Thursday, July 31, 2014

More on Hips and some Outtakes

I've officially gone deep into the rabbit hole of backhand technique. I feel like Jack Bauer on hour 23 of saving the world from some plot that involves 17 double crosses and corruption in the reach back and... not you plant foot??!!  You would do this to me?!?!

It's been an evolving internal dialog while I'm doing all this fieldwork and reading in the dark corners of the form/analysis forums that has me thinking about learning how to drive from a standstill. It  is regularly given out as advice to people looking to fix their form.

The issue I have with this advice is that a distance drive from a standstill does not translate into fixing the way 99% of players drive, which is with an x-step or an x-hop. "But how will they learn to shift their weight? It will help smooth out the backswing!", I can hear the calls of heresy already.

You do not generate your forward momentum the same way in a stand still drive. In a stand still you have add something to the movement that you do not have to add in an x-step. It's much easier to take a step or two to get your hips moving.

I'm not saying that there's no value in learning to drive from a standstill. I'm saying that if you're working on getting the fundamentals down, take the easy access to power first.  I am making a big assumption, and it's probably the biggest hole in my argument - but I'm assuming that you aren't strong arming. The Dan Beto Video teaches how to make sure to accelerate the disc from your right pec... and it's probably taught more people the right way than any other video. The right pec drill though, once you've worked out where to pull from, isn't going to fix all the other issues of timing that you still have to work out.

And driving from a standstill and throwing upshots from a standstill are two different things. I believe that regularly throwing piles of upshots from 50-250' is a great idea... but toiling away to hit 350' from a standstill with a putter, I just don't think it's the best use of my time. Add a step and save yourself the headache. At least that's my argument.

Okay. Moving on.

There seems to be two common ways to generate a weight shift when driving with an x-step or x-hop. You can twist your hips against your core muscles during the reach back, then drive your knee down to uncork the hips, the core, the shoulders. This style is clearly visible in Will Schusterick's form. He has what I'll call an "active knee drop" where he's using the forward momentum from the x-step that's pushing him down the tee-pad instead of pushing with the back foot.

When you watch the full video you can see his hips are staying at the same velocity throughout the x-step until they stop during the plant/twist/open. The hips are not really accelerating from the plant foot - they're maintaining the momentum created in his x-step. His knees work together like a wave; it's really impressive.

Feldberg exemplifies the second style I'll call a "straight knee", which is much less driven from a twisting hip and more from a hip driving forward and the hips open with the drive, not from the dropping knee. He is accelerating his hips forward from his back foot to his plant. When you watch the full video, you can see Dave actually catches up with Will by accelerating forward to his plant foot (even accounting for the fact that he's further back in the teebox) because he's pressing/sliding his hips forward with that back foot.

The key difference is that an active-knee is going to require that back knee to get involved and some people are not built for that motion. I think Paul McBeth is somewhere in between. He does drop his knee, but it also appears that he's getting some drive from the instep of his back foot before he drops his knee.

And here's the kicker and one of the most frustrating parts of digging through all the footage, the screen shots, the posts... as players start taking some heat off a throw, they all do it different ways.

  • Shorten up the back-swing
  • Don't drive their hips open with the knee.
  • Don't involve the hips as much. 
  • Less momentum from x-step

On top of that, they will adjust how closed or open their shoulders are and on top of that the amount of hyzer or anhyzer they can change things as well.

But for now, we can see that just in the hips, there's 2 distinctive styles. An active hip opening (Will) and a more combined hip/core opening (Dave).

The current curriculum if I was going to teach Backhand 101, would look like this:

1. Footwork: X-hop vs X-Step
2. Hips: Active knee vs straight knee hip shift
3. Upright Spine from Beginning to End, Coiling not Reaching
4. Wide reach back, hand on the outside of the disc
5. Driving Elbow, Pulling nip to nip on a flat line
6. Bracing on the Plant Foot

To answer a question that somebody messaged me:

Yeah, frustration is something I deal with.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

A Budget Friendly GRIP EQ Alternative

And a quick update w/ some easy modifications.

A thread popped up on DGCR (here it is) where bamfb posted some huge images of a bag he had found. It was a really promising looking disc golf bag that was a back pack style very similar to a model, the GRIP EQ.

