Seeing the Lines - Distance Technique
by Blake Takkunen
Additional Comments by Avery Jenkins and Jon Drummond
Table of Contents
II. The Line
III. Other Factors
IV. Parting Remarks
Increasing throwing distance is one of the most sought after goals amongst players. From my experiences, most players do not reach their distance potential simply because they do not adequately explore the lines needed to throw for max D. From my experiences watching distance contests (and paying special attention to crowd reaction) I have come to realize that a good number of players do not know the concepts exercised by experienced distance throwers.
Throwing for distance is in fact a very different technique than throwing controlled golf shots, and while not as applicable due to limited use potential, it does serve its purpose in helping players understanding throwing and disc flight in general. Increasing raw distance also helps boost confidence by helping players feel like they can throw farther (when in actuality they are simply utilizing what they already have in a manner that yields greater distance). A player that throws a consistent 380' on low line drives should be able to consistently break 425' while throwing distance lines.
While I feel I have a pretty good understanding of the concepts behind distance technique, I had the chance to interview distance contest veterans and 1000+ rated pros Avery Jenkins and Jon Drummond to get their comments on various aspects of the technique.
While the basic flight path of distance throws involves an S-curve, there are two distinct techniques used to achieve this flight path and I will try to cover both of them in through the meat of this article.
The first style is the distance anhyzer, which dominated distance technique from the first official 600' throw performed in 1987 and held the distance record up until 1998. This distance anhyzer is thrown with overstable discs and the general consensus is that the strength of this technique is that it yields very good consistently long distance.
The second style is the hyzer-flip, which has been the preferred method of distance technique since 1998 and been used to set every distance record since then. The hyzer-flip distance technique is generally thrown with stable to understable discs and starting the disc on a hyzer angle, letting it rise, flatten, and turn over. The consensus on the hyzer-flip technique is that current distance drivers are better suited to this method of throwing (since they are much less overstable than earlier sharp-nosed drivers) and that when executed perfectly, yields greater distance potential than the distance anhyzer but is less consistent in its execution.
I prefer to throw the hyzer-flip because I can generate lots of power throwing across the chest with a high arm swing; it works well with high-speed, stable to understable drivers. It is easier to get a longer, fuller flight with these drivers because I can utilize their carrying angles in order to achieve maximum distance.
I prefer the distance anhyzer because it allows for faster rotation of the body and a stronger pull. Throwing hyzer requires a slight lean forward with the upper body, which widens the rotational axis. This slows you down and decreases your power and strength.
II. The Line
The line of a distance throw basically has four components: launch trajectory and orientation, the apex, the turn (or pan), and the flex. There are notable differences in each point between anhyzer and hyzer-flip techniques, but the concept remains the same: to get as much potential carry out of the disc before it runs out of speed.
Launch Trajectory and Disc Orientation
Launch trajectory refers to the left/right direction and upward angle of the disc upon release. Disc orientation is the hyzer/anhyzer angle of the disc as well as positioning of the nose of the disc at the launch. Both anhyzer and hyzer-flip techniques start the disc out to the left, but that is where the similarity ends.
A distance anhyzer will have a very high trajectory and released with significant amounts of anhyzer. The orientation of the disc at the launch will appear to have much more anhyzer than you wish the disc to hold later in flight (this will correct naturally if there is enough height and power on the throw). This throw should be set up with your body aiming to the left, but you will actually pull through the shot slightly to the right of where your body is pointing you (this gets more nose down on the disc).
A hyzer-flip shot will usually have a trajectory that will much more closely resemble a slightly upward line drive. As the disc flattens from a hyzer it will naturally rise (the more hyzer angle at the start the more natural rise the disc will have). This throw again will be aimed to the left but there are multiple takes on the disc direction. Pulling it straight online with where your body is pointing will carry the most power through the throw but pushing it slightly to the left of where your body is aiming will give more nose down and make it easier to flatten the disc.
