View Full Version : Generating power for the break, part 2

03-16-2002, 04:02 PM
In the previous post, I laid out the fundamental principles of how the human body can be used to generate power. In this post, we’ll go into more detail of how these principles are put into practice, and how to apply this to the break in Pool.

There are a few things we need to touch on first…

First, standing at a Pool table with a cue in your hand is a TERRIBLE way to position the body to generate power. Want proof? The best breakers in the world only move the cue at about 30 mph. Compare that to the best pitchers in the world, who throw a baseball at 100 mph. Or a martial artist who can execute hand techniques at 50 mph (not necessarily a straight punch) and kicks at 70 mph. 30 mph is embarrassingly pathetic, in terms of what the human body is capable of. But in life we have to deal with what we are given. The nature of the activity determines the limits of what we can do.

Second, many of the movements we will talk about are very subtle. This relates to the first point, which I just made. Compare, for example, a major league pitcher throwing a fast ball, to a person breaking in Pool. Obviously, the nature of the Pool break doesn’t allow the breaker to move their body to the same extent as a pitcher in baseball. So when we talk about things such as pushing off of the rear leg, and turning the hips, understand that these are usually relatively small subtle movements, when compared to other sports.

The third thing we need to touch on is a greatly significant element in generating speed and power. STAY LOOSE AND RELAXED! I saw someone post a couple of weeks ago on how she got better results when she focuses on hitting “fast”, not “hard”. That really triggered something in my head that led to my writing these posts in the first place. It is something I used to see all the time as a martial arts instructor. People who are untrained in generating power usually think that the way to do so is to tighten everything up and hit (they think) as hard as they can. It “feels” like they are generating a lot of power because their muscles are fighting each other, and they can feel the great energy it is taking to move whatever part of their body it is they are moving. They think that this energy they feel is being transmitted to whatever it is they are hitting, when in fact most of that energy is being used in fighting their own muscles.

Still focusing on the third point, stay loose and relaxed, lets look at an example…

Extend your arm outward in front of you, sort of like a punch. Now reverse the motion, and pull the punch back in. There are two sets of muscles at work here. One set of muscles extends the arm out, the other pulls the arm back in. When you tighten up and just try to (OOMPH!!!) HIT HARD, you are tensing both sets of muscles. In doing this, you are fighting against yourself. Now the muscles that are used to extend the arm out not only need to fight inertia, but they have to fight the opposing force of your own muscles, pulling against them.

Loose is fast. Tight is slow. Power comes from speed. Stay loose and relaxed. (Yes, I realize that some martial arts techniques require a tensing immediately before impact, but that is a whole separate topic that won’t be discussed on this board.)

The fourth and final point we’ll talk about before we move onto specifics is accuracy. It is critically important to hit the center of the cueball, and hit the center of the 1-ball (talking 9-ball here). Even if you can move a cue at 30 mph (world-class breaking speed), if you hit the cueball off center, you are losing energy, and if you hit the 1-ball off center, you are also losing energy. Much of the energy that you would have been transmitting directly to the rack will instead be transmitted to making the cueball spin, deflecting the cueball off to one side, and sending the cueball flying off the side of the 1-ball. That doesn’t mean that you should never try to break harder than you can control. In practice, you should often be pushing the limits of how hard you can break and still control the cueball. That’s how you are going to extend your maximum controlled speed. If you just stay with what you can do already, you aren’t going to get better. This last point is something I myself have worked on quite a bit, and seen a great deal of improvement in. Because of my martial arts background, I’ve always been able to move a cue fast. I’ll match my cue speed up against just about anyone. But often I came across as a weak breaker, because I lost so much energy by hitting the cueball off center and the 1-ball off center. But through much practice, the control has improved. On a good day (I said a GOOD day, not a normal day), I can break as good as many pro’s. And it took a lot of practice in breaking faster than I could control to get there.

Now let’s start talking about some specifics on how to apply this to Pool.

