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Disc Review

Understanding the Bent Elbow Technique

by Blake Takkunen
Additional Comments by Dave Dunipace

Posted: 6-13-02
Latest Revision: 7-15-02

Table of Contents


I. Grip and the Hit

II. Balance and Footwork

III. Signs of Success


The 'Bent Elbow Technique' as described by Dave Dunipace on the PDGA message board and in Dave and Lowe Bibby's collaborated "Distance Secrets" article is one of the most efficient distance golf shot techniques available to most players. Many of the concepts involved are quite subtle and often counterintuitive, especially to those who are attempting to make the conversion from the standard long reach back throw. I have compiled a set of focal points and common misunderstandings when attempting a bent elbow throw and hopefully will be able to make this information more palatable to the general player. While this technique is very efficient, it requires a lot of conceptualizing and understanding of throwing mechanics. I recommend a firm grasp of the fundamentals of basic technique as a prerequisite to the bent elbow in order to avoid frustration and succeed with both power and accuracy.

I. Grip and the Hit

Grip strength is emphasized when it comes to distance throwing but for those who don't know what it feels like to throw over 400', grip timing is just as important if not more important than the strength of the grip. Up until the hit, your wrist, hand, and forearm should be loose. If you are clenching your grip down early or throughout your throw, your forearm will be rigid and your wrist will be immobile. While this might feel strong, it's going to prevent the motion and acceleration of the tendon bounce from the wrist, which is the source of power of the bent elbow technique. Your arm should be "tight" enough for you to hold it in place with your desired orientation, but it should not feel like you are flexing. There is a time to grip down hard and that is at the moment of the hit.

For those who do not have 400' of power, it may be difficult to conceptualize and really feel the hit. Stand with your feet perpendicular to an object (or other point of reference). Give your elbow a little bit of bend and keep your arm, wrist, and hand loose enough to move but tight enough to stay in place. Your hand should be oriented as if you are gripping a disc (choice of grip isn't important). Now act like you are snapping a towel at your target object (chances are your natural motion for this will involve a little bit of shoulder rotation). What you are listening for is the popping sound of your fingertips slapping against your palm. If you are getting the sound but it is very soft, your hand is too loose. Increase your grip strength a bit. If you are not getting a sound, your hand, forearm, and wrist are too tight. Try loosening up a bit. Search for a happy medium of muscle tension that gives the loudest pop. The exact point at which the pop happens is the "would be" hit. After you have been able to achieve this, attempt it again with a long reach back and see if you can get anything even close to the same result. Chances are the answer to this is no.

If you really pay attention to the motion and focus upon where the popping sound comes from you will find this motion captures the slight flex and abrupt stop of the wrist. As your arm whips forward, the elbow will naturally bend more and so will your wrist. At the point where you would snap the towel, your wrist will uncoil and snap back to its original orientation. The natural bending and coiling of your joints occur by momentum and the key is that your hand (and disc) acts as a weight that drags behind your forearm. The snapping back of the wrist and rip of the disc out of the hand are similar to an object being launched by a catapult. The launching device comes to an abrupt stop and the projectile keeps going in the direction of the acceleration put on it. The momentum of the arm and the sway of the wrist will also aid in finding the timing of the hit as the disc will naturally press itself tighter into your hand at the instant before it rips out.

Dave D.'s comments:
This is the point where the "tendon bounce" occurs.  The instant before the disc rips out is where the maximum acceleration occurs, and therefore, the maximum momentum shift, and therefore the maximum reverse force on the stiffened fingers and wrist.  If the fingers and wrist are held stiff enough in opposition to the force of the sharp momentum shift, the tendons will flex back and help to catapult the disc forward as it leaves the hand.  This is not a small force.  It's very large and is in large part what gives the 90+ mph baseball pitchers their velocity.

Download a video of the tendon bounce in Real format
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Tendon Bounce Tendon Bounce Tendon Bounce Tendon Bounce

If you can successfully "feel" the hit without a disc in hand you are now open to individual modification to the technique to suit your grip, body shape, and other personal factors. Focus on getting the strongest hit. Test it with varying degrees of elbow bend, reach back, and shoulder rotation. When you have found this point, make sure that you are able to integrate it into your motion for maximum snap. If you find you have a weaker hit when your shoulders are turned away from your target, make sure that the other parts of your throw (mainly footwork) are able to adjust to preserve the orientation and rotation that gives you the most power.

Dave D.'s comments:
I think it is very important to stress pulling through the hit rather than pushing into it with a long stroke.  The efficiency comes from a relatively short and quick acceleration into the hit that makes it much easier to orient older, slower hips, (or anyone's hips for that matter) for the power phase which is pulling through the hit with maximum force.  It allows for a more open stance so that you don't have to rotate your hips as far to get to the power band.  You still have to rotate your shoulders, but it is easier when they are being pulled by your hips.

