Strength Considerations for Throwers in Track and Field

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Most periodized training programs for athletes follow a Western or linear model. The Western model manipulates intensity and volume through different mesocycles during the training year (i.e. endurance, hypertrophy, power, strength, and maintenance) (6). However, there is more production when one skillfully combines various training methods, rather than exclusively training one of them separately in a yearly plan (15). One such method we use for our throwers at Louisiana Tech University is the Conjugate Sequence System (CSS).
The Conjugate Sequence System
Dyachkov originally looked at the CSS in 1964 when it was known as the “method of combined development of physical qualities and technical mastery” (3). The system initially involves the concurrent training of several different motor abilities, such as speed, strength and endurance over the same period. This concurrent training creates a multi-lateral skill development approach, which gives a young athlete the base framework for the neurological construction of all later developed motor skills. As an athlete matures and specializes in a physical trait, he/she is able to pull from the previous foundation of motor skills. The CSS is used to control and consistently redirect a desired specific training-effect. The system simultaneously trains all necessary motor abilities with a constant renewal and re-establishing process, that promotes a steady and permanent adaptation while securing the desired training-effect, hence elevating an athletes functional potential (12).
University of Florida Track and Field Coach Larry Judge (8) states, “Overdevelopment of a given quality at the expense of other important qualities will diminish performance.” With a simultaneous, sequential development of specific traits with frequent target-training changes (and non-targeted specific traits are maintained), there’s a linear increase in technical skill, strength, and speed. On the other hand, Western periodization (the rotational, unidirectional separation of motor abilities) doesn’t have the same effect because too much time is spent on a specific direction while the concurrent development of other traits is ignored. Over time, Western periodization results in deadaptation or a detraining effect, with the level of non-targeted traits diminishing considerably. Also, the Western approach of unidirectional training by rotating means with long intervals allows only one peak per year. On the other hand, a simultaneous, unidirectional system of many targets can be obtained two to three times a year (42). Past work in this area has shown that using this conjugate approach raises the functional potential of an athlete. The athlete’s specialized physical preparation (SPP) is significantly greater when combined, than when they’re used individually and not sequenced over time (1, 9, 10, 14, 16, 31, 33, 34, 36). The Eastern Europeans structure the CSS is into a yearly program (year-round training) that’s divided into 3 or 4 periods.
The Yearly Plan
The Eastern European classification of periods is different from the Western classification (i.e. in-season and off-season). The first period is the preparatory period (sometimes separated into the general preparatory period and specialized preparatory period). The preparatory period is devoted to all-round physical training. From beginning to end, there’s a gradual transition from general to specific training. Exercise volume is decreased but intensity is increased. The goal is to gradually prepare the athlete for competition and emphasize SPP (40). The second is the competitive period. The main goal during this phase is high athletic achievement allowing exercise selection to be more specific to the sport. While the muscles, movements, and physiological demands should be similar to the sports skill, movements shouldn’t be too similar to the sports skill. Besides doing the actual skill itself there is risk of negative interference and a decline in performance (negative transfer) (17). The third is the transitional or post-competitive period. This period is used for active rest where athletes are encouraged to participate in other sports to give them a break from the physical and mental stress from competition. The athletes must remain active during this period. When the training year resumes, the athlete must begin on a higher level than they previously achieved (40). According to Volkov (35) “Sports training is based on three biological principles: the principle of overload, the principle of specificity, and the principle of reversibility of actions.” However, strength and conditioning professionals must understand the different methods of strength training and how to implement these into the yearly cycle.
Forms of Strength
According to Zatsiorsky (41), strength can be classified according to methods of achieving maximal muscular tension in one of four ways:
1) The method of maximal effort (max effort method). Lifting a maximal load against a maximal resistance.
2) The method of repeated effort (repetition method). Lifting a non-maximal load to failure to develop maximal force in a fatigued state.
3) The method of submaximal effort (submaximal method). Lifting a non-maximal load an intermediate number of times (not to failure).
4) The method of dynamic effort (dynamic effort method). Lifting a non-maximal load with the greatest speed.
Siff (20) has classified numerous forms of strength that are displayed in athletic activities. Those being the following: maximal-strength, absolute-strength, explosive-strength, speed-strength, strength-endurance (22), strength-speed (26), concentric-strength, eccentric-strength (24), starting-strength, acceleration-strength (23), and reactive-strength (13).
The Max Effort Method
Zatsiorsky (41) suggests that the max effort method is superior for improving intramuscular and intermuscular coordination, and activating a maximal number of motor units. According to Siff (21), we must distinguish between maximal and absolute strength. Maximal strength is the ability of a muscle group to produce maximal voluntary contraction in response to optimal motivation against an external load. This form is usually displayed in competition. Zatsiorsky (42) defines absolute strength as the greatest force that can be produced by a muscle group under involuntary muscle stimulation. We train our field athletes to develop absolute-strength since it is displayed in most athletic activities, and our training in the weight room is not specifically for competition (as in Olympic lifting or powerlifting). Also, we do not incorporate non-maximal resistances or non-maximal repetitions because only muscle size not muscular strength may be retained with these methods (42). Every time an athlete overcomes a resistance more that what they are accustomed to, they will get stronger. Since the development of strength is primarily due to adaptations in the nerve-muscle relationship (Russians referred to this as the nerve-muscle system), it is the nervous system that must stimulate the muscle to elicit a particular response. One of the reasons why athletes respond so well to a strength program for the first time is because the nervous system is in a state of excitation and responds with a high energy level. However, after a period of time, the nervous system becomes inhibited and further gains will not take place (38). Hence, it is of paramount importance that if one is to continually make gains in strength, the exercises must constantly be changed.
A stronger individual will be able to do more things technically and will achieve higher levels of performance (8). For the training of absolute strength, we utilize the max effort method in the core exercises (bench press and squat) and change the exercises every two weeks. To understand why only two weeks are used, we must look at the neural pathway. When attempting a new exercise for the first time, the nervous system creates a pathway from the brain to the muscle and back to the brain. After an athlete experiences an exercise once or twice, the nervous system makes adaptations to the neural pathway (38). The first week (of a new max effort exercise), we work up to approximately 85-92.5-percent and the second week we achieve a maximum effort (1RM). An example can be seen in Table 1.
Table 1
Sample Upper-Body ME Exercise