I’ve thought a lot about how to explain this on a BBS. Seeing as how there are many different body types and strengths and weaknesses, I concluded that it is impossible to write out exact steps (put this foot exactly here, put that foot exactly there, place your hips exactly this way, etc.) that could be read on a BBS and applied to everyone. So instead, we are going to talk in more general terms of how the break stance and technique compare to a “usual” stance and technique.

For breaking, we are going to make the following changes to the average Pool stance:
- Place the feet more parallel to the cue. Instead of a 45 degree angle or so, we are going to have an angle of about 10 degrees or so. Almost parallel to the cue. Myself, one of my coaches was a pro snooker player before becoming a pro Pool player. I shoot with a very open stance, with my feet placed at about 80 degrees or so to the cue. But for the break, the feet are almost parallel.
- Place the feet under the cue. The feet should not be parallel to the cue, and 12 inches to one side of the cue. They should be pretty much under the cue.
- Move the hips out away from the cue. This is going to give us more room to maneuver our body without interfering with the cue. If your hips are already out enough to do this, great. But for some players, myself included, this is a needed change from our standard shooting stance. This should not feel unbalanced. This should not make you feel like your weight is all pressing off to one side. NOTE: I didn’t say to also place your feet out away from the cue. Doing so will result in a horribly unbalanced and uncomfortable position. The feet should remain approximately directly under the cue. With the feet under the cue, the hips out to the side a bit, and the upper body over the cue, it should result in a balanced position.
- Place the hips more parallel to the cue. This matches the point we made before, about placing the feet more parallel to the cue. If your hips are already largely parallel to the cue in your shooting stance, then probably very little needs to change here. Once you place your feet parallel to the cue and move the hips a little further from the cue than normal, the hips should already naturally be nearly parallel to the cue.
- Turn your shoulders to be more parallel to the cue. If your shoulders are already largely parallel to the cue in your shooting stance, then probably very little needs to change here.
- Keep your upper body a bit higher than normal. Again, if you already have a fairly upright upper body position, then little change here is needed. But for players like myself, who get all the way down until the cue is rubbing their chin, we need to rise up a bit higher.
- Have you knees very slightly bent. Both of them. I realize that many great breakers start with their knees locked straight. But if you watch them in slow motion, they bend them slightly right before the start pushing forward for the break. If that works for you, great. But it may be easier to start with them slightly bent.

This stance should not feel off-balance. It might not immediately be very comfortable, if you haven’t done this before. But it should not leave you feeling like you are off balance and about to fall over to one side. If you feel that way, make some adjustments to correct it. But try to make those adjustments within the parameters specified above.

Now that we are in that stance, we are going to look at how we are going to move. Remember the first post on this. The goal of the movements is to have all relevant joint motions moving at maximum speed and at the same time when the cue strikes the cueball. Remember the “timing” discussion in the previous post.

This is the order that the motions are going to start. We aren’t going to talk about when they finish, because none of these motions should finish before the cue hits the cueball.

1: Pressing on the ball of the foot, straightening the rear leg, which drives the lower body and hips forward. (DO NOT LET THIS MOTION PUSH YOUR HEAD AND BODY UP! Keep your head and body at the same level as they started during this, and concentrate of pushing FORWARD! The head and body will start pushing up eventually, because of the fact that we are pushing against the floor. But keep them at their original height for now.)
2: Turning the hips, twisting the trunk. (Keep your arm close to the body during this and all subsequent steps. Keeping the arm close to the body allows the hand and cue to push straight forward. Letting the arm get out to the side and swinging in a circular motion wastes energy.)
3: Swinging the forearm forward.
4: Pushing the shoulder forward.
5: Moving the wrist laterally from the pinkie side to the thumb side.

You will notice something if you look at that list. The movement starts at the floor, and new movements are added to it as the motion moves up your body. It is sort of a “wave” motion. You can see this in how baseball pitchers pitch, or when a martial arts technique is generated with the sole purpose of maximum power (maximum power isn’t always what a martial artist wants in every technique. There are many other considerations, such as executing a technique quickly, so the opponent won’t see it coming. That’s a completely different discussion.)

Notice also that as we go from first to last in the order of which motions are started, we are going from big motions to little motions. That is not a coincidence. There is a reason we start with big motions.

