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Distance Drilling: Increasing Your Distance From the Ground Up
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Distance Drilling: Increasing Your Distance From the Ground Up
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.
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.
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