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Training for Core Strength

Training for Core Strength
by Adam Nelson

Adam Nelson is a world-class shot putter and two-time Olympic silver medalist. During 2000 and 2002 he was ranked number one in the world by Track and Field News. Core training is important in every throwing event, and Adam Nelson summarizes his core training philosophy in this article.

Going into the fall of 1999 almost one year out from the Olympics, I suffered a minor tear in my right pectoral minor and major. After the doctor diagnosed the tear, he offered me two alternatives: have surgery and miss the Olympics or don’t have surgery, do aggressive rehab, and maybe you’ll make it. I’d just spent three years of my life dedicated to the pursuit of my Olympic ambitions. Hello!!! This was a no brainer. What happened during the next nine months exceeded all of my own expectations.

For years I’ve heard how the 21-meter barrier was unbreakable without the use of performance enhancers. I had no idea. I’d never thrown within 30cm of that distance. But something happened as a result of my pec tear, I was forced to change the way I approached my training. Obviously heavy benches were out due to the direct stress on the injury, but so were squats and anything that involved steadying a bar on the shoulders. That significantly limits what you can do in the weight room. My focus shifted from training off the track to training on the track. How could I throw without throwing? (I couldn’t throw at this point either) It wouldn’t be long till I found the answer I was looking for: event specific training.

As rotational shot putters, we’ve borrowed a lot of our technical models from the discus. Knowing this, I began to look at what the world-class discus throwers stressed in their training: rhythm, timing, speed, and core strength. Well I already worked a lot on the first three, but the last one I’d overlooked. Sure, I always did my crunches at the end of the workout, but that only scratches the surface. Hammer throwers have known this for years. What’s the biggest difference between hammer throwers and other rotationally delivered throws? The number of turns requires more technical and drill work even at the highest levels. Because hammer throwers spend so much time developing the rhythm of their throw, they work their core more than any other thrower out there. You don’t have to stretch the imagination to far to understand the importance of the core. Just look at Yuriy Sedykh’s drill work and weight work.

Anyway, that’s how I came to focus on the core during my workouts. Here are three suggestions you can use to strengthen your core:

  1. Save the belts and knee wraps for max lifts only. By using them you are only training your body to squat incorrectly. You’ll have to drop the weight, but you’ll be amazed at how much stronger you’ll feel. And if you ever want to go back to the belt and wraps for the big numbers, it will only take about four weeks to do so. We’re not training to be great lifters, just great throwers.
  2. More is no substitute for quality. Train your mid-section just like you would your bench or squat or clean. You don’t get much out of one set to failure in the cleans. Don’t do this with your core. That said, your abs can and do recover very quickly from heavy workouts, so don’t be afraid to do a little weighted abs work every workout.
  3. Vary the tempo and movements based on the workout. On upper body days I like to do more static core work. On Olympic lifting days I favor more rhythmic/multi-dimensional core work. On squat days I prefer twisting and stretching core work (I’ll give you a sample below).

So I’ve given you some suggestions, now I’m going to give you a sample.

Workout 1:

  • Upper body day core work
  • Hanging Leg Raises with weight
  • Decline Crunches with weight
  • Roman Chair sit ups with weight
  • Stansions (4 ways for 1 minute each)

Workout 2:

  • Olympic day core work
  • V-ups with Med Ball
  • Side Elbow to opposite Knee Bends with Bar
  • Candlesticks (a very intense form of leg raises)
  • Standing Bar Twists
  • Pull Throughs

Workout 3:

  • Leg day core work
  • Floor touches w/ weight- start with plate above head and do a wind mill-like/side bend movement touching the plate to the floor by your feet while keeping your arms fully extended.
  • Walking Twists w/ weight- arms at 90 degrees or straight out if you’re a real man (I’m not). Then, step with the left foot and turn your upper body towards the left. Repeat to the right.

There are many variations of this workout, but that’s the base. You get the right idea. I like to do 100-150 reps total per workout during most of the season. During the off- season these numbers may be a little bit higher. Going into major competition I’ll cut the volume in half or more with primary emphasis on the twisting movements.

Anyway, that’s about it. Though I’ve found several combinations of exercises that work for me, you’ll probably be different. Experiment till you find something that leaves you feeling strong and flexible. Once you find the right combination of core training and plyometric/sprint training, you’ll find you’ll only need to do the weight work to boost your confidence.