Remember our discussion in the other post about timing? How all of the motions must be happening at the point we strike our target? We talked about how we don’t want a motion to go through its full range and stop before we strike the target. We also talked about how more distance allows us to generate more speed. It takes time for our muscles to fight the inertia of our stationary mass, and accelerate.

By starting a big motion first, we give that motion more distance with which to accelerate. So by the time we start the next (and smaller) motion, we have a higher speed on which that smaller motion is riding (think back to the example of walking forward and throwing a ball, from the first post). If we start all of these motions at the same time, we are “cheating” the big motions out of an opportunity to accelerate to a higher speed. The reason for that is that the big motions are limited in their ability to accelerate to the same amount of time it takes for a small motion to execute. Move your hand from the pinkie side to the thumb side. How long does that take? A quarter of a second? Now stand in a similar stance to the one described above, and move from back to front, pressing on the floor with the ball of the foot. It takes much longer to go through that motion than it does with the motion of our hand.

Looking at those two motions only, let’s suppose that we start those two motions at exactly the same time. Remember that at the point we strike the target, we must have both of these motions happening. We can’t allow one to go through it’s entire range of motion and stop. In the time (about a quarter of a second), it takes to move your hand laterally, we don’t get much time to start our leg motion. Only a quarter of a second. That is not much time with which to start the leg motion and accelerate to speed.

So we start the leg motion first. Giving it a bit of extra time to accelerate. When the motion is, say, halfway done, we start the motion of moving our hand from pinkie to thumb side. Now we are moving much faster when we start the hand motion than we would have been if we started the hand motion at the same time as the leg motion.

That principle works all the way up the chain of motion, from the foot to the hand.

Now for an example: Franciso Bustamante. I used to be a martial arts instructor, and I know or have met just about every famous pro, including him. And I’ve never seen anyone who so completely and properly follows the principles for generating power as he does. When I see Francisco break, the martial artist in me says “Yes! THAT’S how you generate power for a break!” If you watch Franciso, especially in slow motion, you will see that the principles and techniques he uses on his break are nearly identical to what I have described here. That isn’t because I based these principles entirely on him (although I did learn a lot by analyzing his break), but it is largely because if two people follow the same set of principles and techniques to accomplish something, they are going to come up with similar solutions. I would highly recommend watching Francisco’s break, frame-by-frame.

Now we have to talk about practice. For people with martial arts experience, much of this comes naturally. But for people who have never done something like this before, it can be very foreign and difficult. So here is what I suggest.

PRACTICE SLOWLY. Start out by just putting the cue ball on the table. No rack of object balls. Practice these techniques at a slow speed. At a VERY slow speed. Right now, you aren’t trying to hit hard. Right now, you are trying to learn the motions and the proper timing. The best way to do that is to do it slowly, concentrating each time on executing the techniques properly and with the proper timing. I am not at all kidding when I say that it may take hundreds of slow practice breaks to become comfortable enough to start trying to break for real this way.

And that’s it! We’re done! At least, we’re done talking about it. I’ll conclude with a few points that need to be reiterated:
1: Stay loose and relaxed. Stay loose and relaxed. Stay loose and relaxed.
2: Timing is crucial. All motions must be occurring at the point at which the target is struck. But they don’t start at the same time.
3: Accuracy! Eventually, you must be able to hit accurately as well as powerfully. But when first starting out, don’t be surprised if accuracy goes out the window. It takes time and effort to make a change. But being inaccurate will make a powerful break appear to be a very weak one.

If you have any questions or comments, please either post them on the board, or send me a private message.

03-16-2002, 10:57 PM
About the placement of the feet. Typically, a breaking stance is a little more spread out than a regular stance. About 1 and a half shoulder widths. Some people are spread out like that normally, and some aren't. For most people, the breaking stance should have the feet about one and a half shoulder widths apart, with the rear foot a little further back than normal.

It is too late to edit the post, and I am VPN'd in to work from home, with a rather slow connection (no high-speed Internet at my residence), so I am not going to re-post the whole thing with the correction now. Maybe tomorrow, as I have to be back at work again, working on an important document.

