If you want to learn how to backhand pull like a boss, you need to study someone with a world-class throw.
Enter Rob McLeod – 2017 and current WFDF World Distance Champion and Canadian Distance Record holder.
Rob has had massive success in distance throwing.
Last year, he won both the Virginia State Frisbee Tournament and the US Open Overall Flying Disc Championships Distance events. Rob also broke the Virginia State Distance Record with a throw of 212 yards.
Rob has been in the WFDF World Distance final every year he’s competed since 2011. This is more than any other active player. He also has the Guinness World Record for the Longest Throw to a Dog which is at 402 feet.
Rob has competed in each of the last 4 events where the World Distance Record was broken. This record is currently held by David Wiggins Jr. at 1109 feet (338 metres).
Rob’s an expert because he never stops studying the art of distance throwing. He has competed against, watched, and learned from the best distance throwers of all time. These throwers include Simon Lizotte, David Wiggins Jr, John Kirkland, Dave Johnson, Chris Max Voigt, Ken Westerfield, and Christian Sandstrom.
So it’s safe to say Rob knows a thing or two about how to throw massive backhand pulls. Fortunately for us, he’s also a generous teacher and publishes top-notch articles, news and tutorials to his website http://www.ultimaterob.com/.
Experimenting With My Own Backhand Pull
A few weeks ago I emailed Rob to see if he would share his secrets with me.
It went something like this:
“Hey Rob, I just published The 8 Secrets to Distance for Ultimate Frisbee Forehands and now people want me to teach them how to bomb their backhands. But my backhand pull sucks, so I was hoping you could give me a few pointers. If I send you a video of my backhand pull, could you have a look at my technique?”
Rob was more than down. In an ensuing phone call, he offered me a wealth of advice to develop a world class backhand pull. From preloading my wrist to training with MTAs, we looked at drills that would help me. I’ll get into all of this in finer detail later in this article.
But for now, let’s see what Rob had to say about my backhand pulling technique:
Fundamental Technique For Backhand Pulls
If you’re somewhat new to backhand pulling in ultimate frisbee – don’t worry. In the video below (which is long… I’m sorry), I cover the basics of grip, wrist position and body posture. Next, I go detail on Rob’s advanced backhand pulling advice for ultimate frisbee players.
Take Time to Set an Excellent Backhand Grip
The very first thing we’ll need is a good backhand grip. I’d been playing for almost 20 years before I reexamined my grip. What I discovered was that I had been holding the disc wrong my entire life!
I really like Rob’s advice to have the same exact grip for all backhand throws. This way he’s ready for anything – from a short 8 yard backhand pass to a full-field 80 yard huck.
So I set out to perfect my grip. In doing so, I discovered a subtle adjustment that has really helped me establish a backhand grip that feels amazing.
My New, Improved Backhand Grip
My old way of setting up my grip was super basic. I essentially held the disc as if it was the steering wheel of a car. This is an acceptable first step. Its primary benefit is that it gets my thumb positioned nicely on the flight rings on top of the disc.
The steering wheel grip is a great place to start. But there were two more adjustments that really needed to happen before I felt like I truly owned my backhand grip.
The first tip comes straight from Rob. It is to seat the edge of the disc in the groove of your foremost knuckle on your index finger.
The second adjustment is something I figured out while experimenting with my grip – and it just felt right. This adjustment is simple, use your non-throwing hand and twist the disc to align with the plane of your forearm. This eliminates space between the disc and the thenar eminence (the group of muscles in the palm of the hand at the base of the thumb).
Any space between your hand and the disc is problematic for power. This space creates an area of inefficient energy transfer from your hand to the disc during the actual backhand pull. So eliminating space from your grip leads to increased power transfer, more spin and greater distance.
Pre-Cock Your Wrist
Rob takes his “being ready for anything” grip a step further by always keeping his wrist cocked. By pre-cocking my wrist, I noticed an immediate and dramatic improvement to the snap and spin of my backhand pull.
Prior to adding the cocked wrist, I had been winding up my backhand pull with a somewhat neutral wrist position. I wasn’t putting enough spin on the disc to support increased arm speed and power.
So for me, the added spin now means I can really put everything I have into my backhand pull. I even hear an audible snap at the moment of release, which is an exciting new feature of my newly adopted pre-cocked wrist technique!
Maintain a Straight Spine
If you’ve read The 8 Secrets to Distance for Ultimate Frisbee Forehands, you already know why a straight spine matters.
Essentially, a straight spine rotates more efficiently than a bent one. So we want to make sure to keep a straight back whether throwing forehand or backhand pulls in ultimate frisbee.
To create the I.O. angle on the disc – it’s important to bend at the hips. Do not bend at the spine, keep your spine straight.
With grip and posture accounted for, let’s look at what Rob has to say about the more advanced technical features of a powerful backhand pull.
Turn Head Back For More Rotation
I must have been uncomfortable with losing sight of the field because I wasn’t turning my head backwards enough during my wind up.
Rob mentions not overdoing this counter-rotation, but rather looking for a sweet spot from which to create maximal power. I wasn’t winding up enough, and so I had a bit of a Bruce Lee 1 Inch Punch going on.
With a more conscious effort to turn my head backwards during windup, I’m getting far more upper body rotation. This is translating to way more distance for my backhand pull.
Explode Into a Large Crossover “X Step”
The “X Step” allows lateral momentum to be built in the direction of the throw. This force is generated despite the upper body rotating in the opposite direction.
To do the “X Step”, take a powerful step forward with your lead foot. Assuming you’re right handed, complete one large backwards step with your left foot. Your legs will cross during this step, making an X.
