You’re in the middle of a game and the disc is in your hands. The stall is 8. You frantically look for an open receiver but find no one, until a handler comes to the rescue with a fierce up-line cut to the forehand side. You throw the easy forehand to him, or so you thought, until he drops it because it came at him faster than expected. You think nothing of it, except that it’s his fault for not catching the disc, of course.
The situation above could easily be due to poor execution (hey, it happens to all of us), but for this article, we’re going to rule that out. Instead, we’re going to blame a common biomechanical throwing habit that affects certain throwing situations. The example of the disc being thrown too fast is the result of a poor throwing mechanics technique that I call “one motion fits all.” This is the player on your team - or maybe it’s you - who throws with the same exact mechanics for a 3 yard up-line, 15 yard throw under, or 50 yard huck. The one that you hate cutting up-line towards because you know you’re going to get hit by a freaking laser. While this technical habit can get you by in some scenarios it's certainly limited.
The “One Motion Fits All” Fix
Let’s start by breaking down forehand mechanics into points along the kinetic chain: wrist, elbow, shoulder, and total body. Each point connects from one to the next, from distal to proximal (away from the trunk of the body and towards the trunk of the body). The more power you need in your throw, the more points along the chain that are needed, and vice versa—the less power you need, the less points along the chain that are needed. Here’s a breakdown of the points along the kinetic chain needed for certain distances. We’ll refer to this as the kinetic chain throwing continuum (KCTC):
*note: these aren’t absolute distances, it’s just a general guideline
If you’re the player above who throws up-line passes way too fast, chances are, you’re throwing it using your wrist, elbow, and shoulder, when you only need to use your wrist and elbow. Why does this happen? Well, the more points along the KCTC you use, the more power you generate. However, with more power means less fine motor control. The wrist is the least powerful point along the kinetic chain, but allows you to finely control the spin and speed on the disc. Thus, we have a trade-off: more power with less fine motor control, or more motor control with less power.
Unfortunately, even if you’re using the appropriate points along the KCTC for a certain throw, that doesn’t guarantee that it’ll come out right. Ultimately (yeah, I’m pretty clever), the most important element about getting the right portion of power and touch is how you finish with the wrist. Actually, this point is even more important than using the appropriate points along the kinetic chain. For example, you can make a short throw using only your wrist, but still throw it too fast for a floaty up-line if you snap your wrist too hard. Contrarily, you can make a short throw using your wrist, elbow, shoulder, and total body and throw it with more fine touch than the previous example if it’s finished with a slow, smooth, and gentle snap of the wrist.
So, why didn’t I just talk about finishing with the wrist if that’s the most important part? The KCTC is important because it helps a player visualize that the more movement involved in a throw, the harder it is to control how you finish with the wrist. It’s just a starting point that’ll help guide you into using the appropriate mechanics for a certain throw, but as you can see, it is not an absolute rule. Once you get advanced enough, you’ll be able break the rules.
Let's take a look at some simple examples of proper throwing form for your different distances.
1) Short Up-line, 1-5 yards: here, we’re primarily just using of the wrist
2) Longer Up-line, 5-15 yards: you can see more use of the elbow here
3) Low-Release Forehand, 15-30 yards: this throw uses a slight shoulder turn to add more power
4) Forehand Huck, 30+ yards: last but not least, you can clearly see total body use for this throw
Now, get out there and start applying the KCTC to your forehand throws and practice finishing appropriately with the wrist so your teammates aren’t so reluctant to cut up-line when you have the disc.
(About the Author)
Kuni Nishimura is a Certified Personal Trainer with years of experience playing and coaching Ultimate.