Flying the Javelin



Have A Javelin Breakthrough This Summer!

The weather’s better, you’re starting to get in shape, you’ve learned more about the javelin since starting the season in cold, windy, wet March just to have it end in May?? NO WAY!!

Even if you’ve done well in your season, it’s not time to stop throwing! You’re just starting in on the best time of the year to make awesome javelin breakthroughs – Summer. There’s no pressure, no school (usually), the days are longer and conditions are often so much better for learning more about this cool event. 

The beginning of throwing far.
I was fortunate as a high school junior to actually have a big PR (21’) and win State. After starting the year off at 120’ (although I did throw 161’ as a sophomore), then throwing 110’, I almost quit javelin to focus on sprinting but the coach told me to hang in there. I crept back up to 160’, then 175’ at District to make it to State.

My lucky break.
One day, I watched some of the nation’s top throwers at the University of Washington and got some ideas. The next week at State I threw 196’9” to win the small school division. The throw didn’t even feel all that good but it went a little far. One of the officials was one of the great throwers I had seen the week before, and he said, “You must have done something right.” This gave me the idea that if I did maybe two or three things right, I might throw even farther.

Duncan - 196'9".
My winning throw at state.
Upon reviewing this photo with me, my coach said, “You can do better than that.” I was surprised but it strengthened the idea that maybe I could do better – like lower my javelin angle!!

Now I was psyched for summer throwing.
So I threw all Summer, three days a week, more or less. I worked up to about 40 throws per session. It was a fairly carefree time, with not much to do besides throwing, bicycling, some soccer and sprinting. My only idea was to learn to run faster and faster into the throw while keeping great flights. I learned many small but important points of the throw and never measured any of them until…

The effort paid off!
When I returned to school that Fall to start my senior year, a friend of mine came back from a year of living overseas and I wanted to show off my new javelin skills for him. I expected to throw about 200’, like I thought I’d been doing all summer. The first throws seemed far; we decided to switch from our school’s soccer field where the distances were hard to determine to the football field where the yard markers made it easy. Into a light headwind with the bent 70 meter javelin I’d been throwing all summer, I hit 228’ then 236’. I was astounded but had to go to soccer practice so that was it for the day.

Can’t sleep, I’m so excited about throwing!
The next day produced several throws in the 230’s then a whopping 248’. This time we had a measuring tape and you can be sure we were very careful, measuring each throw several times. I was a few weeks short of my 17th birthday, and completely blown away.

What I know now. . . . 

The rest of my story takes too long to tell, but the point is, get out there and practice in the Summer! Use the tips in the list below and you too can probably get a lot better at javelin. It’s like piano or violin – you’ll get better with practice, and a lot of practice can bring about big improvements.

Here’s my list of suggestions for making Summer javelin practices most effective:

1. You’ll need javelins!
I had only one javelin in my special Summer. There was too much jogging out and back to retrieve. I suggest 2 Finnfliers and one competition weight javelin (600 grams for girls, 800 grams for boys). Sometimes the high school coaches will lend a javelin for the Summer. But be careful with it! Throw the Finnfliers to find the flightline, then the competition javelin.

Notice the spike length for throwing off grass.

Notice the spike length for throwing off grass.

2. Shoes.
My brother told me that if I was going to spend all that money ($25) on a pair of shoes, I better practice all Summer. Make sure the spikes in your shoes are at least 5/8ths for grass (depending on the length of the grass on your field) and 3/8ths for turf or rubber runways. You must have great traction for the block or you’ll never learn how to run onto it. I had 1” spikes on both shoes – I never slipped even though I threw only on long grass.

Choose large, unpopulated field for throwing.

Choose large, unpopulated field for throwing

3. A field.
Getting lucky helps – there were good fields to pick from close to my house. A good field is somewhat oversized and isolated – cross traffic with kids and dogs is not ok. If you can find a field that’s mostly fenced, it’s better. And the best field is in good repair but not heavily used, with its length running in the direction of the prevailing winds so you can usually throw into a headwind. I even had trees just beyond the field whose tops were at exactly the right angle to aim at – that’s lucky!

I recommend throwing on grass or turf fields rather than a rubber runway so the scratch line becomes a non-issue. When learning to run onto the block, step adjustments are happening all the time and it’s great to be able to simply run until you feel ready to throw rather than having an approaching scratch line tell you it’s time to throw or you’ll be running on cement in a moment…

4. Markers.
T-shirts, cones, sticks, anything visible from far away. You’ll need to mark your approximate running start point, your approximate end point (where you stop after a throw), and the javelin landing point.

