Friday, November 15, 2013

Improving Back Hand Distance


I watch an absurd a reasonable (depending on who you ask) amount of disc golf on youtube and the one thing I've noticed in the difference between the top pros and the top Am's is how consistent the pros are. Top pros will put a 200' shot within 30' of a pin 9 out of 10 times.

At the core of consistency in most sports is creating body mechanics that are reproducible. Consider a pro baseball pitcher throwing a pitch or a pro tennis player hitting a serve: each repetition is nearly indistinguishable from the next. Once it's completely reproducible - it's much easier to be consistent and can be counted on to go where you want it to.

Can I say that about my disc golf form?



But I can say that about the top pros and while I know I'm not ever going to be pro - I am constantly working to improve my game. I think everybody enjoys disc golf more when they're playing better and these pros are some of the best.

Improving my backhand is not about just adding distance. Adding distance at the cost of accuracy is at best a wash and at worst a huge loss. I'm focused on increasing distance and improving accuracy but that's much easier said than done. 

A fantastic video popped up on youtube that shows Paul McBeth (TopLeft), Will Schusterick (TopRight), Jeremy Koling (BottomLeft) and Dave Feldberg (Bottom Right) in slow motion on a distance drive. Being able to really see what they're doing is a fantastic tool.

Take a look at the video of the top card from EO2013: Watch this clip and tell me these guys aren't smoother than hot butter on polished ice.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GfjiaZ9DvXQ
Everybody is built a little different - but for the most part - none of these guys is looking back further than about 90 degrees off the target during the reach back. Will Schusterick does take a slightly further look back - and McBeth takes slightly less. It's just a split second, but by keeping eyes on the target does seem to improve accuracy. Less look back should help accuracy but comes at a cost if it stops your shoulders from turning back squarely. You can see that McBeth doesn't turn his shoulders back nearly as much as Will. Will and Big Jerm both have their shoulders squared up like they're leaning against a wall at the front of the teebox.

For me, getting an open shoulder turn and a strong upper body rotation is important but I try to balance it with keeping my head from dipping too far back in the reach back. McBeth makes it work and throws just as far as anybody - because whatever he loses in having less shoulder rotation he makes up for in accuracy and a monster snap.

In the frame above - the disc is at the furthest point back in all of their reach backs. They've all set the front foot and now all of their run up momentum is beginning the transfer to the front leg. Paul and Will are both noticeably bending their knees. I have had more success with keeping my knees more bent versus less bent - it makes transferring weight smoother and puts me in a very balanced and athletic power stance.

And a big takeaway is that from this position - they are set to use all the main muscle groups in their bodies to transfer their energy into the disc. You can tell that if they were pulling your hand, they'd rip your arm off.

It's also worth noting that w/ the exception of big Jerm in the bottom left, everybody has their front foot planted at an exact 90 degrees from their trajectory during the weight shift. Jermey is huge and keeps a more open stance.

So the disc travels back in the reach back smoothly and relatively slowly, comes back to the chest relatively slowly and doesn't actually start to accelerate massively until it it's pulled into the center of their chest. Dave Feldberg has talked about the fact that you want your disc to remain on the angle you plan to release it through the reach back. If you are throwing a flat release, the disc should be flat in the reach back.




Next screen capture - all their weight is now on the front leg ready to go into their arm. Back foot is up on the toe (weight is fully off the back leg) - and you can see that they're all leading with the elbow. Feldberg is the anomaly here - he creates more of a tightening arc with his pull. The rest are all driving their elbows forward - chins down and very importantly their disc-hand is on the outside edge of the disc. You aren't pulling the disc forward with your hand on the front of the disc. Hand on the outside when the disc is close to your chest.



And here's why: this shot perfectly show the levering action of the disc almost coming out of their hands while their arm is opening up and your hand rotates to the front of the disc. Squeezing your grip extra hard right before you release it with a small thought of "I want this disc to lever out between my thumb and index finger" has helped me. You want to fight the torque as long as possible, keeping the wrist straight as late as you can.

From the point where your hand is at the front of the disc, the wrist extends open maybe an inch, and at that point you aren't going to be holding onto the disc long. Clamp down like a monster, and let the disc lever out between your fore finger and thumb.

Lets dig in a bit into WHY does all this make the disc fly further. What each of the pros above are doing is throwing a disc faster than their arm speed. They're imparting huge spin on the disc by pulling their hand very quickly from the outside of the disc to the front. The longer they wait to have their hand pop through that distance - the faster the disc will spin and the more it will accelerate. Furthermore, the faster a disc is spinning - the longer it will stay spinning. Once a disc stops spinning at a certain rate - the force keeping the left edge of the disc up will start pointing down and your disc will fade left.

A very accurate analogy that I've read about is if you were to consider yourself throwing a hammer. If you held the end of the hammer and swung it so that you were whipping it out of your hand - you could throw it much faster than your hand is traveling.  If you don't whip it, it will only travel at your hand speed. We're throwing discs the same way, but our whip comes from moving our hand from the outside of the disc to the front before it's ripped from our fingers.

In getting my drives to go further, I realized that there was basically no more physical exertion in the action. I don't do anything faster, stronger or much harder. I simply had to start delay the release more and make sure to keep the disc nose down and squeeze harder on my grip right before the hit.

My run-up is slow and doesn't generate a ton of energy. It's something I know I need to improve - but the more I try to put into my run-up the worse things get. It adds hitches in the giddy-up as they say down south. Getting from 400' to 500' is going to be much harder I'm sure.

