Monday, February 10, 2014

The Distance Check List

Sometimes I will feel like I'm taking 1 step forward and 2 steps back when it comes to disc golf and so I've tried to come up with a quick check list to use if things are going sideways with my drives.

Real quick, I have a few things I wanted to say before I jump into the meat of this post. First, a huge thank you to Marty over at the PDGA marketing department. He's started sharing a few of my blog posts on their Facebook page and it's been a huge bump in our readership and the comments section is really starting to get going.

I also wanted to say thanks to Alan at, who contacted me a while back to to say that he was spending too much time reading the blog and that he'd be happy to send over a few free discs to review. For a guy like me, who's just a hack player who likes to write - this was really cool. REALLY cool and I hope that our readers will pay him a visit! I've got a Dynamic Discs Renegade in the bag that's getting worked over for an upcoming review.

Okay, so lately it's been cold and absolutely miserable. It was -16° the morning I started writing this post and of course I wanted to throw something anyways. At least it was relatively easy to find my discs even if they were doing their best to hide.

The Bugs Bunny tunnel.

After about 20 minutes I was frozen solid. My beard was iced over. My jimmies had crawled somewhere up into my stomach. Too cold for me so I scuttled back inside.

Once I warmed up with a steamy cup of coffee, I ended talking with my buddy Kyle on the phone for about an hour about technique. He's re-worked his backhand a few times and the process was torture for him. Losing distance and accuracy while you're trying to correct bad habits is absolutely brutal, but ultimately it's helped him with consistency and accuracy. He won my tag off me in our last round too.

Learning to throw is without question a very painful task and very counter intuitive. Then you think you've got it. You're cracking out 300-400' drives and skipping up to the pin for an easy birdie. Innova is calling you about a sponsorship and you're not sure if you should buy a Maserati or a Ferrari for commuting to the disc golf course.

 Decisions, decisions.

Then the next day, you're killing yourself to get 275', flipping over discs, discs fluttering out of your hand and you're wondering what the hell is wrong. As Johan Sleman pointed out in the comments, we're creating a kinetic chain of muscles, bones, ligaments, joints, even fascia and skin and it turns out there's quite a few things that go into that. The more you read and watch about technique - the more data points that you have to keep track of and remember - and most painfully, try to integrate into your form.

In my case it was a few months back, I was standing out in my favorite soccer field - trying to do all the things that I had read about, and it had made my form incredibly forced and robotic. My drives dropped off and I got frustrated. I was trying to do all these things right and all I was getting in return was a terrible drive.

It was about a week of this and finally I said, screw it, I'm just going to forget everything and throw my bag as loose as I could. Like a big wet noodle with a very short run up.  Loose hands, loose body, loose arm - generally trying to do things right - but I was not going to think about it.

Bingo. I was able to throw my mid's 300' immediately. "Awesome, I'll just add my X-Step and throw a big drive!"

No dice! 250-275'. It was clear at that point, that as soon as I started tightening up and trying to "rip it"  - I completely screwed up my kinetic chain.

This went on for about an hour that day. I would throw fantastic when I was loose, then I would try to throw further and lose distance. Finally, I mentally said that I was going to throw my RoadRunner on a hyzer-flip as slow as I could, and just try to clamp down on it really hard at the release.

I almost fell over when I saw it go 400'. It was the loosest throw of the day and it was by far the furthest. By slowing down, I kept the disc lower, under by chest, and my arm was looser.

Through tons of trial-and-error I eventually came up with the following very basic list for diagnosing what's going wrong when I'm losing distance. It has helped me to quickly self-diagnose in conjunction with lots of video reviewing in the field.

1. Slow Down. It's crazy, it sounds crazy, it feels crazy, but it's true. We're not throwing the disc far like you would with football, we're accelerating it and spinning it out of a lever. When you accelerate and spin it - the disc will travel. You've probably seen this many times when throwing an upshot 100-150' and you barely put anything on the disc in your reach-back, but your really squeeze your grip at the release and the disc looks like a laser beam!

Speeding things up will make it harder to accelerate the disc. Speeding it up, at least in my case, almost always introduces tightness, raising the disc too high in front of my chest, the disc nose being too far up, and off-axis torque. By waiting until the disc is in front of your chest, I feel like I'm giving myself a better chance to start the acceleration from a powerful spot - under your chest. 

2. Keeping the disc pulled tight and low to your chest. Coming away from your chest is going to take the snap out of the whip that you're creating with your arm. Bringing the disc up above your upper abdominal muscles almost always leads to trying to strong arm it. This is one of the many things that feels wrong while you're initially doing it. Since we were kids throwing Frisbees, we have been lofting them from arms length away and now you've got to pull it tight and keep your hand on the outside of the disc? Yep.

3. Part and parcel with #2 is driving with your elbow. By driving forward with your elbow you're also keeping your upper body forward during your follow through. Leaning back like you're a big league slugger is completely wrong. I see that most often when guys are trying to knock their disc out of the park (myself included) it puts your body in the wrong position for a clean follow through. By driving with your elbow and following through on the line you are throwing - you can take huge steps towards killing disc flutter from off axis torque.

4. Squeezing my grip right at the end. Loose hands, loose hands, SQUEEZE. It's so helpful to keeping the whole chain loose if you can keep your hand, wrist and forearm loose. Squeezing your grip hard at the end of the release will help to create the spin you want on the disc. Also important to note that you want to keep the nose down. What's really important about keeping a disc nose down?

"Drag force is minimum when lift is zero. This happens when angle of attack is about -4deg. (The disc's nose is turned downward 4deg with respect to the direction of flight)" - Sarah Hummel's Master's Thesis

You catch that? Took me like 4 times reading that to understand it. Drag on the disc is going to effect it the least if your disc is at -4° at the point you let go of it.

Huh? Okay, it means throw it nose down and it will go further because there's less drag on it before it steadies itself into it's natural flight pattern. FREE distance, I won't even charge ya!

So now you are trying to get all of these minute little details into your form without giving up being loose and smooth. The best thing I can equate it to is if you've ever tried to throw a ball opposite handed. You know you have to do all these things, and nothing feels quite right. This is by no stretch a comprehensive list of what to do - it's just 4 things I keep in mind if I'm trying to diagnose what I'm doing wrong. Slow, under my chest, elbow driving, squeeze it nose down.

There's a huge omission in this post. Footwork. Footwork can very well make all these issue meaningless and it could easily take up it's own long (and of course rambling) post. The video above does a great job (on the 2nd guy) of showing the key points of transferring all your momentum onto your plant foot and leading with your booty. I'm not discounting good footwork, it's just outside the scope of this already long post. (You'll also see Marty's preaching the same thing about staying loose with the first guy.)

Finally, I've been a big fan of MikeC's chilled out DG videos, including the above video. I've probably watched it 100 times. It really hits home that the disc doesn't accelerate until you've got it back to your chest. The proof is that you can see the disc clearly, until it enters the hit-zone, then it's basically a blur because that's where all the acceleration is happening.


  1. I wouldnt say going slow is the key, but rather to start slow and finish fast. sorta like you said to accelerate the disc, you want to be accelerating thru the pull. there are videos that refer to "the hit" this is sort of what I'm talking about.

    1. my bad i hadn't read the last little group of text written to see that it basically says that already. apologies.

  2. "Smooth is Far" When you see players making their best throws, it appears effortless because the energy transfer is efficient as possible.

  3. Whenever I'm on the /r/discgolf I'm constantly telling people who post fork videos, slow down! Yes we call it a run up, but you don't have to run. Funnily enough slowing down your approach and being smooth makes all of the timing points easier to hit, in turn being more efficient in your throw.

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