5. Time.
At least an hour to an hour and a half, depending on how you’re feeling. If you’re in a hurry, it’s impossible to “get into it”.

6. Other activities.
Bicycling, running, swimming, soccer, even skateboarding are good pre-throwing activities that need to be done a few hours before throwing. This will make the throwing warmup go easily and be much more effective. If you’re stone cold (no activity that day), it takes longer to get going.

7. Sleep.
If you stay up super late (past 2), it’ll work against you. Honestly, how much fun actually takes place that late? Keeping reasonable hours is classic advice for athletes for a reason.

8. Decent food.
This should be obvious. Nothing special, but nothing awful like an entire bag of chips (all that salt!) or sweets. It messes more that you may realize with your energy.

What to do at the field.

So you’ve got all your stuff, you go to your field, and you start in. It goes something like this:

1. Jog a lap to warm up, stretch. Dynamic stretching is ok for other events, but for javelin, you need to be loose like a gymnast. So you have to stretch like a gymnast. Hang from a soccer crossbar or fence, do groin, hamstring, calf and quadriceps stretches at least twice through.

2. Shoes on, jog ‘n toss. This means jogging and tossing the javelin up and down the field at least once, making sure the jog gets transferred to the throw. Easy, nice arcing flights that land on the point, then some that land flat, then back to sticking them. It’s getting reacquainted with how to control the javelin.

  • If you really want to do well, you’ll do one more round of stretching.
  • Try short run throws that build up a little speed onto the block leg, like running up to kick a ball, where the body weight runs onto the left leg. See if you can get perfect, gliding flights. Maybe 10-20 of these.
  • Now more steps (the exact number is unimportant – just make it so you’re running faster onto your left leg) and be sure to keep the flights good. Mark your approximate scratch line and your farthest throw of this group. Maybe 10 of these throws.
  • It’s time to add steps. Move your start mark back 25’ or so and get more speed into the throw. Move your scratch line mark to where you actually stop. Make sure you take the same number of steps each time. Some people count, some make odd rhythm sounds, some go according to their favorite song. Whatever.
  • Try to beat the mark of your farthest throw so far BUT JUST WITH THE RUNUP AND LEGS, NOT WITH THE ARM. This is the super secret, magic, coolest part of javelin – you can develop your ability to use your block leg to create leverage on your runup momentum to make the throw. Ever have a good throw that felt like you hardly threw it? That’s what this is, and if you focus your practice sessions on this method of throwing, you’ll get better at it. Lots better. Better than you may have thought possible.
  • Add speed in small amounts (very important – too much speed at a time makes it impossible to tell what’s going on) and try to get slightly longer throws. Run faster and faster until the flights go bad, then slow down, get good flights again, then speed up again (remember, just slightly faster for each throw) until another bad flight. Slow down, get the good flights again…repeat this pattern until you get tired. You can tell when you need to stop when even the slower runups don’t give good flights.

After sessions like these, you should feel tired overall but not wiped out and no specific tightness or pain. If your arm or shoulder hurts, stop throwing! Wait until it’s better then be super careful not to use your arm much at all when throwing. Sounds impossible but it isn’t.

How Often?
Try to have at least two one hour sessions per week. If you have a two-session week, try to have the next week be a three-session week. Alternating this way keeps you fresh but familiar with the subtle forces and feelings of a full-run javelin throw.

Other Thoughts.
You may be lucky enough to have a Summer series of All-Comer track meets were you live. These can be fun to attend – no pressure and you might see some higher-level throwing and learn something. Do other events – they can teach you about javelin. The triple jump is good for runup rhythm and active landing training, the hurdles are great for flexibility, rhythm and stride length learning, the 400 will make you strong, the relays are fun and so on. Unfortunately the discus doesn’t go well with the javelin, but the shot is ok. High jump is excellent – you’re trying to use leverage on a runup, which is what’s happening in the javelin too.

Don’t make this mistake!
I kept throwing until the first few weeks of September and didn’t start again until March. This was a mistake; I lost the feeling and opened my season at 192’. It would have been much smarter to reduce the throwing to once a week or even once every other week throughout the Winter, as the weather allowed, to keep from losing the results of all that work. I eventually threw 233’ in June of my senior year to lead the nation, but it should have been so much more.

You want to keep throwing as best you can in the Fall and into Winter if possible. This is to minimize the gap between when you last threw and the start of the new season. A few months off is no big deal; but if you think about how it’s normally done, we stop throwing in May then pick it up again in March? That’s a 9 month gap. It’s like starting over instead of building on last year’s learning. Throwing in the Summer is the answer!