Beginner's Track and Field: Learning the Shot Put

Athlete doing a shot put at Osterbro Stadium in Copenhagen.
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While professional-level shot putters, particularly the men, are all large and thickly muscular, beginning shot putters need not resemble football nose tackles. Under IAAF rules, senior men throw a 7.26-kg shot (slightly more than 16 pounds), but young boys use a 5-kg shot (11 pounds). Women and girls of all ages throw a 4-kg shot (8.8 pounds), under IAAF rules. In the long run, of course, strength has its advantages.

Shot Put Safety

The main consideration for beginning shot putters is safety. Even a 4- or 5-kg shot is still a fairly heavy, compact metal ball. The first thing potential shot putters should learn is that they can be seriously injured if struck by a thrown shot. The key to avoiding injury is awareness. Throwers must not release the shot when others are in the line of fire. Competitors shouldn’t retrieve their shots or walk in the field when others are throwing.

Ideally, shots should be retrieved from the field when stationary, then carried to another thrower, or to a storage area. If shots are rolled in from the field, youngsters may reflexively reach down to scoop up the moving shot. But the deceptively heavy shot can easily injure young hands. If shots must be rolled, instruct the young throwers to either wait for the shot to stop before picking it up, or to stop it with the bottom of a raised foot.

Shot Put Grip

The next thing to learn is the proper grip. Young throwers may be tempted to grab the shot as if it were a softball and hold it in their palms. Instead, the shot is balanced at the base of the four fingers, with the thumb resting lightly on the side. The shot is then placed against the thrower’s neck, directly beneath the jaw and slightly ahead of the ear. The thrower’s hand shouldn’t be directly beneath the shot, but rather behind the it, to promote the proper throwing angle.

Putting the Shot

The beginning shot putter will likely be instructed to simply step up to the line and throw the shot from a stationary position. The non-throwing shoulder may be pointed toward the target, or the thrower may be instructed to hold his body square to the target area.

While the shot is termed a “throwing” event, it is not literally thrown. Indeed, beginning shot putters must be taught not to try to reach back and throw the shot as if it were a baseball or football. Again, the deceptively heavy shot could cause arm injuries in that scenario.

Using the proper motion, the competitor punches the shot skyward at approximately a 45-degree angle.

Moving Forward

The likely next progression for a beginning shot putter who’s initially taught to face the target will involve turning her torso 45 degrees, so her lead shoulder is now facing the target, then rotating and putting the shot. Subsequent progressions will teach the beginning shot putter to shift his weight forward as he releases the shot. Later, he’ll move on to learn the glide and possibly the rotational techniques.