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Ambidextrous Throwing

Tony Dziepak, 22 May 2003, last modified 16 July 2013

This page is about ambidextrous throwing; that is, throwing with both your dominant and nondominant side.

There were "both hands" throwing events in the early modern Olympics. Medals were awarded for both hands shot put, discus, and javelin. The Olympics did not include an ambidextrous hammer or weight competition (perhaps because the athletes were already using both hands to hold the hammer). However, best ambidextrous throws in the hammer and weight throws may be considered--throwing both clockwise and counterclockwise winds/turns.

There are two ways of scoring a both-hands throwing event. One way is to add the athlete's best left-handed throw and the athlete's best right-handed throw. The records for the sum total throws are usually held by an elite thrower who is also able to throw decently with his/her nondominant hand. However, there can be a big difference in the two distances.

Another scoring method is to score the lesser of the athlete's best left-handed and right-handed throws. This "minimax" method tends to favor the athlete who has less disparity in distances between his/her dominant and nondominant hands.

Rules: There are no official rules for an ambidextrous throwing competition, but here, I propose a set of rules designed to produce the best performances and competitions.

First, if it is a large competition, the entrants are divided into multiple flights according to age groupings or ability levels because this method is not compatible with trial flights and finals.

All athletes in a flight get a total of 6 attempts which can be distributed as the athlete likes across two throwing sessions. There is a 10-15-minute warmup between sessions. The athlete can throw with either hand in either session and can switch hands within a session.

The officials record the distance and the hand used (or clockwise or counterclockwise for the hammer and weight) in each attempt. The athlete is scored according to the lesser of his best right-handed and best left-handed throw regardless of session.

The athlete can "pass" his/her turn, which will count as an attempt, or the athlete may "wait for next session," at any time during the first session, which will preserve his/her remaining attempts for the second session.

The purpose of the two-session setup is to allow the athlete to warm up with both hands independently, hopefully leading to the best performances. It also allows the thrower to distribute his/her 6 throws to where it would be most effective in improving his score.

The typical strategy is that the athlete warms up with his dominant hand before the first session. Then he takes one throw with his dominant hand and then saves his next 5 throws for his nondominant hand in the second session. The athlete uses the intermission warmup to practice throwing with his nondominant hand.

In the second round, if a particularly ambidextrous thrower gets a great throw with his nondominant hand that actually exceeded his dominant hand, he can still switch back to his dominant hand (albeit without a third warmup) for any remaining throws to improve his distance.

Noteworthy Performances

The only official records for ambidextrous throwing derive from the Guinness records and the Olympic records from the early ambidextrous competitions. Some of these are listed here. I would be interested in additions or corrections. I also list noteworthy performances from athletes that threw both left-handed and right-handed but not in the same meet.

Shot Put
Lifetime best, not in same meet:
L: 18.03(59'2) 8?, R: 20.55(67'5) 23Mar85 PomonaCA Hank Kraychir (US)
Single meet:
L: 15.67(51'5), R: 21.38(70'1.75) Al Feuerbach (US,PCC) Malmo, Swi. 24Aug74
Previous WR:
L: 13.96(45'9.5), R: 18.61(61'0.5) Parry O'Brien (US) 1962 (Guinness)
Olympic: 27.70 combined, Ralph Rose US 1912 Stockholm

Discus Throw
Lifetime best, not in same meet:
L: 52.42(172'0) 8?, R: 62.06(203'8) 9Apr83 BerkeleyCA Hank Kraychir (US)
Previous WR: Fortune Gordien (US) 1954
Olympics: 82.86 combined, Armas Taipale (Fin) 1912

Hammer Throw:
clockwise: (145'5") counterclockwise: (184'4") by Trent Kraychir (in one meet) in June 2008, San Diego (Twentynine Palms High School senior, son of Hank Kraychir), is the only one I know of so far.  Trent also holds ambidextrous hammer records for the high school (#12) and youth (5K) weight hammers.

Javelin Throw:
(It is very likely that someone has exceeded these performances:)
Single meet:
L: 61.00(200'2) R:48.42(158'10) Juho Julius Saaristo (Fin) 1912 Stockholm OG

I do not know of any official women's performances, but I am aware of noteworthy practice throws by Jeneva McCall in the shot and hammer. In the hemmer, she has thrown 60 meters counter-clockwise (she has thrown 74 meters left-handed). In the shot, she has thrown 48 feet left-handed (she is a right-handed shot putter).

Some comments

My interest in ambidextrous throwing had been stimulated a few years ago due to my plantar fascitis in my right foot. I am a left-handed thrower, and I was unable to put great force onto my right foot in order to drive out of the back from the South African position. That spring, I had experimented with throwing right-handed.

Trying to relearn your technique with your nondominant side really puts things into perspective if you are a coach. Now you remember just how difficult it is to teach your body to learn new motions. You now know what your beginner throwers are going through!

Throwing with your nondominant side may be a solution if you have an injury that forces you to switch hands. However, nondominant side throwing may have an added benefit of preventing such injuries in the first place. Throwing, like golf, is a very asymmetric activity. If you throw with your nondominant side, you may lessen the imbalance between your sides and thus mitigate any asymmetries in your posture or gait that may lead to future injury.

Of course, for the nonambidextrous thrower, one should throw with excellent form to mitigate these asymmetries. This includes keeping the hip and shoulder line level (parallel to the ground). It also helps to do specific strength training exercises evenly. That is, even though the javelin thrower will be able to use more weight on the rotator cuff machine with his throwing arm, he should seek to do the same weight, sets, and reps. A similar imbalance may be noted by the hammer thrower on the Nautilus Rotary Torso machine. However, nondominant-side throwing is the next step above and beyond symmetric strength training and good throwing posture.

Finally, I think nondominant-side throwing may improve one's body awareness and neuromuscular learning skills, which may translate into improved dominant-side distances. It may help the thrower identify specific technique weaknesses that become more aparrent. So I hope that the reader is inspired to give nondominant side throwing a try, and maybe organize an ambidextrous throwing contest. A good time for collegians is to do an intrasquad contest in the fall. Let me hear of your results.

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