Development of the  Soft-Step Javelin Technique

By Jeffery P. Gorksi, USATF Men's Javelin  Development Chair, Founder of Klub Keihas

Note to readers: This was Jeff's first published article(1981), but  still the foundation of all technique he teaches; nothing has  changed! Picture and Diagrams are not  available for display.

The purpose of this article is to facilitate  the training of javelin throwers, by means of explaining often-used terms and  looking at the actual mechanics of the throw. I believe that the training and  performance of throwers would increase dramatically if the aura and mystery of  the "European Technique" is cut away.

NOTE: The advantages of the European or  soft-step technique are many. It provides a powerful throwing position and  allows use of the large muscle groups of the body without sacrificing momentum.  While it may take a bit more time to master, once learned, the soft-step will  allow for constant improvement in performance. As the thrower becomes more  comfortable with the technique and can increase his speed, he'll be able to  throw farther. It must be pointed out, however, that the proper technique must  be learned in order to make use of this greater speed. Any athlete can run  through the throw and approach faster, but unless the movements are purposeful,  his throw will likely be shorter than his previous marks.

The Javelin

Essentially, the throwing technique of European athletes is a result  of careful studies in human movement. Some basic knowledge of physics and  kinesiology, with the ability to apply these physical laws to athletics, are a  great aid in improving the thrower's performance. What the Europeans have done,  for the better part of four decades, is to see how each body part involved in  the throw can be used most effectively. Let's get down to basics.

The javelin is an aerodynamically designed  implement that closely follows the laws of physics. For this reason, the factor  with the greatest influence on the throw's distance is the speed of the javelin  at release. The greater the speed of release, the greater the distance of the  throw, all other things being equal. Knowing this, the technique and training of  the athlete must be geared toward developing the greatest possible speed on the  javelin at the release. This speed is measured against the ground, not against  the athlete.

Conditioning

Since the release speed is so important to the  length of the throw, it is obvious that the faster the athlete is moving, the  further the throw should be. However, the speed of the approach and step pattern  will depend entirely on the "technical preparedness" of the athlete.

Technical preparedness simply refers to the  level of physical conditioning and how familiar the athlete is with his  technique. The more skilled and experienced the athlete, the faster the approach  run should be.

We can now see that the most important aspect  of the athlete's training should be the perfection of a technique that will  allow and use the fastest possible approach speed. While specific techniques are  as individual as the athletes, basic fundamentals are found in each technique. 

These fundamentals include maintaining or  increasing run-up momentum from transition steps to the throw, leading the throw  with the hips, a noticeable backward lean, a firm brace or plant with the left  leg (right hand thrower), and delaying the arm strike.

While each of these are essential to a good  throw, they all stem from one function: maintaining momentum. Other factors  influencing the throw that can be controlled are the alignment, the angle of  attack, and the angle of force of the javelin at release. Alignment is defined  as keeping the long axis of the javelin in line with the axis of the shoulders,  and keeping both in line with the proposed path the throw.

Angle  of Force

The angle of force is the difference between  the path of the javelin's flight at release and the path of force or power  exerted on the javelin by the thrower (Diagram 1). The smaller this angle, the  better. This deals with the adage of force at zero, a perfect release. The angle  of attack is the difference between the flight path of the javelin's center of  mass, and the actual position of the center point of the javelin during flight  (Diagram 2). The angle of attack is a direct result of the angle of force.  Again, the smaller this difference, the better, because a large angle of attack  means the javelin will stall in the air.

Diagram 1

The  angle of force is the is the difference between the path of flight (A) and the  line of throwing power (B), both measured to the ground. Angle A - angle B =  angle of force.

Diagram 2

The  angle of attack is the difference between the path of flight of the center of  mass (B) and the angle of the javelin to the ground.

Diagram 3

The  action of the leg during the crossover must be exclusively forward, with little  or no vertical movements.

