Distance Drilling: Increasing Your Distance From the Ground Up
by Blake Takkunen
Table of Contents
I. The Order of Events
III. Disc Height and Line
IV. Grip, Spin, Velocity, and How They Work Together
V. Adding Snap
VI. Adding Velocity
VII. Parting Remarks
The purpose of this article is to help add distance through a systematic method of improving efficiency and adding power. Hopefully, the end result will help you achieve a more streamlined throw with increased distance and similar or better accuracy. Unfortunately, the nature of throw revision is usually a “1 step back for 2 steps forward” approach and I do strongly recommend that you do not pursue these methods until you have reached a plateau and are willing to undertake a bit of struggling to move forward in the long run. For most players, this point is when you have been throwing ~350' for an extended period of time with no increase in distance (not including distance increases by new disc designs). If you are content with your distance and accuracy, then this article is probably not for you.
I use ~350' drives as a benchmark because from my experience, most players are able to hit 350' without “perfect” technique. Adding distance beyond this is a process of increasing your proficiency in the power-generating components of the throw and possibly experimenting with additional types of disc flights, lines, heights, etc.
Many of these drills will require a fairly extensive knowledge of your own technique as well as the general mechanics of the throw. I will try to keep it as simple as possible but many of these concepts will get fairly abstract and are difficult to communicate clearly. Hopefully I will be able to explain them adequately.
As the title of the article states, this will begin from the ground up with the core of basic fundamentals and eventually working its way to the intricacies of throwing mechanics. While your current philosophy on throwing power may disagree with some of the things I write, I recommend trying to keep an open mind on the subjects at hand. If you do attempt to make some changes based on this article, you should be prepared to go through a period of adjustment that may hurt your scores in the short run. From my experiences, most major revisions require approximately 3 months of practice (or intense struggling) to become fully integrated into your throw (2 months of making the transition, 1 month of honing it). I will be working from a base-line assumption that you are fully comfortable with your driving technique and can execute your throws consistently.
I. The Order of Events
The first step of gauging your throw is making sure that every component of your throw happens at the right time. I have seen people who were able to strong-arm discs 350' and they were able to add distance simply by adjusting their technique to harness more leg power and relying less on raw upper body strength. If you are certain that everything is happening correctly, you can move on to the next section. If you are uncertain, you may want to continue reading and make sure that your throwing mechanics are all firing in the correct order. For analyzing this, I recommend having a friend watch you or filming yourself throw if you can.
The correct order of events begins with the footwork. The feet lead the hips, the hips turn the torso, the torso leads the shoulder, the shoulder pulls the arm, and the arm pulls the disc. Most of this motion is incidental, that is, the majority of the motion is not a conscious movement of the muscles, but the result of a preceding motion that naturally leads the body through the process. You should not be physically pulling your arm and the disc through with your upper body and arm muscles, the arm should be pulled through by the rotation of the shoulders.
The first and main conscious motion of the throw begins with the footwork. The placement, direction, and speed with which you place your steps are the foundation of the throw. Assuming that you throw with an X-step approach, there are two main focal points to contend with. First off, your cross step (with your left foot if you are a rhbh thrower) must have your toes pointing more than 90 degrees but no more than 180 degrees away from your target. While the specific angle that works best for you will vary from person to person the direction of your toes will naturally direct your hips. If the toes are between 90 and 180 degrees away from the target, your hips will close. People with a strong baseball background may have greater success with an angle closer to 90 degrees, but the average player will probably do better closer to 180.
The second key to footwork is that the toes on your pivot (plant) foot should be at an angle between 90 and 45 degrees from your target. This will lead to a natural opening of the hips as you transfer your weight forward. The general recommendation for the push from the cross step to the pivot is to focus more on quickness than on strength, but this may vary based on your build, athleticism, and leg strength.
Through the motion, your arm should mainly act as a guide, keeping the disc close to your chest and on the desired orientation of nose angle and hyzer angle. If you find something happening out of order, I recommend working out some of the kinks by throwing with just a hip rotation (no steps/run up). Another way to get a feel for this is to have someone gently hold your arm in your reach back position as you lightly go through your motion. The hand should be the last part of your body to move.
