By Jeff Gorski, Coach/Founder of Klub Keihas
Ex-USATF Men's Javelin Development Chairman
Note: This was Jeff's first published article (1981), but still the foundation of all technique he
teaches. This was written in the era of old rules "gliding" javelins but the need to consider aerodynamics
of the implement and how technique effects flight potential are still very important!
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.
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.
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
We can now see that the most important aspect of the athletes 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
Angles of Force and Attack
The angle of force is simply the path of the javelin's center of gravity at release from the
force or power exerted on the javelin by the thrower measured against the ground (Diagram 1).
The angle of attack is the difference between the flight path of the javelins center of mass, and the actual
alignment of the javelin during release (Diagram 2). The smaller this angle, the better. This deals with
the adage of "throwing thru the point", a perfect release.The angle of attack is a direct result of the
angle of force being applied along the long axis of the javelin. Again, the smaller this difference the better,
because a large angle of attack means the javelin will stall in the air.
Diagram 1 Below
The action of the leg during the crossover must be exclusively forward, with little or no vertical
Diagram 3 Below
Too much vertical movement during the crossover will cause "settling" on the back leg, so the athlete
is throwing from a "falling elevator."
Diagram 4 Below
Shifting 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- the "Soft Step" in action!
Diagram 5 Below
An arm delivery of 45 degrees to the shoulder axis will give a longer pull and allow better muscular
Diagram 6 Below
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.
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 an active down/in 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 shifts 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 holds 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
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 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
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 6. 195 lbs, 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.
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 go 300 feet.. That's what the soft-step technique is all about.
Duncan Atwood Boris Henry Mikaela Ingberg Tom Pukstys
Development of the Soft-Step Javelin Technique
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 2 Below