Does Your Arm Speed Match Your Disc Speed?

Flight Numbers

Harry Potter Sorting Hat helping to pick your disc golf disc
Why does Harry have the poo emoji on his head?

Flight numbers. Who, exactly, came up with these things? I feel like at the disc factories they have their own version of the sorting hat from Harry Potter. As they make each new disc, they hold it under the hat and the hat says… Speed 14, house Innova!!! Then all the other discs cheer and hijinx ensues.

OK, maybe I’m being a little harsh. I actually do have a pretty good grip on what they are “supposed” to mean. The problem is that the numbers are based on one particular speed and type of throw. If you don’t happen to throw that exact way, the disc won’t fly “by the numbers” for you. And you have exactly two chance of that happening… Slim and none.

This makes buying discs based on the flight numbers an almost useless practice. Sometimes you’ll buy a disc and it does what the numbers say it should. Many other times, it’s like the numbers on the disc are some kind of not so funny inside joke that the folks at the factory are laughing hysterically at.

So why is it that some discs you buy fly exactly like the numbers say they will and yet so many others don’t? The answer lies in large part with your arm speed. The first step in finding discs that work for you lies in figuring out the nexus between arm speed and disc speed. To do that, let’s begin by defining the speed rating of a disc.

What is Disc Speed

We’ll start by dispelling a myth. A speed 14 disc does NOT travel through the air faster than a speed 10 disc. You can only throw a disc however fast you can throw a disc. You don’t magically gain more arm speed because you picked up a Nuke instead of a TeeBird. Both will leave your hand at exactly the same speed if given identical throws.

So if “speed” doesn’t have anything to do with how fast a disc flies, what the heck does it have to do with?

speed limit sign for disc golf disc
It’s only a matter of time before they release a disc with this speed rating.

Speed means two things, one much more important than the other. The less important is a measurement of drag. In other words, the higher the speed number, the more aerodynamic a disc is. That aerodynamic shape means it will maintain it’s speed longer due to less drag on the disc.

A blunt edged mid range with a bead like a Roc will slow down much faster than razor sharp Missilen. If a disc maintains its speed for a longer period of time, it “should” have a longer distance potential. The key word there is “should”. Whether it goes farther or not completely depends on the other much more important thing the speed rating means.

There is one critical thing you should know about a disc’s speed rating. It’s a measure of how fast you need to throw the disc to make the other flight numbers come true. In other words, the glide, turn, and fade ratings on a disc are only accurate when the disc is thrown at or above its speed rating.

Soooo…. If you throw a speed 14 disc at speed 14, it will fly like it’s supposed to. If you only have a speed 11 arm, it will not. If you pick up a speed 11 disc and throw it with your speed 11 arm, that disc should then fly like it’s supposed to.

This is what answers our earlier question… Why do some discs fly like they’re supposed to and most others don’t? It’s because a lot of the discs out there don’t match your arm speed. If you have the previous mentioned speed 11 arm, you should be able to make all discs speed 11 and down fly as they’re designed to. You may have to power down on the lower speed discs, but you should be able to make them work. Put a speed 12 or higher in your hands and that’s where they will stop doing what they are “supposed” to do.

OK, so it took almost 700 words to get here, but we are finally at the point of this article. The magic question that, if answered, will unlock the world of disc numbers for you….

What speed arm do I have?!?!?!

Arm Speed

Quagmire arm built for disc speed
Quagmire’s been workin’ on his throwin’ arm. Looks like he’s got about a speed 15 there.

Unfortunately you can’t go to your doctor and have an arm speed test done. There is no radar gun used to measure arm speed on a scale of 5 to 15. You can’t ask one of your buddies, “Hey, Frank, check out my disc throwin’ arm. It’s like a speed 13, right?”

Fortunately there is a simple solution.

We need to reverse engineer our arm speed based on what the discs we throw do when we throw them.

Here’s how you do it in 6 simple steps.

  1. Grab a stack of drivers in assorted speeds
  2. Go to a practice field
  3. Throw drivers
  4. Whichever drivers fly like their numbers are at or below your arm speed
  5. Drivers that don’t are above your arm speed
  6. The highest speed rated disc that flies like it’s supposed to tells you what your current arm speed is

Hopefully you are a picking up what we are putting down… When the disc stops doing what the numbers say it should, you might be punching above your weight. There are, however, some caveats to this rather simplistic approach…

If your disc flutters through the air like this butterfly, you should probably work on form before disc speed.

 Disc Speed Variables

First, you have to be able to throw discs cleanly for this to work. If you can’t go out to a field and drive stable putters over 200-250 feet without flutter, you first need to work on your form.