If your order of events is correct, you're ready to move onto the next step.
This section includes the first set of drills you'll need to make the most of your efforts. For most of the drills I recommend throwing in an area where you can gauge distance fairly easily (unless you have a range finder). The more power you can get into your hip explosion, the more potential distance you should have. To get the most out of these drills I recommend keeping a notebook where you can record your distances.
Step 1: Throwing without taking a step.
Start off with setting your feet with your hips closed, lining up your throw, and whipping your hips open while shifting your weight over your pivot foot. This is the purest form of the throw and you are probably familiar with this technique from approach shots. Make a few throws until you are comfortable.
Throw 12 throws. Record your estimated distances and the estimate the angle of spread. By spread I refer to the total angle variation off of your desired target from your throws with the greatest deviation to the left and to the right. For example, if your farthest off-line throws are 10 degrees to the left and 5 degrees to the right of the line you were aiming for, that is 15 degrees of spread. Drop your longest and shortest throws, total up the distances, and divide by 10. Make note of the average distance and spread. Your goal here is to get the distance and spread for a set of typical throws. If you feel you were throwing particularly poorly or uncharacteristically well, you may want to re-throw and record another set.
Although I do not find it overly necessary, if you wish to calculate the exact spread angles this is possible through 2 geometry formulas. First you must calculate the hypotenuse length via the Pythagorean theorem of a-squared + b-squared = c-squared. The square root of (the distance of the throw squared + the distance off-line squared) = the hypotenuse length. Next, the inverse sine of (the distance off-line divided by the hypotenuse length) = the angle of spread. You will need to perform this calculation twice to get the angles to the left and to the right of the desired line. The sum equals the total spread angle.
Step 2: Throw taking one step.
Repeat the procedure from step 1 allowing your-self one step. Record the results in a similar manner and calculate the average distance and spread. Next, calculate the distance difference (step 2 average minus step 1 average) and divide it by the step 1 average. Multiply this number by 100 to get the percentage distance increase by adding this step. For example, if your step 1 average was 300' and your step 2 average was 315', adding this step is responsible for adding 5% distance to your throw.
Now, calculate the spread difference (step 2 spread minus step 1 spread) and divide it by the step 1 spread. Multiply this number by 100 to get the percentage spread increase by adding this step. For example, if your step 1 spread was 15 degrees and your step 2 spread was 20 degrees, the percentage spread increase is 33.3%.
Step 3: Throw with an X-step with no leading steps.
Repeat the procedure allowing for an ordinary X-step but without any stutter or leading steps. If you currently use leading steps it may take a few throws to get the rhythm. Again record your distances and make calculations for the average distance and spread. Calculate the percentage increases from step 1 to get an overall effect picture, and the percentage increases from step 2 to get an incremental effect picture. You should now know what percentage of your distance and spread the X-step accounts for.
Step 4: Add 2 leading steps.
Add two leading steps to your approach and repeat the procedure. Calculate your average distance and spread. Calculate percentage increases from step 1 and step 3. If your distance did not increase, or increased only slightly with a large spread increase, you are done with the procedure. If your distance has increased with only a mild spread increase, repeat this step, adding two more leading steps.
At some point your throw will experience “diminishing returns,” and your distance will either experience no increase because you have maximized your hip power or you will actually decrease in distance from being more out of control. Your calculations should make this fairly obvious. Also, if you reach a point where your spread angle either a) exceeds 35 degrees, or b) increases by more than 75% of the previous step's spread (without a very substantial increase in distance), I recommend returning to the last step that you were able to control. Your personal preference may lead you to desire a spread of much less than 35 degrees and in this case, work back to the last step that you are comfortable with.
You should by now be aware of how much distance and decrease in accuracy your footwork yields. I highly recommend using this information to your advantage as much as possible. For example, if taking 4 leading steps gives you a 7% distance increase but at a great sacrifice of accuracy, take less steps on tighter shots but use 4 leading steps when distance is at a premium and accuracy isn't important.
Only you will know in the end if you are making efficient use of your hips and footwork. There are other variables to consider as well. How well does this footwork perform on wet grass? How much energy does this footwork expend and will I still be able to perform as well on the back 9? You may also want to experiment with some changes in the speed and direction of the footwork. In these cases, you can repeat the procedure above and compare your distances between the two. For example, what is the distance difference between a fast X-step and a slow one?
