The Right Foot Liftoff, 180 Degrees Dilemma
by Harold Connolly
Most American beginning hammer throwers were introduced to the event by being handed a hammer or a 25 or 35 pound weight with which they were taught the winds, the rotations, and the release. Most such beginners had previous experience with the shot put and/or discus and brought with them the movement patterns they had learned in these events that required maximum torque between the shoulder axis and hip axis. Naturally if introduced to the hammer throw in this way the thrower is going to lift his right foot off early and drag the hammer as he tries to execute the turns with any semblance of balance and control.
To teach the technique of the hammer throw correctly with no separation of the hip and shoulder axis during the first half of the each turn from the low point to the high point, (from zero to 180 degrees) and with minimal separation of the shoulder axis and hip axis in the second half of the turn from the high point to the low point (180 to 360 or zero degrees), the thrower must be taught the turns without the use of the hammer or the weight throw implement. Why? Because by using a rod, a wooden pole, a broom handle, a light metal pipe, or an aluminum baseball bat to teach an athlete the complicated footwork in a segmented manner throughout a 360 degrees rotation, he or she can maintain the balance required in single foot and double foot support while keeping the proper alignment of the head, shoulder axis and hip axis throughout the movement. Only by using such a rod held in both hands while rotating both feet on the ground until the rod reaches the high point in the back of the throw, can the athlete maintain controlled balance through the first half of the turn to 180 degrees. The athlete can also stop the rod and his feet at each designated segment of the movement to internalize the feeling of correct head alignment and no separation between the shoulder axis and hip axis during the first half of the turn.
Effectively learning the correct hammer throw turning positions cannot be done initially with a hammer or a weight because those implements move too fast, cannot be stopped, and will force the athlete to drag the hammer into the turn in order to maintain any sense of control of the implement and landing balance. Once the correct footwork and alignment of shoulders, hips, and head with the hammer in the first half of the turn have been internalized and learned with a controllable rod, the thrower can be transitioned into the turns with the actual hammer, perhaps shortened for ease of adaptation to the implement.
At this stage in the learning process in order for the thrower to achieve in the second half of the turn an early right foot landing with his line of vision back above the hammer and a long double support, hammer stroking position, it is impossible to push the hammer in the first half of the turn keeping both feet on the ground all the way around to 180 degrees. In order to maintain the feeling of letting the hammer lead him into the first half of the turn and still land the right foot sufficiently early to attain the most effective part of a long double support phase, at best in the first turn of a three turn throw, the athlete may be able to keep his right foot on the ground until 90 degrees, but at that point the right foot must come off. A long double support phase from as early a right-foot touch down as possible through zero is where the hammer speed is most generated.
Throwing slowly, a thrower can and should work to keep his two feet on the ground as long as possible past 90 degrees and around in order to fully internalize with the hammer the feeling of letting the hammer lead him into the first half of the turns with hips, shoulders, head, and hammer in alignment. But when he throws faster, the increased centrifugal pull of the hammer will allow him to counter and require him to lift off the right foot and go into a quick single support phase, before 90 degrees in order to achieve the early right foot placement to give him the longer part of the double support system before the hammer reaches zero degrees. Biomechanists have demonstrated that the thrower can add very little speed to the hammer after it passes zero degrees and begins to rise against gravity. This means the following: you want the major part of your double support phase to be from an early right foot placement through zero degrees, and in order to achieve progressively earlier right foot placements, the right foot must progressively lift off earlier than 90 degrees in the each subsequent turn. To attempt to push the hammer around to 180 degrees with both feet on the ground in a competitive throw will reduce the velocity of the hammer and result in a shorter throw.