Tuesday, December 23, 2014

A Kinematic Chain is You

Ignore the caboodle. 
First, if you don't like the deep end of technique discussion - stop here. This one is going deep. I am shooting to keep it readable, but this is stuff that I've talked about with a number of folks over a few different places and I wanted to get this out there.

A kinematic chain is something that gets talked about quite a bit in sports like tennis and ball-golf, where quite frankly there's big money and coaches who put their lives into improving the form of the best players in the world.

A kinematic chain is simply put - rigid bodies connected by joints. We could get very technical here, but I want this to be readable - so I'm going to try to keep this friendly enough that I could understand it (which is to say that a dim witted caveman could understand it).

The degrees of freedom (mobility) of the chain impose constraints on the system. The easy way to think of that, is that our joints (knees, hips, shoulders, elbows) all have a certain amount of flexibility and that effects how we throw a disc. We can bend to a point, then we have to stop because it doesn't bend anymore!

The first thing that is important to cover is how our body (our kinematic chain) is connected to the ground. Pushing off the ground is the first element of any motion. If you were standing on a slick ice rink, it would be nearly impossible to drive a disc in any powerful way. We're typically connected via a better surface than ice, so we have to take advantage of that by being smart.

The way the feet connect to the ground is critical for two reasons: first, because it's going to drive the force of your shot and second, it's going to transfer the force through your knee, starting the chain reaction of force. If you are setting your feet on the ground in a bad way - you might be able to get good force, but you can't transfer any of it into your knee! You may be able to put all the force into the knee, but not be able to generate enough force to be useful. You can see, it's gotta happen right!

Pretty similar? The kinematic chain in action.

Tennis is almost all torsion and less lateral movement because they have much less time to react, but it's a very similar kinematic chain. Disc golf's backhand is much more a combination lateral shifting that terminates in rotation. Because we have the time and space to setup our chain, we can get some huge force going.

The back foot can transfer weight two common ways:

1. You can get up on the ball of your foot with the heel off the ground. I prefer this and it's like a boxer driving a punch. (Paul McBeth does this quite often)
2. You can plant the foot flatter, and rock through the instep like a pitcher coming off a mound. (Feldberg is doing that above)

In both cases, you want to see your back foot leaving the ground heel first, not toes first. If your toes are leaving the ground before your heel, then you're not going to get the best weight shift and torsion that you can.

A very common issue is having your back foot's toes pointed too far backwards which stops any real transfer of power from the foot into the knee. We call this getting horse stanced (like you're sitting on a horse with your feet spread wide) and while it's very balanced, it's terrible for initiating the uncoiling of the torsion you create.

Torsion is the product of twisting our upper body against our lower body in the back-swing. Creating and unloading torsion is a huge part of the power generation of both a forehand and a backhand.

There's a feature of our biology as humans that is a big part of the backhand. A back-swing can twist our upper body to a physical constraint. We only have so much freedom of movement before our hips stop our upper body from turning anymore.

When you hit that constraint, the spring of your upper body is fully loaded. This is why it's so important to time your back-swing so that you're not reaching back before you're ready to use that torsion. 

As soon as you are hitting the limit of your back-swing, you want it to reverse and start coming back the other way. Reach back too early and leave the upper body sitting for a bit,  and everything relaxes.  The last thing you want is your muscles decide to chill out for a bit instead of remaining taught and explosive! Think of all the other sport motions that utilize a constraint to bounce back from: Baseball hitters, baseball pitchers, football quarterbacks, hockey shots, tennis shots... the list is long. 

When it's timed right, you're coiling to the constraint of your mobility - then immediately uncoiling as the plant foot is pushing back against the weight of your forward momentum. That combo is so forceful that your arm's job becomes to simply hold onto the disc, bringing it through the elbow extension.

It's something I reiterate all the time: there's no throwing the disc hard*. Throwing it hard implies that you're using arm muscle to try to force the disc forward. Once you've felt the power of torsion and a solid plant, there's a couple things that you notice: it's almost effortless and the disc will feel like it's violently ejecting from your hand.

The motion is going to happen so fast, that any idea of putting any real force into the extension of the forearm is pretty absurd.

