Friday, May 15, 2015

The Importance of the Non-dominant Side

All of my disc golf career I haven't paid any attention to my left arm. I throw RHBH, and I've thought endlessly about my right hand, wrist, arm, shoulder as well as my legs, feet, and hips. Careful consideration has been given to spine angle, weight distribution, and head placement but I have utterly ignored the left (non-dominant) side of my upper body.

So, obviously, my most recent distance breakthrough came from activating my left side. As far as I can tell this comes in two main parts. First you use the left side to pull the upper body around with more tension during the backswing, and then, once the weight shifts, the chest and core create a springboard to rotate the right side through faster.

Loading the Backswing

This part clicked for me while watching a Simon Lizotte clinic.

Right at the 10:20 mark he says that in a full reach back you should really be using your left shoulder to pull your body around. This loading of the backswing with the left shoulder is what makes the unloading of the tension so effective.

Unloading the Backswing

I can't begin to guess how much I've watched Paul McBeth slow motion videos, but it's a lot. One thing that he does very obviously is pull his left arm in with his chest and core right as the weight is shifting to the front foot. Focus on the action of the left arm beginning at around 8 seconds.

He goes from having the left arm lagging behind to abruptly pulling it in to his midline creating tension that springs his right side open with a ton of added force. If you could see his chest and core right now I guarantee every muscle would be tense The timing of this action is extremely important, but once your left side goes from being weight that is slowing down your rotation to tension that speeds it up the difference is amazing. It brings a truly explosive feeling to the throwing motion that is unlike anything else I've experienced. The difference between a left side that lags behind and one that assists the rotation will give a completely different feeling to the end of the throw. My right side feels like it's being sprung open by my left upper body, and it gives a strong feeling of late acceleration.

Above is a comparison of my current form (top) and my form back in November (bottom). There are lots of differences here, but the thing I want to focus on is the action of the left side starting right at 35 seconds. Just as the weight transfers to my front foot I bring my left shoulder and arm through to create tension in my upper body that will power my body open through the rotation. Compare that to the bottom throw where you can see that my left side is lagging behind sapping power out of the rotation.

When I worked this into my swing I accidentally did it in reverse, and in retrospect I think that is the best way to go about it. If you are already throwing 350'+ then your backswing is probably adequate, and adding in the unloading, forward action (like McBeth) will be immediately beneficial once the timing is down. The added turn that you get during the backswing from the added loading action only really makes sense once you have a feel for unloading what you already have. As with any motion, I would add this in doing stand still throws before adding it to an x step. Timing is essential, and the x step makes all timing about 10x harder.

One of the difficulties I encountered early on when trying to bring these concepts to my throw is that I would tighten up the rest of my body even though I only wanted to tighten up parts of my left side. When trying to implement this be sure to keep everything (other than the left side during the inward pull of the left arm) loose and relaxed as usual. Tension in your body can only work for you when it's localized with the proper timing.

I hope this helps others as much as it has helped me! As always, any feedback or comments are appreciated. Thanks for reading!

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Dust your shoulders off

Was trying to think of a good title about shoulders, and that led me to Jay-Z (... cause I'm straight with the Roc). By the way, who knew that Jay-Z played disc golf - let alone that he'd be a Roc fan?! Wonder if he throws old CE Rocs? Anyways, I've spent quite a bit of time thinking on shoulders and something started "hmmmm'ing" in my brain. To the video archive I went, to start going frame by frame to really figure this out.

I eventually grabbed a pen and paper and drew up a sketch and the cogs kept turning, then the paper turned into a mess and I went to the computer for some high-class photoshopping:

Looks pretty normal, but then something jumped out at me: notice how on the second line - the angle of the shoulders to the upper arm DECREASED? Did I just screw up the image?

No. The timing of the shoulders opening (turning to face the target), will actually be a part of where the power comes from.

Bear with me on this, because I believe it's one of the hidden secrets that rarely gets talked about, because honestly it's sneaky and not readily visible (and it happens really fast).

As you guide the disc to your center chest or even the right pec, the proper timing will have your shoulders aimed right along the line you're throwing on. As you start extending the disc forward, your shoulders are still coming though, catching up to a point where the upper arm is at a 90° from the shoulders.

At that point, you have a muscle base of shoulders/lats/triceps that are going to create a natural frame that will hold that position. MikeC below demonstrating what I'm talking about. Specifically, let's check out frame 5, 6,7, and 8 to see how much the shoulders open as the disc pretty much stays put.

The shoulders open, but the disc stays put... building up a natural constraint that gets loaded up full of potential energy. In screen shot 8, I put the discs in there to show the full power pocket - and in my mind, this answers a question I see all the time: what is the thing that allows you to throw faster?

For a very long time I was thinking that it must have been the bracing that delivering all the power, but while EXTREMELY important, there was something else going on because I was able to throw some long drives with no x-step and no real shifting (just good posture).

You hit an elasticity constraint when your upper arm is fighting to stay at 90 degrees, being compressed and then pushed open by the opening shoulders. The shoulders are driving the lever system open.

If you're right handed, reach back and feel your right lat (side back muscle) and then feel your left one. Right one is going to be more developed. We use that muscle to lock the arm into the 90° position, and swing that sucker open. I have quite a bit more "meat" on the right side.

Let me warn you: it's easy to over open. Over opening would be getting the shoulders open before that disc is at the center chest/right pec. Paul McBeth, above, keeps that upper body closed until that magic 90° angle is locked in, so that the opening will drive the full arm open. Open too soon, and you're going to drag the disc and lose the rigidity of the system that you need to take advantage of to get the goods.

Wanted to also tell you guys what's been up with me, personally. I resigned a job that I'd had for the last 8 years and took a new gig. It's been pretty difficult balancing the new job and then immediately contracting for the old job after hours, trying to play disc golf / field work and keep the kids on schedule for piano practice, classes, play dates and then of course doing my taxes. I do get quite a few emails from you awesome people, and lately it's been much harder to write back very quickly, so please be patient with me. If you're looking for specific form analysis, I strongly suggest DGCR as a fantastic resource of very wise players - and they even have a dedicated section for form review.

Things should hopefully settle down in the not-so-distant-future, but right now I'm barely keeping my head above water. But a blizzard just arrived in Denver, so it's okay - I was needing a forced rest anyways!