Thursday, September 11, 2014

Elbow extension

So after the last post, I started getting emails and private messages on DGCR and reddit. People had questions and wanted to get specific answers to fixing their form and I was more than happy to dig into their videos and try to find some culprits.

One such fella was Ed. He was struggling with elbow extension something fierce. I know this battle, because I had to overcome it myself. I watched and analyzed every video I could find and saw over and over that the extension (to varying degrees) is lead by the elbow getting out front of your shoulder. Let's take a quick look at a couple examples.

Avery Jenkins

Dan Beato

Paul McBeast

No question, these guys are driving the elbow out front. It took some long hours in the field for me to make this adjustment. I would record video, throw a bunch trying to drive the elbow out front, guiding the disc to my right pec, review the footage and groan in disappointment as I saw that I would be getting almost no extension. I was opening from my LEFT pec, not my right.

Eventually I got there, but it was hard and slow work... when Ed sent me an email, I knew what he was going to have to go through and here's our correspondence (editted a bit for brevity) and he's a lefty but for this to make more sense, I'm going to use right hand explanations.

First, I'm a 889 rated player. I'm 44 years old. Started at beginning of 2011 but really didn't get into it until I moved to FL in October of that year. So, let's say I've been honestly playing 3 years. I can throw about 370ft. with a 170g Champion Wraith and I can throw 180g DX Cobras over 300ft. without a lot of trouble. I'm a lefty as you will see and can't throw forehand hardly at all--it really bothers my elbow.

But I'm finding more and more that guys who've been playing less time than I have are now beating me at tournaments. So, it's not that I'm not improving, it's that I'm improving at a slower pace than other players I know. 

If I could get to the point where I could finished in the top third in Intermediate consistently, with once in a while vying for the lead, that would be a great accomplishment. Right now, though, I'm so up and down and all around I can't see any goals at all. 

So, here's a link on YouTube to me throwing. 
I'd like to get another pair of eyeballs on what I'm doing, especially since you've been working hard on breaking backhand throws down.

My response:

So let's start with the form. Based on the videos I watched of yours from 8 months back to 2 months back, you've made a huge leap in technical improvement. The Hershizer drill looks like it's done the job perfectly, and you're driving the hip forward into a perfectly closed stance. 

From there, I would suggest looking at trying to get to the right pec, elbow leading a bit more out in front of your shoulder. In the screen cap I attached, you can see that you're starting to open the forearm at that point. That's the point where your leverage is starting, and it's hard to tell from the video, but it appears that you're already moving the hand forward of the 9:00 position.

No elbow extension.
Even if you're at 9:00 there, the elbow is not out front. I liken it to trying to swing that disc like a hammer, to drive a nail into a board that's a full 3' out in front of your shoulder. You have to extend your arm forward more to get out there, where the hammering action is going to take place. 

To extend your arm forward more, you have drive your elbow forward more.

When you're extending the elbow forward, you have to focus on keeping the hand on the outside.

I 100% agree with what Dan Beto says in his video, that going out front with the arm - adds 60-100' to most people's drives. The disc will eject out there with more force. 

I honestly don't throw much further in my typical rounds than you, but I throw with less effort and I almost never turn discs over by dropping my shoulder and getting the ill effects of strong arming. Rarely do I try to throw longer than 400'. I have to throw higher anhyzers, that need room to work to get out that far and it's not a very accurate shot. A mostly flat 350' drive is more than enough for most rounds.

Other than that, your form looks good. I'd like to see if you have it, some shots of your typical in-round x-step.

(Pulled out a very long screed about practice so this post doesn't go on forever!)

FROM ED: You said you'd like to some of my x-steps--well, here they are.

This was done this morning. And you're right: I have virutally no elbow chop or extension. I'm good up until the point my elbow reaches the front side of my body. Then, and wrongly, that's when the forearm starts to come around--WAY too early. I compared our videos side by side--at no point does my elbow extend in front of my body as far as yours does, it's really not even close. When I see that I now understand why I'm wild at times and why I can't get the power and distance I want--I'm totally killing it by the disc coming around so early.

The bad part? When I throw it actually "feels" like I am extending that elbow out there. Somehow I need to know what my arm is doing without having to look at a video.  

The good part? I can throw 370ft. and be about a 900 rated player with terrible form. So, when I get this right (and I will), my accuarcy, distance, and scores should improve quickly. By the way, those were mostly 175g DX Aviars I was throwing with a couple Psychos mixed in. I'm throwing them about 250ft. avg.
If you could explain something: As I'm practicing this new motion, it feels like the disc is going to go WAY off to the right when it releases. Is that just something in my head or is that a reality that I'm going to have adjust to? i.e. taking a more staggered plant step, keeping the front shoulder down more than I have, etc. 

You're absolutely right, you're going to start closing your stance down as you adjust to extending the arm out more forward. It's easier to just aim to the left of what your target is as you learn the new "straight"... basically you've been slipping out before the hit for so long that you'd learned your release point as the slip. As you start actually hitting out front, you're going to be amazed at how discs fly different, further, with less effort.

This was my first attempt this morning--not even close.

You can see me practicing the elbow chop before I throw and then it doesn't happen. Is it merely that my forearm is opening up too early? Is it the swoopy backswing that makes it tougher for me to keep the disc close to my chest? Is my body moving too fast for my arm?

I guess I'm having a hard time figuring out what is the exact part of my body that is messing up. Because, like in that video, it doesn't physically seem like I can hold onto that disc for a millisecond more even though it's nowhere close to being extended out in front of my body--and neither is the forearm and wrist. Bad habits are tough to break. 
Yeah, they are hard to undo... I wish I would have started earlier in my dg-life with better technique and I left the field many days in a row utterly deflated trying to fix my form. It is hard to undo muscle memory, but you can do it. 