* I definitely hesitate to get into the following, because it's hard to know what forces are truly greater - but it does seem like a powerful uncorking of the back swing is more powerful than the force of the brace. I know a number of guys who are throwing some big distance from the one-step and it's clear that the power is all rotation. I'm not saying that you don't need to brace, I'm saying that for distance over accuracy you can amplify the torsion by increasing the depth of the back swing and delaying it a bit so that the action has to happen faster. So you can probably get away with saying "uncork hard".

And since we're talking about crazy stuff, let's look at the following graph: (original thread here)

What it shows is that as the disc speed out of your hand increases - the RPMs of the disc itself DECREASES at a pretty specific speed. As you start really getting big hand speed (55mph+) things change a bit around the wrist and the ejection of the disc. I have had many conversations about this with people, but it was always conjecture. This was the first time I saw actual data on where the physical action of a throw changes. Higher speed distance shots, it appears to me, are more influenced by hand speed than the levering action of the disc out of the hit.

So most likely there's a good chunk of distance that is frustratingly, a wash. You can increase hand speed, decrease the spin of the disc, and end up with a shorter shot because the disc will be less stable. There's slower hand speeds, with higher spin, that will travel farther going slower because the spin rate is higher.... BUT (UHG!!!) there's also not any very high speed releases that have high spin rates.

What actually imparts spin on the disc, is the disc being held later into the hit. Once the hand speed is really high, it becomes really hard to hold the disc late enough to impart that same spin levels.

Just kill me now. I'm gonna be in the back yard putting.,. (slams door).... Okay, I'm back.

You can also increase the hand speed by coming into the right pec with more hand speed, assuming you can tolerate the force and truly hold through the hit - but the extension is where the forces multiply. The very VERY last bit you are holding the disc, is ultimately the most important for imparting acceleration with spin that will stabilize your disc.

It's the biggest reason of why your grip is so important. The violence of the redirection of your hand around the nose of the disc is going to be substantial. I've stopped squeezing the rim with my index finger in my power grip, instead focusing on keeping it in a very hook-like hold with my thumb. That way when the initial fingers blow off the rim, I still have some extra pull on the rim. 

Lastly, this kinetic chain is very dependent on something that I may never live down: staying loose.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Gateway Mystic & Warrior disc review

By: Kyle O'Neill (and a little bit from Jason)

I’m a big fan of Gateways stable of putters (who isn’t?). My main putters are Organic Warlocks, and I’ve got a Magic and Wizard in the bag as well. So when my buddy Jason posted a huge stack of Gateway plastic on Facebook that included a handful of mids and drivers, I was practically salivating. I’d been wanting to check out Gateways other offerings for some time, and the understable Mystic (mid-range) and the overstable Warrior (also a mid) jumped out at me immediately.
We threw a 180g Evolution Plastic
First up, the Mystic. To call it understable is a bit of an understatement. The first time throwing it was off the tee was when I needed a slight turn and then a bit of fade at the end. I released the Mystic flat and with a decent amount of power, and it definitely obliged on the turn. In fact, it turned over and never thought about coming back. I thought to myself "ok, maybe it needs less power and a hyzer release."

So, I tried that on the next launch. On a 250’ or so upshot I powered down and released with a degree of hyzer. The flip up to flat looked promising, but unfortunately it continued to flip and over it went again. Throughout the round I played with it, I had a difficult time dialing it in. I did find myself in a couple situations where I needed to just go right (I’m a RHBH thrower), and it performed admirably there. Jason also took it for a couple spins, and he seemed to have more luck with it (he also may just have better control of his release, as much as I hate to admit that). I throw a Buzzz SS when I need a slower drive to turn over, and a Latitude 64 Fuse when I REALLY need a shot to stay right.