Ideally, you will find the combination of steps and speed that is best for you. For most players, this seems to be around 2 leading steps and the X-step (5 total steps) to get their bodies moving forward for a good hip explosion and weight shift. You can also be a super disc nerd and be able to say, “I use an X-step because it adds 27% distance although it increases my spread by 9 degrees.”
III. Disc Height and Line
The next topic is often neglected among players, most often in regions that do not cater to a lot of variation in throwing styles. The newer disc designs also seem to breed similar types of throws. In this section I will do my best to provide information on heights and lines that may give you the insight necessary to increase your throwing distance.
Many players peak in the 350' range with throws that average 12-20' of height. The key to 400' may simply be a height issue. Most 400'+ throws require 25 to 40' or more of height while still maintaining a nose down trajectory. If you have honed your game throwing almost exclusively low line drives, experiment with throwing higher. This will probably take some adjustment with your center of gravity, as it's easier to generate natural upward vectors while slightly behind your pivot foot and disc angles since hyzers rise on their own when flattening. I've witnessed several 600' drives and they all required more than 60' of air to carry that far.
There are alternate techniques that will generate various forms of lift on the disc but many of these aren't very golf practical and I will not go into detail on them. Experimenting with hyzer angles, center of gravity, and pull trajectories will hopefully help you add some height. I recommend keeping the height option open until you become comfortable throwing high and nose down. If this does not yield a distance increase when executing it properly, there is another option to experiment with.
Disc line is very important in making the most of your throw. Ask your-self this question: Is the majority of the disc's flight coming solely from your power or is the disc getting a good amount of distance from its own flight characteristics? Many of the newer high-speed drivers behave a lot like projectiles. Players must throw them hard and flat and when they run out of juice they simply fall to the ground. Ideally, at least 25% of the disc's flight will come from its behavior as a pure glider powered by the momentum of your velocity on the throw.
Since the X-Clone's 656' distance record was broken, every distance record set since then has been with a stable to understable disc. The hyzer-flip flight of these discs has been a consistent pattern based on two underlying assumptions. First, hyzers rise on their own until they flatten. Second, the hyzer-flip trajectory generally leads to the disc flexing out of the turn in a forward direction.
If you are someone who generally throws flat and hard with an overstable disc, you may benefit from experimenting with less stable plastic thrown with a hyzer-flip s-curve line and allowing the disc to get a complete flight path. This will probably require some room for the disc to work as the disc will need to start on a trajectory slightly left of the target line and enough room on the right for a long, gradual turn. While this may not be applicable on tighter courses, it may be the ticket to your distance goal.
IV. Grip, Spin, Velocity, and How They Work Together
These three topics are very closely linked and in many ways that are not often cited as pivotal parts of throwing technique. However, how each of these characteristics affects first half flight, second half flight, and overall stability varies a lot.
At some point in time someone better than you probably recommended, “throw with this grip” (usually the power grip) and you have since then followed that without question. Although most players have the greatest potential force with the power grip (it gives the most rip force on a disc as it leaves your hand), it may not be the best choice for what you hope to accomplish.
Assuming that you are able to achieve a firm grip regardless of grip choice, each grip yields different characteristics that are generally linked to the flexibility of the tendons in the wrist and forearm with a disc in your hand. Start with a power grip. Take a disc in hand in the wrist down position. Now move the disc from the extreme wrist closed position to the extreme wrist open position while preserving the wrist down orientation. Try to remember the flexibility of the wrist and forearm with the disc in this position. Now grip the disc with a fan grip and go through the same motions. The fan grip should be tighter and less flexible in the wrist. Try all the grips you could see yourself throwing with and compare their tendon flexibility to the grip you currently use. Some common grips are the birdie grip, the fork grip, the stack grip, the 3 and 2 finger power grips, bonapane, control, etc. Each grip should have a unique amount of tendon flexibility.