Diagram 4

Too  much vertical movement during the crossover will cause "settling" on the back  leg, so the athlete is throwing from a "falling elevator."

Diagram 5

Driving into the plant, the back leg continues to bend so the hips  pass over the back leg unhindered. The plant leg is out in front and close to  the ground.

Diagram 6

An arm  delivery of 45 degrees to the shoulder axis will give a longer pull and allow  better muscular efficiency.

Momentum

Of greatest importance, however, is maintaining  a, uninterrupted flow of momentum from the approach into the throw. To do this,  the athlete must accelerate through the step pattern, so that the last two  steps, the crossover and the plant, are the fastest of all. It is also extremely  important that the plant leg contact the ground as soon as possible after the  crossover. The longer it takes to ground the plant, the greater the chance of  planting "in the bucket" and losing valuable power.

It is helpful for the thrower to think in terms  of running away from the javelin to delay the arm, and running onto the plant.  This running action has been called the soft-step or deep knee position by  various authors. The soft-step, or some variations of it, is what allows  effective use of momentum in the throw. As the thrower approaches the crossover,  javelin is well back, the shoulders are above the hips and the legs are driving  forward, giving the whole body a slight backward lean. Going into the crossover,  the athlete drives powerfully forward off the left leg (right hand thrower),  while the right shin is pushed as far forward as possible with minimum vertical  motion (Diagram 3).

This action must be fast and close to the  ground. Too much vertical motion will cause the thrower to settle on his power  (right) leg, negating the run up and plant. Throwing from this seated position,  similar to a baseball pitcher throwing from a stretch, will substantially limit  distance and the use of momentum (Diagram 4). The athlete is essentially  throwing from a standing start.

From the position described in Diagram 3, the  athlete must quickly pull the leg forward so he is further inclined to the rear.  At this point, the athlete is just about to strike ground with his right foot,  the left leg is extended forward waiting to plant, and the left arm is starting  to open the chest. The hips and center of mass (or gravity) are well ahead of  the torso (Diagram 5). If the crossover is done correctly, there should be no  significant loss of momentum.

The Soft-Step

When  the right foot does touch ground, the so-called soft-step takes piece. It is  essential that as much forward speed as possible is maintained, so that it may  be transferred into the throw. The soft-step allows the hips and center of mass  to pass quickly over the power leg, so that the plant jolts the hips and starts  the throw. As the hips pass over the right leg, the right knee bends (and  continues to bend) so that the forward movement of the hips and the center of  mass is unhindered.

One must not confuse the soft-step with  settling on the right leg; settling is a result of too much vertical movement in  the crossover, or a slow pull-through of the left leg. Soft-stepping is a  passive movement by the right knee and leg that positions the center of mass for  a forward thrust. Simply put, it lets the hips stay ahead of the rest of the  body without any loss in forward momentum going into the plant. Through the  crossover and plant, the athlete should stay as low to the ground as possible.  Diagram 5 shows the athlete's position prior to the plant.

The soft-step allows for a very fast plant after  the cross, since the plant leg is already in position and the thrower is close  to the ground. This quick plant, plus the rapid forward movement of the hips,  will aid the throw significantly. The majority of the run-up momentum is  transferred into the throw by the plant if the soft-step is done properly. The  proper execution of the soft-step will ensure that the other phases of the throw  take place; the hips will lead, there will be a noticeable backward lean, the  plant will be quick and straight, and the arm will be delayed in its pull. 

As the throw progresses from the plant, notice the  crack-the-whip body action starts with the large muscle groups of the lower body  and finally moves up to the hand. The right leg drives forward while the right  heel rotates out, thrusting the hips over the plant. As the plant leg  straightens and stabilizes the hips, the throwing arm and shoulders stay back,  increasing the horizontal rotary torque. The left arm goes high, wide, then in  tight to the left side, to open the chest and increase the stretch on the right  shoulder and arm.

