- The Litvinov Grappling Workout – Are You Strong Enough?
- The Litvinov Grappling Workout Challenge
- Part 1 – Strength
- Part 2 – Conditioning
- Intensity And Programming
- The Benefits
- Why You Should Train Russian Hammer Thrower Sergey Litvinov
- How it Works
- Litvinov Workout 1
- Hang power snatch
- Sled sprint
- Litvinov Workout 2
- Front squat
- Litvinov Workout 3
- High pull
- Hill sprint
- The Litvinov Workout
- The Two Lessons
- 1 – When most people try to learn a new skill, they think too damn much
- 2 – Moreover, they attempt perfection on the new skill the first time they try it
- We all just want to be Litvinov
- All in
- A man on fire
- Litvinov the coach
The Litvinov Grappling Workout – Are You Strong Enough?
Have you ever heard of Sergey Litvinov? How about the Litvinov workout? Unless you’re a competitive hammer thrower on top of training grappling, you probably have no idea what I’m talking about. Bear with me for a minute.
Litvinov was an Olympic and world champion in athletics, and also the person responsible for one of the most brutal workouts you’ll ever do. Whether you’re preparing yourself for hammer throwing, a marathon, a BJJ tournament or just want to be a badass, try doing what he did.
And worry not when you come up short – I did as well.
That’s why today we’ll offer a few variations to the original Litvinov workout, making it more of a grappling workout to improve strength and conditioning really fast! If you’re not of the mentally strong variety, you’re better off closing this tab right now. Don’t say I didn’t warn you!
In strength an conditioning, much in Jiu-Jitsu, it is easy to get lost. There’s so much conflicting material on what to do and not do, that you end up confused. Since I find the Occam’s razor approach to be one that really helps in BJJ, I also gave it a try in the realm of physical preparation. The result was the Litvinov workout.
The trouble with it is that it seems very easy when you’re reading it on the screen. Giving it a try is a whole different animal, though. What you get with this grappling workout is a full body blast from every aspect. You train the full body, you train strength, you get conditioning and you get to work on your mental toughness.
With a few tweaks, you can even use it to cut weight, or perhaps even build some muscle.
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Sergey Litvinov, as we mentioned was an Olympic champion hammer thrower. He competed under the banner of the former Soviet Union.
He won a silver medal at the 1980 Summer Olympics and a gold one at the 1988 Olympics. Also a multiple times world champion, the elite hammer thrower was not just known for his throwing accomplishments.
At 5’11” and 234 lbs he was an impressive specimen, with extraordinary levels of strength.
On top of winning multiple different titles, Litvinov also managed to set three world records in the process. In his discipline of hammer throwing the Russian is a real legend. However, his legacy extends to much more than just his athletic discipline. The way he trained while getting ready for competition resulted in one of the most brutal workouts ever, a workout that’s named after him.
What Litvinov did, back in his glory days, was redefine strength and conditioning. In order for someone to be efficient at throwing a hammer, they need strength and, in particular, power.
While technical training is, of course, the priority, specific conditioning needs to be factored in as well. This is where Litvinov went simple but hard, with a workout that’s all about intensity.
As you’ll see, what he did is the perfect grappling workout, and will get you lean, strong and improve your gas tank.
Sergey Litvinov died less than a year ago, on the 18th of February 2018.
The original workout that Sergey Litvinov did was all about increasing strength and power. the “side effects” of leaning out, dropping fat and increasing conditioning didn’t seem to be high on his priority list. To this day, the original Litvinov workout is an effective and brutal man maker.
What Litvinov did was get a squat rack on the athletic track. He then went for a set of front squats, doing 8 reps total. Immediately after the last rep, he racked the weight as fast as possible and went for a 400-meter sprint. Easy, right? Not so fast.
First thing first, Litvinov did 8 reps of front squats with 405 lbs. Yes, you read that right, 405 lbs for 8 reps. He then went on to sprint the 400 meters with maximum, lung-busting intensity.
Still seems easy? Litvinov did this combination 3 total times, resting to recovery between rounds.