The Mystic seemed to fall even further down the spectrum, at least for the throws I was attempting. I would have loved this disc when I first started my disc golf ‘career’ and didn’t have as much power (I’m not claiming any Herculean arm speed now), and I would recommend it for more novice players.
Jason's input: I had a somewhat different opinion from Kyle. As he mentioned, it's a disc that requires a really clean release on a slight hyzer and then it trucks and glides as far as any mid I've ever thrown. I love throwing hyzer flips and especially on up hill shots, a disc like the mystic is going to float up easier than my traditional go-to mid which is the Truth. I'm bagging the mystic as my turn over / hyzer flip disc especially as I like the way the inside of the rim feels on my fingers. It's rounded and relatively shallow which fits my hand really well.
That said, you really have to make sure you are getting appropriate spin on the disc to stable it out if you want this disc to fly 300-350'. Once you get a solid spin/acceleration it'll travel really nicely.
We tested a 177g Evolution. Pictured above is Sure Grip.
That brings us to the Warrior. After flipping the Mystic over a half dozen times, I was beginning to lose confidence in my ability to properly throw a mid-range disc. The Warrior, however, restored that faith in me once again.

The Warrior is definitely the bigger, more overstable brother in Gateway’s mid lineup. I was able to apply the power I needed to hold the disc on a big hyzer line and then some. Whereas my Roc3 will flip up, hold flat and then fade at the end, the Warrior only flirted with a horizontal position and then went right back to gliding on it’s beautiful and direct path to the basket. Colorado has no shortage of head winds, so when the opportunity presented itself I tested out that scenario as well.

I was able to apply a bit more power and the Warrior held fast, where the aforementioned Roc3 wouldn’t stand a chance. There’s definitely a place for this disc in my bag, for when there’s a sexy hyzer line to navigate or when I’m not quite willing to pull out my Gator. I very much appreciate the opportunity to toss the Mystic and Warrior for a couple rounds, and I’m equally excited to try more Gateway discs (maybe a driver!).

When you throw, throw with gusto Heavy Discers!

Jason's Input: I have always struggeled with headwind mid-range discs. I have a Z-Drone that feels too over-stable even in a pretty strong wind. The Z-Buzzz's that I have can handle up to a certain amount of wind, but then they go nose down hard. The Warrior is right in between those 2 discs and makes for a great option for throwing 250-300' mid range shots in wind with a predictability that I really like. It would also make a nice shorter approach forehand disc and like all Gateway Mids, the rim is the same, it's relatively shallow and rounded for a nice comfortable grip.
Evolution plastic is mandatory. The Sure Grip plastic beats in faster than any plastic I've run into yet. Sure Grip feels good out of the box, but it doesn't seem to stand up to wear and tear like I need discs to.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

The Long and Short with Brody Miller

Brody Miller putting the disc in the basket.
There was a video that caught my eye a couple months back from the Oregon DGC (what up Alex!?) that highlighted some truly amazing putts and throw-ins from Portland's Brody Miller. I wanted to hunt this fella down and pick his brain for thoughts on his short game. A little cyber-stalking later and he'd agreed to share some knowledge with us. Of course my work schedule (and his) slowed things down a bit, so I had HeavyDisc corespondent / bird lawyer / disc golf buddy Kyle O'Neill step in to ask some questions.

So thanks to Kyle and Brody for the following interview. First though, check out this insanity.

What do your putting practices consist of? Do you have a specific routine you follow, or just go out and start tossing your putters?
Typically when I practice putt I will have a handful of putters all exactly the same. I like to practice different styles from different distances. I straddle putt from 10, 15, 20 feet, etc; and putt standard stance from 10, 15, 20 feet, etc. I usually like to putt from one spot until I make 30 without missing.

Do you practice up shots as much as your putting (or even driving), and if so do you have a routine for that as well?
I'm glad you asked. My approach game is pretty strong. My home courses are very short, I will often "disc down" rather than throw a driver soft. I will throw a midrange or a putter, doing so gives me better control and accuracy. They typically have better control in windy conditions over drivers on short throws.

What types of discs are you using for both shorter approach shots and for putting? Do you change those discs based on the situation you find yourself in, or do you stick with the same few discs regardless? 
Playing for Latitude 64 I have great options for putters. I have a great relationship with my zero hard Pure for the majority of my putting needs inside of 50 feet. Outside of that I will typically use a zero medium Pure. Anytime I am outside of 40 feet I will use a modified jump putt for which a zero medium Pure allows me to apply extra spin. When throwing approaches or putter tee shots I use a zero medium Pure or opto Pure. These are not only very controllable but very durable as well. They all have the exact same feel in the hand, which I find to be very helpful with consistency. To compensate for wind I will typically change the angle of release rather than the disc.

