So you've decided you're serious....
You've been to the games a couple of times. Maybe a couple of months. Maybe even a few seasons. And its finally hit you for real. You want to be a highland games athlete. New or not, you've made a fantastic decision. Speaking as someone who 'did' the games for a few years, but without the true dedication it takes, here are my suggestions, tips and opinions.
You're a thrower now. Realize that above all else. For the duration of the season (which, up here, is entirely too short) you are a thrower. Not a powerlifter. Not a weightlifter. Not a bodybuilder. A thrower. With this realization comes a number of changes.
I am assuming that, during the off-season, you've been hitting the gym three or four times a week, getting bigger, stronger, faster. The first games is rapidly approaching. Its time to make the switch. Accept it readily. You cannot hit the gym 3 days a week and expect to throw well, even during practice. So, instead, concentrate on shorter workouts, maybe 2 days a week (might be one some weeks. Accept it.), designed to hold onto your strength as much as possible, but not taking away from your more relevant practicing.
Throw 3 or 4 days a week. A couple of events a day. Ten to fifteen actual throws per event. Giving yourself enough recovery that fatigue isn't setting in. You're trying to establish pattern here, not work yourself into the floor.
Like many of us, ordering competition-level equipment all at once probably isn't feasable for you. But, with a little ingenuity and a few trips to a metal shop, you can have the implements made up to be workable and very good for practice.
Stones are easy to come by. The weights for distance can be made from rolled steel, tapped for an eyebolt. Weight for height, same thing. The hammers can be tricky, but its amazing what you can come up with using PVC
tubing, some chain and pouring lead into a can from a metalworks. The caber might be trickier, but, if you have the space, the United Farmers Association has some great 20' posts that they will cut down do a decent practice size of 14-15', if you're just starting out. Burlap sacks and pitchforks are also easy to come by.
Try and get your weights as close to the official weight/length as possible. That way there are no surprises or massive adjustments to make between practice weights and competition weights.
And use a trig. Get used to having a large block of wood as your stopping point. You'll foul out a lot less if you train with one from the word go. Anyone can put up big numbers without a constrained area to play in.
The best advice is to ask the top-level guys. And watch the training or even competition videos. Just to give you a feel for what it SHOULD look like.
I'm hardly professional level, so I don't feel qualified to give any real instruction, but some small things to keep in mind for each of the events:
Weights for distance: Stay on the balls of your feet during your spins. As soon as your heel plants, your hips stop rotating.
Weight for height: Don't start pulling with your arm until your thighs and hips have given the weight all the acceleration they can. Then make sure to finish your pull and guide the weight over the bar. USE YOUR HIPS AND THIGHS. I can't emphasize that enough. This is also one where a 42lb weight comes in handy. Timing is extremely important, and a 42lb weight allows you to master the timing and get more throws in because of the reduced weight.
Stones: Keep the stone pressed against your neck until the very second of your throw. That way you transfer all the force from your legs and hips before trying to accelerate and adjust the trajectory with your arm.
Hammer: Long, loose arms and lots of hip and knee movement. Try just practicing 10 spins at a time, loose, wide circles. Don't even worry about the release until that feels smooth.
Caber: Practice a proper pick, and getting your hands up high, not letting your arms hang long. You don't use them for powering it up. Again, its all hips and thighs for that.
Sheaf: Practice the 'flick'. Driving into that standing position as powerfully as possible with back, hips and legs, before ever driving the arm upward.
And hit your 'weak' event twice a week. When that starts to move up, pick another 'weak' event and get more drill time with it.
The Mental Game
Patience. Sacrifice the big explosive, all-arm throws for good technique. Drill the technique into your head and body so that it becomes automatic. The focus of each practice should be to make the event look as smooth as the pros do, if not as fast. Learn the techniques first. Add in the power and speed as it becomes a more and more natural movement. Do not let your ego get in the way of you learning how to throw truly far.
Squat. Squat. Squat. I can't emphasize this exercise enough.
Deadlifts. Almost as important as squats.
Power Cleans or High Pulls. Almost every highland games athlete does them. This is not a rule, however, as seen by the success of our own Mike Staal, who doesn't touch them. But, learn to do them right.
Shoulder Press. Not bench. Shoulder. A far more relevant exercise. But, again, do them in strict form. And avoid behind the neck, in truth.
Beyond that, whatever you enjoy doing. Remember to eat well, get some cardio conditioning in, and drink gallons of milk. Highland games, as a rule, tends toward large, strong men. And, since winter is so very long up here, focussing on being bigger for the next season should be more than enough motivation.
And there we have it. Nothing special, just a few little things to keep in mind. Mostly my opinions and experiences. Take it for what its worth.