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  1. #1
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    So you want to be an athlete?

    So you want to be an Athlete?


    You’ve been to a Scottish Highland Game or two, seen the big guys throwing stones and think you might be pretty good at it. What do you need to do next?

    Well first, you’ll need to know when and where the next game is. A simple google search with the terms “highland games” and the name of your state or city will usually turn up some good results. As well, check sites like www.saaa-net.org or www.nasgaweb.com for information.


    What kind of shape do I need to be in?

    Well obviously the better shape you are in the better you will do. You’ll want to be in generally good health, no heart conditions, no recurrent back problems, and wrap any problem joints. You won’t need to be a super athlete to get started. Most games allow different classes of competitors, ranging from “Pro” (these guys get paid – true world class athletes) down to A, B, C class and novice. There are often also Masters classes, broken down by age. Don’t let the fact that you are over 40 be a deterrent. I’ve seen 60 year olds out throw some 20 year olds.

    Novice is just like it sounds, and is probably a good place to start. You’ll do almost all the the same events as everyone else, you just might use slightly lighter or smaller implements. Novice class will contain other athletes that are inexperienced and competing for the first time. The great advantage is you will get lots of personal attention from the judges, who will show you how to throw the implements safely without injury.

    What equipment will I need?

    Not much really. You’ll need a kilt and maybe some hose, and some good shoes. I wear cleats but it certainly isn’t required. Either athletic shoes or sturdy boots with a good tread should be more than sufficient.
    I also strongly suggest a hat that shades your face, sunglasses, and sunscreen. Most fields don’t offer shade and you’ll be out there for six or seven hours. I’ve been burned badly even on an overcast day. I’m always shaded now.
    I also really like those cloth gloves with the latex palms. You can usually find them in either the fishing or garden sections of Walmart, Target, or Home Depot. For three dollars a pair they provide excellent grip during the hammer throw and caber toss.

    What events are there?

    There are nine traditional events. Not all games encompass all the events but these are the standards you’ll see. Each event will be covered in more detail later.

    Braemar Stone – a 22lb stone throne from a standing position, no run up allowed.

    Open Stone – a 16lb stone thrown, run up or spin allowed.
    Light Hammer – a 16 lb hammer with a cane or PVC handle thrown from a fixed position. Feet cannot move until after release.

    Heavy Hammer – a 22lb hammer with a cane or PVC handle thrown from a fixed position. Feet cannot move until after release.

    Light Weight for Distance – a 28 lb weight on a chain, thrown one handed. A spin is allowed.

    Heavy Weight for Distance – a 56 lb weight on a chain, thrown one handed. A spin is allowed.

    Weight over Bar – Notice this is not called weight for height. A 56 lb weight is hurled over a bar which moves progressively higher. The bar may be fixed or loose. On loose bars, it must not be knocked off the uprights. (similar to highjump). An underhand or spin method may be used at the judges discretion.

    Sheaf Toss – Not Sheep Toss. A 20 lb burlap sack is thrown over a bar by means of a pitchfork. The bar is fixed. The bar moves progressively up.

    Caber – The most famous Highland Event. The caber, a log ranging from 14 to 20 feet in length and from 60 lbs to 120 lbs is turned for accuracy. A 12:00 position is considered perfect.

    Now lets define some terms.

    Put – the act of throwing a weight from the neck/shoulder region, as in shot put.

    Trig – The wooden board that marks the front of the box. The inside face of the trig is ‘yours’ (you may touch it). The tops, sides, and outside face of the trig is the judges. You may not touch the judges part of the trig or else you will foul.

    Box – The rectangular marked area, fronted by the trig, that the thowing events must take place in. It may have multiple back lines, used differently in each event. Good etiquette is to NOT practice inside the box.

    Standard/Upright – The vertical posts the weight over bar and sheaf events utilize.

    Foul – The act of committing an illegal move during a throw. Some examples are stepping outside the box, touching the top of the trig, or moving forward in a fixed position event.

    Attempt – The conclusion of a throw or toss, regardless of the outcome. For example, fouls count as attempts. Events usually allow competitors three attempts each, the best of which is scored.

    Reset – If, before your attempt is completed you ask a judge to ‘reset’ you may replace the weight, alter your stance or grip, and begin your attempt again. Permission must be granted before the weight touches the ground, is released, or before a foul is committed.

    Pick – The act of picking the caber up off the ground. The first part of the caber toss. Once the caber is lifted from the ground it counts as an ‘attempt’.