Ridiculous things happening.
In the video I referenced above, you hit some long putts using some very interesting lines. What influences the lines you take during a jump putt? Do you always jump putt, and if not, inside what range are you comfortable with?
The wind, gaps in the trees, trouble or ob around greens, and distance all influence the lines and angles I use during a jump putt. On uphill or longer putts I tend to use a jump putt. On a downhill putt I won’t usually jump at all. On flat ground outside of 40 feet I will use a modified jump putt.

We know that the mental aspect of disc golf, like in all sports, is a huge part of the game. After a missed putt that you feel you should have made, or an errant up shot, how do you go about putting that unsavory shot out of your mind in order to execute the next? What goes through your mind during those instances?
We all miss. It is a game of minimizing our mistakes. If you go into a round knowing you will have misses, hopefully, when you do miss it will not affect your next shot. We would all love to make every shot, but the reality is even the best players in the world miss. Typically it's the recovery of that miss that makes them great. In my mind, when I miss, making the next shot is the most important thing.

What's the best piece of advice about the short game that you've received during your career? While learning the game, was there someone that you tried to emulate in order to improve your skills?
The best advice someone once gave me was about staying positive. If you can stay positive in the worst of situations or bad rounds then you cannot be defeated. You might not win the round or the event but you will have a better chance than the people hanging their heads in defeat. During the Ken Climo era I think everyone wanted to putt the way he did. I would watch videos and try to emulate his style. Growing up with a father that played great disc golf, as well, I certainly picked up some of his style. More than anything I have always tried to do what's most comfortable.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Tyler Liebman: Eagle drive form breakdown

I was hoping that Tyler would have some time to chime in on this post, but he (like most of us) has been very busy. Hopefully we can connect soon for an interview. I wanted to do a quick form break down, because he's got very solid form from footwork to extension.We got to play a practice round together and I was very impressed with his control.

Step 1. Eyes on the target. Visualizing the exact flight of the disc before starting the step is a fantastic habit to get into. If your mind isn't exactly sure where the disc is supposed to go, how can we expect to put it there?

Step 1
Step 2. First stride, head still on the target and now the shoulders are aimed at the target. Body has transitioned sideways to move down the teepad. Disc is held loosely in front of your chest.

Step 2
Step 3.  Tyler's x-step is really more of a x-hop. Dead vertical, shoulders still aimed at the target, no leaning backwards or forward and eyes still on the target. Notice how there's no leaning backwards or forwards - this is a huge key in keeping yourself balanced through the entire motion. Getting leaned back or forward here is going to cook your goose.

Also it's very important to note where the disc is. Still has not started the back-swing.

Step 3

Step 4. The back-swing is a counter motion to moving your plant foot forward. If the plant foot is not moving forward, then you are not initiating a back-swing! Back foot: heel never touched the ground. I preach this all the time: an easy way to get your posture more athletic is to stay on the ball of your back foot. Weight is transferring into the plant foot toes first and into the instep.

Step 4
Step 5:  Weight shifts into the plant leg. Look at the difference in the location of Tyler's hips from step 4 to 5. They've shifted into the brace. Loading the plant foot - you can see what the weight is doing to his plant shoe. He's braced hard against the instep.

Eyes/head perpendicular to line you're throwing on. Hand on the outside of the disc as the elbow is driven forward.

Step 5
Step 6: Hips open! I was excited to see that the video frame caught this moment. The wrist is being loaded, pulling towards his forearm.  I've been focusing on resisting the bending of the wrist, trying to keep the wrist from bending too deep.  His hips are driving the upper body around a rotational axis now - which along side the bracing of his forward momentum is going to be huge for the next step.
Step 6
Step 7: This was the next frame I could grab, which goes to show how much force you can generate with a solid plant and rotation. The momentum is going to blast your upper body around the axis. By shifting the hips into your plant leg, your momentum goes up your body into your arm instead of having your momentum carry your body forward off the end of the teepad.

Now you can let your shoulders pull your head through the follow-though. The plant toes come up to release pressure on your knee and allow the plant foot to pivot open.
Step 7
Step 8: Follow-though on the plane you released the disc on and watch your disc hum out to the basket for an eagle look!
Step 8
Watch the whole thing full speed here: youtube.com/watch?v=T04UwFneC8o