Matching Your Arm Speed To The Disc

Matching Your Arm Speed To The Disc

Disc golf doesn’t have a rule about which disc you can throw at any point on the course. You can putt with a driver and drive with a putter if you want. As long as it’s PDGA approved you can throw anything you want from anywhere on the course. This is one of my favorite things about the sport. Someone will throw a high speed driver, others a putter off the tee. The variability of people’s skills is fun to watch.

Let’s talk a little bit about the 4 number flight rating system. It’s a great way for you to know approximately what a disc will do when you throw it. I have a blog about glide and how it affects disc flight. Today’s blog is about speed.

The first number in the 4 number flight rating system is the speed. It’s not how fast/far the disc goes!

It’s how fast you have to throw it to get it to do what it’s supposed to do. A 12 speed doesn’t mean 12 mph, it’s not in multiples of 5 or 6 like some people have told me.

(Honestly one of my favorite disc golf related tweets ever.)

So what is speed? I guess there’s no great answer for this. It’s just how fast you have to throw it to make it do what it’s supposed to do. What a disc is supposed to do is correct turn and fade. A disc with -1 turn will turn slightly over. If it also has a fade of 3 it will fade out a lot at the end of the flight. These numbers are a baseline, so you know what to expect. The more discs you throw the better you’ll come to understand the numbers.

What’s the correct arm speed to have?
The one that works with the disc. Throwing a 12 speed doesn’t make you better than someone who throws a 10 speed. The correct arm speed is the one you have, and the one you’re working toward (if you’re trying to build up distance). There’s some great players out there like World Champion Gregg Barsby who throws a 7 speed Eagle as his primary driver. So don’t be intimidated or feel like you’re less for throwing a lower speed disc. The best players in the game are the ones who find the discs that work for them. The speed of the disc does not equal distance. When you match your arm speed to the correct disc you’ll get the best distance.

What happens if I don’t throw fast enough with a disc?
Excellent question. This is something I see almost every day out on the course. If you’re a right hand backhand thrower the disc will sort of lift up in the air and then finish hard to the left without gaining much distance. If you throw at a speed of 8 then it doesn’t matter if you’re throwing a 9 speed or a 14 speed driver, they’re both going to have similar flights.

Let’s examine the RoadRunner. The speed on it is 9, it’s got a -4 for turn and a 1 for fade. If you release that disc level and at a 9 speed, you’ll see it go very far to the right and then slightly back to the left at the end.

So if your disc isn’t doing that, you’re throwing it at a different speed. Maybe too fast if it’s turning over and rolling on the ground, and if it’s flying straight and finishing left you’re throwing it too slow.

What happens if I throw too fast for my disc?
This is where some skill comes in. When you throw faster than the disc is designed you create a little wobble in the flight. This makes the disc more understable, so it turns more. A disc like the Mako3 is great to learn about speed control. It’s got a 0 turn and 0 fade. If you throw too slowly, you’re going to have it fade, if you throw too quickly you’ll see it turn.

It’s not always a bad thing to throw your disc faster than intended. Putters are excellent to throw too fast. These discs will turn over and hold that turn for a long time. I like to throw putters a little faster than they’re designed for and they go pretty far. If you’re throwing and your disc is constantly rolling over on the ground, it’s time to get a faster disc.

How do I find my arm speed?
This is fairly simple. It’s practice! You go out and throw discs of different speeds until you find where you’re maxing out. Go to a wide open field and after a short warmup try to throw your discs as far as you can.

Now you can’t just go and throw the Thunderbird one time and you’re done. You have to do this at least 5 times, not just with brand new discs but with beat in ones as well. So take that disc to a field and give it a rip. Watch the flight path of the disc, and see if you’re making it do what it’s supposed to. When you find that discs are consistently doing what the numbers say they will, you’ve found your arm speed.

Where should I start?
I think that the Leopard is an excellent starting point. At a 6 speed, many people can get that driver up to speed. If you’re consistent with this disc you’ll find it following the -2 turn and 1 fade. And if you’re throwing it and realize that you’re turning it over you can go up to a 7 speed. You might find that a 4 speed works well. When I first started the Shark was my go to for almost all of my shots.

I want to improve my arm speed.
Here’s what you can do. Go out to a field and practice your max distance shots. If you’re looking to throw further and improve your arm speed it’s really going to be about going out and stretching out your distance. You can’t do it once and expect an improvement, this is just like anything else. If you want to see improvement you need to work at it regularly.
Grab a stack of drivers and practice your long distance shots. Keep that form clean and you’ll start throwing further and faster. Also see my blog about why you don’t (usually) need more than 350 feet.

What’s the biggest takeaway from this blog? I hope that you can match your arm speed to the disc speed for the most effective way to play. The best players don’t throw discs that are too fast for them. Throw what works for you, and you’re going to succeed.

May your discs miss all the trees,
Andrew Streeter #70397



Thank you for this article. It has told me most of what I have been trying to discover in the 5 years since I started disc golfing. I have yet to make 200 foot consistently.
I started when I was 68 and have tried lighter discs and faster discs but never seriously experimented with slower discs. When the rain stops, I’ll pull out all my mids, borrow a few Leopards and the ilk, and experiment. In the meantime, I’ll work with my Pro-Pull and try to develop speed that way and maybe a bit of strength.

Michael Pitts-Campbell

Hey Ed thanks for reading!
Lighter weights are much easier to get up to speed. So if you do lower the weight you might be able to throw a faster disc. I find that as you lower the weight you increase the distance, but suffer the cost of accuracy.
Lighter weights tend to be more understable especially in the wind. I find that as you go down in weight you have to compensate with more overstable discs or run the risk of flipping them over.
I’m currently 31 so I know that in the future I will have to lower the weights of my discs from 172-175 if I want to keep throwing the same molds like the Wraith.
Great comment.

Andrew Streeter

Can you comment on weight’s effect on speed? As an older player I fell I can handle slightly faster discs if I stick to 158-162 weights.

Ed Faits