    Explode – used here to describe a rapid motion, done with all possible force as quickly as possible. For example if you attempt a standing jump, you would ‘explode’ from the crouched position.

    WOB – Weight Over Bar

    WFD – Weight For Distance

  2. #2
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    How do I do each event?

    The Stone Puts

    There are two stone putting events, very similar to each other but with some important differences. In the Braemar stone, you start in a fixed position and may not have any forward progress. At the end of your throw (put, like shot put) your feet may be reversed from a spin but may not be any further forward than when they started.

    The classic position for Braemar stone is standing at right angles to the trig, so your left foot is touching the inside of the trig. Feet should be slightly more than shoulder width apart.
    Hold the stone in your right hand, cupped, with the stone tucked into your neck. (All directions are for right handers. Lefties reverse)
    Take a deep squat, primarily on the back (right) leg, and then explode upwards while rotating at the hips. Your feet should leave the ground and reverse themselves, so that you are facing the opposite direction.
    During this move, extend your arm with great force to launch the stone in a 45 degree angle down the field from you.
    Distance is measured from the point of the trig nearest your foot to the closest edge of the initial landing of the stone. Rolls do not count.




    For the Open stone event, you are allowed a run up from the back of the box. Your rearmost foot must be forward of the inner backline (7’6”) and at least one foot must remain inside the box at all times. You may use a glide, spin, or shuffle technique to advance the trig, where the stone is thrown just as before.
    Momentum is key, and you will not want to stop your movement at any time until after the stone is released.
    I use a shuffle technique, as it is probably the simplest. Start at the end of the box on the left hand side, all the way to the edge. Take a crouch, and rapidly shuffle towards the front of the box, where you will explode upwards and extend your arm, with a the same motion as in the Braemar event. The added momentum from the rapid advance should increase the distance of your throw by a wide margin. It also uses a lighter stone.

    Weight Throws

    Each of the weight for distance events use identical techniques, however the light and heavy weights are very different. Tipping the scales at 56 lbs, the heavyweight can cause injury if not handled properly, so good form is a must.

    Both throws are done inside a box, using the further backline (9’). The weight is grasped by the handle with one hand only. You may use a standing throw, a single or double spin, or any other technique deemed safe by the judges.

    For a double spin, you will grasp the weight with your strong hand, and stand at the rear of the box. Begin by swinging the weight from front to back, describing a half circle around yourself. Swing the weight back to the front, bringing it up to about shoulder height. Your arm should be fully extended. As the weight begins to spin in front of you, you will rotate your body so that the extended weight remains at the end of your outstretched arm, directly to your side.
    Complete one rapid spinning hop in place to build momentum, then take a large step toward the front of the box while beginning the second spin. At the completion of the second spin, release the weight with an upward toss towards the field in front of the trig.

    Measuring is again done from the trig to the first point of impact.

    WARNING: Trying to ‘muscle’ the heavyweight can result in torn muscles or joint injuries. You should be following the weights natural movements, not trying to force it with the strength of your arm alone.

    I use a single spin method which is identical except I start close in the trig and do not move forward during my spin.



    Weight over Bar

    The WOB uses a 56 lb weight with an attached ring handle, that is thrown over a horizontal bar affixed to uprights. The bar is raised after each round of successful throws, and continues to be raised until only one competitor can clear that height. That competitor may then continue for their personal record.
    Competitors get three attempts at EACH height, though at the judges discretion that may be changed to three TOTAL attempts that do not pass the bar.
    If the bar is unfixed, knocking the bar off counts as a failed attempt even if the weight cleared it. Weights must go over the bar, rather than simply achieving the marked height. Attempts that do not clear the bar are marked as fails.
    The most common technique is the underhand method. The competitor will stand directly under the bar, feet shoulder width apart, slightly crouched, and grasp the weight with their strong hand. A palm down or sideways grip is preferred to a palm up grip.
    The weight is then swung either between the legs or to the side until momentum is built up.
    When the competitor is ready, they will explode upwards using the muscles of their legs, hip, back, and shoulders to heave the weight upward. At release you should be in a bent backwards position, armed extended directly overhead.
    The weight will continue to travel on its arc, and should clear the bar and travel behind the competitor.
    It is considered good etiquette to replace your own weight back under the bar at the conclusion of your attempt.

    You may pass at a height, but once you choose to throw you may not pass again. For example, if you know you can clear 10 feet, you may choose to pass until the bar is at 11 feet. From that point forward you must throw at each height. This is used to conserve strength by attempting easy throws.

