Heavy strength training is a fundamental aspect of the development of elite level throwers. Since the age of 15-16 years old throwers squat, snatch, clean and jerk as often as they practice with lighter and heavier implements. The heavier they squat the heavier they snatch, clean and jerk; the heavier they snatch, clean and jerk the better they throw.
For a younger, less experienced thrower a 380 pounds back squat rather than a 420 pounds back squat can make the difference between throwing 70 to 72 meters in the discus or throwing more than 65 meters in the javelin. Across the board, for every 10-20 pounds an athlete can squat above the two-times bodyweight benchmark – 1.5 for female athletes – performance in throwing events improves by 5-6%. There is, however, a limit to the amount of “brute strength” an athlete needs to improve performance in throwing events, and this limit is normally reached by time young throwers turn 20-21 years old.
What sets apart young and adolescent throwers from older, more experienced athletes is not the ability to squat heavier – a 600 pounds back squat for a 280 pounds 25-26 years old thrower is no different from a 450 pounds squat for a 210 pounds 18-19 years old thrower – but, instead, the ability to increase speed. Above and beyond absolute strength, rate of force development (RFD) seems to have a much greater impact on performance in sport. While strength surely does set apart elite level throwers from younger, less experienced athletes “the attainment of ever-increasing levels of strength may not be necessary to perform at a very high level”. A great quote from Dr. Larry Judge, Ball State University (Indiana)
Throughout puberty and adolescence, young athletes tend to display a certain degree of discontinuity between times of intense linear and ponderal growth. Speed (linear speed) significantly improves during childhood: however, it is not until the age of 15-16 years old that strength (relative strength) comes into play. During the developmental stage – for throwers, like for any other athlete competing in speed-power events, a relatively narrow window of time between the age of 9-10 years old and 17-18 years old – increase in muscular strength does not seem to correspond to a similar increase in rate of force development.
This difference exacerbates throughout adolescence as times of intense linear growth (proceritas) alternate with times of intense ponderal growth (turgor) before and after the onset of puberty. This gap becomes particularly significant after the growth spurt, on an average 12-18 months after the onset of puberty, between the age of 13-14 years old for female athletes and the age of 16-17 years old for a male athlete. An increase in absolute strength, from this point on, does not necessarily correspond to a better performance in throwing events.
Stronger athletes aged 18-19 can back squat 400 to 500 pounds. They can clean and jerk 240-300 pounds but they might not be able to snatch more than 150-160 pounds. Lack of speed usually results in a snatch to clean and jerk ratio 78% or lower, as a consequence of a much heavier clean and jerk and a relatively slow pull in the snatch. Faster athletes – more efficient, better throwers – on the other hand, tend to have a higher snatch to clean and jerk ratio (82% or higher) with peak vertical bar velocity in the pull approaching 1.98 m/sec. Throwers with a snatch to clean and jerk ratio above the average, especially if younger, can normally squat less the twice their body weight. Lack of strength can be addressed by implementing in their training a higher percentage of heavy strength training – back squats, front squats, conventional deadlift and presses at 85-95% of 1RM including supramaximal eccentric at 120-130% of 1RM – weighted pull, and overweight throws.
Lack of speed, on the other hand, can be addressed by implementing in the development of young and adolescent throwers a higher percentage of explosive strength training- back squats, box squats, front squats and high pulls at 70-80% of 1RM – power snatch, clean and jerk, plyometrics (drop jumps and depth jumps) and underweights throws. For a young thrower – 14-16 years old for female athletes, 15-18 years old for male athletes – a snatch to clean and jerk ratio of 78-82% with a back squat ranging between 1.4 and 1.8 times bodyweight is necessary to increase the speed of release and improve throwing mechanics. Paraphrasing the myth of Milo, the strongest athletes in Magna Grecia “it is no great thing to possess strength, whatever kind it is, but to use it as one should”.