(originally abridged copy appeared In California Track & Running News,
a USATF Publication)

by Roger Freberg

Traditional practice programs for throwers, including drills, plyometrics, running, lifting, and throwing involve a substantial time and effort commitment for both athlete and coach.  In schools without a strong tradition in throwing, potential champions may not be willing to come out for the throws when enormous investments in time and effort do not guarantee success.  I offer this alternative program for achieving rapid strength increases with tremendous efficiency of time.  There is no way that an athlete can train in this manner and not achieve rapid, predictable improvements in strength and throwing distance.


                My "one hour a day workout" evolved out of my own experience in the throws for UCLA (1974 NCAA Runner-up in the discus and former UCLA record holder).  In spite of an athletic scholarship, my finances required me to work each summer.  Consequently, I had to play "catch up" when I returned to workouts in the Fall.  During my USC grad school days, I coached at Pasadena City College, and further refined this workout plan.  One of my throwers, Steve Summers, improved from 35' to 61" plus while at PCC, and went on to great success at the University of Washington. He still holds their school record!  Most recently, I have had the pleasure to work with my daughter, Karen, who was the #1 sophomore shot putter in the nation last year at 48'5" (#5 overall).  Two years ago, Karen began lifting with a 135 lb squat and a 75 lb bench.  She currently holds 4 national APF powerlifting records, and has most recently this past summer improved her PR to 600 lbs in the squat with sets at 280 in the bench .  In roughly the same time period, Karen improved from approximately 30' to 48'5" in the shot this past season.


The Female Thrower


                This program is especially suited for female throwers.  Weightlifting provides unique challenges for women, which are often ignored by most one-size-fits-all traditional programs.  Women have the advantage of completing skeletal growth earlier (at age 18, as opposed to age 25 for men).  However, they are much more susceptible to ligament injury than males.  The same monthly hormones that allow ligaments to stretch during childbirth can cause horrendous problems for female lifters.  The efficiency of my program helps to avoid these ligament problems, which generally result from lengthy overtraining.  Women also differ from men in their ability to build upper body strength.  Women should be expected to make much slower progress than men with upper body strength, and workouts should be adjusted accordingly.  We have found that a 10 lb. increase in Karen's bench roughly translates into a 1 foot improvement in her shot.  However, as much as she enjoys excelling in the squat, additional leg strength quickly follows the law of diminishing returns.  Past a certain minimum standard, further gains in leg strength do not seem to increase distance much.  We  emphasize powerlifting in our program.  Powerlifting more closely resembles the actual movements of throwing, and there is less strain on wrists, ankles, and backs, which are the most probable sites for injury by females doing  Olympic lifting. Are you aware that the great American thrower Connie Price-Smith also holds some of California's powerlifting records?


"Train Hardů.Win Easy"


                Kenyan runners are fond of the saying, "train hard, win easy."  We agree.  But training hard does not mean lots of hours.  Shorter workouts help to maintain year-around enthusiasm and commitment, and minimize downtime due to injury.  Our off-season workout takes approximately 1 to 1-1/2 hours.  Granted, Karen has her own equipment at home so there is no waiting in line.  The basic program has 3 upper body and 2 lower body workout days per week, with 3 sets for each lift.  Upper body lifts include bench, flies, military/incline, and curls.  Lower body includes squats and followed by Universal Gym leg presses.  The machine, often avoided due to coaches' snobbishness, provides safe burnouts for the lower body.  The lifts are supplemented by exercycling and running stairs.  Running stairs provides great cardiovascular work plus a controlled stride, which is particularly helpful in training for the discus.


A "PR" Every Day!



The key to efficient strength gain is in what I call "maximizing reps."  For each set, the athlete completes as many reps as possible rather than some predetermined set amount.  This is followed by a burnout set at a lower weight. These last, effortful lifts are the ones that build strength.  For example, Karen  worked with 250 lbs. followed by 175 lbs. on the bench and did sets of  7, 5, and 5 at 250 and followed with 17 at 175.   We record three PR's for her:  maximum reps in one set (7), three set total (17), burnout (17).  Daily PR's maintain the athlete's enthusiasm and sense of progress.  A chart is maintained with 5 lb increments, and each PR is recorded. The coach is responsible for selecting the right weights for each workout, based on how the athlete feels that day and past progress.  Effort should be made to ensure at least one PR is set at each workout.


"To dance is to dance, to fight is to fight!"


During the season, with the exception of beginning throwers, the elite athlete should refrain from lifting or throwing the day before a meet, and squats should not occur within 2 days of a meet.


                So, what is missing from this workout?  Where are the drills, plyometrics, and running?  The medieval Samurai warrior/philosopher Miyamoto Musashi said, "To dance is to dance, to fight is to fight."  Musashi was commenting on the uselessness of "drills" used for practice by various schools of martial arts.  Modern psychologists echo Musashi, but use the term "state dependent learning" to describe how performance is enhanced when practice and performance conditions are identical.  Jumping on boxes may develop great jumping skills, but it doesn't teach you anything about throwing.  Any practice activities that are not directly related to throwing movements are at best a waste of time, and at worst, develop competing motor patterns. Activities such as distance running (more than 40 yards for the thrower) run the risk of developing slow twitch as opposed to fast twitch muscles.  We have a fixed number of muscle fibers, and developing fibers into the slow twitch variety simply means that you will have fewer fast twitch fibers, and therefore less speed. 


It is important to remember, the best way to become a good thrower is to throw.  We lift to become better throwers, not lifters.  There are no college scholarships out there for great lifters.  Aside from throwing and lifting, other activities should be considered optional. Each Coach should review their activities for what works and eliminate or at least reduce what doesn't seem to work. It is better to concentrate an athlete's effort on a few select lifts than to spread their workouts over a vast array of activities that may only be marginally relevant to throwing.


                All of this training needs to occur in a context of good health and nutrition.  If athletes are not taking in proper nutrition, their muscular development will be slower.  Females in particular need to understand that they cannot expect to look like Kate Moss or Courtney Cox and still throw.  If they can't accept this, perhaps they should go out for cross country instead.


                I realize that my program is very different from what many coaches are doing to the point where it may be considered heresy.  Coaches and athletes seem to be very susceptible to superstitious behavior--if somebody  good is doing an exercise, no matter how ridiculous, they're going to do it, too.  I still get an enormous chuckle whenever I see throwers stand backwards on the shot toeboard and throw the shot over their heads.  This was an intimidating display used by Brian Oldfield for fun that has absolutely nothing to do with throwing the shot.  But it lives on decades later because of superstition.  Coaches should approach their business as scientists, testing each activity according to its outcome.  If you're looking for a rapid, safe way of building throwers, consider testing out my approach.


Feel free to visit Karen's Weightlifting Dojo at  http://www.karenfreberg.com or write me directly at roger@frebergsports.com

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