The term “block” arm is a bit confusing. You step into the circle and you are told not to open the block arm, leading to the hips falling into the circle and the block leg literally BLOCKING your entire upper body. When this happens, the spine angle is extremely upright and there is a tremendous lack of rotation. What can you do to improve the block arm? What are the actions of the block arm and how can it be optimized for MASSIVE throws?!?!
For the purpose of this article, the “block” arm will refer to the left arm movement during the shot put spin. If you throw left handed, simply translate this information for the right arm movement.
Just as in regards to the “block” leg, the block arm is a horrible term being used. Throughout history, throwers like Al Oerter and Robert Harting would use the left arm as a means of opening the upper body, enabling the hips to fully rotate from a lengthened position out of the back, to a closed position in the middle and ultimately a massive opening at the finish.
However, the term “block” arm has developed into the left arm LITERALLY blocking the hips from rotating out of the back, leading to an open hip position in the middle, poor spine angle and thus a literal BLOCKING of the finish.
It is our goal to clarify the actions of the left arm and to extinguish the usage of the term “block” arm.
Action of Block Arm or Simply….LEFT ARM
The overall action of the left arm during the spin is very, very simple. It opens, closes and opens. That’s it. Coaches should not teach a thrower to hold their left arm closed out of the back of the circle. This reverses the hip action to closed/open/closed or blocked off at the finish.
We will be referring specifically to the movement of the left arm during the SPIN in the shot put.
Out of the Back
As a shot putter winds in the spin, their left arm will come across their body, putting more load on their right side and generating a lengthening of their left side. This left side generates energy that will later be utilized when the left side opens.
When the left arm opens, the shoulder joint will open directly over the left knee that is flexed. The left arm will then open PASSED the left hip, generating a directional load for weight to travel AROUND the left side.
As the thrower sweeps their right leg passed the left leg, the left arm will have opened to the left sector or just passed the left sector while the left knee holds to center or left sector. This shoulder opening leads to a MASSIVE lengthening of the muscles from the left arm to the right leg.
Into the Middle
As the right foot grounds in the center, the left arm will ideally hold long in the middle. The left arm MIGHT hold across the body, much like Joe Kovacs and Tom Walsh. This creates a better spine angle toward the back of the circle and then a massive stretching period during the middle.
Some spinners bring their left arm in during the middle. Reese Hoffa had a bit more elbow flexion AFTER his left arm opened. Hoffa would open similarly to Kovacs and Walsh but would almost drop and tuck his left arm slightly.
Crouser opens his left arm very similarly to Kovacs. However, his closing position is a bit different. When Crouser grounds his right foot, he starts to drop and slightly flex his left elbow. This leads to a higher left shoulder position and a different position on his finish.
This aspect of Crouser’s throw is viewed similarly to Kovacs’ left foot on his throw. BUT, I truly believe if Crouser altered his left arm positioning in the middle to the finish, he will throw 23.50. He is still one of the greatest ever and may become the greatest of all time, this is simply an analysis of his left arm.
As the left leg passes the right leg, the left arm should continue to hold weight over the right leg. This will enable weight to hold over the right side while the left leg sweeps to the front. The hips will ground open but the shoulders will be closed.
What does this generate? Tremendous lengthening from the left foot to the left hip across the trunk into the right shoulder. Think of a rubber band being twisted, this is the result of a proper left arm!
We need to keep reverting back to the simplicity. When the spinner comes out of the back, they open the left, when they are in the middle, the close the left arm! More tension into the trunk leads to greater contraction and acceleration at the finish.
When the left leg grounds, the left arm should be behind the left hip and the hand is across the body. This will put the spine angle to remain over the right side and the shot behind the right foot when the left grounds.
This is the biggest point of using the tension generated from the closed left arm in the middle. When the left grounds, the left hip will be ahead of the left arm, however, the left arm will open and chase to being in line OR past the left hip.
Ideally, the left arm will be opened wide. Kovacs, Walsh, Rodhe, Hoffa, Nelson, they all open(ed) the left arm WIDE. Interestingly, Crouser opens his left arm with the “block” perception.
Case Against Tight Left Arm
Crouser likely has the best movement in the spin. Walsh/Hoffa/Rodhe/Kovacs all had or have excellent footwork and trunk work but I believe Crouser has the best. But there is one aspect that could potentially be improved upon.
Many of Crouser’s monster throws have come down the right sector line. He did indeed throw 22.70+ down the center to left sector BUT it must be mentioned that he SLIGHTLY over rotated on that throw. His right leg was a bit over-rotated and that led to a false finish to the left sector side.
My claim: IF Crouser executed a throw with his best movement (throw similar to 2016 Olympic title or 2019 World Champs throw) AND used a wider left arm, he would throw tremendously further. This left arm will open long and more energy will transfer rotationally into the finish. He tucks the left side and it generates a linear finish that he tends to lose down the right side of the sector.
It needs to be discussed that many throwers love to throw around terms like rotational energy and linear energy and “linear drive.” These terms are used without full comprehension from a physics perspective. We need to recognize that rotational energy is GOOD and linear energy is GOOD. HOWEVER, when rotational energy is transferred to linear energy, there is actually a loss of energy! (That’s a lot of energy.) It takes effort to change the pattern of energy, thus leading to a slight diminishment in the result.
Now, if Crouser attempted to change this aspect of his throw, it could create issues in timing...or it could guarantee him the Olympic title as a repeat champion. He is one of the greatest ever and this discussion takes nothing away from his accomplishments.
As previously stated, when the left leg grounds, the left arm will be slightly behind the left hip. The left arm will open actively while the right shoulder stalls out briefly. The left arm will enable weight to transfer forward into the left side. In a perfect world, the left arm transfers weight into a flat left foot and the right side then rotates aggressively around the flat left foot.
Kovacs has one of the most active left sides in the history of the sport. In fact, he has told me personally that he often feels like he throws his best throws when his left side is extremely active. By having a left arm that holds weight in the middle and then is the ignition behind the weight transfer at the finish, he is also able to save many of his big throws!
The wide left arm contributes to bringing him back into the circle for a massive rotational finish and ultimately...22.91.
Do you struggle with how your left arm is moving throughout the throw? Maybe you struggle to feel the left arm OPEN/CLOSE/OPEN? If that is the case, pick up a technical analysis today and get those key cues to improve the action of your left arm!
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