Friday, August 15, 2014

Guess what I'm doing.


Yeah, you guessed right. The backhand. I told you I was obsessive. The good news is that I have figured a few things out and I think they make sense. Now if I can just explain it and more importantly do it right myself.

First, I'm going to start with a fine meal of crow. I had blogged that I was pretty unhappy with the suggestion for beginners to learn to drive from a stand still. You can read my min-rant here if you like. I should have probably been a bit more thoughtful on this point. I was wrong.

After countless hours or rebuilding my form, I think that a very important key to fixing form is timing. Timing is a very big part of the magic. It's very hard to learn timing because so much is happening in about a tenth of a second. I won't get into all the things just yet, but I will say that learning timing without the x-step seems to be much easier. It's hard enough to avoid common form issues (rounding, over opening, strong arming) when you're moving slow, and almost impossible to fix them when you're moving faster.

Now what exactly is a stand still? Feet planted in cement? No. And unfortunately, that's what I thought it meant: plant both feet on the ground like a statue and try to generate some linear forward motion. A stand still drive means no x-step, but you'll want to lift your plant foot off the ground during the back-swing and drive off the ball of your back foot. It will help get things moving forward.

Crow eaten. It tasted like chicken.

Next, I'm done calling it a reach-back. It's now a back-swing. Reaching back, bending at the waist and getting my weight too far over my back foot took some serious work to undo. So it's a back-swing and there's no REACHING.

Okay, so let's talk for a second about the core mechanism that we're using to throw a backhand. What accelerates the disc? I thought for the better part of a year that it was just a big back-swing and you try to get your hand going really fast. Fast hands = fast disc, or so I assumed. It makes sense, especially when you watch the pros who can throw a country mile and they are definitely moving really fast.

That's wrong.

There's a mechanism in the backhand that can do nearly all the real work of accelerating the disc:


It's pulling around the front of the disc, from hand on the outside of the disc (when it's in front of your right pec)  to the other side of the disc (when your arm is fully extended forward), where the disc will rip from your grip.

Check out where Will holds the disc to... That's about the 5:00 position!
That little bit of magic is absurdly powerful and it means that you don't have to throw the disc hard. What you do, at the simplest level, is hold onto the disc long enough to take advantage of this double pendulum (your arm) that's about to swing open with the weight of your body generating your forward momentum. The longer you hold on, the faster that thing rockets out.

"But the pros are throwing the disc really hard and really fast from the back of their back-swing!"

Yes, AND, they are very good. They can come into correct positions with a ton of hand speed and stay in the exact right spots, either because they've practiced everyday for the better part of their lives or because they are just lucky to have absurd genetics. But mostly it's practice.

Either way, they're still using this mechanism of pulling around the disc to accelerate it. The big secret to this thing is that you have to keep your hand on the outside of the disc as late as possible. Why? Because the more distance that your hand has to travel around the front of the disc, the faster it will go to get to the release point and because from this position you can leverage the holy poop out of the disc.

The longer the distance your hand is forced to travel to the release point, the faster it will have to accelerate to get there and the more severe of an angle you can lever the outside edge.

Who cares if you bring 50mph of hand speed into your chest if you lose half of that distance around the disc and only accelerate to 60mph? Come into your chest with 20 mph of hand speed and accelerate to 100mph because you're using the magic.

When you lose that distance,  your hand doesn't need to accelerate as much to travel a shorter distance to the release point.

If you leave the hand on the outside of the disc, you'll pull your hand around the disc at ridiculous speeds. Easily fast enough to throw a putter 200' without using hips or a back-swing. That's how much work this thing does.
Dragging the disc by the nose.
Above is an example from a r/discgolf request that I helped with recently. I pointed out that "where your hand is in that screen cap, there's no way to accelerate your hand to the hit from there. If you leave it on the outside, as you get closer to the hit point, your hand will have to accelerate greatly to cover that distance to get around the disc."

I'm not picking on this nice fella, I just see this issue all the time in form requests. I saw it in my own form, that's for sure. It is very easy to do incorrectly but happily it's not that hard to fix. The key for me is to practice guiding the disc in my back-swing towards my right arm pit on a straight line until the disc is in front of my right pec, hand still on the outside, elbow driving forward.  To practice this, you will need a very technical piece of hardware: a wall.

Can you make that happen?! Good.

Guide that disc into the right pec while standing close enough to a wall that you can see if you're guiding it in a straight line. Another nice thing this drill does, is show you if you're over-opening and how you need to stand oriented to your release point, to pull the disc on a straight line.

The throwing arm shoulder has a very nasty habit of pulling your hand forward on the disc. Because your arm is bent at the elbow, while the disc is pulled into your chest, if you turn your shoulders to face a bit forward, your hand moves forward. Try it and watch in dismay as it happens. If your shoulders are starting to turn towards the target before the disc is extended out front, then you're over-opening.

This is a big part of what timing is all about. It's getting your body into the right places at the right time.

The right place for your hand is on the outside of the disc, in front of your right pec while your shoulders are making a line at your target, and your elbow pointing out front. From that point, the momentum of your arm moving forward is going to take care of the rest, so long as you hold on to the disc. Looking perpendicular to the line you're throwing on helps quite a bit to fix over-opening. After you release the disc, your shoulders will be coming through, and that'll pull your head forward.

So when exactly do you get to start throwing harder?

You do not throw hard with your arm.

