Discus Throw

Development of performances and performance influencing factors

Athletes with exceptional rhythm and orienting capabilities are especially well suited to discus throwing. They must also posses musculature with great speed strength and the shoulder and chest muscles are of primary importance in the final acceleration of the discus. Good hip, trunk and shoulder flexibility is also advantageous.

External influences in discus throwing

The men’s discus was standardized to a weight of 2 kg and diameter of 22 cm in 1907. Women’s discus was not included in the Olympic Games until 1928 and weighs 1 kg. Since 1928 the discus is thrown from a 2. 5 m diameter throwing circle. This requirement limits the possibilities of giving the discus the necessary initial acceleration. The one and a half turn technique prior to release has become universally established with the world’s best despite some attempts with two or more turns. The movements of the athlete include a flight or transfer phase which introduces the decisive release phase. The quality of the execution of the rotating movements is considerably influenced by the characteristics of the throwing circle. Improved conditions are provided for accelerating the discus when the friction is greatest. The friction between the athlete’s shoes and the throwing circle is especially reduced during rain which leads to the risk of slipping. It is therefore, very difficult to provide the required standing stability during the main accelerating phase prior to release. Wind conditions in the stadium influence the discus flight. Head wind generally improves the distance rather than tail wind. The discus must land in a 40° sector. 

Biomechanical factors in discus throwing

In the movement sciences the athlete’s rotation movements are divided into

1 two-legged start phase pre-acceleration
2 one-legged start phase pre-acceleration
3 stance  release transfer
4 one-legged release phase final acceleration
5 two-legged release phase final acceleration

The two-legged release phase is of major importance as it represents the main accelerating phase of the discus. Approximately 70% of the release velocity are produced by the thrower during this movement phase. The execution of the final acceleration phase is of special movement technical importance because the release velocity is the characteristic with the greatest influence upon the distance thrown. All prior movements serve to prepare the final acceleration. Starting swing, start phase and the transfer lead the thrower into the so-called power position. In this phase the discus already experiences a pre-acceleration up to 30% of its final velocity. The temporal pattern of the movement sequences is performed individually different. It is, however, amazing which consistency world class athletes demonstrate in their movement rhythm. This excludes the possibility of making universal recommendations for the rhythm. However, it would also be incorrect to neglect the pre-acceleration phases because of their small influence upon the throwing performance. An optimal power position can only be achieved if these are executed safely and reproducibly.

The power position itself must provide beneficial conditions to facilitate an optimal throw. The discus should be accelerated to a velocity of about 80 km/h over the longest possible acceleration path while utilizing the pre-stretched chest and shoulder musculature. The relationship "greater release velocity = greater distance" only has theoretical validity. There is an individual optimum as seen in the long jump or triple jump. It is therefore, quite possible to release the discus at an excessive velocity. This usually results in an uncontrolled throw with negative influences upon the other performance determining characteristics and consequently the distance thrown.

The point of release should be as high as possible above the ground. This represents one of the few differences between men’s and women’s discus. Female throwers achieve lower release heights due to their smaller stature. A controversial theme is whether the release itself should be performed with both feet in contact with the ground. The "jumping throw" in which ground contact is lost prior to release is seen primarily in the men’s discus. From a biomechanical perspective the "standing jump" as performed by Lars Riedel (GER) and the world record holder Jürgen Schult (GER) and also the majority of elite female throwers is to be preferred. It is only possible to accelerate the discus up until the last instance prior to release if a solid ground contact is present. An optimal twisting of the shoulders relative to the hips and a throwing arm held far back are prerequisites for a good acceleration out of the power position.

Power Position in Discus Throw Ref.: Jonath, U. / Haag, E. / Krempel, R. / Müller, H.: Leichtathletik 2, Reinbek 1995

Next to release height and velocity a third factor influencing the distance thrown is the release angle. At the elite level this lies between 33 and 38°. No data is available describing the extent to which throwers can adapt the release angle to the present wind conditions.

Discus Throw
Men Landmarks
Women Landmarks
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