How do you Train For Discus? - Building a Discus Training Programme
BY JOSH DOUGLAS
HOW DO I GET BETTER AT DISCUS?
Well, first, you need to consider what the ultimate goal is.
For many, it is to throw further and to do this, we need to use our time effectively. There are different times for different things in the off-season, and whilst we want to get stronger, increase our power and throw further, we risk hurting ourselves instead of improving if we rush into it. We don't want to finish the season and immediately whack a ton of weight on the bar, but we also don't want to rest too much and not progress. This is why planning your off-season is essential.
WHAT MAKES A GOOD DISCUS THROWER?
To plan our year effectively, it is worth looking into and employing periodisation. This is the practice of dividing an athlete's training program into specific periods or cycles, with each period focusing on a particular aspect of training. The goal is to help athletes maximise their performance during important competitions while avoiding overtraining and injury. Periodisation for throwers and athletes should involve dividing the training program into several phases or cycles, such as a preparatory phase, a competition phase, and a transition phase.
Each phase may focus on developing different physical abilities, such as strength, endurance, speed, and power. Periodization also typically includes varying the intensity, volume, and frequency of training throughout the program. Furthermore, each phase has its own impact on throwing performance, and the throwing volume should be adjusted according to what stage you're in. Most people want to throw their best for competitions like nationals or counties, and periodised training will allow for that.
At the end of the season, you should ideally take some time off, maybe a week or two to recover from a year of training and competing. After that, you'll ideally do some "general physical preparation" or GPP which prepares your body for the heavy lifting that will follow. You'll then go on to building some strength, and then you'll train for speed and power.
BUILDING YOUR BASE
GPP aims to build a resilient base of fitness and strength that will allow you to lift heavier weights without injury. Training will include higher reps (e.g 4 x 10-12) to reduce the chance of injury. The higher rep ranges will prompt muscle growth and tendon strength, but you may also include some light cardio. This could be anything from 20-40 mins jogging or cycling to improve fitness and assist in recovery from training sessions. The better your cardiovascular system is, the faster your recovery can be. It is also an idea to do some isometrics to improve joint health and get some mobility work in.
This phase is typically 4-8 weeks depending on your level of physical competency, with beginners potentially needing more preparation work than elite athletes. My training in those phases consists of two cardio sessions a week and two gym sessions a week. The gym session focuses on building my endurance while maintaining some explosivity. In terms of throwing, the quantity is relatively low, as a high amount of throws when we're meant to build our fitness base may increase our chance of injury.
DO YOU NEED TO BE STRONG FOR DISCUS?
Your second goal after preparing your body is to increase and improve your maximal strength. Contrary to popular or ill-informed beliefs, discus throw is not an upper-body dominant movement, and the main driving force should always come from your legs. That said, even though it is not upper body movement, we should still aim to be strong in that department. Gym training in this phase is typically 1-4 sets of 4-8 reps, with intensities anywhere from 70%-90% of our one-rep maxes.
You can expect your throwing performance to have a temporary drop in this phase or at least a potential plateau as your rate of force production will take a hit. This is because as the weight gets heavier, the exercise becomes slower. To counteract this effect, you should lift these weights as quickly as possible in the concentric portion.
HOW LONG SHOULD MY STRENGTH BUILDING PHASE BE?
Regarding the length of your strength-building phase, it comes down to how far away the competition you want to be at your best is. A typical plan may be eight weeks; 3 building and 1 rest week (x2), but athletes may do it 3 or 4 times depending on their aim and the date they want to peak for.
In my training plan, at the start of our max strength phase, we will typically have four sets of 6-10 and then move to 4 sets of 3-5. As the repetitions decrease, the higher the per cent of our one rep max we will lift. The reason for this is to prevent injury as well as overtraining. In terms of throwing, we start increasing the number of throws we are taking per session. As I mentioned before, our distances are likely to take a hit in this phase, so this is an excellent time to make technical changes and lower our emphasis on distance.
HEAVY AND SLOW TO LIGHT AND QUICK
Congrats, you've completed your heavy-lifting stage!
You've improved your 1-3 rep max and are feeling stronger than ever before. Sadly, because you've been lifting so heavy, you have yet to be able to lift the weights very fast, and thus your discus technique is lacking that quickness it once had.