As you can see, the workout is simple. it is also very fast – it’ll rarely take you more than 20 minutes, including warming up. However, this workout is going to leave you gasping for air and with aches, all over your body.
As a grappling workout, it is absolutely perfect, give the front loading on the strength exercise.
However, there are a few changes to the workout you can do to either target more grappling specific strength or more conditioning if you’re cutting weight.
The Litvinov Grappling Workout Challenge
In order to use the Litvinov for grappling, you can change several parameters. First up, the rhythm and order of the workout are not up for debate. First, you do a heavy exercise and then you go all out, the full intensity with a max effort conditioning exercise/movement.
The choice of exercises is variable, but you’re still restricted to a certain style of exercises. For example, biceps curls won’t do the trick. In order to keep you honest on the conditioning part, we also filtered a few exercises that fit the bill.
We did this to stop you from cheating by just jumping on an elliptical to pedal at what you consider to be “high intensity”.
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In general, the workout is not effective unless you’re contemplating suicide by the end of it. It will also save you time and bring you the best athletic benefits ever! One major problem is often the original choice of exercises. There are not many stadiums that feature a squat rack near their track.
The same goes for any place where you can hit a 400-meter run. On the other hand, only a handful of training facilities have sufficient length for sprinting. What you can do though, is choose a different lift, one that doesn’t require a rack, or chooses a different conditioning tool, one easily accessible in a commercial gym.
We’ll go ever a possible option for an intense and easy to access grappling workout below.
Part 1 – Strength
The first part of the workout is all about lifting a heavyweight. Again, overhead presses won’t do the trick. BOSU ball pushups with a weighted backpack do not count either. Actually, any kind of isolation movement (and yes, this includes your favorite bench press) is off limits.
The only exercises worth considering are multi-joint exercises done with a heavyweight! A barbell also has priority over any other kind of training equipment. While dumbbells and kettlebells are also a possibility, machine exercises or band/cables are a great way to mess up the Litvinov.
So, the only things worth considering are the following:
- Full clean and press
- Full clean and jerk
- Front squat
- Overhead squat
- Full snatch
Once again, the barbell is your best friend here. The only limiting factor is your mobility and personal restrictions. For example, if you have tight shoulders, do not go for overhead squats.
Next, use a barbell-only lift a deadlift or snatch/clean and press if you do not have access to a squat rack. And finally, consider doing the Olympic style lifts (clean and press/jerk, snatch) with heavy dumbbells or kettlebells.
As you can see the main topic here is to go heavy. Since the norm is 8 reps, you should choose a weight near your 10 rep maximum.
There’s also the options of going for heavy kettlebell swings but in a different rep range. If you’re doing anything less than thirty, you’re doing it wrong.
Part 2 – Conditioning
For the second part, which is the conditioning movement or exercise, your options are much more limited. This is only because it is really easy to cheat on it and render the complete workout ineffective. This usually leads to labeling this grappling workout as a miss, and claiming it doesn’t work. It won’t if you won’t, it is as simple as that.
Sprints, of course, are the best full body high-intensity exercise you can do. Yet, due to the obvious logistical difficulties, when training indoors, you need other options. A great thing to consider for both indoor and outdoor training are sleds. Load up a sled with a challenging weight, and give it you’re all. Pull or push, it doesn’t matter as long as you do it with maximal intensity.
There’s also another exercise everyone loves to hate – burpees. If you’re really in a tight spot (literally), simply rack the weight and go straight to the ground. The rules here are to do the burpees as fast ad explosively as possible, aiming for maximal height with every jump at the end. 10 burpees this are great, and 15 with you going completely down (i.e.
including a pushup) is near perfect!
Or consider this simple variation – a heavy kettlebell and a hill to sprint up. Funny how minimal equipment and time can give you one of the best grappling workouts of all times!
Intensity And Programming
With intensity, there’s only one thing to remember – go all out. You’\re only doing 3 sets of the two exercises anyway. The Litvinov grappling workout leaves no space for fumbling around with your phone.
