Many disc golfers make the classic mistake of thinking that running on the teepad equates to added distance. It does not. Today Vortica takes a close look at why running on the teepad is bad, what the best way to extend your distance is, and how to perform an X-Step so that you can extract the maximum from it.
While it is certainly true that the X-Step is designed to add your forward velocity in the X-Step, to the forward velocity of the disc, it is also true that probably only the top 10% of all X-Stepping players are able to transfer any forward velocity at all from their body into their disc.
Why is this?
The reason is that the only way the X-Step can work to move the forward momentum from the body into the disc, is if the player brings their body to an abrupt halt before the disc is smashed. That plant foot is an anchor, which is designed to stop the body’s forward motion completely.
If the player comes up onto the plant leg, and then falls forward over the top of it like a vole-vaulter (a “falling drive”), no significant extra speed has been added to the disc by the X-Step.
New players tend to think that by running on the teepad, they will add their running speed to the airspeed of the disc when they throw it. But this is usually not true. And while you will see the World Record distance throwers literally sprinting in their 360 maximum distance drives, you will also note their foot plant is incredibly aggressive, in an attempt to stop themselves and shift that momentum up the body via the spine, and into the throwing arm, by way of the hips turning. And the hips turn because the left knee is turned inwards and downwards.
All but the most talented and co-ordinated players in the world will always benefit from slowing down on the teepad, rather than speeding up. Speeding up makes the timing of things far more difficult, and mistiming results in low quality, and/or low power throws.
There’s a maxim from car racing which is highly relevant to disc golf; the concept of “Slow in, fast out”. In other words, you have to slow down a LOT, in order to be fast OUT of the turn.
Similarly, disc golfers need to bring the disc to the right pectoral region of the chest, using almost no effort at all, and then to apply every last bit of power available into smashing the disc out and on its way. You are trying to move from slow to fast as quickly as possible. The more proficient you are, the faster the initial part of the throw will be.
“Slow is smooth, and smooth is far”
The smash has to be hard and fast, so once the disc gets to your chest, you are giving it absolutely everything you’ve got – and it’s the timing of this which is much easier to get right when you approach it slowly.
And this is the other main function of the X-Step; to assist in the timing of the motions in the throw. A slow, regular step results in superior timing, and superior power in the smash/hit. This results in longer throws.
It is often the case that even for relatively short throws where an X-Step is not required for power, using a very slow X-Step will result in a better throw – especially if you do not practice standing shots. The X-Step forces you into your proper rhythm, and hence the timing becomes easy to get right, and good timing is essential for good throws.
Don’t Look Away in the X-Step unless you Absolutely Have To!
You only have to turn your head away for shots where you must reach back so far that you can’t possibly keep your eyes on the target. For ALL (and I do mean all!) upshots using an x-step that require less than full power, reduce your reachback, so that you never take your eyes off the Line Of Play.
I have trained myself to look ridiculously far to the right with my right eye, so that I can perform even a fairly powerful x-step without looking away. This increases accuracy so much more than aiming with the footwork alone.
In a standstill throw, you should never look away from the Line of Play, unless your stance is compromised and you need full power.
I wish I had a dollar for every time I have seen an intermediate player standing still, and reaching back, and the instant their hand starts to go backward, they turn their head 180 degrees from the Line Of Play, totally disconnecting themselves from the LOP, when there was absolutely no reason to do so. They could have easily reached back less, smashed just as hard, and made the distance without ever taking one eye off the line.
I can’t stress this enough. Keeping visual contact with your target line is so important in disc golf. Especially for less than superhero-talented people like me – and most likely you, too.
Watch Ken “The Champ” Climo when he is driving. Even when he reaches back fully, he still has his head on an angle where his right eye is still in contact with his line. Many years of training have allowed him to see far past the point at which most people can see things, because he has an unmatched ability to focus his brain on the low-quality, black and white image formed by the extreme left periphery in his retina.
Look Back Late!
When you do have to turn fully away from the line, in order to extract all your power from the throw, make sure you keep in touch with the line for as long as you possibly can before turning the head back, to extend the reachback.
What you absolutely must NOT do, is snap the head around as soon as you begin pulling the disc forward, as that will usually lead to extreme rounding, as it will pull the left shoulder with it. (You can read all about Classic Rounding over here.)
Once you have turned fully back, then the spine rotating is what brings the shoulders and head around to be parallel with the LOP for the smash. It is the left shoulder turning which forces the head to come through.
Once again – that rotation is created by turning the left knee in and down – and it only works if the spine is poking vertically out of the hips. Any curvature left or right, of the spine, will prevent it turning, as it would require spastic motions of the upper body to allow the curved spine to remain curved during the turn.
The only way for the knee to be able to apply this torque to the spine via the hips is if the plant foot is closer to the Line of Play than the back foot. How far behind dictates the type of shot. This keeps your body properly in balance, and is a natural consequence of the actual cross-over part of the X-Step.
You will see why this is true, when you watch (and practice) the stand-still/one-step drill created by Jason over at HeavyDisc.
I make no apology for once again embedding one of the best disc golf tutorial videos of all time. Thank you, Jason!
Because all the movements you make in the throwing motion, must finish balanced on your plant foot, with your left elbow basically pointing down the Line Of Play. If you are out of balance after letting the disc go, then you weren’t in balance beforehand, either.
Timing for the X-Step
The trickiest thing about the X-step is the timing, and the X-step can be thought of as a dance step with a straight 1-2-3 cadence to give you key timing points within a throwing motion. For an extreme and accentuated example of this, watch Valarie Jenkins Driving form. You can almost hear her count; One…. Two… Three…
Timing Cues and Common Timing Mistakes
The absolute classic X-Step mis-step is to begin pulling the disc forward before the heel of the plant foot is down, and weight has been transferred to it. Sooooo many people begin when the ball of the plant foot is safely down, but the heel is still in the air.
Additionally, when they put their heel down, they roll around on to it, and throw at the same time, damaging the throwing motion as recently described by Dave Feldberg. Sadly that excellent clinic has been pulled from the web.
The correct sequence of events is that the plant foot is planted, then the heel lands, weight is transferred to it, and THEN the player begins pulling the disc in, and turning their left knee. NOT BEFORE.
Probably the next biggest timing issue is reaching back too soon, or too late.
The reachback happens in time with the plant foot extending. Another way to look at it, is that rather than reaching back, you are actually just keeping a disc above a static point on the ground, and you are walking past it, leaving it where it is. Will Schusterick often does this almost perfectly. You might like to try it.
The X-Step is not Running Backwards
Many players reverse their way down the teepad, walking or running. That is incorrect form. You should be a crab – moving sideways, not backing up a truck. You begin the X-Step facing down the LOP, and the X-Step comprises 3 steps only.
The first step turns your body slightly sideways, and the second step is the X-Step itself, and that is what turns your torso away from the Line Of Play, and the third step is the plant.
There is no Shuffling, and no Jogging into the X-Step
Yes – very skilled players can do things ahead of the 3-step X-Step form, but there is literally no need for it in any Golf Shot. For maximum distance with a completely wide open fairway there may be an argument for an extended run up, but unless you have practiced this extensively, the chances of mistiming are high.
Mere mortals such as you and I won’t benefit from anything more than 3 steps. Performed relatively slowly. Having a distinct beginning to your X-Step allows you to execute it more easily and consistently, and eases timing issues.
That's it for this week. Happy huckin a', and keep your disc in a vice!