I aim to the left and try to come through with as much speed as possible from the reach back to the rip. I try to release the disc a little early in order to push it out farther left giving the disc lots of room to work back right across the field. I aim for an upward launch trajectory of around 25-30 degrees.
I aim to the left but pull through the shot making sure that my left shoulder comes through over the disc and I try to get the disc high with how high depending upon the type of wind.
The apex refers to the height peak of the throw and is also the point where the disc changes direction and enters the turn. The apex is one of the key points of this throw not because you wish to reach it, but because you absolutely must get the disc to pass through it and enter the turn nose down. The apex behaviors of anhyzers and hyzer-flips differ greatly.
The apex of a distance anhyzer is much higher than its hyzer-flip counterpart, often being in the realm of 60-90' high and with an anhyzer angle of 60 to 85 degrees. As the disc passes through the apex it will abruptly drop and begin to flatten out as it enters the turn (although it will not reach flat until very late into the turn). Getting the disc nose down entering the turn is based more upon the pull trajectory and disc orientation as it drops through the apex than on raw power. The launch to apex on a distance anhyzer makes up approximately the first 30-40% of the disc's flight.
The apex of a hyzer-flip will be more in the realm of 40-70' of height depending upon the disc and is noted with a fairly abrupt flip from flat or near flat to around 30 degrees turned over. Holding nose down into the turn is very dependent upon having enough power on the disc to get a substantial turn as well as the strength and direction of the thrower's follow-through. The launch to apex of a hyzer-flip will cover more flight than an anhyzer and encompass approximately 50-60% of the disc's flight.
I throw to the apex with a lot of power and make the disc kick over into the turn with a lot of nose down. Most newer distance drivers will need to thrown to an apex in the 40-50' of height in order to maximize their glide and ride characteristic, the older drivers need reach a much higher apex.
I try and lob the disc through the apex, letting it drop and pan into the turn. My throws generally reach 70'+ of height but in thinner air or when there is a line of trees on the distance field I will often throw more like 90' high to keep the disc in the air and get above wind swirls passing over the tree line.
The turn represents the portion of flight where the disc pans from left to right. Having the disc enter the turn section of flight with substantial nose down is of critical importance. Thus, the mentality of the turn is one of really pulling the disc through the apex and into the turn. During the turn section, the disc will be slowly decreasing in height while holding its turn on an angle of about 30 degrees left to right. The turn portion is where the real secret to the distance throw comes into play. As the disc travels on its turned trajectory, it will be traveling in nearly a straight line but with a nose angle that is more than 45 degrees of nose down (often estimated to be closer to 70 degrees). It is this new orientation that makes these types of throws require significant height under them and it is the nose angle that helps the disc continue to carry with a good amount of speed on it.
For a distance anhyzer, the turn portion of the throw will encompass approximately 50% of the total flight. For a hyzer-flip, the turn makes up more like 30-40% of the disc's flight.
The turn portion of a disc's flight is essential for the disc to attain the fullest flight pattern. I try to get the disc to kick over into the turn and catch for further flight as it begins to slow down and regain stability.
When the disc hits the turn I want it to be very nose down, almost vertical and traveling towards the top of the flight plate. Generally I play the wind to push the disc forward on this line.
The flex portion of the flight is where the disc loses enough speed that it begins to fade off left from its line. Many people misinterpret the flex on a distance throw by assuming they should see the disc fade left. The truth of the fade portion on a max distance throw is that the disc should not appear to fade left. As the disc approaches the flex, the view from the teepad will be that the disc will appear to slow down on its pan from left to right and eventually stop at its farthest right point. What actually happens here is that the disc hits the flex from its left to right diagonal line and fades in the forward direction, landing in line with the farthest right point (when viewed from the tee). The disc should finish its flight nose down. On most distance throws, the flex period makes up approximately 10% of the total flight but can often make up larger segments if the disc is able to catch the wind during the flex. This wind behavior is very difficult to gauge and ends up being very hit or miss as the wind is just as likely to knock the disc down faster as it is to pick the disc up and continue its flight.