By now the center of mass has passed directly over  the plant and the whip-like arm strike takes place. Here, too, the progression  from heavy to light segments continues. The chest rotates forward and stops, the  shoulder rotates forward and up, then stops, followed by the arm strike with the  elbow leading the hand, palm up. Films indicate the action should be a 45-degree  angle to the horizontal shoulder axis, a three-quarter arm throw, for the  longest and most efficient pull (Diagram 6).

Regardless of the technical variations used, the  key to developing a great javelin thrower is the mastery of the soft-step  concept, both physically and mentally. Far too many U.S. throwers stress the  value of a powerful throwing position, and end up stopping on the right leg or  settling on it, baseball style.

Yearly  Training

Training for perfection of the total throw, the  approach technique and throwing mechanics must be a year-round endeavor. A rough  idea of how the training priorities rate follows: the year is broken down into  three general areas---preparation, pre-season, and the competitive season. 

During the preparation period, around September    through December, the development of strength and power are stressed. Throwing    done during this time is limited to once or twice a week, concentrating on    good form rather than distance.
During the pre-season period, around the end of    December through March or April, development of power and strength continue    and the amount of throwing increases. The throwing is a bit more intense, but    good form in the soft-step must still be a prime goal. Speed development also    begins.
During the competitive season, the intensity of    strength and power work lessens somewhat, although weight work must be    maintained. The prime objective is to use the proper technique, with as much    speed as possible.

Training sessions  should include throwing javelins, hand weights or stubbies, etc., from full  approach and shorter step patterns, emphasizing the development of the  soft-step. The concept of accelerating into the throw, especially the speed of  the last two steps, should be stressed. Arm and hip position are also important;  the am should be parallel to the shoulder axis, and the hips should lead the  throw.

Strength and Flexibility

Strength  and flexibility are two qualities a javelin thrower must have to excel. While  American throwers are among the world's strongest, the flexibility concept is  still somewhat lacking. In fact, physiologically, both qualities are closely  related. The strength of a muscular contraction depends on the degree of  strength in the muscle. The greater the stretch, the stronger the contraction. 

Relaxation

Relaxation also comes into play since a relaxed muscle has a greater  range of motion than a tensed one. One often hears of the thrower who unloads  record throws in warm up, only to tense up and throw far shorter when it really  counts. According to physiological taws, a relaxed muscle will stretch more  quickly and with greater range, thus producing a faster, more powerful  contraction than a pre-tensed muscle. European athletes spend quite a bit of  time on flexibility, especially in the areas of the shoulders, upper and lower  back, and the hips and ankles. A frame-by-frame analysis of throwers like Lusis,  Nemeth, Wolfermann, and others would demonstrate the needed mobility of a  top-ranked thrower.

Weight Training

Weight  Training would involve a number of aspects. Here we're looking to develop  strength (the maximum force in a single contraction of a muscle) and power (the  most possible in the shortest time). Strength development would consist of the  traditional lifts, including bench press, squats, military press, curls, etc.  Power would be developed by more competitive lifts and exercises, like the clean  and jerk, the snatch, the jump and reach, basketball dunking, long and triple  jumping, sprinting, and weight throwing, to name a few.

The importance of leg strength and power cannot be  stressed enough. As an example, let me cite Lusis, who, at a lithe 6 foot. 195  pounds, could straddle 6'4" and long jump over 24 feet. Begin and end all  training sessions with at least 15 minutes of mobility and flexibility  exercises.

Conclusion

The  United States has numerous throwers who have exceeded 70 meters, but only two  have ever topped 90 meters. Obviously, there are plenty of strong arms around.  What is needed is an understanding of the event, and the factors that influence  performance. Fred Luke, a 1972 Olympic finalist for the U.S., in Jon  Hendershott's "Team Effort Lofts U.S. Javelin Fortunes" (Track and Field  .News, April. 1973.), said the Europeans "get down to very basic  fundamentals and find out what makes a javelin flv 300 feet."

That's what the soft-step technique is all about. 

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