Get in, warm up, hit the weights and the high-intensity cardio, wish you were dead and go to sleep. Done and dusted in less than 20 minutes, which is perfect for people training Jiu-Jitsu a few times a week.
Click to watch Litvinov Grappling Workout
Also of the utmost importance is not to rest at all between the exercises. The reason back squats are not good for this is that they take too much time to rack the weight.
Lift, drop the weights and go straight into a sprint, grab a sled or drop for burpees. Do not even think about stopping there needs to be no time spent in transition between the two exercises.
Once you’re done with the conditioning portion, rest 3-5 minutes, or however long you need to recover for another set.
Click to watch Litvinov Prowler Workout 225
Finally, you should consider hitting Litvinovs no more than three times a week, preferably on non-BJJ days. Two days a week is what works best for me. If you’re dead set on doing a Litvinov on a grappling training day, do it after grappling, preferably at the tail end of the day.
That said, 4-6 weeks of this before a competition will have you tearing people apart. The beautiful thing is that you can stick with the same exercises while changing the weight or intensity. Or, you could switch the exercises up after a couple of months.
Whatever you do, make sure you do exercises you know well or you won’t be able to go all out.
IF it is not apparent by now, the Litvinov is the perfect grappling workout because it offers you the silver bullet everyone is looking for.
You get a great full body workout, completely transferable to grappling. You also get to finish in less than 20 minutes.
The most incredible thing is that you get to train both strength and conditioning in a progressive manner in the same workout, with just two exercises!
From a practical standpoint, apart from getting stronger and have a gas tank that lasts, you’ll also see changes in your body composition. You’ll most certainly lose fat, due to the high oxygen demands the body has for hours after completing the workout.
You’ll also improve your lean muscle mass, contributing to easier weight cutting. Actually, if you leave your self a couple of months fro Litvinovs before a tournament you might end up extremely close to your target weight without even trying to cut. All the while, you’ll keep and perhaps even add a bit of muscle.
It is the perfect grappling workout that everyone can do, practically anywhere.
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Why You Should Train Russian Hammer Thrower Sergey Litvinov
If you were plundering the world of athletics for fat-loss solutions, you probably wouldn’t start with those sizeable bundles of muscle who excel as hammer throwers. But we have, and, if you want to be leaner, faster and more muscular, so should you.
This fat-loss workout is the game-changing methods of Russian hammer thrower Sergey Litvinov, who blew the old guard away at the 1983 world championship when he won gold aged 25. In training he would follow huge compound lifts with 400m sprints, for three rounds. Simple, but it proved so effective it revolutionised the sport.
You have two options with the following workout, designed by Steve Kowalenko, head coach at W10 Performance City Road in London and a fully certified Gym Jones instructor (follow him on Instagram @virtus_fit).
The first is for true Litvinov disciples but you’ll need access to weighted sleds and a running track, and to lift heavy outdoors.
If that’s reach, the other option suggests gym-friendly alternatives that follow a similar principle and will torch calories – as long as you’re willing to push way outside your comfort zone.
How it Works
The Litvinov principle: pair the grind of a heavy compound lift with an explosive sprint done as soon as you drop the bar. Three rounds is all you need. The high metabolic cost of this short intense workout will leave you burning calories long after the workout.
For the first move, use the lift we’ve suggested or one you know you can do. The target is to hit eight quality reps then sprint immediately. Rest until you’ve fully recovered – don’t underestimate this – then repeat for three total rounds.
Make sure you do the second move as dynamically as you can to reap the full reward. The next time you do either workout aim to go further or harder to keep melting calories and getting fitter. Always warm up using Kowalenko’s pre-workout checklist.
Prepare your body for high-intensity action with Kowalenko’s five-step warm-up strategy.
- Roll: First spend a few minutes ironing out any knots (otherwise known as self-myofascial release) in your muscle tissue with a foam roller and lacrosse ball.
- Groove: Mobilise your major joints by carefully rotating your ankles, hips and shoulders, and moving through the full range of motion for your knees and spine.