The reason for this is that poor form will always make a disc fly differently than its numbers. Issues with nose angle, release angle, wrist roll, and countless other problems can wreak havoc on a disc’s flight. If you can’t throw with proper form, this arm speed test will be lost on you.

Second, your arm speed will fluctuate over time. It can even vary day to day. One day you could be poking along with a speed 8 arm and the next day everything clicks and you are throwing at speed 12. Knowing what discs are working for you on a given day is a huge competitive advantage.

Third, I want to make sure no one reads this article and comes away thinking they shouldn’t ever throw discs above their arm speed. That is not the case at all.

Throw What Works

trespass, the right disc speed
The speed 12 Trespass is my jam!

My arm speed sits between 11-12 typically. Speed 11 and 12 discs fly a lot like their flight numbers say they should for me. Faster discs do not. They fly considerably more overstable for me than their numbers say they should.

But sometimes I need an overstable disc! My distance driver of choice into the wind is the WestSide World. For many faster arm speed players, the World is not a good choice into a headwind. For me, it is.

In the end, I firmly believe that disc golf disc flight numbers should only be used as the loosest of guidelines. Knowing what discs match your arm speed is one of the rare ocassions where the numbers might be helpful.

The real lesson to be learned from flight numbers is that you should just get out and throw as many different discs as you can. What works for you is what you throw, what doesn’t is what you pass on. After that, it doesn’t really matter what the numbers say anyway.

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14 thoughts on “Does Your Arm Speed Match Your Disc Speed?”

  1. I have a question about new and used discs when it comes to arm speed. I found a used pro Destroyer and it Flys beautiful. Speed 12 I have a consistent form but for newer discs they fly more over stable and I’m throwing them just like my Wahoo, King, and Millennium ASTRO all fly like there suppose too. These new Pro Destroyers and Star Destroyer are flying like 12, 5, 0, 4. I’m throwing flat and don’t usually throw anhyzer unless the shot calls for it. Will you please give some advice shoot I hit them against bricks to break them in. I’ve been playing for almost a year and shoot Par or under

    • Hey Jarrett, that’s a great and kind of complicated question, but here goes…

      First, discs purchased used have an unknown amount of wear on them. What you bought was most likely an already broken in Destroyer. Depending on it’s stage of wear, you might get a similar flight out of a new Tern or a new Wraith. I personally do not like to try to mimic a broken in disc by artificially beating up a disc. It never turns out how you want and you end up with a disc with gouges and cuts, etc.

      Second, there are at least 5 different variations of the Destroyer out there. Even though Innova puts the same numbers on all of them, you can find Destroyers new that range from a little understable all the way to meathook overstable. This is why the first run Star Destroyers go for over $100 each now (and sometimes much more). From the Destroyer throwers I know, those are supposed to fly the best.

      Third, if you like that worn in Pro Destroyer, you might like a Moonshine Trespass at around 170g, or a Biofuzion Enforcer in the 168-170g range. The Millenium Orion LF in their basic plastic might also be a good disc to try. Without knowing just how that Pro Destroyer flies for you, it’s hard to recommend a good alternate.

      Last, Maybe try a lighter Pro Destroyer, or get one in the weight you like and play a bunch of one disc rounds with it. Pro tends to beat in quickly and that may be the easiest way to find another of what you are looking for.

      I know that was a bit all over the place, but hopefully it helped some! Thanks for reading the blog and for leaving the question! I appreciate it.

    • There are many different destroyers! Pros tend to start least stable and are the best under stable discs when beat in cuz they carry better. Carry these if you like beating them in quick and cycling them quickly. However they may fly differently just from one round to the next just from couple tree hits making it hard to rely on them. Domey destroyers have potential to get farther cuz they glide better flat destroyers fly quicker but don’t stay in air as long. Domy seems to retain stability longer. Domy is the better disc when it finally becomes understable (champion plastic takes longest then star pro DX) the dome allows it to glide on anhyzer routes while flat will hit the ground sooner flat flies faster into the ground. Flat is easier to throw low to the ground with the less glide, throw with nose down on these domy champs if you can find em to keep them low and glide far for biggest line drive potential. There are destroyers with teedevil rims. I don’t like. I look for rounded rim on top with a continuous dome to the peak. Pop tops are extremely stable if u need that like xcaliber. They start out flat along edge of flight plate and have a dome that pops up just in the middle of the disc. A nice domey champ a lil lighter 165-170 or so will fly farther like a max weight pro dest but hang out in the sweet spot for a good year while I get maybe a few rounds or so with a pro. Those are the best destroyers I’ve found farther and longer lasting than star or pro. Champ, rounded top rim not flat, continuous dome to the top, lil lighter for the extra 25-50. To check for dome visual look, lay them beside each other and big one that sits up tallest, and press down on dome it should pop right back like the sound of a heartbeat. Its got life!