I like to put the disc out front right before I throw to remind my arm where it needs to go. You will not be able to hold the disc to the extended point out front until you delay the extension to the right pec. 

Right pec or not, the disc is ejecting - so the main focus becomes slowing down ALOT. 

If you are only throwing 150', that's fine - so long as you're letting the disc guide into your right pec, elbow out front... and honestly, where the disc goes - forget about it. So much changes after you adjust this - that the one thing to focus on in that extension.

FROM ED: Threw some this morning. Videotaped it. Not gonna bore you with it--terrible. Not even close.
We've all been there!

Was out this morning. I had done about a half hour of very simple standstill stuff before I shot this--wanted to see if the basic stuff is having any effect. The elbow is still not getting forward as much as yours does. And thus my hand is starting to come around from that 9:00 position. What I do like is I'm getting some nice extension and the disc isn't leaving my hand until it's way out there in front of my foot. Plus, the throw "looks" a lot better. I'm throwing DX Cobras, by the way. They were going about 230 to 250 ft. Nice long hyzers. Pretty accurate.

So this is only about a quarter of the emails, but you get the idea... we are verbose dudes (luckily I'm a speedy typist). I had a few other requests for a better explanation of learning the elbow driving so I put together a short video to really show how I forced myself to get some elbow extension:

FROM ED:  There's a new club that started last Wednesday here--we throw at baskets in the Phillies Double A baseball park in Clearwater. So, tonight was the second time and we are up in the upper levels and throwing down at the baskets--lots of fun. But just within a week of working on that snap and extension and getting my elbow out there, I bet I increased my distance by like 30 or 40ft. And it all felt very controlled. It didn't feel like I was using all my energy to get the disc out there. Very small run-up and just concentrating on the last split second. 


  1. Love the blog! Thanks for the hard work.

  2. Yes, this is great stuff! Thanks for organizing the info and providing 3 different GIFs of the pros in action. That really helps solidify that driving the elbow forward and getting full arm extension are paramount in achieving proper technique. I'm anxious to start practicing this way!

  3. Thanks so much for your analysis, blogging, and contributions to DGCR! I'm really trying to apply them and become the best I can. Question on the leading elbow:

    Based on your GIFS and other videos I've seen it looks like, for the pros, getting the elbow out in front is achieved by rotating the torso, not by poking the elbow ahead of the torso... is this correct? What I mean is that, from reachback forward, it looks like the right upper arm stays pretty close to forming a 90 degree angle with the chest until the energy of the throw is released/slung out through the arm. So the elbow "gets out in front" because McBeast/Will S./ Avery don't release the arm until the chest has slightly opened to the target? I think I messed myself up for a while by consciously moving my arm independently of my torso to get the elbow in front, I want to confirm that I should be moving away from this.

    1. The elbow naturally moves forward as you bring the disc into the right pec area. That's the starting point for the acceleration.

      You're right, in that you want to keep the levers closed until you've built the most powerful system you can, to sling that lever open - with the obvious requirement that you need to hold onto the disc through the disc pivot.

    2. Checked out the picture you linked. So do the shoulders actually catch up to the arm as the arm is uncoiling? This is very counter-intuitive to me if we're seeking acceleration of the disc via the arm. What do you focus on to make this happen? (e.g. consciously stop the upper arm in order to fling the elbow open vs. really speed up the shoulders vs...?)

    3. No, the shoulders don't really lag, then catch up. At one point, I thought they did, but what is really happening, is that most guys like mcBeth - their shoulders aren't a rigid bar from one side to the other. The left shoulder will flex in when the off arm (the left arm) is pulled tight. That makes it look like the shoulder is catching up, but really you're just tightening up the muscles.

      Think of the disc getting to the right pec as collapsing the arm into the power pocket. Then the arm opens as the shoulders rotate through and you're pulling around the front of the disc - holding onto the rim to translate that angular momentum into forward velocity.

      I focus on throwing the back of the disc. The side opposite from where my hand is. If I bring the disc into my right pec correctly, then I'm set to leverage the back of the disc forward like I was throwing a hammer.

    4. Interesting... thanks for clearing that up, I'll have to study more videos.

      Kinda related/kinda tangential: Where do you feel like you're applying the most power? During the forward elbow drive into the power pocket? During the uncoiling of the arm? Or is focusing on applying power missing the point?

      Also, would coiling your arm/the disc as tightly as possible in towards your (leading) right elbow be a good description of the feeling of the power pocket?

    5. 1. Power is applied by shifting harder into the brace. Fight the tendency to "throw hard" at all cost. You'll tighten up and throw shorter. It's like saying, "my arm is a whip, I want to crack the whip as hard as I can" - so to crack the whip harder, you have to generate more power from the ground up. Brace fully, uncork hips, core shoulders - keep the hand on the outside as long as possible, timing it all to open as the shoulders come through.

      2. Yes, the disc will lag for a split-second as you come into the power pocket and you've sorta cradled the disc into that position, most likely it'll feel like your wrist is bending towards the disc right before the disc arc changes to the extension of the forearm.

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  5. This article just changed my game. I've been throwing for just shy of 2 years and have been fighting rounding and trying to generate more spin. I have been going back and forth from 300 ft drives to under 250. Went to the park this morning and started throwing from a stand still and while it did not work well at first (lots of hyzers and discs starting right) I worked on keeping my shoulder closed and that got the disc coming out straight. I threw midranges 30 ft farther than I was throwing my drivers when I started this morning and my drivers were going 50-60 ft farther. Leading with my elbow and throwing smooth instead of fast made all the difference. Thanks a lot!!