Understanding the weight of a disc golf disc has important implications in the sport. Typically, players in disc golf use discs that weigh between 150-180 grams. Very rarely will you see someone using a disc weight outside of this range, but it does happen in select circumstances (such as discs for kids).
So, what’s the difference between a light and heavy disc golf disc? In general, a lighter disc (closer to 150 grams) will have the tendency to follow an understable flight path, whereas a heavier disc (closer to 180 grams) will have the tendency to follow a more overstable flight path.
It is commonly recommended in the community that players just starting out should throw lighter discs. Heavier discs are primarily used by intermediate to advanced players that have developed the technique and muscle memory to efficiently throw a golf disc.
This isn’t a matter of pride, but of time and practice. Starting out too heavy could easily lead to disappointing results. And disappointing results will most certainly lead to you not wanting to play at all.
To understand why newer players should throw lighter discs and advanced players throw heavier discs, there are a few concepts to understand that we’ll review below. We’ll also look at instances of where beginners could use a heavier disc and advanced players would choose a lighter disc.
Disc Stability: A brief explanation
There is nothing fancy about disc stability. It is simply the vocabulary used in the sport to refer to how a disc flies when thrown. Does it go left, right, or straight from the point of where it was thrown? Since you have left handed and right handed players throwing backhands and forehands, it can get confusing using left and right to describe the flight of a disc. Using the terms on the stability spectrum simplifies this problem.
To determine a disc’s stability, you can release the disc flat out of your hand (or as flat as possible) and observe the flight pattern it takes. The relative stability of a disc will depend on the individual throwing the disc. To further explain, I’ll use myself as an example. I am a right handed player that primarily throws backhand.
If I were to throw a disc on a flat plane (the disc being parallel to the ground upon release from my hand) and the disc remained relatively straight the entire flight, I would call that a stable disc. While performing that same flat throw, if the disc finished toward the left, I would call that an overstable disc. Conversely, if the disc finished toward the right, I would call that an understable disc.
When discs are manufactured, certain molds or shapes are used to encourage certain flight patterns to occur. However, this can get confusing when a player throws a disc that is designed to be understable, but the disc ends up following an stable to overstable flight pattern. This typically occurs when the thrower does not have enough arm power to get the disc to the recommended speed. Or if the disc is released on an angle.
How Does Weight Impact the Flight Path of a Disc?
Using a lighter vs. heavier disc does not directly change a disc’s stability per se. When a disc is lighter, the thrower has the ability to release the disc with more velocity or speed. As weight is added, the thrower is required to throw with more power to achieve the same result.
As a thrower using a backhand applies more power to a thrown disc (since the disc weighs less), it will tend to turn right or favor an understable flight path. Conversely, if a thrower applies less power to a thrown disc (since the disc weighs more), it will tend to turn left or favor an overstable flight path.
As mentioned before, usually a newer player does not have enough power to throw a heavier disc at the required speed to get it to follow the intended line. If you find that you are throwing a heavier disc using a backhand and it continues to turn hard to the left after release, you can try to get that same disc in a lighter weight. Drop the weight until you can get the disc to follow the intended path. Conversely, you can get a disc that requires less speed to try to achieve this as well.
So, I Should Always Stick with Lighter Disc for More Distance?
This is generally true for average players, but wind conditions need to be factored into the equation. For example, in distance competitions, you will typically see competitors throwing discs that are between 150 – 160 grams. In 2016, the world record for distance with a disc golf disc was set at over 1,100 feet (see here). This was done with a 154 gram Innova Boss in incredibly high winds at 40 mph.
However, if winds were taken completely out of the equation you would see distance throwers increasing the weight of the disc. Without a tailwind, the strongest arms in the world at max speed would likely turn over a 150-160 gram distance driver straight into the ground. This is because there is a diminishing return on more distance versus lighter weight of a disc. And if there isn’t ample wind to counter act a lighter disc turning over, a heavier disc would provide more stability.
So What Weight Should I Use?
The average recreational player averages around 200-250 feet for maximum distance in no wind. In this case, the average thrower would benefit from a lighter disc between 150 – 165 grams to try to work up to the necessary power for 300 feet. In normal tailwinds, stick to something closer to 150. In normal headwinds grab a disc closer to 165 for more stability. With no winds, a disc around 160 will work just as well. Keep in mind, if you find your disc favoring an understable flight, you can increase the weight for more stability.
For an intermediary player that has the potential to throw 300-350 feet in no wind, they would generally benefit from a disc weight of 160 – 175 grams. In normal tailwinds, stick to something closer to 160. In normal headwinds grab a disc closer to 175 for more stability. With no winds, a disc around 170 will work just as well.
Every player is unique when it comes to arm power. And the conditions that player is throwing in are always going to be different. The best recommendation I can give would be to start out with a light disc around 150 grams and slowly work up from there. Observe the flight path the disc takes when you release it to determine if you need to increase or decrease the weight. As wind is introduced, increase the weight for a headwind and decrease the weight for a tailwind.
Always look up the intended flight your disc is supposed to take (this can usually be found on the manufacturer’s website) when thrown flat and see if you can achieve that line. This is a great way to see what adjustments you may need to make in the weight of your discs.