Updated: Feb 14, 2022
While we all know that impeccable form is a key ingredient for maximizing throwing distance, it's important to recognize that there are several other factors that go into throwing a disc as far as possible.
We've all seen it, from one end of the extreme to the other.
Players who don't look the most smooth yet have incredible arm speeds, and players who have perfect form but lack strength and arm speed, yet both of these types of players may throw the same distance.
Real talent is when you get a blend of both, but the reality is most of us average players are somewhere in the middle, and to get out of the middle, you'll sometimes need to work on the "other" things that improve distance rather than focusing on form alone.
What are these "other" things?
Well to address the elephant in the room, it often boils down to a few general things, most of which are related to overall fitness level, health, and disc selection.
Have you been stuck at a certain throwing distance no matter how hard you work to improve your form and how much better your form seems to get?
Perhaps then it is time to start training a slightly different way to start seeing those results again!
When scrolling through the various form check forums, "How's my form?" or some variation is the title to nearly every video posted (as you would expect for a form check group).
But there have been several instances where I see a player asking for form advice when the harsh reality is they would not be able to achieve better form anyways without first improving a mobility deficit, such as limited trunk rotation.
If more reach back or less rounding is desired, you could work and work and work on trying to fix it, but if you don't have the trunk or shoulder flexibility and mobility to achieve this, it will likely never happen.
This problem is not unique to only disc golf, but any activity that requires athletic movements.
In order to be a great athlete in any sport, you often will not get by with skill alone.
Sure, some players are more naturally talented than others, but athletes often work on more than just skill and technique specific to their sport when trying to get better.
Basketball players can be great ball handlers and shooters, but if they lack the conditioning to get up and down the court for 60 minutes, that skill is of little value in competition.
If a baseball player has the perfect pitching form, but poor shoulder flexibility, they will be subject to premature injury.
The list goes on and on but the theme is the same, form and technique complements good overall fitness, and good overall fitness complements form and technique.
You can succeed with either, but to maximize performance you need to enhance both as much as possible.
Personally, I have less than perfect form, but have a history in sports that has given me some fast twitch muscle training that helps me still throw respectable distances.
Form is absolutely important, that fact cannot be ignored and needs to be banked in the brain.
But if you cannot achieve great form due to an underlying limitation, then it's time to buckle down and work on that insufficiency as well, or else you'll be inevitably stuck on a plateau.
In this article, I'm going to identify some things I commonly see in the disc golf world that limit a player's performance in regards to throwing distance, and break down ways to improve it to get you on the right track.
As some background, I work full time as a certified Athletic Trainer and Physical Therapist Assistant and was a college javelin thrower, so this kind of stuff I encounter nearly everyday.
It's important to note that everyone has their own individual limitations and for various reasons.
It could be due to age, illness, injury, or even genetics.
Regardless of the reason, the purpose here is not to make everyone perfect, but to simply identify areas where you could improve to the best of your ability. As long as your goal is to get better, you cannot go wrong.
With that in mind, approach this topic with an open mind, be honest with yourself, and let's improve your disc golf game together with the 5 most common non-form problems I see!
These problems are in a foundational order, meaning that they build off of each other from one step to the next.
Let's get started!
5 Ways to Improve Disc Golf Driving Distance Without Working on Form
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1. Flexibility/Range of Motion
First up on our list is the foundational key to any athletic movement: Flexibility and Range of Motion.
It's no secret that the disc golf throw requires a lot of complex movements from the head down, and any limitation in flexibility is going to significantly limit how well you can pull off these movements to maximize throwing distance and prevent injury.
Starting with one of the more basic aspects of disc form, the reach back, you can easily see where trunk rotation and shoulder range of motion is vital to an effective throw.
So what is one of the biggest problems players have with the reach back?
Sometimes they are rounding because they haven't been taught proper form yet, but in other situations, players are rounding to compensate for a lack of trunk rotation.
So in order to achieve the same feel of reaching back, they turn their entire upper body rather than just their torso, which causes the rounding.
Having the flexibility to reach back without rounding is key to maximizing distance!
Another problem with limited trunk rotation is players will often walk up the tee backwards, turning their feet away from the target rather than keeping them parallel.
Again, this is done to help them not round and achieve a further reach back, which it does, but the side effect is they put their hips and feet at a disadvantage for a proper plant, which ultimately limits their throw just as much as rounding does.
These are 2 examples, but the list goes on and on.
The bottom line is that limited flexibility and range of motion of the entire body limits movement, and without key specific movements, your form will ultimately suffer and could lead to unnecessary injury.
One may be asking now,
How can I improve flexibility?
The easiest, and most common answer to this question is to simply stretch!
Not only is stretching a good warmup tool, but it could also be implemented into part of your daily routine to lay down a great foundation for the other items on our list.
Prior to exercise, dynamic stretching is going to be superior to static stretching, but any stretching is going to be better than no stretching at all.
Focusing on the legs, shoulders, and trunk/torso will be especially important.
Adding a supplemental workout such as yoga is also a great option to improve flexibility, mobility, and strength all at once.
Flexibility and range of motion may not seem important, but it is at the very core of all human movement, and is crucial in maximizing performance.
So add a stretching routine to your daily routine today!
Moving on, we arrive at a topic that is very similar to Flexibility, and that is Mobility.
When boiled down, these two terms could probably be used interchangeably, but there is a subtle difference between the two, and that difference is balance, coordination, and occasionally, strength.
A person could have full range of motion and flexibility without full mobility, but it is very unlikely that they will have full mobility without full range of motion and flexibility.
For example, someone may be able to bend their knee as far as possible in a sitting position, but that same person may not be able to do a full body weight squat, with their knees completely bent, and then come back up without assistance.