- Move: Use your bodyweight to activate your muscles by performing wall squats, lunges, press-ups and pull-ups, varying the tempo from slow to fast.
- Jump: Crank up the intensity with some high knees, heel kicks, jump squats, jump lunges, short shuttles and sprints.
- Build: Work up to your big lifts, beginning with just the bar for ten reps, then 25% of your target weight for eight reps, 50% for six, 70% for four, 80% for two and 90% for one rep.
Litvinov Workout 1
Prep a barbell and prowler sled ready for action.
Hang power snatch
Sets 3 Reps 8 Rest 0 seconds
Hold the bar with hands twice shoulder-width apart. Hinge forwards at your hips so the bar is just above your knees. Generate power by driving your hips forwards and use this movement to raise the bar above your head, keeping the bar close to your body on the way up. Quickly drop into a quarter squat so you don’t have to lift it as high, lock out your shoulders and stand.
Sets 3 Distance 20m Rest as needed
Drop the bar and grab the sled handles with your arms outstretched. Keep your body low and your hips below the level of your shoulders as you pump powerfully with your legs for the full 20. Fight the burn. Don’t bite off more than you can shove. Between 20 and 50kg added to the sled is plenty.
Litvinov Workout 2
Set up in the middle of your local running track to unleash your athletic prowess.
Sets 3 Reps 8 Rest 0 seconds
Rest the bar across your upper chest with your hands holding it in place and your elbows as high as you can get them. With your chest up and your back straight, squat down, keeping your weight on your heels. Lower until your thighs are at least parallel to the ground, making sure your knees stay wide apart, then drive back up. This is much better for core-strengthening than the back squat.
Sets 3 Distance 200m Rest as needed
After the final rep, sprint down the running track, keeping your knees high, core braced and energy up. Recover, slowly. Jog as far as you need to between sprints to recover.
Litvinov Workout 3
Bring the bar to the foot of a steep hill and get to work.
Sets 3 Reps 8 Rest 0 seconds
Hold the bar with hands double shoulder-width apart. Hinge forwards at your hips so the bar is just above your knees. Generate power by driving your hips forwards and use this movement to raise the bar to chest height as you rise onto the balls of your feet, keeping the bar close to your body and your elbows high. This is all about raw power generated by your glutes – not your upper body.
Sets 3 Distance 50m Rest as needed
After the last rep, dump the bar and charge up the hill. Keep pumping your arms and pushing hard to the finish line. Breathe, hard. Note, the ideal distance depends on the incline. If you’re crawling over the line, shorten it.
The Litvinov Workout
An amazing thing happened in 1983. I went on a date. Okay, that was a joke, because everybody knows that during the 80s I was covered with black and blue marks from being touched with ten foot poles.
Actually, the World Championships of Track & Field began in Helsinki, and the list of winners is a “who's who” of the sport. You'd find the names of Carl Lewis, Mary Decker, Edwin Moses, and Sergei Bubka littered among the gold medal winners.
It was also the year of an important failure. John Powell, who'd led American discus throwing for a decade, failed to make the finals. Powell came away with two important lessons and inspired a generation to rethink training from his observations.
The Two Lessons
- The discus trials were at nine in the morning. Powell had never trained – ever – to throw at nine in the morning. He thought he could just walk out and throw the qualifying distance.
He learned after the competition that it took him a lot of time in the morning to get the snap that he had in the mid-afternoon. This is a good lesson for a lot of us who take performance for granted in life and sports.
- When Powell looked around to see how the rest of the world was training, he noticed that his training hadn't advanced much, if at all. He noted that the throwers from the rest of the world were leaner, faster, and more muscular.
Especially impressive was the young gold medal winner in the hammer, Sergey Litvinov. If any of you are interested in becoming leaner, faster, and more muscular, keep reading.
From Powell's observations of Litvinov, I put together some training ideas that completely reshaped my approach to training athletes and completely reshaped my athletes. It's such a simple training idea that you may discount it at first. Let's start by looking at what Sergey Litvinov was doing that awoke Powell's imagination.