    TIPS: Use your free hand on your knee to act as a stabilizing force. Place your hand underneath, not on top of the material of your kilt as you do this. Otherwise the material will tighten as the weight is swung between the legs, spoiling the motion.
    Also, do not allow the weight to swing at the end of the handle. It should remain in a static position throughout the attempt. If the weight swings it is likely due to jerky or erratic movements. Ask the judge for a reset, set the weight on the ground, and begin your attempt again.



    Last edited by Colin; 19th September 07 at 02:12 PM. Reason: fixed youtube embedded links

  3. #3
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    Hammer Throws

    Both the light and heavy hammers are thrown the same way.
    The competitor begins by standing behind the trig, facing away from the field (it’s behind you). Using grip gloves, tacky, or some other grip aid, grasp the handle of the hammer with both hand similar to a golf club. For right handers, your right hand will be below your left hand, which is at the end of the shaft. Palms are up and thumbs are inline, pointing down the shaft towards the head.

    Feet should be more than shoulder width apart, and knees bent in a slight crouch. The hammer should have the head resting on the ground to the competitors far right, and slightly to the rear.

    You will now swing the hammer in a counterclockwise direction around your body. Keep your head up, looking above the horizon. Keep your arms as straight and ‘long’ as possible during the spin. Use your hips to counterbalance the weight of the swinging hammer head, almost the same motion as a hula hoop.

    Usually two or three swings will be sufficient to gain speed, and the hammer will be released over the left shoulder. The feet may not move until after the hammer has been released.
    Throws are measured from the trig to the first point of impact of the head. Handle impacts are not counted.
    If the hammer hits the ground during the swing, bring it to a stop in a controlled manner and ask for a reset. The hammer must not have left your grip or touched the ground forward of the trig.



    Sheaf Toss.

    This event is also done with a bar similar to the WOB, though the bar is usually fixed. A two tined pitchfork is used to spear a 20lb burlap bag, which is then thrown over the bar.
    The most common technique is to spear the corner of the bag with both tines, so that they are able to move freely in the puncture holes.
    The fork is grasped with the strong hand near the end, and the weak hand holding the head just where the tines meet the handle.
    The competitor will stand somewhere between three and five steps in front of the bar, facing away from it.
    With feet should width apart, bend over slightly at the waist and swing the fork from left to right in a straight line (don’t bring it around your body). Keep your head up and looking at the horizon.
    After one or two swings, bring the fork back until your strong hand is above shoulder height, then in a rapid motion swing forward, dipping at the knees and exploding upwards on the upswing. IMPORTANT: You must STOP the fork when your weak hand reaches shoulder height. The stop should be as abrupt and sudden as you can make it. Do not try to release the bag any higher.
    The sudden stop will cause the bag to slide down the forks in an arc, thus completing the motion needed to bring it over the bar.

    As in WOB you get three attempts at each height, and you may pass until you wish to compete.

    WARNING: Attempt some slow speed practices before competition starts. Be aware of where the fork and your knees are. Athletes have speared their own legs on more than one occasion.

    TIPS: Do not attempt to ‘lift’ the bag over the bar. Use the sudden stop.
    Do not try to throw the bag behind you. Make your swings on an even plane, without bringing the bag around. It will travel up and back as a natural consequence of the curved tines.




    Caber

    This is the one everyone always want to try. One of the most fun events, it also has the most elements to master but is actually very easy once you get the hang of it.
    Caber scoring is done on a clock face, 12:00 being a perfect score and facing directly away from the direction of travel the athlete took. Attempts that do not result in a turn, are scored by degrees, or how close to vertical is came. Higher degrees score better than lower, but any turn scores better than any degree.

    The caber consists of three elements, the pick, the run, and the toss.

    For the pick, you will be standing next to a caber that has been lifted vertically, standing on its smaller, tapered end. You need to maintain control of the caber, keeping it upright while you work your way down into a squatting position, caber resting on your shoulder, hands clasped together and at the bottom of the caber. I like rubber palmed gloves for this event, but tacky or other grip substance work as well.

    With feet spread wide, fingers interlaced, and hands at the bottom of the caber you will use the heels of your hands to ‘pinch’ the caber and begin the lift. Standing upright, let the caber lean back just slightly, no more than a degree or two. This will use the caber’s own weight and the fulcrum of your shoulder to lift the bottom end, where you will then slide your cupped hands directly underneath. Draw the bottom in, towards your body while leaning your should slightly forward. The goal is to bring the caber back to vertical.
    At this point your hand should be kept around mid-torso, above the belly but below the chest. You should be leaning slightly forward at the waist.