You will start to generate more forward momentum with your hips. Drive harder from your back foot into your plant. Back swing keeps the disc on a straight line into the right pec. You will focus on a clean rip that levers out between your thumb and index-knuckle. You will stay like a loose whip that glides through these important angles and transfers all that momentum into pulling your hand around that disc. You will stay upright and braced against the plant foot. You will delay the back-swing a bit later, so that the whole system has to happen a bit faster.

The same mechanism is still in action, so you have to protect that important space around the front of the disc, because if you lose that space, you lose the magic.

I know this seems counter intuitive, but watch Simon Lizotte drive:



Hand on the outside.
Elbow out front.
Shoulders closed.
Braced hard against the plant foot.
I try to watch this footage critically and find those magic spots. The best of the top pros all have some unique qualities, but the commonality is what we're after.

Hand on the outside.
Elbow WAY out front.
Shoulders closed
Braced hard against the plant foot.
Paul McBeth protecting the magic. (Full video)

Extending that elbow out front, while keeping your hand on the outside, shoulders aimed down the line is what we're shooting for. Take everything else out until you can protect those core functions. You'll be shocked at what kind of accuracy and distance you can get with just those things. Adding in x-steps and little more "heat" into the system is fine, so long as you are still protecting the magic.

Good luck friends, and happy throwing and hopefully I can move on from the last 10 weeks of retooling and learning how to be comfortable with my new technique. It's showing big improvements in my game, but not without some growing pains. Throwing hyzer and ranging is tough right now. I've been having to take some off of shots that I am now throwing long and I'm throwing mids on shots that had previously been drivers, so there's going to be some rough patches.

But that's disc golf!

Thursday, July 31, 2014

More on Hips and some Outtakes

I've officially gone deep into the rabbit hole of backhand technique. I feel like Jack Bauer on hour 23 of saving the world from some plot that involves 17 double crosses and corruption in the reach back and... not you plant foot??!!  You would do this to me?!?!

It's been an evolving internal dialog while I'm doing all this fieldwork and reading in the dark corners of the form/analysis forums that has me thinking about learning how to drive from a standstill. It  is regularly given out as advice to people looking to fix their form.

The issue I have with this advice is that a distance drive from a standstill does not translate into fixing the way 99% of players drive, which is with an x-step or an x-hop. "But how will they learn to shift their weight? It will help smooth out the backswing!", I can hear the calls of heresy already.

You do not generate your forward momentum the same way in a stand still drive. In a stand still you have add something to the movement that you do not have to add in an x-step. It's much easier to take a step or two to get your hips moving.

I'm not saying that there's no value in learning to drive from a standstill. I'm saying that if you're working on getting the fundamentals down, take the easy access to power first.  I am making a big assumption, and it's probably the biggest hole in my argument - but I'm assuming that you aren't strong arming. The Dan Beto Video teaches how to make sure to accelerate the disc from your right pec... and it's probably taught more people the right way than any other video. The right pec drill though, once you've worked out where to pull from, isn't going to fix all the other issues of timing that you still have to work out.

And driving from a standstill and throwing upshots from a standstill are two different things. I believe that regularly throwing piles of upshots from 50-250' is a great idea... but toiling away to hit 350' from a standstill with a putter, I just don't think it's the best use of my time. Add a step and save yourself the headache. At least that's my argument.

Okay. Moving on.

There seems to be two common ways to generate a weight shift when driving with an x-step or x-hop. You can twist your hips against your core muscles during the reach back, then drive your knee down to uncork the hips, the core, the shoulders. This style is clearly visible in Will Schusterick's form. He has what I'll call an "active knee drop" where he's using the forward momentum from the x-step that's pushing him down the tee-pad instead of pushing with the back foot.


When you watch the full video you can see his hips are staying at the same velocity throughout the x-step until they stop during the plant/twist/open. The hips are not really accelerating from the plant foot - they're maintaining the momentum created in his x-step. His knees work together like a wave; it's really impressive.

Feldberg exemplifies the second style I'll call a "straight knee", which is much less driven from a twisting hip and more from a hip driving forward and the hips open with the drive, not from the dropping knee. He is accelerating his hips forward from his back foot to his plant. When you watch the full video, you can see Dave actually catches up with Will by accelerating forward to his plant foot (even accounting for the fact that he's further back in the teebox) because he's pressing/sliding his hips forward with that back foot.


The key difference is that an active-knee is going to require that back knee to get involved and some people are not built for that motion. I think Paul McBeth is somewhere in between. He does drop his knee, but it also appears that he's getting some drive from the instep of his back foot before he drops his knee.

And here's the kicker and one of the most frustrating parts of digging through all the footage, the screen shots, the posts... as players start taking some heat off a throw, they all do it different ways.

  • Shorten up the back-swing
  • Don't drive their hips open with the knee.
  • Don't involve the hips as much. 
  • Less momentum from x-step

On top of that, they will adjust how closed or open their shoulders are and on top of that the amount of hyzer or anhyzer they can change things as well.

But for now, we can see that just in the hips, there's 2 distinctive styles. An active hip opening (Will) and a more combined hip/core opening (Dave).

The current curriculum if I was going to teach Backhand 101, would look like this:

1. Footwork: X-hop vs X-Step
2. Hips: Active knee vs straight knee hip shift
3. Upright Spine from Beginning to End, Coiling not Reaching
4. Wide reach back, hand on the outside of the disc
5. Driving Elbow, Pulling nip to nip on a flat line
6. Bracing on the Plant Foot

To answer a question that somebody messaged me:



Yeah, frustration is something I deal with.