I have a limited budget that means $150-250 for a backpack just isn't happening. I'd been using a nice big quad-strap style bag that my brother had given me, but once it was loaded up, it didn't carry nearly as nice as a smaller camera bag that I'd rigged up for discs previously. But it could carry about 22 discs and 2 water bottles, so I stuck with it. Eventually I ended up just carrying about about 12 discs (4 putters, 3 mids, 5 drivers) because it was much easier on my shoulders/neck.

But I missed the comfort of a backpack.

I'd looked at a ton of fishing packs that could accommodate the wideness required of discs, but nothing really struck me as right.

Seeing this bag, I almost immediately knew it was a winner and after about 10 minutes of digging for other reviews, I pulled the trigger.

It's currently available here: Overstock shipping was free, but slow.

I may end up making a disc divider out of some thick square bottles like I did for my last camera bag - or I might go fancy with some pvc pipe. I've yet to decide, but either way - I'm already very happy with the bag.

El cheapo dividers.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

The Backhand Bible Part 2

I have this idea that starts out on most of my technique posts, that I want to share the specific things that are improving my form. Then I start typing... deleting... editing... more typing... and eventually I think I've struck a balance in communicating the message and the overall idea - but with body mechanics, it's simply a very difficult thing to explain in text.

It's like trying to explain how to do the fox-trot. Just step step, twist, swing, step! Easy, right? Now grab your tuxedo and head down to the ballroom! So I figured I'd try a video - and of course the wind noise is a big pain in the butt, but it's only bad for a bit.

The crux of a backhand is that there's multiple components to it that have to work together. I've seen countless videos, and some are pretty good about showing how to do an individual movement - but sometimes that practice motion is easy to do slow, but hard to do faster. I wish there was a gold standard for form, that we could practice specific drills to improve.

If you fix one issue, you can often times see a big improvement to jump from 300 to 400'. It seems that beyond 400', the whole system has to be done smoothly and efficiently to start multiplying out your efforts.

In the video below, I realize that I exaggerated how long to hold onto the disc - I know you don't actually end up with your arm dead straight in front of you, but I was trying to make the point that I am trying tp hold the disc late into the arc.

Avery holding to the last second, then the disc levers out between thumb and fore-finger knuckle.

Stand still driving mastery.

The latest version of the x-step backhand. Still a work in progress.
Something that I picked up along the way, is that I'm trying to move my body past the disc. In the animated GIF above, you can see how the disc stays put right next to that bush until I'm all the way past it - and then it comes forward on a straight line.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

The Daily Grind

Not much to say that I didn't in the video - but I thought it would be an interesting experiment to shoot a bit of my daily routine and try a little voice over.

And of course the intro is a nod to CCDG!

Monday, July 21, 2014

The Backhand Bible

What follows are the keys that unlocked some aspects of my backhand that has drastically improved in the last month. I am going to curtail my typically long-winded blogging style to try to make this post as concise as possible and I'm going to break the post up into a few sections.

Correcting form that you've developed over years of practice is going to be difficult, but if you want to put the effort in - it will eventually work. But make no mistake, unlearning bad habits is very difficult.  More than once I ranted about how ridiculous it was that I even cared that my form was wonky, and why exactly was I torturing myself with trying pick apart my form when I was just making things WORSE!?

But we do this to do it right.


Footwork is a means for creating a weight transfer from your back leg to your front leg while putting your core/upper body into a position to accept that power.
A quick thought experiment to explain why this is so important: You have a scale under your front foot and your back foot. If you weigh 150 pounds and are standing flat footed - each scale reads 75lbs. Now you lean your weight back and forth gently - the weight transfers 150 on one side, 0 on the other. If you load up your back leg like a boxer throwing a punch from your toes, and leverage all your weight hard into your plant foot - you can get 300 pounds on the front scale by adding force to your weight. That's what transferring your weight can do - which will move through your hips, your core, then your arm.
That's the key to an x-step. You are creating force that will have to go somewhere, and if somebody has told you that you're not transferring your weight - that's what they're talking about.

The X-Step (Video) or X-Hop (Video) are the two most common steps. Both steps are intended to maximize the amount of weight that you can transfer into your plant foot, while still keeping you balanced. Watching the top pros, you'll notice they all have smooth and controlled movement.

