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How javelin throwers like Neeraj Chopra train for maximum fitness

Javelin is all the rage in India, with an increasing number of athletes following in Neeraj Chopra's footsteps. Lounge speaks to Chopra's former coach on how they train

India's DP Manu competes in the men's javelin throw final during the World Athletics Championships.
India's DP Manu competes in the men's javelin throw final during the World Athletics Championships. (AFP)

Historic feats are widely celebrated, especially when there has been scant precedent of such successes. Neeraj Chopra winning a gold medal for javelin at the World Athletics Championships in Budapest was one such moment, India’s first ever gold at the Championships. Also unprecedented was the fact that three Indians—Chopra, D.P. Manu and Kishore Kumar Jena—qualified for the finals of javelin throw at the tournament. 

That three Indians were in the fray in the finals of javelin is a testament to the rise in popularity of the sport as well as the hard work being put in by athletes and coaching teams behind the scenes. “Finland and Germany used to have multiple finalists in this sport at every tournament. But three Indians qualified for the final this time. That is a big achievement in itself,” says Kashinath Naik, Indian Army javelin coach and Commonwealth Games bronze medal-winning javelin thrower. Two of the three who featured in Budapest have trained with Naik: Chopra worked with Naik from 2015 to 2017, Manu has been training under him since 2019.

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Javelin is a highly technical sport that combines an athlete’s strength, technique and their ability to generate power. The most important thing is achieving the power position, one the thrower is in at the time of initiating the throw. The entire body acts like a high-strung bow about to release the arrow. The angle of the throw has to be between 33 and 37 degrees in order to achieve maximum distance. Anything greater and the javelin will gain more height than distance and anything lower will mean not enough airtime to achieve the optimum projectile path. 

When Manu started working with Naik, he used to throw the javelin about 65m. After four years of training, he has improved tremendously and now throws in the 84m range. Naik is certain that making it to the finals in Budapest would have done Manu’s confidence a world of good and that is good for his Paris Olympics prospects. “Manu has it in him to improve over the next year and if he makes it to the Olympics he could be throwing closer to 87m in the premier competition next year,” says Naik, who also trains other athletes such as Anu Rani and Shivpal Singh. In order to achieve this dream, preparation and training will be key.

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In Naik’s training plan, the week is divided into 14 sessions, of which three are light, eight are intense and three are set aside for rest and recovery. The intensity and volume of training depends on the athletes’ competition calendar. During the regular training phase, the focus is on volume and they could throw 30 times per session, but when they are approaching a competition, the number of throws goes down to five or six but the intensity remains high, which in this case means longer throws. “Even during the training season if someone is reaching distances of 80m or more, we cut down the volume (fewer throws) and maintain the intensity (longer distances),” explains Naik. 

The week starts on Monday with warmup sessions and drills in the morning followed by throws in the evening. This could also be the other way around, depending on the time of the javelin event during an upcoming competition. Tuesday mornings are for the main strength training module in the gym. The evening session focuses on jumps, hopping and bounding. Wednesday mornings are tough as athlete start with medicine ball drills, workouts and throws, followed by sprints ranging between 30m and 120m. The first rest session of the week is on Wednesday evening; the other two rest sessions are on Saturday evening and Sunday morning. 

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On Thursday, the first session is dedicated to light gym work while the second session focuses on coordination and hurdle exercises. On Friday mornings, Naik gets his athletes to work with TheraBand and do elaborate warm-up drills. These TheraBand exercises are included in the training plan as an injury prevention measure because javelin throwers are highly susceptible to shoulder injuries. Naik’s students perform TheraBand exercises for their shoulders on Wednesdays and Sundays too as part of their regular training. Friday evenings are reserved for throws. The weekend is usually light with gym on Saturday morning and TheraBand workouts and light drills on Sunday evening. 

Naik has developed his own unique set of drills based on athletes’ specific training needs. Since the run-up for a javelin throw is not very long, the sprint training is mainly for short sprints. In the gym, Manu and Co. focus on exercises that enhance explosive strength and make the shoulders, core, glutes and legs more resilient. “During the gym sessions, the exercises they perform are snatch, pullover, squats, back jerk, bench press, hip thrusts, dumbbell rows and movements on the Kaiser Functional Trainer,” adds Naik. The medicine ball also plays a big role in a javelin thrower’s training. From performing strength training moves, using it during warmups and performing drills such as throws with a 800g medicine ball, it is an useful accessory for javelin athletes. 

Shrenik Avlani is a writer and editor and the co-author of The Shivfit Way, a book on functional fitness.

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