It's truly a simple workout. Litvinov, a 5' 10″, 196 pound hammer thrower, did the following training session:
Eight reps of front squats with 405 pounds, immediately followed by a 75-second 400-meter run. Repeat this little combination for a total of three times and go home, thank you. Let's just stop here and marvel at what Powell observed. A 196-pound man front squatted 405… eight times!
“Dan, do you have any advice for my quad development?”
“Dear reader: Front squat 405 eight times. I'll now debit your account for this expensive advice.”
Moreover, Sergey racked the bar and ran 400 meters… then did this two more times.
After listening to Powell's story, I invented a workout combining front squats with running. Let's look at the basic workout: the “Litvinov.”
Perform any “big” lift and then drop the bar (gently) and run. My charges and I have used the following lifts:
- Clean & Press
- Clean & Jerk
- Front Squat
- Overhead Squat
Any and all variations of snatches and swings with kettlebells and dumbbells.
Over time we discovered that the 400 was far too long a run for the needs of my athletes. But, if someone really desires a fat loss blast, by all means run the 400!
I found that strength athletes weighing in the mid-200 pound range just didn't recover very well from the full 400. Now, I have to ask myself: if the world champion weighs 196 and my chubby little body weighs 260, how does that extra 64 pounds help?
The devil is in the details with this workout. Back squats don't work because racking the weight and running away involve way too much care and planning. We also discovered that even our lightest racks were a hassle to pack up into the bed of a pickup truck and haul to a place where we could combine the lifting and running.
Also, I hated having my bar, weights, and rack outside in lousy weather collecting rainwater and mud. Plus I got tired of burning my hands on the hot plates in the summer sun.
Some lifts don't work very well either. Yes, we tried other lifts military presses and one attempt with the bench press, but it seemed foolish – lots of work and set-up for not much of a return on the time and effort. The clean & jerk never seemed to work right either. The lift has to be simple and easy to push quickly with little mental effort. So, the best lifts are:
- Front Squat
- Overhead Squat (if you're good at them)
- Swings with kettlebells or dumbbells (But really knock up the reps; try doing more than thirty.)
- The Litvisprint
Soon, the Litvinov became re-imagined as the “Litvisprint.” As we played with lifts and distance, we found ourselves one day with a kettlebell and a hill. We soon discovered that the speed and intensity of the run had a bigger impact on the workout than the lift itself.
Kettlebell swings followed by a hill sprint of thirty yards or so seemed to leave the athlete burning oxygen for hours after the workout. Moreover, massive amounts of meat and analgesic liquids (beer) did little to revive the athletes.
Once again, the most obvious lesson of my coaching life has been reinforced: the more intense you can train, the better. Yep, you knew that. So did I. Why then don't we follow the rule?
A nice little spin-off benefit began to emerge from Litvisprints: if the athlete is learning a lift, very often the overhead squat, doing the sprint after the lift seems to speed the learning process. Why? I have two ideas:
1 – When most people try to learn a new skill, they think too damn much
I'll try to show someone how to snatch or clean at a clinic and the questions just keep coming out:
- “Where do I put my thumbs?”
- (Um, near your fingers.)
- “Where do I put my elbows?”
- (Between the upper and lower arm.)
By making the new lift even more complex by adding sprints, the athlete stops with the questions and just does the movement. By magic, it looks “okay.”
2 – Moreover, they attempt perfection on the new skill the first time they try it
I've probably squatted near 100,000 reps and I still learn new things each time I read a Dave Tate article. Ain't gonna happen on the first set people. The challenge of sprinting seems to get the athlete to forget perfection and focus on completion.
There's a lot to be said for this workout:
- You can bring one piece of equipment outside, or if you're lucky and have a gym with a nice area to sprint next to your weights, just get going. You'll get an unusually demanding workout with a minimum of mental effort.