It's very easy to think that if you slow down your x-step, you will not have as much power. Which is technically true (Force = Mass x Acceleration), but you have to keep in mind that adding more power into your system can very easily throw off the other things that happen down the line. Your most usable and controllable power will come from being in a powerful position, not from throwing your body forward faster.

A controlled and smooth step will deliver enough force to blast the disc in a round. A big run-up is not necessary, it's all about getting your body into a powerful position. Obviously throwing in distance comps is another thing all together - but that's not what I'm talking about here.

The key to footwork for me was that I was much better with the x-hop, I had to slow WAY down, and that I had to drive from the ball of my rear foot.


I wrote a very long post about hips here, which you're welcome to dive into - but I'll get to the meat right here.

The KEY is this:  Right handed backhands are dependent on a LEFT HANDED stance, which is exactly what you have with a tennis/racket-ball backhand shot or a left handed hockey shot.

Practicing an opposite handed baseball or hockey swing (or a regular tennis backhand) will help with getting the feeling right. It's backwards and it's going to take some time to get used to, but the more you practice - the easier it will feel.

By using your hips in conjunction with the braced plant leg and THEN opening the hips -  you are transferring the energy from your plant leg into your torso.

Upper Body / Wide Reach

Of all the things that I was doing wrong (and that's a long list), this was extra wrong.

KEY 1 - delay the reach back. If you're doing the x-hop, don't even start moving the disc backwards until you're at the TOP of the hop. The disc moves backwards at roughly the same pace that your plant foot moves forward from that "top of the hop" position.

Top of the hop, THEN the disc moves back.
Same with the x-step,  the disc will still be in front of your torso until you start moving that plant leg forward.

I see it all the time in the "critique my form" posts, players will be reaching back way too early and they're facing backwards for half of the motion. I was guilty too, it's an easy mistake to make.

The upper body needs to stay upright and reach-back/coil late. This creates a very uniquely springy feeling that is going to get magnified by that opening hip that's loaded with all that plant foot force.

My sin was that I would bend at the waist during my reach-back instead of twisting my waist. The tell-tale sign was that my upper body would catapult past my plant foot, which would destroy any of that power I was trying to create.

KEY 2 - Wide Reach

This was particularly difficult for me as I'd watched sooooo much footage of top players that was filmed from the left side of the tee-box. I didn't realize that their reach back was so far away from their bodies, I assumed it was directly behind them. This is where the term "rounding" comes into play - because if your torso is between the disc and it's release point, you're going to have to pull the disc around your body.

Needless to say that rounding is bad and that you end up hugging yourself to pull the disc around your chest.

The fix is to have that arm stay WIDE of the body. I've adopted (at least for now) the Nate Doss angle, which is listed in this image as Dan (aka Beato from DiscGolfReview). (40 seconds in you'll get a great angle of Nate Doss).

The feeling of coming out wide, was one of those "ah-ha" moments where suddenly my arm felt like a very heavy whip. The disc truly just rips from your hand when you hit it hard. And the strangest thing of all is that the biggest throws are always the least effort.

Update: I wanted to show exactly what that middle diagram looks like in action, because it's pretty confusing:

As it was pointed out in a reddit post, the reach-back should really be called the reach-out.

Frame by Frame: Full size if you click it.

Plant and Pivot

The best way I can think of the entire system is one of a player encapsulated in a sliding A-Frame. It's very upright and powerful and it culminates in one side of the A-Frame being loaded with force and braced.

You don't want your head or core breaking that A-Frame during the reach-back or the plant. It's harder than it looks - but practicing that plant foot, even without a disc - will help develop the feel for staying inside the walls of the frame.

If your head or upper body breaks that wall of the frame, you start leaking all that power out, instead of transferring it into the disc. Keeping your head on the inside of that a-frame and on the same axis as that line is huge!

This "wall" will come with practice and video taping / reviewing. Again, it helps to think of the motion as an opposite handed hockey shot, baseball swing, or regular tennis back-hand. Practice with a very slow x-step because it'll make this difficult motion slightly easier to learn. It's not easy though... at least it wasn't for me.

The pivot is there to release the strain on your knee. All that force needs to go somewhere, so don't let it be your ACL! Pivoting the plant foot open on the heel, immediately after the disc release, is something that seems to be most common - though there is some variations among the top pros.