Board Press Variations
Floor Press Variations
Reverse Band Press Variations
Incline Press Variations
Flat Bench Variations

Sample Lower-Body ME Exercises

Low Box Squat Variations
High Box Squat Variations
Safety Squat Bar Squat Variations
Back Squat Variations
Front Squat Variations

Many coaches are concerned that there is an injury risk when attempting 1RM’s on a consistent basis. However, research has shown that 1RM tests show no such risk to injury (13). Since there must always be an overload in order to develop strength, the same 1RM achieved previously by the athlete is never used again. Every time we create an overload, the nervous system responds with renewed excitability (38). According to the principle of progressive resistance, workloads must be above those normally encountered for muscle strength to increase (41). However, while increasing one’s strength is of paramount importance to a field athlete, to be successful in competition, one must become both stronger and faster.
Power and Explosion
The development of strength is key to power development, which is immensely important to a thrower (32). Explosive-strength (i.e. power) is the ability to produce maximal force in a minimal amount of time. Power (explosiveness) is a combination of speed and strength, where the athlete overcomes a resistance in the shortest time possible. The formula is the following:
Equation 1: Power=Force x Distance/Time, or P=F x d/t.
Since velocity is equal to d/t, power is force x velocity. Throwing field events are considered a power sport since they entail speed and coordination in the skill’s execution (39). Explosiveness has the following different forms: explosive/isometric (Olympic lifting), explosive/ballistic (field events), and explosive/reactive/ballistic (tennis or volleyball). In this case, we will focus on explosive/ballistic. This is where maximal force is applied against a relatively small resistance as in the shot put or javelin (30). A prime example of this is speed-strength, which is the ability to quickly execute an unloaded (or relatively small external resistance) in the quickest time possible (22). We also utilize strength-speed exercises, which (in association with speed-strength) produces a very high power output (26).
Olympic Lifting
Olympic lifts (clean and snatch) are utilized in our program to increase our thrower’s vertical explosion. We utilize USA Weightlifting principles in the implementation of our Olympic lifting program (5). While there are several variations we use in the clean, there are few in the snatch because of the frequency used. It should be noted that we are not training Olympic lifters therefore we do not train like Olympic lifters. For example, we only do full snatches with “light-weights” from 50-percent to 70-percent of their 1RM (we do not do a 1RM test in the snatch, we take 70-percent of the power clean 1RM to determine the snatch 1RM). This is due to the fact that there is excessive stress on the shoulders in the snatch (catch). First and foremost (with the Olympic lifts) we emphasize correct technique; this includes full “triple extension” of the body. If we do not achieve a full extension before the “catch,” the benefits of the lift are nullified. We will also do many pull (full extension and explosion with no catch) variations as well. These samples are seen in Table 2.
Table 2
Sample Olympic Lift Variations

Hang Clean Pull, Below-Knee Clean Pull, Clean Pull (floor)
High (Clean) Pull
Muscle Clean, Hang Clean, Below-Knee Clean, Power Clean, Full Power Clean
Hang Snatch Pull, Below-Knee Snatch Pull, Snatch Pull (floor)
Hang Snatch, Below-Knee Snatch, Power Snatch
High (Snatch) Pull

