Disc golf driving: The lowdown on run-ups (and why you maybe shouldn’t use one yet)

Nearly all disc golfers, from touring pros to those brand new to the game, use some type of run-up as part of their backhand drives. Most shouldn’t, though- at least not until they master the fundamental basics crucial to both power and consistency.

I see too many players who try to incorporate a throw into their run-up rather than the other way around. In other words, they seem to be approaching it as “How can I throw a disc while walking (or galloping)?” Crazy.

Why is this mistake so common? Because we tend to imitate what we see the majority of others do, for one thing. Add to that the way most teepads look like little runways, encouraging the player to start at the back, gain some momentum, and launch the disc near the front. Also, most new players crave more distance and it seems like getting a running start is a good way to get it.

The assumption is that the run-up is a crucial part of the drive, but in reality it is not. In fact, for players who don’t yet have a good grasp of proper weight transfer, timing, balance, and the use of larger muscles (rather than just their throwing arm), using a run-up hurts more than it helps. This is true in the short term as well as the long term.

Kesler Martin of Infinite Discs demonstrates proper weight transfer and timing on this drive during the 2019 Masters Cup. In the second frame his plant foot has just landed and he has kept his weight back, shoulders turned, and disc in the reach-back position, ready for the Big Boom.

Let’s talk short term first. You’re on the tee on a hole that requires a full-powered drive. Naturally you employ a run-up because that’s what any player would do when needing to achieve their max distance, right? Wrong. First of all, a perfectly executed backhand drive that includes a run-up adds 15 to 20 percent of distance compared to the same throw without the footwork. That’s the best case scenario.

Think of it as a math equation. That little bit of forward momentum you get by striding or even galloping into your throw adds slightly to the speed of the disc as it’s thrown- but ONLY if you’ve figured out how to keep your weight back even as your feet are taking steps forward. On top of that you need to time it perfectly so your launch occurs just after your plant foot hits the ground. If you’re off, even by a little, you won’t get the extra power (might even lose power) and your release point is apt to be off as well, causing the disc to fly in the wrong direction.

I see too many players who try to incorporate a throw into their run-up rather than the other way around.

As for the long-term damage of using a run-up off the tee (or in the fairway) before learning proper basics, it’s simple. Adding that extra layer of complication often means a player will never learn the basics. At the risk of being both trite and corny, you really do have to learn to walk before you can run. Or in this case, throw properly before you can walk or run (up).

I have one more thing for you to consider on this subject. The surest way to throw with accuracy is to keep things as simple as possible. Even a full-power standing drive requires the thrower to take their eyes off the target for a brief second. We accept this trade-off when necessary, but shouldn’t turn away from the target when it is not. A proper run-up using the x-step/scissor step footwork requires the thrower to turn away from the target and synchronize that footwork with the timing of the throw. If an upshot can be executed confidently with only your arm and without turning your head, that’s what you should do. Likewise, if you can drive a hole without a run-up, why add that unnecessary complication?