Out of the Back, German Style

I’ve been coaching high school discus throwers for nearly 25 years, and I’ve spent a great deal of that time trying to figure out how to get them out of the back of the ring on balance.

We all know what it looks like when they fail at this. The head leading the way . The right foot stomping down in the middle of the ring so hard as to nearly crack the concrete. The discus whanging off the right support post. The embarrassment. The shame.  The utter futility of it all.

The “American” approach to dealing with this matter has been to get the right foot off the ground as soon as possible when setting up to run the ring.  Here is Casey Malone demonstrating that concept:

malone wind

malone left

Notice that when his left foot is turned 90 degrees to the direction of the throw, his right toes are off the ground. His right leg then leads him to the middle of the ring with the disc trailing behind:

malone wide

By getting his right foot off the ground quickly (before the left has rotated past 90 degrees) Casey has set himself up to run the ring on balance.

Here is the fine American rotational shot putter Joe Kovacs demonstrating the same approach:

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The logic here (and it has worked quite well for these two gentlemen) is that getting the right foot moving as early as possible prevents the upper body from getting ahead and pulling the thrower off balance.

I have come to understand, however, that the Germans (who have done quite well for themselves in the discus over the past 30+ years) have a different philosophy regarding getting out of the back of the ring.

They emphasize keeping the right foot grounded at the back as long as possible. Take a look at these photos of Robert Harting:


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See how far his left foot has turned while his right toes are still in contact with the ground?


By the time his right foot leaves the concrete, his left foot is nearly facing the direction of the throw.

He is perfectly on balance then as the right leg sweeps around…



…and leads him into the throw:

robert 3

The intention here is to use the “late” push-off of the right foot to create a stretch in the hips and thighs that will lend momentum to the right leg so that it may more easily sweep ahead coming out of the back.


Here is Sandra Perkovic using a similar approach:

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Look how far her left heel has turned while her right toes maintain contact with the ground.

When the right foot finally leaves the concrete…

perk 4

…it carries a lot of force…


…which can be transferred into the throw.

It seems to me, that this “leave the right foot down and turn the crap out of the left” approach can also be used in the rotational shot. Take a look at these photos of Stipe Zunic:


Unlike Kovacs, Stipe’s right foot is still on the ground as his left foot turns 90 degrees from the direction of the throw.



It is only when the left foot has turned past that 90-degree point that the right foot pushes off. Notice the distance between Stipe’s knees here. He has created a lot of tension in his hips/thighs that will lend impetus to that right leg when it sweeps ahead out of the back.

The question here is can a young thrower be trusted to leave the right foot in place long enough to develop a significant stretch in the hips and thighs without letting the upper body pull ahead and bollix up the throw?

The answer is yes, provided that you teach that young thrower to push his/her hips forward and to the left as they begin their entry, and to keep their head calm.

Take a look at this still from a vid of Jurgen Schult giving a clinic somewhere in France. When demonstrating the proper method of getting out of the back of the ring, Jurgen emphasizes that the hips must be pushed forward…


…and not allowed to slide back:



This keeps the thrower on balance and creates the desired tension in the hips and thighs.




sandra back

…and Robert…

robert back


…all do an excellent job of pushing their hips forward prior to entry as a way of staying on balance and creating that powerful hip/thigh stretch.

In working with my athletes on this, I have found that putting an emphasis on pushing the hips forward and keeping the right foot grounded until the left heel has turned as far as it possibly can has solved a lot of the head-yanking problems that typically plague young throwers.

Keeping the right foot down is certainly no cure-all for the many problems that can arise during the entry phase. Last winter I asked Robert’s coach, Torsten Schmidt, how they chose which discus ring to use when throwing at the Berlin training center (they have half-a-dozen or so from which to choose). He said that he and Robert liked to throw from a certain ring from which a tree is visible when setting up at the back of the ring. Robert uses this tree as a focal point to try to keep his head slow and calm during the entry phase.

My advice to throwing coaches at all levels? Tree or no tree, teach your throwers to push their hips forward as they unwind and to leave that right foot down until their left foot has turned until it can turn no more.

Can the current men’s and women’s Olympic discus gold medalists and the newly crowned indoor NCAA men’s shot champion be wrong?

Not. Likely.



11 thoughts on “Out of the Back, German Style”

  1. Dan, I am right with you on this. I used to advocate getting the right foot up early. I mean it made total sense. I tried it and my conclusion was by doing this, you automatically shift your weigh to the left.

    When doing this with young throwers, it did not work so well. Here is what I have determined over the years: Throwers have better awareness of things that are in contact with the ground than things that are in the air.

    Like for instance, I find that throwers have no idea where their hips are. But they are much better about where their feet are. So I might say, “turn your foot” instead of “turn your hips”.

    So i find that if they stay on their feet longer in the back, it is MUCH easier for them, as they feel the ground. Once they lose contact with the ground, it’s like they get vertigo or something!

  2. What ques can be used to help keep the discus behind the hip as one comes out of the back? Several of our throwers’ disc almost seems to bounce forward before right foot touch down. I have tried right sector focal points out of back, but not getting consistent results. FYI – I love your posts. I would PAY to read them. Been looking for soooo long to find something on European style throwing that isn’t in German or Russian. Thank you for any advice.

      1. Dan,
        I can’t remember where I read the statement, “Most problems in the discus are a result of not getting out of the back correctly.” (I paraphrase). That is what I thought of as I watched the video. I will watch it over again, but I would like to summarize what I think I saw, Mr. Schult, seems to be emphasizing the weight shift (hip position), position of the left (lead arm inside the first single support leg) and even at the end the head position (many of our throwers struggle with “peaking” out of the back). We will try to emphasize these ideas over our final two weeks of the season and see if this will help them keep the discus back. Any other thoughts or ideas would be appreciated.

        1. Jason, I do have another idea. I have a couple of vids I’d like to post that address this issue. If our meet is rained out, I will post them tonight. If not, I’ll get them out tomorrow.

          1. Jason, take a look at my post on the discus windup. I think that the “most problems start in the back” comment is spot on. I’ve been trying to figure out how to get my guys to stop pulling away at the front, and the static wind seems to help.

        2. That is a Mac Wilkins quote all the way

          Other thoughts to consider
          Have your throwers feel their upper body lock into place as they wind in the back and let the legs work out of the back (Something Tia Brooks emphasizes when teaching discus)

          A cue I have used with some of my throwers to keep them torqued starting out of the back is “Running the right leg under the left (arm)”
          This emphasizes leading the right leg ahead of the disc leaving the back of the ring and allows the thrower to feel that torque and pull with the disc as they should at the front of the ring

          Hope this helps!

          1. Tyler, that is good advice. Had a chance to work with Scott Bennett who coached Andy Bloom and has worked with tons of collegiate throwers and he said the same thing about locking the upper body into place at the back. It’s all about getting the right leg and hips out in front of the disc, isn’t it? Thanks for the tips.

  3. Look at these old videos of John Powell as well. He seems to keep hs right foot down longer too, even though he does not have the wide right leg sweep but does have the tremendous drive off the left foot out of the back.



    BTW thanks for this website and article. They are tremendous

    1. Hey Matt: Looking at those vids, I’m not sure that John gets the stretch in the hips/thighs that the Germans are looking for. It would be interesting to hear from him what he focused on coming out of the back. Not many have done well with such an abbreviated sweep! Tammert comes to mind. It would be interesting to hear from him as well.

      1. No kidding! It is really mind boggling to me. Its seems like a much simpler technique but still generates a lot of power. It must be more linear with a hard push off the left out of the back that does it but it is really hard to figure out.

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