This person has full range of motion of their knees, but they lack the balance, coordination, strength, or a combination of all of these things to have useful mobility.
Likewise, a person may have full hip range of motion, but may lack the coordination to complete a proper X-Step or plant because of balance deficits.
It is for this reason that we advocate practicing every movement, disc golf or not, at a slow speed first before working up to a faster, game time speed.
If you cannot do the activity slowly, then you probably won't be able to do it quickly either, at least not until you have the balance and coordination to do so.
The good news is that working on flexibility will often help improve mobility.
But if you're serious about improving mobility, I suggest adding some dynamic movements into your workout/practice routine.
Some examples for lower body could be lunges, body weight squats, and ladder drills. For the upper body, standing reach backs, dry throws, and even kettlebell movements would all improve mobility.
Starting slow will also improve your mobility at a controlled pace and let's you know what your limits are.
Once you understand the importance of flexibility and mobility, we can keep building on our foundation which takes us to our next key point: Agility!
Simply put, agility is taking the concept of mobility, and adding an element of speed to it.
You may be able to complete a functional movement, such as an x-step, in a slowed down motion. But doing this same movement quickly requires you to be agile.
All movements should be perfected in slow motion first because as you increase speed, the amount of balance and coordination required to complete a movement increases as well. This is why doing something slowly can seem very easy, and doing something at maximal speed can seem nearly impossible.
Our suggestion is to work within your comfortable speed range, and to focus on just 1 or 2 elements of the throw at a time as you increase speed.
Maybe one day you'll focus on speeding up your x step and the next you'll focus on just the reach back.
Focusing on too much at once while trying to increase overall speed can lead to frustration which can ruin an entire practice session, even if it is making you better.
Adding basic agility movements like crossovers and karaoke with a tool like an agility ladder can improve your overall agility level and will carry over into not just disc golf throwing performance, but all athletic movements as well.
Once you have flexibility, mobility, and agility, it's time to focus on our final physical component of form and max distance achievement: Strength and Endurance
It's important to note, that we don't expect or suggest the you turn into Arnold Schwarzenegger when it comes to strength and overall fitness level.
Not that it's necessarily a bad thing, but often times more muscle mass impedes flexibility and overall mobility which can limit maximum distance as much as anything on our list.
When we say strength, we are speaking in terms of simply improving your current strength level, overall fitness level, and also endurance.
Increased strength and endurance is linked to all sports, even when it comes to non throwing sports such as running, but full body strength is going to help make every movement faster, which in turn will help improve your distance when you learn to control the speed as discussed in #3.
Weight-training is a great way to improve strength, but body-weight training or using resistance band such as THESE ONES are also great ways to improve strength at a very basic level while also improving overall range of motion and mobility.
We already mentioned Yoga, but implementing body weight principles like calisthenics is also a great way to improve your overall fitness level.
In line with improving strength and overall fitness is losing some extra pounds as well. Carrying extra weight isn't always detrimental to performance, but losing any amount of unneeded weight definitely won't hurt anything and can certainly improve everything we've already discussed in this article.
Just as important as strength, muscular and cardiovascular endurance should never be overlooked either.
It's a great feeling when you finally are able to achieve certain distance milestones in your throwing whether it is 300', 400', or the seemingly elusive 500' mark.
But in order to make this distance the most valuable, you need to not just be able to throw it at the beginning of a practice session or competitive round, but at the end of it as well.
All players pro and amateur are subject to fatigue, but the amount of fatigue can vary greatly based on your conditioning and endurance level.
Ideally, you should be able to throw close to your maximum distance regardless if you're on Hole 1 of Round 1 or Hole 18 of Round 2 on a day you play 2 rounds in a tournament.
To improve your endurance, implement some cardio into your training regimen and add dedicated distance driving practice days into your weekly routine if you haven't done so already.
5. Disc Selection
Last up on our list, and the sole one that is not body related, is proper disc selection.
Nothing kills distance more, especially for a new player, is a disc that is too fast for their arm speed, and the explanation of why is fairly straight forward.
When a disc is thrown slower than what it is rated for, the result is a flight path that is moderately more overstable than what it should be.
So a disc that has a turn and fade rating of -1, 2 may fly more like a 0, 4 when thrown at slower speeds.
To combat this, we suggest that all players learn proper technique with putters and mid-ranges before moving up to faster discs in the control driver and distance driver categories.
Too many times I see players saying that they throw their mid-ranges further than their drivers, and this is often because they don't have the arm speed needed to achieve the optimal flight path of a disc with a speed of even 7, let along 9, 10, 11, or more.
If you have decent form, but don't yet have great arm speed, we compiled a list of excellent driver options especially catered to slower armed players. You can check out this list by CLICKING HERE.
By matching your arm speed with disc speed rating, you will achieve better flight path that will lead to longer driving distances.
To wrap things up as concisely as possible here is a quick summary!
Improving your flexibility and range of motion is the core foundation on which you need to build upon. From there, improving mobility and agility are next on the priority list to increase throwing distance as you get used to using your body in space. This is then followed closely by strength and endurance.
If these are things you aren't quite ready for, making sure that you are throwing discs that are appropriate for your arm speed are also vital in maximizing your distance potential.
You'll know that you're throwing the right discs if you're able to get them to fly close to their indicated flight ratings (assuming they're not beat in of course).
As a reminder, good form is necessary to maximize performance, as it is with any skilled sport. But neglecting the physical and gear aspect of the sport can truly hinder your progression and lead to frustration when things just aren't going your way in practice and live round situations.
So get out there, add some physical fitness components into your training routine, and take your game to the next level!
Happy Disc Golfing!
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