"500-pound bench + 700-pound squat + 300-pound snatch + 400-pound clean = 70 feet in the shot."
This was the formula for shot put success, according to a message scribbled on a wall in UCLA's weight room-two decades ago. Don Babbitt, University of Georgia throws coach, read it every day when he threw for the Bruins in the 1980s. As he recalls, "It was a nice little formula, but what happens when you hit those weight room numbers and still dont throw 70 feet?"
Babbitt has trained some of the nation's best collegiate and Olympic throwers, including five NCAA title-holders from Georgia. Eight of his athletes competed in the 2004 Summer Olympics, and he's the personal coach to shot put silver medalist Adam Nelson and six-time U.S. javelin champ Breaux Greer. He also has many international throwers under his tutelage, including athletes who hold records in their home countries of Canada, Norway, and the Netherlands.
Since becoming one of the top throws coaches in the nation, Babbitt has realized that the distance of a throw has less to do with strength in the weight room than many coaches thought, and still think today.
"Lack of performance in throwers isn't usually due to lack of strength", he says. "Strength always helps overcome other weaknesses. But you can't hide those weaknesses; you have to work to eliminate them. Ignoring them and covering them up with strength will just hinder your performance down the road."
Over the past five or six years, Babbitt has consistently reduced time spent in the weight room, replacing it with time spent on form, coordination and explosive medicine ball throws. To his delight-and to the surprise of his athletes-top weight room numbers have still been achieved, but, more important, throw distances have continued to soar.
"The trick is figuring out exactly how much time you need to spend in the weight room to get strong, and then do only that much. And that amount is different for every athlete", Babbitt says. "But if you're going to overkill on throwing or lifting, I'd rather it be throwing."
The problem with spending too much time in the weight room stems from basic speed limitations. According to Babbitt, in shot put, the slowest throwing event, throwers produce release speeds of 14 meters per second. During the snatch, the fastest weight room lift, athletes move the weight at only two to three meters per second, far less than the speeds produced by throws.
Babbitt says, "Only about 30 percent of our training time is spent moving heavy weights at slower speeds. The other 70 percent is done with medicine ball and light throwing ball drills-outside the weight room. These are performed at speeds of six to 10 meters per second."
Here, Babbitt provides three of his favorite medicine ball throws, ones that build lower-body and core strength and produce the speeds necessary to attain greater throwing distances.
Medicine Ball Drills
Medicine Ball Throw for Height
Stand holding med ball with both hands
Bend knees and swing ball down between legs
Explode up, throwing ball as high as possible
Let ball land and bounce once, then catch and repeat motion
Complete 10 total throws
Benefits: Leg/hip power and explosivenessCoaching Point: When you follow through during the release of the ball, you should be moving with enough force that you jump off the ground. The extension of the joints should resemble the movement of a close-grip snatch.
Med Ball Weight: Guys, 6-7 kg; girls, 4-5 kg
Side Medicine Ball Sling
Sit on ground with partner standing 10 to 12 feet to your left
Keep legs elevated so only butt is on ground
Catch partner's throw at waist level
Rotate ball to right behind hip
Rotate explosively to left and throw ball to partner
Repeat with partner on opposite side, throwing in opposite direction
Complete 10 throws to each side
Benefits: Core strength, rotational powerCoaching Point: The medicine ball should be thrown across the body as hard as possible to the standing partner. The motion of throwing right to left should force your elevated legs to shift left to right to counter the force of your upper body. This also works the core.
Med Ball Weight: Guys, 5-6 kg; girls, 3-4 kg
Progressive Medicine Ball Throw
Sit on ground with partner standing 7 to 8 feet in front of you
Keep legs elevated so only butt is on ground
Catch partner's med ball throw at chest level
Rotate to left and touch ball to ground
Rotate back to center position and chest pass ball to partner
Catch partner's next throw at chest level
Rotate left, touch ball to ground
Rotate right, touch ball to ground
Rotate back to center and chest pass ball to partner
Add additional twist after each catch
Work up to 10 twists after catch
Benefits: Core strength, rotational enduranceCoaching Point: This is a great drill to perform competitively; see how many twists you can work up to. We may prescribe a set of 10 during practice, but athletes always tell me they worked up to 12 or 13. Our record is 20, which was done by Terri Steer, a former U.S. Champion and Olympic shot putter. Working up to 20 means she did more than 200 total twists of the medicine ball during the drill.
Med Ball Weight: Guys, 4 kg; girls, 3 kg
Photo Credit: Getty Images // Thinkstock