It's the first day of practice, you can't wait to start off the season right getting strong and tossing huge throws, but then Coach walks up and says that today everyone is going to run to get back in shape for throwing. Your heart sinks into your stomach, this isn't what you signed up for! You're a hard worker and don't often complain so you bite your tongue, but after the first week of running, sprints, endless drilling, and even a pool workout, you still haven't picked up an implement!
What is wrong with this picture? What does getting in shape really mean and how is it applied to throwing? We've had tons of throwers come to us with a similar story questioning why they have to run to be better at throwing. It turns out we have the same question. Read on for our answer!
A Product of Track and Field
I'm not going to dance around the issue. Throwers should not be running long distances (800m+), and really should not be running much at all, especially if it interferes with the critical aspects of throws training. But why do so many throws coaches and head coaches insist on having their throwers run?
One theory is that throwing is apart of track and field, and in the name of team unity and lack of specialization, coaches simply transfer the standard practice and ideals that align with the majority of events to the throws. Simply said, if it's good for a sprinter it's good for a thrower. They are both power athletes, right? The truth is that if throwing was a completely separate sport, the average throws program training would look very different since coaches would not be looking at the throws through the veil of the other events. How many Olympic Weightlifters do you see going for 2-mile runs to get in shape for the snatch and clean and jerk? If we are to develop the best possible training for throwers, their training must be approached from a fresh and unbiased perspective to be crafted specifically for their needs.
So you're not a sprints coach training the throwers... Here are a couple of other reasons for running we have heard and our responses:
Statement: "Throwers need to be fit"
We don't disagree with this statement, but what is your definition of fit? Throwers need to be strong and powerful (muscular) and able to move quickly in the circle (strong in relation to their body weight). If a thrower is too heavy that they cannot move fast in the circle and have poor mobility, their distances will suffer and their weight should be addressed (read on to find out how). However, not every thrower needs to have a six-pack and be able to run a 5-minute mile. They need to be able to throw far, and measures of fitness or endurance should be drawn from their ability to handle throws volume and last through high volume strength workouts, not their ability to run a 5k.
All you need to do is take a look at the best throwers in the world. Would you tell Reese Hoffa or Daniel Stahl that they would throw further if got more fit and lost a little more weight? Their ability to bench and clean over 200k is a good indication of their fitness for throwing.
Statement: "Running will get you in shape to throw"
When discussing getting in shape, it is important to understand the energy systems that the athlete is training in. When we train, we are developing our body's efficiency to create and utilize energy in each of these systems. When competing, throwers use almost all stored energy (ATP) to develop force in the circle, meaning the movement is so quick, the body doesn't need to create more ATP to complete the movement. Stored ATP can fuel about 3-5 seconds of movement. After that, the body depends on the Creatine Phosphate (CP) system to quickly produce more energy, which lasts for about a minute.
Throwers need to produce a large amount of force to throw far. In order to develop the capacity to develop force, they must strength train. Most strength training exercises fall within the CP energy system, however, CP takes time to replenish. During a long workout, long sets, or if using short rest times, the glycolytic system will kick in to replenish energy stores in a pinch.
Most of us would agree that if a thrower gets out of breath during a strength training workout, that they would be considered out of shape. All the energy systems we covered above are anaerobic, meaning they don't require oxygen to function. The oxidative system, you might guess, does require oxygen. Thus an obvious sign that an athlete is using the oxidative energy system is if they are out of breath.
Here's the point. When we see a thrower who is out of breath during a strength training workout, it is easy to think they should run or do cardio to develop their oxidative capacity so they won't get out of breath. However, this isn't addressing the issue at its root. The reason they are out of breath in the first place is that the ATP-CP system and glycolytic systems are actually out of shape and too inefficient to sustain prolonged work, and so the body defaults to using the oxidative system, resulting in the thrower gasping for air.
