Freelap Friday Five with Jim Aikens
Coach Aikens is a retired teacher who coaches the throws at Central High School in Burlington, Illinois. Coach Aikens has coached the throws since 1983, and has been the head coach at William Fremd High School in Palatine, Illinois, since 1990. While at Fremd, his throwers have won four state championships and 16 other state medals. Many of his throwers have earned conference, sectional, state, and national honors.
Freelap USA: Medicine ball training is an obvious option for throws coaches. Could you talk about why you like specific exercises and what you look for in equipment for both new and experienced athletes?
Jim Aikens: Medicine ball training is vital for the throws. Medicine ball training is the ultimate for specific strength development for the throws. You can hit all the same positions that you would go through in the throwing motion.
From that, I like to use heavy medicine balls early in the season for overweight training. Later in the season, as it gets closer to championship time, I like to use lighter medicine balls to help develop better speed in the movements. I believe the rubberized medicine balls that bounce are the ones to get. They are easier to grip and more durable, and the fact they can bounce makes them extremely versatile.
Video 1. Medicine ball training for throwers is excellent for teaching and adding repetition without wear and tear. Medicine balls enable athletes to do throws safely during the winter months or times when it’s hard to train outdoors.
Freelap USA: Fouling is a concern for an athlete who may be learning and changing mechanics as they progress. How do you manage the need for legal throws with being aggressive? Often an athlete will down their speed and power to ensure they are legal during big meets.
Jim Aikens: When an athlete is learning technique or changing mechanics, I try not to have them worry about fouling. Although fouling will occur, if the development of technique is correct, fouling shouldn’t occur. If the athlete is fouling a lot, then the new mechanics need to be refined until this is no longer an issue. If an athlete is changing their mechanics and having fouling issues, it may be necessary for the athlete to be less aggressive until their mechanics improve.I’ve always thought of aggressiveness and technique on a sliding scale to one another: As an athlete’s technique improves, they can become more aggressive, says @JimAikens. Click To Tweet
I have always thought of aggressiveness and proper mechanics (technique) on a sliding scale. When the athlete first learns new mechanics, their focus on the technique is high and their aggressiveness is low. As the athlete’s technique improves, they can become more aggressive. Eventually the technique is excellent, and the athlete can be very aggressive.
Freelap USA: The glide is still a viable option for athletes but is becoming less popular at the younger levels. Can you explain when a coach should strongly commit to the glide technique?
Jim Aikens: I feel a coach should teach the technique that they know and feel comfortable with. I also feel every athlete is unique and there are some athletes who, for whatever reason, can’t seem to manage the rotational technique. The glide is an extremely viable technique, but I feel—all things being equal—if a thrower can develop a proficient rotational technique, they can throw farther. I like to teach all my throwers the glide first. I feel it is a simpler technique involving fewer moving parts.
The glide is also great for teaching the proper mechanics of the throw. The athlete learns how to properly strike the ball, create torque, and generate force. For those reasons, I think the glide is a great technique, especially for young throwers. I teach all of my new throwers the glide. Every year, as they become better athletes, I attempt to teach them the rotational technique. Usually by their second or third year, they are able to rotate.
Freelap USA: Upper body strength has value to a thrower, but when do you see it becoming a distraction? Clearly, the lower body is far more important, but it’s hard to convince an athlete that they need to not worry about specific bench press loads when they see advanced athletes on video hitting massive numbers.
Jim Aikens: One thing I talk to my throwers about is that, if bench press was such an important lift for throwers, then the throwers hitting massive bench press numbers should also have massive distances and that doesn’t necessarily hold true. I must admit that I am much more a technique guy than a strength guy. I only get the athletes for two hours a day, and during that time I have to get the most bang for the buck as possible. My philosophy is, if you want to be a good thrower, you have to throw!The bench press serves a purpose because athletes need to press the shot out at the final stage of the throw, but the lower body is far more important, says @JimAikens. Click To Tweet
That being said, during the season we lift three days a week. The bench press does serve a purpose because you do need to press the shot out at the final stage of the throw, but as you said, the lower body is far more important.
Most of my kids are football players and they think the bench press is more important than it is. If I don’t include it in the routine, they will do it anyway, so why fight that battle? My basic in-season lifting routine is on day 1, we focus on the presses, including bench press. On day 2, we focus on the pulls such as high pulls, cleans, and snatches. On day 3, we combine presses and pulls and have more of a speed emphasis.
Freelap USA: Footwork and plyometrics go hand in hand, ironically. Could you share when training without the shot helps free up movement and motor learning acquisition? Some coaches want guidance on the value of moving and doing drills without the implement.
Jim Aikens: Training without an implement is one of the foundations of my training program. Footwork drills are fundamental in developing the proper mechanics needed to throw far. I have found that, if you try to introduce technical development with the implement in their hand, the athlete focuses on the implement or the distance the implement goes and not on the technique.Training without an implement is one of the foundations of my training programs, says @JimAikens. Click To Tweet
The first half of the season, my throwers spend 60% of their time doing technical development with footwork drills. I use a progression of first presenting the technical drill with nothing in the athletes’ hands.
Video 2. Drills are great ways to teach athletes movements they need, but they still need to be coached. Here, a PVC drill teaches range and rhythm of shot when instructed properly.
The next step is to use a PVC pipe while performing the drill. After the PVC pipe, I like the athlete to perform the drill using a medicine ball. Finally, when I like their technique, the athlete moves on to using the actual implement. During the rest of the season, we still do multiple drills not involving implements. We use these drills to warm up or to re-emphasize the important technical aspects of the throw.