Lastly, choosing the right disc is important and unfortunately it's extremely dependent on personal preference. Everybody has a disc they'll tell you is awesome for this or that, but the reality is that a disc that I liked 8 weeks ago for distance is now too flippy. As you gain snap and power - you're going to overpower discs that you used to be fine with. Adding weight to the disc will add stability to a disc, so if you find yourself turning over a disc mold that you love - try throwing one that's 5-10 grams heavier.

Learning how to throw further and more accurately is frustrating and hard, and ultimately it comes with throwing for hours in a field and using what works. Many people have argued that throwing longer distance is not really needed. That being accurate trumps distance any day of the week and that's very true in certain places, but if I'm trying to improve all aspects of my game - and this is part of it. Being able to park a 350' hole so I don't have to sweat an approach or long putt means I'm way more likely to be able to birdie it.


  1. The Distance Checklist Reminders for stretching your drive.
  2. Innova Daedalus Gstar goodness with a helping of turn. 
  3. DD Witness Understable Distance has never been easier.
  4. DD Renegade So good it goes permanently in the bag.
  5. Beware the Bad Towel When things go seriously bad.

15 comments:

  1. Hey! You have a great blog too. I'll be checking back regularly.

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    1. Thanks man - and thanks to TalkDiscGolf for getting both our blogs some free publicity. That's how I found your blog.

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  2. Good post. I like how you analyzed the video. I have seen it a few times, but never really went frame by frame with it. You got me thinking about what I am doing that prevents me from increasing my distance now, and have me itching to do some field practice.

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    1. Thanks, I had watched it a few times as well and then started noticing how Will really turns that left shoulder back and that got me thinking. As soon as I tried to turn my left shoulder back more - it ended up causing my release to be too nose down. It will take some adjusting for sure - but it works.

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  3. So I recently came back to this article today - I've been revamping my shot after having my "rock bottom" round at a tournament back in November and decided January 1 to just start over and rebuild. Had a lot of help from a sponsored pro friend of mine who worked field work with me for a couple days a week for a few weeks. Been feeling good and read this article again this morning. The biggest observation for me, and the only thing I took into account was your second screen capture and hand position. I'm not lying, it instantly added 40 feet to my drives. I was so taken aback watching shots sail over the goal post 300 feet away from me in the soccer field and landing a good 30-50 feet past. I know I have a long ways to go but this was monumental how awesome that one fix was to my shot! Thanks!

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    1. I'm stoked to hear that! It really is awesome when you make a breakthrough and see the disc stay in the air that much longer. I recently started throwing a 171 Echo Star Teebird and last week there was a slight tail wind and that thing went 400' and I was just slack jawed. I didn't do anything different exect slow down everything and pulled it tighter to my chest and tried to keep everything loose. Days like that are the reason I love disc golf so much.

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  4. Another thing to consider, Paul McBeth and Jared Roan (not pictured above) use their middle finger as a release point rather than their index finger, this allows a cleaner release minimizing off axis torque (wobbling of the disc) which improves flight and reduces drag allowing for more efficient utilization of energy

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    1. Good point Joshua, I think grip is place where a huge difference can be made in my game. I've gone to the Climo grip on all my approach shots and the power grip for drives. The Climo grip has really helped stop OAT for midrange, but I definitely still hear the tell-tale flutter on drives if I am not careful.

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  5. Thank you for a great post. I am happy to see that people are getting interested in the mechanics of throwing. Just like you said gripping the disc is of big importance, if you don't its like letting the ball roll of the tee in golf. Another thing I believe is a key moment in the throwing motion is hip/ trunk separation, a topic well discussed in baseball. With that in mind, I believe the initial throwing motion of the disc is more about positioning the arm right, and in the end phase it is about making use of ground forces at the right time. In the video; when the disc is traveling past their left arm you can see the force traveling through their right hip, this increases the hip rotational forces. Subsequently this become the groundwork for the explosive end rotation of the trunk. Initiating trunk rotation too early leads the force potential from the hips down again. So its all a kinetic chain, maybe not to new to you guys. But it's often forgotten! Moreover, it would be very interesting to see EMG measurements of these throwers since the shoulder activation is rarely discussed.
    As a tip I just want to point out to everyone that its fairly simple to make good use of this footage. Download the clip with use of VLC streaming, instructions can be found on google. Then get yourself Kinovea its free, and awesome.
    Keep it eclectic!

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    1. It's absolutely true and for me at least it seems like the runup or x step is much less important than a late acceleration with a loose arm. My biggest throws out to 400 are almost slow feeling with a good smooth rotation. I'll absolutely be downloading kinovea, it looks incredible!

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  6. Thank you for focusing on what is most attainable for mere mortals. While all 4 pros have remarkably similar footwork, call it 'Power right, HOP!!! back left, plant right', I think many ordinary athletes will struggle duplicating it. But all the points you make later in the throw can be mastered with a single 'plant step' by most intermediates or most commonly with the 3 step scissor or x-step (without the hop, at least at first) by typical advanced players. We probably won't get from 400' up to 500' but we just might get from 300' up to 400'.

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    1. Thanks Robert and I agree - getting out to 400 seems to be mostly improving the core fundamentals of good form and letting the disc do the work for you (not trying to throw the disc far). Going beyond that seems like it is going to be micro improvements that might net you another 5-10' and take much more time to see improvements.

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  8. Also notice how their front plant foot never rotates past pointing to where they threw their disk, while the rotating foot does.

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  9. Being able to really see what they're doing is a fantastic tool. ... 4hand-tools.blogspot.com

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