Practicing your “X Step” footwork will allow you to build up more energy during your approach. Reach your throwing arm back like a slingshot, creating potential energy. Be sure to really explode into that second last stride. Cover as much lateral ground as you can during the X step for maximum power.
NOTE:The above X Step advice applies to pulling. When hucking backhand from a pivot, we still need to recruit force from the lower body. To start, step out powerfully around the mark. While doing so, counter rotate your head and upper body. Complete your sideways step and use the force generated by the stepping motion to initiate an explosive turn with your upper body.
Be mindful not to slap the person marking you when following through on your backhand huck!
Lift Your Back Foot Off The Ground
This goes against our instincts as ultimate frisbee players because we’ve spent so much time learning how to throw without lifting our pivot foot.
But when pulling, there’s no need to worry about keeping the pivot foot planted right? So why not lift it off the ground completely and free up that extra rotation?
Lifting my back foot off the ground also ensures 100% weight transfer, which of course adds power. I wasn’t transferring all of my weight, so there’s a bit more power in store if I start doing that.
I was dragging my back foot, and that was doing nothing except slowing down my rotation and robbing my backhand pull of power. By lifting my left foot immediately after my right foot hits the ground (after the X Step), my body is able to spin freely and express more power.
Keep Disc Flat, Nose to Tail
This comes back to having a better grip… as my original grip caused the disc to “air bounce” and lose energy when I released it.
This makes total sense. You don’t want the disc banking on the air because there’s a ton of drag on the tail when it does that. You want the disc to cut through the air with as slight a profile as possible.
A disc that slices through the air with minimal drag will travel much farther than a disc with tail drag.
Throw High, and at an Angle
This was perhaps the most surprising piece of advice Rob gave me. But the more I thought about it, the more sense it made.
A disc that’s released flat will want to boomerang back like an MTA (Maximum Time Aloft – more on this drill below).
The higher you throw it, the more angle you need to put on the disc, or it’s just going to boomerang back to you. So always release your pull with a healthy I. O. (Inside Out) angle on it.
Pull diagonally so that if the disc goes out of bounds, it does so as far down the field as possible. Start on the corners, and throw into the middle of the field.
The last thing we want is for the disc to go out of bounds immediately, and then never curl back inbounds. This pulling mistake almost guarantees an easy point for your opponents.
So start your backhand pull on the left side of the field (if you’re a righty) and aim to have it go out of bounds far upfield on the right boundary line, before curling back inbounds and landing somewhere deep in the end zone.
Pulling higher also means there will be more hang time on the disc. This gives your team more time to run down there and make life hard for the other team!
How I Trained to Increase my Backhand Pull Distance
Apart from making the technical adjustments Rob suggested, I also followed his advice on what drills to practice in order to improve my backhand distance.
Throw MTAs Into The Wind
MTA stands for Maximum Time Aloft and is a fancy term for “boomeranging” the disc into the wind so it stays airborne for as long as possible.
The intention is to have your disc stay in the air as long as possible and then catch it with one hand before it reaches the ground. The time that the disc remains in the air is measured. Players get five attempts and the best time counts.http://wfdf.org/history-stats/world-records
MTAs are perfect for days when all you’ve got is the disc and no throwing partner. You can really rip on a backhand pull when throwing an MTA, and because you’re throwing at a sharp upward angle, your throw should land more or less where you threw from.
MTAs are characterized by far less walking than would otherwise be necessary if you were to just go to a field and pull as far as possible, to no one. They’re also fun to do at the beach when there’s a stiff onshore wind.
Throw The Length Of The Field
Rob told me he used to practice pulling by just starting at one end of the field and seeing how many pulls it took him to reach the other side. Then he’d turn around and do it again.
This drill offers the significant benefit of exposing you to upwind and downwind, as well as both crosswind scenarios. It also gives you a sense for whether your pulls would have landed in bounds.
Additionally, you can work on maintaining super high I. O. flight trajectories on your backhand pulls, which is what Rob recommends for in-game backhand pulls.
Play The Overthrow Game
If you’re fortunate enough to have a buddy to practice with, go out to a field and try to pull past each other. Have the stronger thrower handicapped by having to throw upwind.
The receiver is allowed to jump up and try to stop the disc mid-flight – so there’s some fun to be hand in gambling on taking down backhand pulls that are released a little too low!
This game is excellent for developing your ability to read the disc. You will learn to time your jump to catch the disc at your apex. This will translate into you winning more floaty discs during games, on both offence and defence!
For a deeper look at how to jump higher in ultimate frisbee, check out this video:
The Distance Formula for Backhand Pulls
We’ve covered a lot so far, and it might be helpful to take a step back and remember that distance boils down to this simple formula:
Distance = Spin x Power
You can use this equation to continually add distance to your backhand pull.
Initially, most people (myself included) will benefit from improving their ability to spin the disc. Pre-cocking your wrist will help with this, but it does take many, many repetitions before your ability to put spin on the disc is able to support the amount of power you can put behind it.
Once your ability to create disc spin catches up to your overall strength, you will naturally benefit by increasing the torsional power you can generate with your body.
The banded lateral twists, supine bridges, med ball ab twists and hard-style planks in this ultimate frisbee workout are all simple bodyweight exercises that will give you a powerful core and substantially increase your throwing power.
Throw High Volume Backhand Pulls
At the end of the day, the best way to develop a world-class backhand pull is to throw as far as you can, with the best form possible, as often as possible. All world-class athletes have thousands of hours of practice under their belts. Developing a ridiculous backhand pull is no different.
If you want big results, you need to put in high quality practice over a long period of time.
Quantity leads to quality. So get out there and throw some plastic!
Throw Your Forehand Like A Boss!
If you’d like to learn how to pull your forehand like an absolute monster, check out The Ultimate Forehand Training Video.