    Begin walking forward, gaining speed while maintaining control of the caber. If you can, a slow run is perfect. Move in a straight line, as your last three steps will determine your direction of travel for scoring purposes.
    When you are ready, come to a ‘jump stop’, where you suddenly take a small hop and plant both feet and crouch down. Also at the same time dip your hands to waist level.
    The sum of all these actions will be to cause the upper end of the caber to continue moving forward, coming off your shoulder.
    As soon as you see it near the corner of your eye, and the weight is coming forward, explode upwards with your legs, straighten your back, and lift skyward with your hands. Your hands should come above your head, and the lower end of the caber will move straight up as the upper end falls away.
    If enough force was applied soon enough, the caber will land on the large end and the small end (that used to be in your hands) will carry forward, completing the turn.

    If the caber has traveled too far off your shoulder before you begin the toss, it will result in a degree score. The same applies if too little force was used to throw the end of the caber up.

    WARNING: If you lose control of the caber and cannot regain it, dump the caber as soon as possible. The judge will often tell you when to abort your attempt. DO NOT try to hold the caber as it impacts the ground. It will jump back and can hit you, causing serious injury.
    Try to dump the caber so it lands flat on its side, and get well away from it before it lands. Judges will usually show you the safe way to dump the caber before competition begins.


    http://s46.photobucket.com/albums/f1...t=f450903c.flv
    Last edited by Colin; 19th September 07 at 02:17 PM. Reason: fixed embedded youtube links

  4. #4
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    Hmm... obviously the embedded youtube clips are not showing, but you can follow the links to see the vids. I'll have to switch them over to photobucket vids when I have the chance.

    This is a quick and dirty, I will probably be making refinements to this post as time goes on. I'd especially like to see some of the other athletes post their tips and tricks, pictures, video's, and what have you.

    Eventually I want to add training video's, done just for the purpose of showing the techniques. I also want to include information on how to start making your own implements, and how you can practice at home.

    Mods, if you think this post is worthy, might I ask you tack it? This is a topic that comes up again and again, so this might be a helpful resource.

  5. #5
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    WOW! That's A LOT OF GREAT INFORMATION! Thank you so much Yaish! I didn't read everything in detail at the moment, because i'm at work, but i'll be coming back to it later today. Thanks again! I'll let you know how things go!

  6. #6
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    Quote Originally Posted by Yaish View Post
    Hmm... obviously the embedded youtube clips are not showing, but you can follow the links to see the vids. I'll have to switch them over to photobucket vids when I have the chance.
    .
    All fixed, no need to convert them.
    Great post

  7. #7
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    Very helpful and informative, thank you for that. I'd like to see a how-to on some DIY training equipment. I recall someone saying they were going to a while back but couldn't get a cameraman or something.
    There are 10 kinds of people in the world...
    Those that understand binary, and those that don't.

  8. #8
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    I have a couple of animated GIFs of a couple events from this year's BC Highland Games on my photography site... feel free to use if you think it would help illustrate any points.

    http://cowboycasper.deviantart.com

  9. #9
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    Couple of things about hammer....grip is important. I know that I can actually torque a hammer around so hard that I simply cannot hold on to it. well, you gotta hold on to it! You'll notice in the video that I spend some time seriously locking down my grip on that handle. I also spin the 22 pound hammer twice, but spin the 16 pound hammer 3x.

    Coming back to this thread, now that it's January 2011 and with a couple of years experience under my belt.....grip IS important, but the last thing you want to do in hammer is to get tension in your forearms. if you get tense, you'll pull in your arms. That shortens the radius of your winds, and that results in shorter throws. You don't want to hold on to the hammer harder than you have to. My way to do this is to use those latex-palmed cotton or bamboo cloth gloves you can find in the gardening stores. A little pine tar tacky helps, too. Honestly, if you don't lose a hammer once in a while in practice, like once a month or so, I think you might be gripping it too hard.

    big hint...keep your head up and lean back. Go for maximum extension of the arms in front of you.....the farther out you swing that thing, the more torque you get on it. I honestly think that most beginners need to start out solving the balance and "long arms" issues. Once you've got that, and some people never get that.....but once you've got those figured out, you then move on to moving OUT of balance and using your body mass, not your shoulders, to move the hammer. But that's not really appropriate for this thread.

