Author: Ken Westerfield was a freestyle, ultimate, disc golf top competitor and Hall of Fame inductee with world records in the 1970s. As a tournament organizer and a showman, Ken pioneered disc sports in the U.S. and Canada.
This article was published in Ultiworld on Sept 15, 2020.
Tuesday Tips: Gain Distance With 360 Pulls
The articles on this site cover a technique for adding power to your forehand and backhand pull. Also, a freestyle exercise for improving ultimate one-hand catching skills.
“Add distance and hang-time to ultimate Frisbee pulls and additional power for hucking with enhanced throwing technique.”
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 allowed 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 play after the pull, can add up to 15-20 missed block and turnover opportunities per game. In big games, it’s the little things that will make a difference. In the two Frisbee pulling articles on this site, “360-Whip Forehand Throw” and “360 Backhand Pull,“ Ken Westerfield offers you a way to increase your power for ultimate’s two primary huck and pull throws. A consistent, strong, accurate pull that floats slowly to the back of your opponent’s end zone is an important part of your defense. This gives the defense set-up time with the maximum amount of playing field to defend and control the tempo by having a marked receiver before the first pass. Every pass is a block and turnover opportunity, and there’s no reason it shouldn’t be on the first pass. On this site, Ken will be offering techniques for adding power to your forehand and backhand pulls. Also an exercise for general ultimate handling skills.
360-Whip Forehand Pull for More Distance and Float
“Adding a 360-degree whip to your forehand throw will translate into more control, speed, and power.”
Today, every top ultimate player has a decent forehand pass. If you would also like to develop a power forehand for the huck and pull, I have a power throwing technique I call a “360-whip forehand.” This technique will increase arm speed and distance to help your huck and pull. Even against erratic headwinds, adding a 360 to your forehand will help you power your pull to the back of your opponent’s end-zone. The “360 whip forehand” is thrown with a slightly different release, then a pass. Adding a 360-degree arm motion visually compares to a third baseman scooping up the ground ball and sidearm throwing the runner out at first.
History note: Since the 1970s, only two competitors have perfected this 360 forehand technique. Before the invention of today’s beveled edge golf disc, the two longest distance throws ever recorded using the old rounded rim disc designs that include the Wham-O World Class Models and the Discraft Ultra-Star are Victor Malafronte 538 feet and Ken Westerfield’s 552 feet in the 1970s. Both used the run-up and 360-whip forehand techniques described in this article. Both record throws were with a 119gm 40 mold World Class Frisbee.
A power forehand demonstration video, using his 360-degree whip. In this video, Ken Westerfield is throwing distance with a Wham-O Midnight Flyer Frisbee (140-150grams) in the 1970s, but he 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 whip (rotation) before the release and the throw off the left foot. Without the run-up and in the moments before being physically marked, the 360-whip forehand can also add power and speed to a fast downfield huck.
360-Whip Forehand Instruction and Practice.
The grip is slightly firmer than a pass. Two fingers together underneath with the thumb on top, pushing hard enough to indent the top of the disc. A tight grip will give you a better wrist snap to hold the hyzer (inside-out) and more disc spin for a slower float at the end of the pull.
You’ve seen softball pitchers do a similar 360 arm rotation when pitching and how much whip and speed they can generate with that pitch, as opposed to an underhand pitch. This is the same difference you’ll feel with the forehand 360-degree arm rotation when hucking or pulling. The 360-degree arm rotational is where the additional speed and power are generated.
Adding a little more arm to the forehand throw isn’t that difficult. Begin by standing still and doing the 360-degree arm rotation with the disc in your hand. 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. The disc might have a little release flutter, but with practice, you’ll develop your timing while strengthening your arm and wrist. 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. Begin by focusing just on the arm rotation and the release. Once you get the throw you can add in a walk-up. If you are practicing pulls with your right hand, begin by using two steps. 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. Two steps are all you’ll need to start, 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 add that much more to the throw. Barring extreme wind conditions, especially headwinds, I could always reach the back of the end zone with good height with the walk-up but would usually run-up to the line with my team, just to add to the team psych and momentum.