I believe that the flex portion of the flight is the difference between regular throws and the longer distance throws due to an extra forward push and carry. I rely on the disc's ability to enter the flex with the lots of speed and angle in order produce a full disc flight.
The amount of carry you get during the flex is based a lot on luck. I've seen many shots that looked like they were going to fly very far that hit the flex and were knocked down by the wind. I try and catch the wind so the disc carries as much push as it can through the late part of the turn and entering the flex.
III. Other Factors
There are three other notable factors that can have moderate to significant effects on distance, namely wind, disc weight, and air thickness.
Wind can play a very large part as it will aid the disc in maintaining speed through the turn section of flight. A left to right crossing tailwind helps push the disc forward like a sail when it hits its point of maximum nose down. This is the consensus wind for achieving the best average long distance. Scott Stokely has spoken and written about the right to left crossing tailwind and its potentially huge effects on the disc during its flex, but this is a much less predictable wind to catch and can potentially affect your throw in a negative manner if things don't happen just right.
I prefer a left to right tailwind as it helps push the disc after it kicks over and carries further. Right to left winds tend to push the disc down and make it harder to carry into a good turn. I tend not to rely on the wind for increased distance because it can be an inconsistent factor, unless it is in the ideal direction.
Catching the wind is one of the keys to getting a maximum distance throw. The longest throws happen when the disc catches the wind just right. I prefer a left to right tailwind since it gives the disc the most push through the turn.
Disc weight plays into the physics of disc flight in an important way. The lighter the disc, the more potential glide the disc will have. All of the distance records since 1995 have been held with discs weighing 170g or less and lighter discs have greater distance potential than heavier discs. However, heavier discs will have more consistent flights since they are naturally more stable and will carry more forward momentum (which is a factor of mass) than lighter discs.
I prefer to use discs in the 174-175g range for many distance contests for the fact that you can throw them a lot harder and they have more predictable flight characteristics. I do believe that lighter discs in the 165-170 range are easier to get turned nose down and hold the turn longer in their flight, therefore they would be ideal for gaining maximum distance.
Lighter discs do hold greater distance potential and are better choices if going for the world record, but if you are competing in a distance contest and looking to win with a limited number of throws, I believe heavier discs give better consistent distance and lines than lighter discs.
Air thickness will affect the disc's turn characteristics as well as how well the disc will carry. Thicker air will exert greater drag force on the disc but also make the disc easier to turn over and will help keep the disc in the air longer as it slows down. Thinner air will allow the disc to penetrate more during the high-speed portion of its flight but will also require a higher trajectory on launch to compensate for the disc falling from the air faster.
Since discs tend have more stability at higher elevations, I will throw basically the same types of discs that are in the broken-in stages therefore a little less stable.
When throwing in thin air I usually throw lighter discs and throw them with much more height than at sea level.
IV. Parting Remarks
While this article hasn't really unlocked any secrets on how to make your throw more powerful, hopefully it has given you some idea on what a distance line looks like and how it can be used to get the most carry from your throws.
Try to get as much velocity as you can on the disc from the reach back to hit. If you are throwing hyzer-flips, make sure you use discs that are understable enough for you to make them kick over into the turn but stable enough to finish their full flight. Concentrate on your pull technique and create as much arm speed as possible from mid pull through the release. The newer high-speed understable drivers will have the best potential if you are looking to maximize distance.
Your highest priority should be on hitting the line and analysis of your desired flight. You will want to get a lot of nose down and see the bottom of the disc for most of the flight. Accelerate your body through the throw and get as much speed as you can. Throw overstable discs with the anhyzer line if you want to get the best consistent distance on your long throws.
Avery Jenkins is PDGA #7495 and is a member of Team Innova. Avery's longest throw in competition was measured at 597' and he is the 2000 and 2005 USDGC distance champion.
Jon Drummond is PDGA #7350 and is a member of Team Discraft. Jon's longest throw in competition was measured at 602' and currently holds the Minnesota and Wisconsin state distance records.
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