- And this is the interesting part, as you finish the lift and “attempt” to sprint away, you'll instantly understand how well this workout will impact your overall conditioning. Usually, the first two steps feel running in waist deep water as the legs send up this response: “Could someone please tell us what the hell is going on?”
- I contend that this combination is the single best crossover training idea ever from the weightroom to the sports arena. Athletes who do Litvisprints note the improvement on the field, track, and court within a few workouts. “Something” is different and performance improves.
Not content with leaving well enough alone, I began experimenting a few years ago with “Litvisleds.” There are some equipment issues here: beyond the bar or kettlebell or dumbbell and the need for an area to run, you'll also need a sled and a harness.
First, choose the lift you'll be performing before you start dragging the sled. I'd cut our list down to these simple moves:
- Front Squats
- Overhead Squats
- Swings with kettlebell or dumbbell
The reason why you have to simplify is that you hook yourself up into the harness before you lift. You're hooked to the sled when you lift so you can drop the bar and sprint/drag away.
A caveat: lift to the side of the path of the sled. Obvious, yes, but more than a few people have started their sprint/drag and snagged the weights and got yanked back to the ground. It's funny to watch, but it may also really hurt you. I'll still laugh at you, but you will be hurt.
I have no idea how much you should load on the sled. I've found that hooking a 70 pound kettlebell so that it drags is about right for most people. The drag is nice, but don't overdo it many who think that you need to pull a building. What's important isn't wallowing around a pig in slop, but flying away an athlete. So, less wallow, more speed.
I also encourage my athletes to go for about five seconds and not worry about distance. Otherwise, you lose the quality of effort almost immediately.
Litvinovs, Litvisprints, and Litvisleds are a very simple idea. The quality of effort is far more important than the quantity – a concept that'll be missed by many. Don't do 25 pound squats then hop on the treadmill for a four minute walk while watching Oprah and consider this “Litvinovs.”
To summarize: You may find this the “fastest” workout you've ever done. Don't be surprised if the workout seems too light or too easy at first. Judge the workout on the last set, not the first set.
- Pick a lift you know. Hit eight good reps with it, then sprint away for five seconds. Rest and repeat this two more times.
- Next time you try the workout, try another lift and maybe go a bit longer on the sprint.
- Do this easy progression about twice a week. If you choose to make this your whole leg workout, you've “chosen wisely.” If you're preparing for an athletic competition, try to see if this workout carries over to your field of play.
- Don't measure rest periods the first few workouts. Let yourself recover fully. As the weights go up in the lift and the sprint gets around ten to twenty seconds, then try to zero in on three to five minute recoveries. You'll need it.
Oh, one final note. Four years later, at the 1987 World Championships in Rome, John Powell–noticeably leaner, faster and more muscular–took second place in the discus. He was 40 years old–ancient in track and field–and this accomplishment is still considered one of the most amazing feats in Track and Field history.
We all just want to be Litvinov
most hammer throwers, I was shocked to learn yesterday that former world record holder and Olympic champion Sergey Litvinov unexpectedly passed away. I only had the chance to meet him once, but he had one of the biggest impacts on my development as a thrower and coach; right up there with my two main mentors Harold Connolly and Anatoliy Bondarchuk.
If you want to debate who is the greatest hammer thrower of all-time, the list contains just two names: Litvinov and his main rival Yuri Sedykh. History has often relegated Litvinov to second position, as it was Sedykh who claimed the lasting world record.
It seems many just remember the silver medal Litvinov won at the 1986 European Championships in Stuttgart, rather than the other highlights throughout his career. When you look at the bigger picture, Litvinov has just a strong a claim on being the sport’s GOAT.
That loss in 1986 was his only loss to Sedykh at a major championships over a five year span at the height of their careers, with Litvinov coming out on top at the 1983 World Championships, 1987 World Championships, and 1988 Olympics.
His Olympic record still stands 30 years later.
Even in his loss in Stuttgart, Litvinov threw an astonishing 85.74 meters on his first attempt. Think about that: he threw 85.
74 meters and lost! Leading up to the competition he had reached over 87 meters in training, perhaps the farthest throw the world has even seen in or outside of competition.