Once you have focused in and found your hit of maximum power potential, you can concentrate on finishing. Do your towel snap motion again and pay careful attention to your amount of elbow bend at the hit. It is very likely that your elbow is not fully extended (arm not perfectly straight) at this point. It only makes sense to pull through the hit with this same amount of elbow extension. A common slipup is to try to pull through with the elbow fully extended. Your elbow should only straighten well into the follow through and well after the disc has left your hand. Momentum will do this naturally so you do not have to worry about concentrating on extending it yourself. The finish occurs by tightening your grip and really pulling through as the disc rips out of your hand. Not only will this add to your snap but it will also control the rpm's and nose angle of the disc. Following through straight across or down/lower will help jerk the nose down and ensure the disc will maintain as much speed as possible after it reaches cruise. I recommend concentrating on getting the bent elbow throw down before focusing on finishing. If your results end up anything like mine, you should be able to throw just as far or even a little farther than you were without a strong finish. Once you have it down, the strong finish is where the big D starts to rear its head.

Dave D.'s comments:
The word "jerk" connotes an uneven, not smooth throw as something to strive for.  This is not the case.  If your grip is poor, you may have to do this, but it is not desirable.  Orienting the disc in your hand and keeping your wrist down as much as possible is a better approach.

II. Balance and Footwork

Unless you are a well-seasoned pro with years of experience and power to spare, you absolutely, positively, with no exception have your weight over your front foot for a straight line drive shot. Many throwing errors, knee injuries and bad compensatory habits occur by throwing from behind your pivot foot instead of over it. The focus of your x-step should be to get the exact amount of shoulder turn that gives you the most power and to get your weight over your pivot foot (this assuming you are letting your hip rotation turn the rest of your body in the proper order). You may need to do some revision of the angles, speed, length, and weight of your steps. A lighter cross step will aid in getting you forwards.

Dave D.'s comments:
Especially important is the light quick left foot that actually is the X in x step.

Ideally, you should get enough forward momentum from your x-step to be able to get a clean pivot with a foot placement 90 degrees from your target, but if you find yourself jamming your foot and twisting your knee, you probably aren't getting enough forward momentum and a slight revision of the angles of your foot placement can easily fix this without needing to change the rhythm and speed of your current set of steps. If you try planting on the ball of your foot 45 degrees away from your target and onto a bent knee, this will require less forward speed to explode your hips through and be a bit easier on your joints. You may need to experiment with angles and speed in order to find the footwork that gives you the most success but always make sure to get your weight over your front foot

How far over your front foot you get should vary with the type of shot you are attempting. For a hyzer you will not need to be as far forward and for an anhyzer you will want to be very forward. Balance and timing are also an integral component of accuracy, especially when throwing bent elbow. Almost all of your errant throws with the bent elbow will occur because of your timing being off or your weight isn't where it's supposed to be. You will need to pay attention to your balance in terms of front/back of the tee pad as well as left/right. For timing, a good x-step will have your hips leading your shoulders open. An early opening of the shoulder will cause an anhyzer yank and a late opening of the shoulder will cause an early release. Similarly from a balance standpoint, too much weight off to the right will cause anhyzer/pull tendencies and too much weight to the left will cause hyzer/early release tendencies.

III. Signs of Success

Once you think you've got it or aren't sure if you've got it, unless you're already accustomed to ripping huge drives, chances are there will be a few things that happen that are new to you.

This throw is very efficient and gets great distance without expending a lot of energy. If you find yourself throwing as far or farther than you used to with very little effort, this is a good thing.

On throws with a lot of snap, the sound of your throw will change. In addition to the pop of your fingers hitting your palm as the disc rips out, with enough snap you will hear the sound of the disc displacing air. This sound will sound something like "FFFFFT" (ah yes, the limitations of text), similar to the sound of overpowering a disc (anyone that's rolled a putter by accident knows what I'm talking about). However, if you are pulling this off correctly, the disc will not immediately dive bomb and catch edge.

The disc flight will be different. Most players throwing under 400' are accustomed to a flight where the in air behavior of the disc is gradual. On a throw with big snap there will be suddenness. During the first part of the flight the disc will hold a specific line while rising and then all of a sudden flip (either flat or over) and then hold a more gradual flight path for the rest of its time in the air. If your disc flies a certain way for ~100-200' and then suddenly changes flight path and orientation, you are getting a lot of snap. If this is new to you, you will probably have to experiment with disc angles (both hyzer/anhyzer and nose up/down) in order to control this new path.

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