3 = 75/10 x 5
  • Week 4 = 80/8 x 5
  • Week 5 Test again

If we run through a 5 week cycle twice, the second time around we would reduce daily set reps to:

Cycle 2 Back Squat

  • Week 1 = 65/8 x 5
  • Week 2 = 70/ 8 x 5
  • Week 3 = 75/8 x 5
  • Week 4 = 8016 x 5
  • Week 5 = Test again

In Season we will probably have two four or five week cycles. The first cycle should end before an important meet and the second cycle will end before league finals. We end at these times because strength should peak at the end of the cycles. In season we will stay with a four day workout. Our Thursday workout will move to Wednesday. We will not back off lifting before every dual meet and weekend invitational. If we do that, we are only working hard on Monday and Tuesday. We are peaking for the end of the season. If you have to back off to be at your best for an important dual meet where the throw's points are crucial, do it but try to focus on the end result. Our repetitions will be reduced and the intensity increased. Example:

Power Cleans
First In season cycle

  • Week 1 = 75/3 x 5
  • Week 2 = 75/3 x 3, 80/3 x 2
  • Week 3 = 75/3 x 2, 80/3 x 2, 85/2
  • Week 4 = 75/3, 80/3 x 2, 85/2, 90/2
  • Week 5 = 75/3, 80/3, 90/2 x 2, 95/1 x 2

Second in season cycle

  • Week 1= 80/3 x 5
  • Week 2 = 80/3 x 3, 85/3 x 2
  • Week 3 = 80/3 x 2, 85/3 x 2, 90/2
  • Week 4= 80/3, 85/3 x 2, 90/2, 9511
  • Week 5= 80/3, 85/3, 90/2 x 2, 95/1 x 2

This can be varied many ways but will still increase in intensity and decrease in volume. All the core lifts will follow a similar pattern. We won't cycle minor assistance lifts like curls, tricep extensions, etc. At the end of the second cycle before league finals, we won't lift for two days before.

The post season cycle will vary by the thrower. A thrower who barely qualifies for the post season will repeat the last week of the previous cycle doing very few reps because it will take their best effort each meet to move on. An exceptional thrower (55 + shot putter for example) who should have at least 3 more weeks can be put on an abbreviated cycle peaking for a state qualifying meet etc.

Lastly, even if you don't have access to free weights, substantial improvement can be made. The most important factor in any program is the diligence and intensity with which it is approached. What has been discussed was what we see as the basics of an optimum strength program.

Article By: Bill Pendleton

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