There is a lot of shoulder and elbow in 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 keep your shoulder and elbow warm in between play.
The Psychology of the Pull.
“Winning in ultimate is believing that you can win and during the game making sure you deliver that message to the other team.”
Winning an ultimate game is about athleticism, conditioning, handling skills, and confidence. It is also about playing strategically smart, taking advantage of every opportunity that falls within the Spirit of the Game. The psychology of a game depends on the level you are playing on. When the puller, usually assumed to be the team’s strongest thrower, makes that first throw to begin play, it represents the team. Just as weak and inaccurate pulls can say something about a team, a powerful pull will also say something about a team. Let your opponents know, right at the start, the pressure is on and that there will be no free passes. A consistent, powerful pull will psych up your team, excite the spectators, and help to send your game-winning message.
360 Backhand Pull
360 Backhand Power Pull for Distance and Float.
“It’s better to have throwing power and not need it than to need more throwing power and not have it.”
I’ve noticed pulling techniques ultimate teams are using as a defensive strategy. Pullers throw high steep curves hoping that it will either be dropped or hit the ground and roll past the receiver. Another technique I’ve seen is to throw a roller out of bounds around mid-field, allowing more time to set up the defense and a double-team sideline press. These pulling efforts offer some advantages sometimes, but when maximum defensive field position is required, how about using a technique for pulling the disc farther with more float by developing a “360-degree body rotation” before the backhand release that top distance throwers use. For simplification in this article, I’ll also refer to it as a “360 backhand,” or just “360.”
“There is a reason why a discus thrower does multiple spins before the release.”
Today’s standard backhand that moves across the front of the body is fine for passing and even hucking, but if you would like to have additional power for pulling, adding more arm to the throw will be helpful. Maybe you already have decent power for pulling, but there are always situations, especially with the wind, you will wish you had more. In distance competitions, top backhand distance throwers always use a 360 rotation before the release. First introduced in the late 1970s, this Frisbee distance technique began with overall power event competitors in the 1980s. A 360 body rotation before the backhand release can give you the additional throwing power for an extra 10-20 yards and help to power through erratic winds, this isn’t a theory, it’s physics. Adding upper body rotation will increase arm speed that will translate into more power. That extra throwing power can help you reach the back of the end zone, take on headwinds and add more disc spin for height and better float. When today’s top distance throwers use the 360 backhand, it’s quick and somewhat inaccurate. Distance throwers are using beveled edge golf disc, throwing for 200 plus yards, looking for wind assist with little thought for accuracy. A slow controlled 360 before you pull with a short run or walk up to the line will help to give you more pulling power.
360 Backhand Video Demonstration.
The players in these videos are each using slightly different 360 techniques, but all are equally effective. The videos were made using golf disc, but the 360 backhand grip and release are the same for a pull with an ultimate disc.
Developing the 360 Backhand Release.
I’ve never heard anyone complain of having too much-throwing power. Except for the players that don’t have it and their excuses for not needing it.”
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 maintain your accuracy on longer distances.
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. To begin, I’ll describe what worked for me. As an active ultimate player, you already have the backhand throw. Adding a 360 rotation before the release won’t take long and you will feel the extra power right away.
Power grip is required, all fingers under the disc tightly against the rim with thumb firmly indenting the top of the disc. If you’re throwing with your right hand, this is a four-step 360 using your right hand as the lead into the 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. Begin the four-step 360 by stepping with your left foot, now 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 move 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 helps to begin, lead and guide the body through the entire 360 rotation.
If you’re anything like me, I was never good at following directions. Just begin with whatever your idea is of what you think I described and your athletic ability and ultimate disc skills will take over.
Next article: Freestyle Training for Better Ultimate Handling Skills