To combat this, we drop the weights to 50-75% of our 1 rep maxes, but we don't increase the repetitions that much. This is because even though the weights are lighter, we want to move them as quickly as possible, which will require a lot of rest (e.g. 2-5mins).
This will generate a number of physiological and neurological adaptations, namely improving our rate of force production. That fancy term basically means how quickly we can get our muscle fibres to turn on, and the aim is, by improving this, our release velocity will be higher when we come to throw the discus. The higher your release velocity (how fast the discus is travelling once it's out of our hand), the further it will go, assuming you've accounted for the wind's direction and strength.
This phase could be anywhere from 3-6 weeks and can be considered a specific strength phase, as even though the weights have dropped, our throwing volume is still relatively high. In my training, we lift weights between 50-75% of our one-rep maxes and lift no more than six repetitions per exercise, depending on our aim.
Our throwing volume is still quite high in this phase to continue further ingraining the technical changes we have been working on. We also have a few weekly plyometric and sprint sessions to get our bodies used to moving at high speeds and learn to express the power we've developed through training.
LESS QUANTITY, MORE QUALITY
We are now coming into the competition phase of lifting and throwing. We want to feel as fresh and fast as possible in this phase. In terms of lifting, it probably won't change much from the previous phase, but you may drop a set to feel fresh and walk away from a gym session feeling more energised than when you walked in.
For throwing volume, there's no point doing incredibly high throwing volumes as we will have hopefully made our technical adjustments habitual. Doing a mock competition before the start of your session may also be warranted to get your body and mind used to produce your best throws in 6 attempts.
Doing nearly 50 throws a session may have been good when we were more concerned with improving technique, but with potential competitions upon us, we no longer have 2 hrs to produce our best throws. You get 3, maybe 6, to do your best, and that's it.
The other reason for reducing throw volume is that in this phase, our throws are likely to be more explosive, and thus we run the risk of injury if we repeatedly demand our bodies to produce high forces an excessive number of times.
The duration of this phase is typically 3-4 weeks, so you'd need to skip ahead in your diary to the date you want to peak for and work backward 3-4 weeks to know when you're starting to peak. My training in this phase has fewer gym sessions per week, and we also focus less on the sub-parts of the throw (i.e. standing throws, half turns, South Africans etc).
The logic behind this is we had the last 3 phases to work on these, and the chances you'll be competing with a standing throw is slim to none. Our sprint distances also decrease as we become less concerned with endurance and more with the rate of force production.
PUTTING PHASES INTO PLACE
Let's say we wanted to be at our best for 17 and 18 June, which is the England Athletics U20 and U23 Championships.
- We would be in our 4-week competition phase by the 20th of May.
- We would start our specific strength phase from the 8th of April (if we were doing SS for 6 weeks).
- Assuming our strength phase is 8 weeks long, we would start on the 11th of February.
- Our preparatory phase (assuming it's 4 weeks long) would start on the 14th of January.
WHAT ARE THE 4 PHASES OF DISCUS THROW?
- The 1st phase is to build resilience and prepare your body for heavy lifting
- The 2nd is to get as strong as possible
- The 3rd is to become as powerful as possible
- Finally, the 4th competition phase is to express that power on demand and minimise fatigue.
Each phase is as crucial as the other and is necessary for throwing success. Throwers need to be competent in multiple fitness components—these aspects range from maximal strength and power to things like coordination and proprioception. By being skilled in all domains of physical expression, you can become an incredibly well-rounded athlete with limitless potential.
Paying attention to components of fitness is essential, but it is nearly impossible to work on everything simultaneously. Planning your year will allow adequate time to be spent on everything that will facilitate longer throws. The final result from planning your year and off-season in this manner is you build yourself a resilient, robust, powerful and explosive body that will allow you to express your fullest potential when throwing.
ABOUT JOSH DOUGLAS
Joshua Douglas is an U23 shotputter and discus thrower, who competes across the UK and is a high placing athlete in many of the events he participates in.
Caring, determined and analytical, Joshua is aiming for a medal at the senior championships and BUCS, as well as to compete at the British championships.
He is also currently undertaking an undergraduate degree in sport psychology, and is very passionate in helping other athletes in this area, as well as other areas in throwing and athletics!
Josh will mainly be talking about discus throw in his content. However, as he is studying sport psychology at university, he also cover this area in his blogs where he can!