Adding rotational arm speed to your throws translates into more power.
September 15, 2020 by Guest Author in Opinion with 0 comments
This article was written by Ken Westerfield, a long-time freestyler and disc sport enthusiast. He held the MTA world record in 1975.
Tuesday Tips are presented by Spin Ultimate; all opinions are those of the author. Please support the brands that make Ultiworld possible and shop at Spin Ultimate!
Every pass is a block and turnover opportunity, and elite defenses go to great lengths to design and implement advanced strategies that improve their odds of generating a block. Yet poor pulling often means offenses are given the opportunity to run a play and jumpstart their move up the field before a defense even arrives and gets set. Allowing unmarked passes at the beginning of points can add up to 15-20 missed block or turnover opportunities. In big games, it’s the little things that will make a difference.
A puller’s responsibility is to give the defense the maximum amount of playing field to defend by starting the offense deep in their own end zone. Developing a consistent, strong, accurate pull that floats slowly to back of your opponent’s end zone exerts maximum pressure on an offense, giving your defense a chance to control the tempo of a point by having a marked receiver before the first pass at yard zero.
One way to add a bit of both distance and hangtime on pulls is to incorporate the techniques developed by the top overall and distance competitors. Whether throwing backhand or forehand, utilizing a 360-degree motion increases power and distance. The 360 technique is too effective for a puller not to have available when needed.
The standard backhand motion that moves across the front of the body is fine for short passing and even hucking, but if you would like to have additional power for pulling, adding more arm to the throw will be helpful.
Today’s top backhand distance throwers always use a 360-degree body rotation before the release.1 First introduced in the late 1970s, this technique began being used by overall power event competitors in the 1980s. A 360-degree body rotation before the backhand release adds upper body rotation that increases arm-speed and translates into more power. This isn’t a theory, it’s physics — there is a reason discus throwers use a multiple spinning technique before a release.
The players in these videos — while admittedly using golf discs — each use a slightly different 360 technique, but the rotation, grip, and release are the same.
Every top distance thrower has a variation of this 360 technique before the release. None have been proven to be better than others and since you are not looking to throw 200 plus yards, whatever works for you will be fine. So to begin, I’ll describe what worked for me.
Power grip is required — all fingers under the disc, tightly pressed against the rim, with the thumb firmly indenting the top of the disc. If you’re throwing with your right hand, you will use a four-step 360 using your right hand as the lead into the rotation. Begin the 360 by stepping forward with your left foot, then as you step with your right foot, move your right arm with the disc forward. As you take the next step with your left foot, forcefully pull your right arm backward — this will begin your body’s rotation. As you swing your arm back, move your right foot and leg back in the same direction of the rotation — this will add momentum to your 360 rotation. You will release the disc on the next step with your left foot. Your right arm really helps to begin, lead, and guide the body through the entire 360 rotation.
This does not have to be a fast rotation to be effective, make it slow and deliberate. As you get better, your 360 will become smoother. Once your 360 is perfected, you can walk or run-up with as many steps as you like — the last four steps will always be the same.
As a backhand thrower, you have already developed the back half of the 360 and release — this will stay the same. Adding the beginning half of the 360 won’t take long to perfect and you will feel the extra power right away. That extra throwing power can help you reach an extra 10-20 yards, take on erratic headwinds, and add more disc spin for a better float.
Just as is the case with the backhand, almost every ultimate player today has a forehand that works well enough for most passes and even hucks. But again, if you would also like to develop a power forehand for pulling, you need to increase arm speed.
Prior to the invention of today’s beveled edge golf disc, the two longest distance throws ever recorded used the old rounded-rim disc designs that include the Wham-O World Class Models and the Discraft Ultra-Star.2 Both were forehand throws in the 1970s and both used a technique that for a lack of a better name, I’ll call a “360 forehand whip.”
The 360 forehand whip for pulling is thrown with a slightly different approach and release than a pass or a huck. To get maximum power, a right-handed forehand should be thrown off the left foot. Use a four- to five- step fast run-up or slow walk-up to the line with a 360-degree arm rotation prior to the release. You’ve seen a softball pitcher do a similar 360 arm rotation when pitching — think about how much whip and speed they can generate with that motion, as opposed to a simple underhand pitch. This is the same difference you’ll feel with the forehand 360 arm rotation when pulling — more arm speed will increase power that translates into more distance.
In this video, I’m throwing for distance with a Wham-O Midnight Flyer (140-150grams), but I’ve also used this same technique for ultimate pulls with a 175g Ultra-Star. This is a Super 8 film and a little fuzzy, but you can see the full 360-degree arm rotation before the release and the throw off the left foot.
The grip is basically the same as a forehand huck, maybe slightly firmer. Two fingers together underneath the rim, with the thumb on top, pushing hard enough to indent the top of the disc. A tight grip will give you better wrist snap to hold hyzer (inside-out) and more disc spin for slower float at the end of the pull. The 360 arm rotation is where the additional speed and power comes from.
Begin by standing still and do the 360 arm rotation with the disc in your hand — you’ll feel the potential. Take 10-20 Ultra-Stars and standing in a still position, begin throwing using this full forehand 360 rotation with the disc. I can almost guarantee that with the first few throws, the disc will turnover. By the time you have thrown 20 Ultra-Stars, you’ll begin holding hyzer (inside-out). The disc might have a little release flutter, but with practice, you’ll strengthen the wrist snap. There are no shortcuts or better words to a faster result. Repetition and muscle memory are key until you get the timing of the release.
Once you feel confident with the arm rotation and the release, you can add in a walk-up. Two steps is all you’ll need to start. Step with the right foot, then take a step to the left — this is your release foot. As you take that step to the left, since you will be throwing for more distance, you will want to lean over a little to your right as you release, this will help to swing your hip out of the way allowing for more release hyzer. Once you get the throw and the two-step, you can add as many steps as you like, whether you prefer the walk or run-up to the line. The run-up doesn’t really add that much more to the throw; barring extreme wind conditions, especially headwinds, once you master this technique, you should be able to reach the back of the end zone even with just the walk-up.
There is a lot that goes into this throw. Make sure to always stretch your shoulder and warm up to this throw slowly before games and just like pitchers in baseball, always try to keep your shoulder and elbow warm in between gameplay.
You already know the forehand pass and huck, adding a little more arm to the throw won’t be that difficult.
Back in the early days of ultimate, the pullers who could regularly reach the back of the end opposite zone without wind assist were the top overall and distance competitors that also played ultimate. The more you throw hard and far in different events, the stronger and more consistent your throw becomes. Pulling practice and cross-training with other disc sports outside of ultimate that require similar but slightly different disc skills can be one way to improve your pulling power.
At a time when social distancing prohibits most teamwide practice, pulling is one skill we can hone on our own. You may not always have to use the 360 technique, especially when there are tailwinds, but when you need it, you’ll have it.
Have you own idea for an instructional article? Submit your own Tuesday Tips to our Tip Jar to win a free subscription — or even become an Ultiworld writer!
For simplification in this article, I’ll also refer to it as a “360 backhand” or just “360.” ↩
The distance throws were 538 feet and 552 feet using a 119gm 40 mold World Class Frisbee; one was by me and the other from Victor Malafronte. ↩