In 2016 I wrote about the competition on its 30th anniversary and he shared his recollections on the meet:
“Sedykh always threw very far in the first attempt and I tried to find a counter method. My goal was to do my maximum in the first attempt to destabilize him. I threw 85.74 in the first attempt. Physically and morally I lost a lot in this attempt. I knew that Sedykh would have to throw close to a world record to win and he did it, well done.”
He knew he had to do something incredible, and he did it. It wasn’t enough, but he went all in.
A man on fire
This “all-in” mindset is why so many people fell in love with Litvinov. In the 1990s, the growth of the internet meant that a generation of young hammer throwers had access to videos from classic 1980s competitions.
None of us knew anything about Litvinov or Sedykh personally, but watching Litvinov’s throw was enough to let you know his mindset. Sedykh was the stable thrower. His technique was almost too good to relate too.
How could he do in three turns what no one could even manage with four?
Litvinov’s technique, on the other hand, had a bit more flair. Watching Litvinov throw, you have the constant feeling that he is on the brink.
He allowed subtle imperfections to sneak in – a slightly higher posture, head leading the hammer a bit, and longer single support – but they all seemed inconsequential as he was able to keep his seductive rhythm without ever letting that things tip over the edge. He turned a man on fire: conscious of his goal and doing everything within his power to reach it.
I admired Sedykh’s technique, but I wanted to have Litvinov’s technique. Whenever I would visualize my ideal throw, I would see it looking Litvinov. In fact, to this day I can still pinpoint the exact throw I would see over and over in my mind:
Litvinov the coach
Un other champions, Litvinov’s accomplishments didn’t end as an athlete. He went on to become one of the world’s top coaches. And that is where I had the chance to meet him back in 2004.
While taking a language course in Vienna I wrote to his then 18-year old son, Sergej Litvinov Jr., on a whim and asked if it would be possible to visit for a training camp. Surprisingly, he said yes, and a week later I was on my way to Belarus.
This was 2004, but it still felt a trip behind the Iron Curtain. I had to request a special visa in person from the Belorussian embassy, using my Swiss passport as Americans were not that welcome in Minsk.
Upon arrival we drove down wide streets lined with massive apartment blocks, through dense forests, and finally arrived at the remote Stayki Olympic training center. There I got to meet the man himself.
He didn’t say a lot during my visit, which ly says less about his personality than the fact that we were conversing in a language, German, native to neither of us.
He was critical of my technique too, and he could make a quick dent in a pack of cigarettes, but he cared about the sport and was optimistic about my ability to improve. I was a green, 60-meter thrower from America and he had no reason to know who I was, let alone be so helpful.
But he took me in, he coached me for free, and by the last night I was sleeping on his sofa before heading back to Vienna with a national team uniform packed in my bag as a parting gift.
I learned a lot about technique and training during that camp. Still 14 years on I’m using his examples of the hammer orbit with my athletes. His trainings were also the first chance I got to see Russian methods up close, and led me down a path to search out Bondarchuk the following summer.
But it was on the off days that I learned the biggest lesson from him: I learned about the hammer community. At Stayki we had a half-dozen throwers isolated together in the remote forest. This was something completely new to me as previously I had learned the event alone and primarily trained by myself.
On those off days we would play soccer, eat together, or we would go to the sauna, where we used dried birch branches to beat ourselves. In short, the training was hard, but everyone had fun.
The feel of the throw sucked me into the sport, but it was getting a first taste of this community that has kept me so motivated to continue to give back to the sport. I never got to truly repay Litvinov for this gift, and I regret that the most. He motivated me; all I can do now is pay it forward.
Litvinov was by no means a perfect man and had his share of controversy in his life, at the center of the Soviet system during the 1980s and as coach to the controversial Ivan Tikhon for a large portion of his career.
Yet his legacy will live on as long as the videos of his throwing do. The throw speaks for itself, and even today another generation of throwers browsing are thinking the same thing I did: we all just want to be Litvinov .