The grips with the least flexibility will generally yield less spin than the more flexible grips. The less spin on a disc, the more a disc will want to turn at high speeds. Use this knowledge to your advantage. If you are trying to throw high hyzer flips with a power grip but cannot quite get the disc to hold the turn after its apex, try a grip that will yield less spin as it is more conducive to turnover properties. Similarly speaking, if you are having trouble turning over too many discs, try moving to a grip that yields more spin. Also be aware that loss of spin is the cause of low speed fade and work with this accordingly. If your discs are landing flat or turned, you are missing out on part of your potential distance. More height or less spin should both increase potential fade characteristics.
Velocity also makes discs turn more at high speeds and determines the momentum carried into second half flight. It is the combination of nose angle, velocity, and spin that yields most of a disc's characteristics at any point in its flight. Manipulating velocity in conjunction with spin should help you achieve a greater variety of shots. There are velocity related issues that may be detrimental to your snap, which I will cover in depth in the next section.
V. Adding Snap
This section marks the end of the “easy answers” to adding distance. If none of the previous topics unlocked the secrets to more distance, or at least not to “enough” distance, adding snap is a critical, yet very difficult topic to tackle. The drills in this section may very well take a couple of weeks or longer to become comfortable with, so be prepared for some struggling as it is not an easy concept. If you are currently a bent elbow thrower, you can skip this section.
You have probably heard people tell you that “you cannot add snap.” This statement is only half true. It is true in that you cannot consciously try to snap a disc and expect any beneficial result. However, it is also true that there are techniques that are much more conducive to attaining high levels of snap.
Snap is actually the rapid coiling and uncoiling process of the wrist immediately before the rip point. This generates acceleration and dictates the force component of the throw as well as determines the amount of spin on the disc. More snap will generally accomplish three things. First, it will help the disc cut through the air more during the first part of the flight and reduce the slowing effects of air friction. Second, it will make discs fly more stable at high speeds due to increases in spin. Lastly, it will keep discs in the air longer at the end of the flight. Force, paired with velocity, will dictate the length and power of your throw.
I do wish to make something clear at this point. If you are reading this article and cannot throw much more than 350', I am going to go out on a limb and assume that you do not get very large amounts of snap. The techniques I will be covering in this section may very well involve drastic (and hopefully temporary) changes in throwing style in order to add snap to your current motion. While you may question the drills that follow, keep one thing in mind: You must GET more snap before you can HAVE more snap.
One way to find out if your throw is dominated by velocity or by snap is to look at the disc flight characteristics. If you throw a stable disc with a slight hyzer angle, what does it look like as it flattens? If your disc gradually rises as the hyzer angle decreases until flat (or turned over) your throw is probably dominated by velocity. If the disc holds the hyzer angle and abruptly flips flat (or turned over) your throw is probably dominated by snap.
Now, I want you to try to “feel” snap. Without a disc in your hand, form your grip as if you had a disc in your hand. Keep your hand and wrist loose. The wrist should be able to swing back and forth freely in the wrist down and wrist neutral positions. In a quick motion resembling the last 6” of your pull line entering the rip point, move your forearm forward as quickly as you can and bring it to an abrupt stop at the would be rip. What you should experience is a slight curling of the wrist as the forearm moves forward followed by a rapid uncoiling to the neutral position after the forearm stops. If you keep your hand and fingers somewhat loose you should be able to hear the pads of your fingers slapping against your palm.
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The wrist and hand motions are purely incidental. It is gravity that causes the wrist to coil when the forearm moves forward quickly and momentum that causes the rapid uncoiling into the snap. This is the feeling you will be looking for during your throw. As a warning, do NOT try this with a disc in your hand unless you want to either break something or hurt yourself.
The first step to adding snap in your technique is to take your normal throwing form and shorten its reach back. Start small, and incrementally. If you are like most throwers and straighten your arm and reach back as far as you can, put a slight bend in your elbow. When I say slight, I mean very slight. The distance the disc reaches at the peak of your reach back should be reduced by approximately 2” but the distance that your elbow is reached back should stay the same. Try a few throws this way. If you don't feel any increase, shorten it again by 2”. Repeat this until you can feel the snap. It may take until your elbow is bent nearly 90 degrees.