03-17-2002, 12:35 AM
Got it all printed out. Thanks!

03-17-2002, 11:14 AM
In my 15 plus years of dealing with MicroSoft.. this is the first intelligent ramblings I have ever read..

03-17-2002, 11:28 AM
Your post is lacking one very important aspect. LEGS.
When you mention Baseball players (pitchers and batters) the most amount of power that is generated is because their LEGS. The pitcher pushes off the mound with his legs, whipping his arm towards the plate. The batter is swinging his arms and using his legs to propel the whip action of the arms swinging.

In the break, (you mention bent knees) your legs are going to propel your body (arms, shoulders and hips) towards making contact with the cue ball.

This is very similar to the golf swing. You position your body to use the forward motion of the hip (generated by the leg's motion) to strike the golf ball with as much controled power as possible. The arms (from the swing) are whipped (like the base ball player) by the power produced by the leg and hip motion.

In the break shot, (Archer and Segal very good examples) use their entire body to hit the cue ball.. You can see the back leg kick up into the air to preserve balence after the hit.

Bottom line.... to increase your power on the breaks, you must put your whole body weight into the stroke. This include your LEGS, hips, chest and arms.

03-17-2002, 01:00 PM
Actually, it's in there, where I state pushing off of the ball of the foot and straightening the leg. But perhaps I did not explain it clearly, or give it the attention it deserves. I'll take a look at it, and perhaps edit it in for the future.

03-17-2002, 01:01 PM
Ha ha! You should hear me ramble about computer networks! /ccboard/images/icons/smile.gif

03-17-2002, 01:59 PM
Don't forget to breathe!

Many times when we (humans) try something new, or tightly focus concentration, and hold our breath(s).

This is unnatural, and often causes a "freezing-up" in execution of a technique, and often the thinking process. Breathing correctly will make the execution more relaxed and effective.

I would suggest normal, rhythmic breathing during any warm-up strokes, and possibly a strong exhale during the actual break stroke. It may also be helful to use more 'abdominal breathing', to aid in focus.

03-17-2002, 02:03 PM
Great suggestion! I file that under "stay loose and relaxed", but you are right. Most people without some sort of sports or martial arts background might not quite understand that.

03-18-2002, 09:32 PM
Remembering to breathe always sticks in my head, since the frame of reference I place it in was about motorcycle racing.

I may be crediting it incorrectly, but I think it was an article/interview with Wayne Rainey--the GREATEST MOTORCYCLE RACER OF ALL TIME. ( http://www.motorcycle.com/mo/mcbeware/rainey.html )

After detailing the steps on how to execute a high-speed cornering technique, it was mentioned--almost like an afterthought, "Oh, and don't forget to breathe".

(Please consider that a 500cc Grand Prix motorcycle may run 180mph in the straights, and braking at the last moment possible, while downshifting and setting-up your body for the corner, is not something easy to practice.)

And that reminds of another motorcycle racing cliche, "Wide open 'til you see God, then BRAKE!". . . .

03-19-2002, 12:20 AM
Mark Brelsford was my Harley Davidson hero. I used to have the #87 on my race bike. I only ran short track, but had visions of Mark in my mind slidding, forks locked up, with his feet on the pegs. I don't recall if I remembered to breath, but I must have, I'm still here.


03-20-2002, 04:43 PM
I'm a bit of a wuss, myself--I need a bike with brakes!

My favorite rider is actually Kevin Schwantz--and I even got to shake his hand once! (Only real sports hero I've ever had).

I just think that Rainey was incredibly talented.

Then of course, there's "King" Kenny Roberts. (Here's a neat article, if you're interested: http://www.ama-cycle.org/museum/2001/classjan.html )

03-20-2002, 11:29 PM
When I was 18 years old, I had no fear or no brains. I loved the flat-track. Luckily, I lived long enough to get wiser. /ccboard/images/icons/laugh.gif I'm a bit of a wuss today. Pool is exciting enough for me. Some of the places I've played is living dangerous enough for me. LOL