In training for power, one must be able to have a maximal eccentric contraction and then be able to switch it to the concentric as fast as possible. By having maximal eccentric contraction, the tendons and muscles will build-up energy to produce a maximal concentric force. So, the faster we teach our athletes to contract their muscles in training, the farther they will throw in competition. Increasing concentric strength (by rapid shock loading) is due to increased muscle tension created by the myotatic stretch reflex. It’s also caused by the explosive release of elastic energy stored in the connective and elastic tissues of the muscle complex during eccentric muscle contraction (39). Strength, external conditions, motor coordination, quickness, reactive ability, ability to relax, stretch-shortening process, and muscle endurance are all factors that determine the speed of movement (25). We develop speed-strength throughout the year by movements classified as dynamic effort (DE).
The Dynamic Effort Method
We do explosive (DE) work in our core lifts as well as our Olympic lifts. On upper-body DE day, we do speed work on the flat bench in a ballistic fashion approximately every week. We accomplish this by variations in intensity, grip width, and accommodative (varied) resistance (bands and chains). There has been much research on ballistics and compensatory acceleration on increasing an athlete’s rate of force development (RFD) (7). Using lighter weights doesn’t constitute a fast and explosive movement; we must teach or force our athletes to do this. Bands and chains force athletes to explode through the entire movement. By attaching resistance bands to the ends of a barbell, one is able to increase resistance where one is more biomechanically advantageous (4). Among other advantages, bands enhance one’s eccentric-strength (actively accelerated powermetrics) because the bands actually pull you down at a faster rate than the speed of gravity (28). Siff (27) suggested that combinations of free weights and elastic bands may be effectively used over several ranges of movement with other major exercises such as the bench press. DE work can be done with any small resistance, or any exercise explosively. For example, other DE work we may do include various medicine ball throws or “speed pulls” from the Slater Hammel (athletic) position within the power rack. We use the intensity chart suggested by A.S. Prilepin. The chart shows the proper intensity needed to ensure the greatest development in speed and strength.

Siff (29) concluded that for an athlete to achieve an optimal RFD, athletes must train in the intensity range of 50% to 70% of their 1RM. If we look at Newton’s Law of Acceleration, force must be produced by added acceleration not by added mass. All of our DE work is done within this range. For DE upper-body work, we do eight sets of three reps in a ballistic fashion. As shown in the above Table 3, this is 24 total reps, which is optimal for the 55-65 repetition range. On DE lower body day, we box squat. We utilize the box squatting techniques suggested by Louie Simmons and Westside Barbell (19). Again, we are not training powerlifters; therefore we do not train like powerlifters. However, if we want to increase strength and explosion in our core lifts, advice from an experienced and intelligent powerlifter such as Simmons offers a multitude of benefits. Box squats are done with 8-12 sets of two reps with 47 to 65-percent of their 1RM (depending on the accommodative resistance used). Two reps are used instead of three or more reps because any more may cause bicipital tendonitis (18). Also, with all DE work (upper and lower body), we use the interval method (rest interval is controlled between 45-seconds and 60-seconds) to enhance one’s strength-endurance. Utilizing the DE program can be seen in Table 4.
Table 4
Sample Six Week DE Upper-Body Cycle

Week 1: Close-Grip DE Bench Press: 8x3@50%+Chains
Week 2: Medium-Grip DE Bench Press: 8x3@50%+Chains
Week 3: Wide-Grip DE Bench Press (inside the “rings”): 8x3@50%+Chains
Week 4: Close-Grip DE Bench Press: 8x3@50%+Blue Band
Week 5: Medium-Grip DE Bench Press: 8x3@50%+Blue Band
Week 6: Wide-Grip DE Bench Press (inside the “rings”): 8x3@50%+Blue Band

Sample Six Week DE Lower-Body Cycle

Week 1: DE Box Squat (feet wide): 8x2@55%+Chains
Week 2: DE Box Squat (feet wide): 8x2@60%+Chains
Week 3: DE Box Squat (feet wide): 8x2@65%+Chains
Week 4: DE Box Squat (feet wide): 8x2@47%+Purple Band
Week 5: DE Box Squat (feet wide): 8x2@50%+Purple Band
Week 6: DE Box Squat (feet wide): 8x2@53%+Purple Band

Core Training
One area that cannot be stressed enough in training a thrower is training the core. Specific to throwers, trunk movements are vital in the body’s kinetic chain. The core plays a very important role in the maintenance of stability and balance when performing throwing movements. Core training is the center of all body movements and is a critical factor in maintaining stability and correct anatomical body position (8). We utilize a vast array of core movements and “torso-train like a tornado.” Some of these include static sustained contractions, physioball and medicine ball exercises, bar twists, straight-leg variations, and abdominal circuits.
Individualization
Finally, workouts must also be individualized. As strength coaches, we are often hindered by time-constraints with other sports and numerous other external conditions. Bondarchuk (2), who’s famous for training world-class hammer throwers, has more than eight periodization schemes for his throwers. Each scheme is based on various physical and psychological differences for each individual athlete. Therefore, to achieve optimal results, everyone cannot be doing the exact same program if optimal competitive success is desired.
Strength coaches must always search for a better way of training their athletes. Too many coaches believe they can use a “cookie-cutter” program (from another coach or school), apply it to theirs, and achieve maximal results. Too often, it’s these same coaches who fail to think “outside the box” and help their athletes. Maybe different training methods (exercise variations, periodization, etc.) will work, maybe they won’t; but if we never try (or learn) something different, how will we ever know. Our athletes will be deprived of all of the possible benefits of training if we fail to keep an open-mind and evolve on a consistent basis.

References
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