And that's it. Those are the hard learned keys that helped me go from wonky to less wonky... please feel free to toss any "ah-ha!" moments that you had into the comments and I hope that some of this helps.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Improving Backhand Form - Part 297

Quick update (7/10/2014): I've been staying after it everyday - making some progress. Still pulling too close to my chest, which causes my disc to drop a bit - but I'm getting the plant/pivot to work and it's coming along. Even got my brother out to the field yesterday to join in the torture!
What a long strange trip it's been. A month ago, I went from feeling great about playing well in my first tournament, to a raging case of tennis elbow that came on like a freight train right after I got home. I tried a few quick fixes (snake oil and and some voodoo), but after talking to my buddy who is a doctor - I decided to stop anything that "hurts" which ended up being EVERYTHING except easy upshots.

After a couple weeks of nothing but upshots, I decided to start videoing myself and see what my backhand form actually looked like, frame by frame. I've had a couple blog posts about what kind of torture that started. Ultimately my form was completely wrong. My backhand WORKED in that I could throw drivers 400-425' and they were pretty accurate to 350' - probably because I throw so much fieldwork that I got very comfortable with my wonky form.

But I would watch my buddies with rock-solid form throw as far or much further, with what looked like substantially less effort. So I decided to figure out what I needed to tweak to get better results.

But, there was no tweak.

There was only the reset button.
The nuclear option.
A full rebuild.

The problem that I faced was probably the single most common issue with disc golfers: I was generating the disc acceleration and hand speed without my hips.

Sidewinder22 is one of the resident form masters at DGCR - and most of the time somebody asks for help, he'll respond with some videos and some very good advice about learning how to throw like the pros.

You can read the full thread here, if you're especially bored: Throwing putters

Back and forth we corresponded... until I was frustrated and basically hand-cuffed and posted the following:
So I went out to try to incorporate the video above - head on the inside, tilted. The best way I can describe it, is that I know where I'm supposed to end up... but now I'm very stuck even at the slowest pace getting into that position dynamically.

Meaning, I can get myself into that braced position - but once there, I don't feel like I can throw, and I can't seem to "slide into" that position in order to throw.

Is there a way to think about it that makes this transformation easier? Should I be thinking along the lines of hockey stopping or ski checking speed - and then having all my energy pivot up and right?
To which he replied with a great image that spawned my "ah-ha! moment":

Now I'll just let you watch my happiness/insanity unfold here:

And then today, I stood outside my garage, while my kid looked at me like I'd fully lost my mind, swinging his tennis racquet in the alley at invisible tennis balls, realizing that my backhand drive is actually more like hitting a tennis backhand, which makes getting my hips right a bit easier than trying to do a left handed hockey shot.

Hips opening and plant foot pivot... it's just tennis!
Over and over, I had lunged past my plant foot if I tried to throw the disc farther than 300.' I would reach back, leaning over my back foot - getting my balance all wonky - then swinging my upper body forward and the whole mess was flying everywhere, power leaking out at every turn - accuracy going to poop.

The hockey image and the tennis imagery immediately highlighted my struggle. I had to brace against my plant leg like our buddy below (nice shorts):

The really nice thing about having a little background in tennis is that I can plant with my right foot, as if I was trying to throw/swing/hit left handed. And that's the key! Right handed backhands are ultimately dependent on a LEFT HANDED stance, which is exactly what you have with a tennis backhand.

You never see a tennis player (a good one at least) hit a backhand and go flying forward afterwards. They pivot on their plant foot and are back to a balanced stance. The bad news is that if you have no reference at all for this left handed/right footed stance - you may just want to learn to throw left handed backhand! 

I kid, I kid. It just means that you're going to have to learn to open your hips (face them forward) which is what you'd be doing if you were swinging a baseball bat left handed, throwing a pitch left handed, hitting a hockey shot left handed... basically all the things we never do as right-handers, which is why we struggle so mightily with this concept.

I'm nowhere near done. NOWHERE NEAR DONE, but that's okay. I have some idea now - and I have much work to do, which is very exciting and I know I have to keep after it. There is some light at the end of this tunnel, and I hope if you're working on your form - this helps in some small way.

And just to beat this horse one more time - here's some of the biggest arms in the game planting, bracing and pivoting without flying past the end of the tee pad.