    • That’s a great break down, thanks for taking the time to do that.

      It’s also the reason I don’t throw Destroyers. As good as some are, there are just way too many variables to make it a staple in my bag. I didn’t even know some had completely different rims than others. Doesn’t that make it a different disc that warrants a different name?

  2. Great piece as always, man. Thanks!
    Here’s a video that explains disc speed very well:
    As it explains, the common element of faster discs is wider rim width, which equals more of the disc’s weight being farther from its center. This makes it harder to spin the disc (i.e. not having the ‘arm’ to throw a faster disc well), but once you do, it spins longer than a disc with a thinner rim. Heavier rim = greater gyroscopic stability, so the disc stays on the plane of flight longer, allowing you to throw it farther (again, if you have the arm). So, it’s really your ability to spin a heavier rim disc with snap that determines if a disc is too high a speed rating for you. I can’t wait till they get around to making videos on the other ratings.

  3. I am a fan of the way Vibram changed their “flight numbers” with the new flight path stamped into their discs. On the bottom of the flight chart, it gives ideal disc speed in MPH for the disc, and then gives the flight path that will result when thrown at that disc speed (Similar to inFlight Guide). Even though their new fairway drivers are all listed as “Speed 7” on Marshall Street, the Notch (Trident like) is recommended at 54MPH, Arch (Eagle like) at 48MPH, Valley (Teebird like) at 48MPH, and Vamp (Leopard like) at 44MPH. Therefore, a “Speed 7” arm may not result in the optimal flight for all speed 7 discs.

    • That’s interesting Chase. Vibram is a company I know very little about. I’ll have to check out their flight ratings. Knowing all the stuff Steve Dodge has done over the years, it doesn’t surprise me at all that Vibram would try something different! Looks like I’ve got some research to do!

  4. I think your article is mostly true. I throw 11 & 12 like a champ. 13s not so much. 10 and under strictly based on finesse and control. However, there are exceptions to every speed I am comfortable with. Example: the Champion Beast is the only a 10 speed yet I have to throw it like a 12. The Champion Destroyer, a 13 speed, I throw like I throw my 11s to make it work like the numbers say. I believe there are a few factors with some disks that require more attention to the later numbers. Not just the speed rating.

    • Chris, thanks for the comment. You are absolutely right. One of the big factors is that the numbers are often wrong. Take your Destroyer, for example. There are at least 5 different versions of the Destroyer that I know of. The least stable (the pro versions, I believe) take a lot less to get them to fly like their numbers indicate. The domey AJ Destroyers are super overstable and only the biggest of arms can get them to fly like the numbers.

      The same is true of the Beast. The old 2x Barry Schultz Beasts fly like a completely different mold than the Beasts of today. Lots of variance across the life of that mold. Both the Destroyer and the Beast are great discs, but there are a lot of different versions of each.

      Once you start unpacking this issue, there are a million variables. That’s why I ended the article by saying throw what works for you. There are no blanket statements or rules in disc golf. You just have to throw a bunch of discs and find out what works best for you.

      Thanks for reading the blog and leaving a comment!

  5. Enjoyed the article. I’m somewhat new to the game (2 yrs) and over 60 . My speed is around 6/7 with a max distance of about 270 ft. Over that time I went through the process you discribe to settle on what disc matched my speed. I like the Leapord and TL (158/165) but was hoping that I might increase my speed a little over time. Do you have or know of any exercises or stretching routines that have proved to be effected?

    • Hi Jim. My first suggestion would be to post a video of you throwing over on the Disc Golf Answer Man Facebook group or really anywhere else you might be comfortable asking for feedback. Seeing you throw would help people to give the best advice.

      Without that, I’d recommend watching the Will Shusterick driving video where he talks about how to drive from a stand still. usually when people are capping out under 300 it’s because they are using all arm and no lower body or core in the throw. A clean throw to 300 should not really feel like you are trying all that hard. Once you involve your lower body, it makes things much easier. Practice what Will shows in that video and that should help.

      JohnE McCray also recommends two things in his clinics… First make sure you have an aggressive follow through. What a lot of people do is stop their throw short which robs you of a lot of speed. Will talks about follow through in his video too. The second thing JohnE recommends is one of those stretchy bands. He ties one end to a tree or door or something. Then he mimics the throwing pull motion with his arm but using the band for resistance. He says he does that a couple hundred times each night on each side during commercials to the TV shows he watches.

      Hope that helps and best of luck to you!

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