If you are unable to get the snap feeling during a throw, try a few full-speed throwing motions WITHOUT a disc in your hand and try to feel the snapping motion. You very likely will have to noticeably shorten your reach back and possibly adjust your body angles and balance as your goal will be to get the largest snap feeling possible. I also recommend trying throws with a loose grip, loose wrist, and a weak follow through. This is different from the generally recommended style of throwing but there many people are strong enough in the forearms and wrists to actually be able to lock their wrist in place if they do not throw with a long reach back, successfully canceling out the majority of the snap. Also, the behavior of the disc in your hand will help you get a feel for things leading up to the snap. As the disc moves forward you will feel it tug on your finger tips/pads. When the wrist stops, you should feel the disc press forward into the palm of your hand before ripping out. To achieve snap, the only time a tight grip is really necessary is right as the disc presses into your hand. However, this is very timing dependent and I strongly recommend you do not focus on a tight grip until you are comfortable with snap.
Do not get frustrated if you do not feel it. This may take you weeks to “get.” The key is to just relax and let it happen while doing everything you can to promote snap such as footwork and balance that caters to strength at the rip point, throwing with a (partially) bent elbow, keeping your wrist loose, etc.
This technique, in its purest form known as “the bent elbow technique,” differs greatly from full reach-back throwing as the focus becomes a strong snap at the rip point and not achieving maximum velocity. In general, the faster your arm is traveling, the more difficult it will be to get a good feel and timing for this snap. I will try to explain this without a physics dissertation.
First, everyone bends their elbow during their throws. Starting (slightly) bent is more efficient than starting with the elbow straight, only to bend it again although there is a slight decrease in base velocity. However, the faster a disc is going entering the rip, the less acceleration (force) on the disc is possible as well as the time frame in which to feel the snap is smaller. Keep in mind at the end of these drills you will very likely not be throwing pure bent elbow (it is also unlikely that you will have a perfectly straight elbow), as there must be a balance between the force and velocity components of the throw. Neither all snap nor all velocity based throws will yield maximum distance.
For more in depth information on adding snap and throwing with a shortened reach back, I recommend consulting the Distance Secrets and Understanding the Bent Elbow Technique articles also hosted on this site.
VI. Adding Velocity
I will now assume (possibly erroneously) that you have managed to add snap to your throw. Now is the time to find the balance between snap and velocity. Start throwing sets of drives while increasing your reach back by 2” per set and compare their distances as well as the snap you feel. At some point you may either find your distance decrease a bit or lose feel for (or the amount) of snap you are getting. Continue until your distance decreases.
Each increase in reach back will yield an increase in velocity but also possibly decrease your ability to get snap. The longest throwers in the world are able to get a maximum reach back and great snap. Chances are you will never hold a distance record, so maximum reach back may be too far for you. Experiment until you find the combination of reach back and snap that gives you your maximum distance. As you become more comfortable with the snap feel, you may, in the future want to add even more reach back.
If you were unable to increase your snap through a shortened reach back, then you should try to increase your velocity. A maximum reach back and adjusting your footwork and forward momentum in order to generate the most arm speed possible are your keys to this. Making sure that your off arm is close to your body will allow you to rotate on your axis more quickly. Being upright during your pull through will also help you rotate faster.
Velocity is going to extend the length of the second half flight of the disc, so getting good velocity is important. However, a lot of velocity at the end of the flight is worthless if the disc doesn't spin enough to keep it in the air so finding the balance that works best for you is the key.
VII. Parting Remarks
Hopefully these drills have helped you achieve a distance increase, maybe not right away, but at least somewhere down the road. If not, keep trying and don't get frustrated. If throwing 425' was easy, everyone would do it. Do your best and have fun. Many people peak in the 350-380' range and never surpass it and that's okay. Keep in mind that it's consistency, accuracy, and course management that win tournaments.
I would like to acknowledge Lightnin' Lyle for putting me through a set of footwork drills that I have modified for this article, Lowe Bibby for painstakingly compiling the information for the distance secrets article, Dave Dunipace for supplying that information as well as being very helpful in answering the countless technique questions that I have asked, as well as anyone who has ever answered my message board posts and helped me better understand throwing technique.
If you have found any of these drills successful in helping you add distance, please contact me and let me know.
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