    OK...yours truly with the 16 pound hammer..thanks WalkerK...at Woodland 2010. URL updated I set a PR with this throw, but it needs improvement. I'm winding the hammer on the right side of my body in this throw, which was the breakthrough that gave me the PR, but I need to do it even more. I also need to get OUT of my central balance axis, but again, that is beyond the scope of a newbie hammer discussion.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7NFEX5HZdAM

    I removed the link to the weight over bar video, because it's just not very good In WOB I prefer the direct approach.... One swing and launch it. Other guys like to rock it around a lot. You'll find what works for you.

    I notice that some guys kind of snap the weight up. update 2011: I try to do this, now. Instead of thinking about a "strong" pull, I think of a "fast" pull. I personally try to use my quadriceps more than that, and really dig deep....let that weight swing as far behind me and as low as I comfortably can. I then concentrate on...well...to be crude "wiping my butt" with it. You can't hit yourself, the weight has so much momentum that it swings out away forward of your ahhh privates, anyway. I figure that the deeper I start and the longer I hold on to the weight, the more force I can put into it, and the higher it will go. [b]I now try to SLAM my hips forward as hard as possible when I do this. Go look at YouTube video of two things: Olympic lifts like power cleans and power snatches and also dancers doing a move called a "body roll".

    Again coming back to this in January 2011: big hint in the gym. Do power cleans, or high pulls from the power position. Do at least one fast lift off the floor. Starting with an overhead dumbell snatch is what I did, it seemed like a good way. A LOT of the WOB is going to depend on explosiveness in your hip flexors. To oversimply, don't wing the weight up in front of you too much during your wind-ups....let it swing down and back and then STAND UP AS HARD AS YOU CAN...as in, *jump*. SLAM your hips forward. Keep your arms straight. The weight will fly.


    I'm lousy at the stones, so I ain't sayin' nuthin . I've only turned a "qualifying" caber in an actual Games, but I'm getting so that I can turn my practice 12 foot, 70 pounder 5x out of 6, now, so hopefully at Ben Lomond..... OK, it's 2011 and my stones are coming along and I've turned my share of cabers, now! Still, these are my two worst events, so I ain't sayin' nuthin.

    If you google the terms Yaish used above and then look for video, you can find a mess of videos of all the events. I personally think that the weights for distance are the most technique-heavy events.
    Last edited by Alan H; 1st February 11 at 01:55 PM.

  10. #10
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    Training gear...

    Stones.

    I literally went to the local garden and building supply and went through their collection of smooth river stones until I found a 9 pounder and two 16's. OK, they might be 15.5. I started with the nine, but soon moved on the the 16's. TimC has one of those 16's now and the 9 sits in my garden. They cost about 5 bucks each.

    Tim found a big freakin ROCK...it's about 26 pounds and it'll do for us for a Braemer stone. I think he got it for free.

    Caber

    I went to the local lumberyard and told them I was looking for a 12-14 foot long timber that weighed about 70-90 pounds. I said 12-14, even though that's short because I needed something I could carry, sticking out the back of my small pickup truck bed. The sold me a 12 foot, pressure treated 6x6. Pressure treated is not ideal, 'cause of course what happens is that the mill pressure-injects toxic chemical into the wood and you don't want to get a splinter with that stuff. So anyway, the thing cost me twenty lousy bucks. It has some splits in it, so they gave it to me for cheap.

    Home Depot sells a wet Pine/Fir 16 foot 6x6 for $60.

    Take your circular saw and trim off the corners, lengthwise so you have an octagon that's 12-16 feet long. Now use a power planer to round it off even more and REALLY go after one end. Taper the bottom 5-6 6 feet of that end, maybe with a surform plane and sandpaper and you'll have a reasonably decent practice caber.

    Weights for distance.

    I could explain it all, but just go here: http://highland_tools.tripod.com/

    The weight you are looking at is just stacked barbell weights on inexpensive plumbing fittings fom the hardware store. I use cheap plated anchor bolts, and go through one pretty much every practice when I'm practicing weight over the bar. The handle in that picture is nice. Personally I have a galvanized ring for a handle, which cost & bucks at Orchard Supply Hardware.

    Hammers

    You'll also find guides to making those on Bills' site.

    Use the same weights you used for the weights for distance. Three 5 pounders is close enough to a 16. Use a mess of duct tape to fuse the three five-pound weights into one unit.

    All the above is EXACTLY what TimC and I have been using all season to train for the Games out here.

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