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.


  1. I dont really get the graphic on Key#2. i would like more information about this.

    1. I was lucky enough to find the text explaining the graph in an old Mashnut post in a dgcr thread, because the site is still down. Hopefully this is a short term outage.
      Think of the red line from the diagram as a "rail" that your hand follows on an average throw. you trace out the rail, and depending upon other factors, the disc leaves at some point along the rail.
      each rail has a "critical point," which usually sort of reflects the apex of the rail's arc (marked by a black dash). going back to the car analogy... if you enter the apex moving too fast, the "under-steer" is going to put you into the wall, aka a slip. your goal is to enter the apex "as fast as you can while still able to hold on" and accelerate rapidly out of the apex.
      the curvature of the rail provides everything needed for the disc to leave the hand, it's more a matter of when.
      the ideal pivot point, aka "how long you should hold onto the disc before it leaves" is approximated by the green dash.
      anything released before the critical point is a slip. when it's close to the point it's a micro slip (this can be useful when you try to finesse a touch shot). holding on just past the critical point is a half hit. holding on all the way is a full hit.
      i've diagrammed three rails. one is a good old average, sort of idealized rail. the blue circle represents the circle you would use to calculate the angular velocity of the disc as it is pulled beyond the critical point.
      as for why masterbeato throws so far, he reaches certain body positions that change the shape of the arc, and as a result, increases the radius of the circle. the abrupt directional change in his rail represents the starting point for the right pec drill (if you're wondering why i ever taught that in the first place).
      the last diagram shows a "shoulder spinner." people that twirl their body around without ever achieving a focal hit point. while the radius of their circle may be large... they usually enter with so much speed they have no prayer of holding onto the disc beyond the critical point along the rail. the result is a slip on every throw.
      the new method i'm working on is teaching people how to develop a good pace through the rail and manipulate its shape to give a maximum throw.
      having a good pace dominates the shape. the shape only matters when you have a good pace.

    2. what are the white circles?

  2. Heavy D,

    holy crap!



    "...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..."

    What an aha! moment that was for me. Of course!

    Not only does your body get in the way when you try to pull in a straight line immediately to the rear, but it is a strain on your shoulder to try and put the disc back there in the first place. I always felt like I was having to try really hard to get the disc straight back and high. I've been trying for so long to go from a linear pull to the pec drill position and explode from there, but whenever I tried to put some sauce on it I couldn't bring the disc in as close to my body. Because my body was in the way, the disc would have to turn around my body.

    I just went out in the back yard and did some 200' foot tosses - immediately noticed the difference. Thanks!!!!

    Seems to me Barry Schultz exemplifies the reach out technique.


    1. Nice!! I'm stoked to hear that man - those break throughs are so awesome - glad it helped click something!

  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

    1. Sweet, glad you found it! Good work and good luck with the tournaments!

  4. I can't say enough how much I appreciate your input. Very thorough and helpful!

  5. I keep thinking the same thing as mentioned above that my reachback needs to be straight back and straight through. And that my back has to be turned completely away from the target on the reach back. As a result I was way off balanced leaning in the wrong direction. I'll try the A frame for sure.

  6. And then there are days, like today, that I absolutely suck.

    1. There's always going to be peaks and valleys... eventually, more peaks.

    2. Today was a better practice session with my rhbh. Once I slowed way down, going from slow to fast, things improved. Like in ball golf dropping the club into the slot, I felt/saw my disc going into my throwing slot from the reachback to my right pec. By going slower, I felt more within my A frame and was able to generate more power going through. And keeping my head down helped. I was throwing about 300' which for me is really good being 5'5" and 125 lbs. I'll get there though with my distance. Now my forehand needs

  7. Weird Question: WRT the plant foot pivoting, should I only use od shoes? It seems like friction between your shoe and the concrete Tee pads can stress your plant foot knee..

    1. If you have your posture correct and braced against the plant foot, then lifting the toes should be enough to allow the heel pivot freely. Should not be something that new shoes would restrain from happening.

    2. Ok, thanks! I will try to lift the plant foot toe.

  8. I hate this. Every time I read one of your articles I have to go out in the yard and practice so I don't get any real work done. ;)