What is the moral of the story? Train the energy system you are using. The goal is strength and power. Get in shape by training the ATP-CP system to be as efficient and productive as it possibly can. If a thrower strength trains for a month, adds 50 lbs to their bench press and clean, but still gets out of breath when running a mile, they are getting in shape to throw far, and that is what matters most.
The Wrong Way
Let's get one thing straight. Throwers should not have a high body fat percentage or be too overweight that it inhibits their performance. However, there are no specific right or wrong numbers out there, nor should there be since everyone's body is different. In many cases, the weight of the thrower should still be addressed and should be something to pay attention to, but that is a conversation you should have with your coach.
The point is that running is not the answer to getting in shape and losing weight. There are far better ways to lose weight as a thrower while simultaneously working towards your goal of throwing far. Unfortunately, the culture of today ties running and losing weight seamlessly together, and without knowing any different, it may seem like the only option.
From a motivation and mental perspective, running to lose weight is counterproductive to getting a thrower more involved in the sport. I've heard many times that a coach is making the throwers run because they are too heavy. How does this come across to an athlete? From their perspective, it's not bad enough that they are new to the sport, but since they are a different body type than runners (which they thought was a good thing for throwing) now they have to run to even be eligible to throw! So they are thrown on the track to run an 800m warm-up, and as they are crawling with their knees and shins killing them, the runners are doing laps around them stereotyping them as a "non-athletic thrower". What is the motivation to continue in the sport when they aren't even permitted to train like a thrower until they meet certain visual criteria imagined by the coach?
The Right Way
Instead, get a thrower to fully invest in the sport by immediately getting them excited about throwing and helping them to realize the potential they have in the sport. Once they taste a bit of success and realize what they could be, they will be far more willing to take the next steps to optimize their bodyweight.
What are the best ways to lose weight as a thrower?
A 250lb person will burn about 200 calories from running a mile. You might say that's great until you realize that those calories can be gained back after eating a serving of chips. Exercise is only as good as the nutrition that backs it up. If you are serious about losing weight, changing your diet is the way to go. For starters, cut out foods with added sugars and substitute foods with white flour for those made with 100% whole grain flour. Also, eat lean meats and increase your total protein intake. For college students, be aware that alcohol consumption is a huge contributor to weight gain and a high body fat percentage. Following these few steps alone will drastically decrease your body fat while simultaneously increasing your lean muscle mass (if training properly). It's an all-around win-win.
Train For Throwing
Most of our high school throwers who might have started out a little heavy lean out without even having to think about it. Why does that happen? They are training for 2-3 hours a day, 5-6 days a week burning a huge amount of calories and building muscle just by throwing and lifting. People underestimate the volume of work a thrower (who is training properly) does on a weekly basis. There shouldn't even be room for running in a throwers schedule if they are addressing every training detail they should. If you are including a proper warm-up, throwing session, lifting session, special strength exercises, and mobility exercises into your daily routine, you will be burning more than enough calories to reduce excess body fat, and running would only exhaust valuable energy that could be used to hone in more on technique and grind out heavier weight on your lifts.
Where To Go From Here
There are two main takeaways we want you to get from this article.
1) Running should not be used to address weightloss in throwers.
2) Approach throws training as the extremely specific event group that it is, not through the lens of other events or sports.
We are not saying that if you run a mile your throw will immediately drop 5 feet. There can be times when running is determined to be the best course of action, and there are some very successful throws programs out there that incorporate running into their training. The key is still to approach training with the end goal of throwing further. Doing anything else in training is just wasted time and energy. Instead of running 800m every day to warm up, do a brief and dynamic throws-specific warm-up that addresses the movements used in the throw, and then start throwing as soon as possible. Instead of running 3 miles at the end of the week for endurance training, push weight sleds for 8 sets of 30m. Train to be a power athlete!
If you would like a throws specific training program that is built towards getting throwers in shape, check out our Elite Throws Program for this month!
"Our aim is to provide concise and concrete education and training on the throws, helping coaches and athletes learn what they need to do to succeed and become champions."
- Dane and Trevor