What is some important basic technique advice about the break shot?

Here’s a video demonstration of recommended “best practices” for break technique, from Vol. III of the Billiard University (BU) Instructional video series:

For more info, see the break shot handout, “How to Break Like a Pro” (BD, August, 2016), “Billiard University (BU) – Part X: The Break Shot” (BD, May, 2014), ball hop and squat, and the following helpful video from Colin Colenso (see the quotes below also): NV A.20 – Colin Colenso’s power break instructional video.

Vol. I of the Video Encyclopedia of Nine-ball and Ten-ball (VENT) covers all 9-ball and 10-ball breaking strategy, knowledge, and techniques in great detail. This resource is strongly recommended.

Here’s a technique analysis of Shane Van Boening’s 9-ball break:

For more information, see: “How to Break Like a Pro” (feature article, BD, September, 2016).

Here’s a great example of an effective 10-ball break, also from Shane Van Boening:

Here’s a slow-motion video of Shane Van Boening’s 10-ball break (and here’s another). Shane’s break is very consistent and effective, creating power seemingly effortlessly. Here’s another slow-mo example of Francisco Bustamante. And here’s a good 10-ball example of Jeffrey Ignacio showing how you don’t need to crush the rack to get good results (6 balls pocketed on the break!).

The most important thing to remember is: an accurate (square) hit on the lead ball is the most important factor for a good break. Use only as much power as you can control. In general, you want to use a longer bridge length and stroke for shots with more power (e.g., the break). Make sure your bridge hand is stable and still during the forward stroke (or at least until CB impact), and follow through as straight as possible. Also keep your grip hand as relaxed as possible, and keep the cue as level as possible. In general, try to follow stroke “best practices,” even on the break shot. And it is also very important to know how to get a tight rack.

Many people raise their body during the break because they also straighten their arm and/or drop their elbow. These two motions counteract each other, keeping the cue close to level at impact. Also, straightening the arm can allow many people to generate more cue speed by getting more of the shoulder muscles involved. However, accuracy (a center-ball hit on the CB and a square hit on the rack lead ball) are much more important than a little extra power, so body motion should be kept to a minimum if accuracy suffers as a result. For more info on the effects of elbow drop, see the stroke elbow drop resource page. An extreme example of what can be done with shoulder motion to create more power is in the following video of Xiaoting Pan:

For more info, see BD’s breaking tips of the pros and Vol. V of the Video Encyclopedia of Pool Shots (VEPS).

For advice on what type of break cue to use, see break cue equipment advice.

from Colin Colenso:

There are a few concrete physical / biomechanical contributors which can add velocity to the cue and hence make for bigger breaks. I’ll discuss the main ones in order of what I consider to be the most important.

1. Long Lever: By standing higher during the shot, the effective length of the lever is increased. So just as long golf clubs have higher head speeds, a longer arm allows higher cue speed. One doesn’t necessarily have to lunge upward to achieve this, but starting low and then raising the body may seem more conducive to better aiming.

2. Centripetal Force: The lunge upward of the shooting shoulder also produces a force at right angles to the direction of the cue movement. This centripetal force accelerates the cue, in the same way that hammer throwers accelerate the hammer by pulling at 90° against it as it rotates.

3. Forward Lunge: Forward lunging creates additional cue speed also, just as shot putters can throw further with a glide throw rather than just a standing throw. One may be able to lunge at 2-3mph and this component can be added to the overall cue speed.

The trick is working out the technique of these various factors such that they can all contribute with minimal loss of control.

I do believe a good wrist flick can contribute as much speed as the 3 effects above combined and it becomes hard to execute that as well while lunging, so a well timed stroke with minimum movement and with a reasonable length of lever can produce some very powerful controlled breaks.

That said, if one wants to break a world record, they might need to add a lunge to their technique.

from Colin Colenso:

some people can add 2-3 mph to their break by shortening their back hand position. There are two possible advantages of doing this.

1. With a longer arm (lever) on breaking due to being more upright, moving the hand towards the bridge brings it more into a right angled position which makes it more effective (and effectively longer), than having a longer back arm which is at a shallower angle to the cue. Imagine if the arm were stretched to the back of a 7 foot cue and you can visualize that the force is being applied at an inefficient angle.

2. Maybe the main reason is that shortening the back hand means that the pectoral (chest) muscle and front deltoid (shoulder) muscles (which are the source of most of the power) are put in a neutral / mid position in regard to extension / contraction. This is where muscles are at their strongest and can accelerate with more force, allowing a powerful punch with a limited back swing.

To get the feel for how this works, try a Bruce Lee 1″ punch, first with arm almost fully extended, next with fist almost contracted back near your shoulder and one midway. The midway position is much stronger at applying a rapid burst of force. Different muscles involved, but you’ll get the idea of what I mean by mid/extension power.

from mosconiac (in AZB post):

There is a limit that most players reach (expressed in mph) due to lack of timing, leverage, & weight transfer. Older men & most women seem to plateau around 18-20mph. Most males plateau around 22-24mph. Yes, there are freaks of nature that inherently hit 30+mph, but those guys aren’t reading this thread, I suppose.

To get to the next level, players need to add a seemingly unnatural movement (really a series of movements coalesced into one) to the break routine. Most that try it end up striking the CB erratically and give up. Those that can get past that acclimation stage (through practice) will be rewarded.

All great breakers share these tendencies:
– Low initial body position (aids upward body movement) with compact stance (aids weight transfer) & forward hand position (aids final alignment/delivery of cue).
– Abruptly raise cue at end of backswing (stores energy in arm & shoulder) and cock elbow behind body (stores more energy).
– Upper body releases (forward & up) with hips driving forward (sometimes with a turning motion like a golf swing).
– Elbow begins driving down & thru (cue returning to pre-shot alignment)…arm release lags behind body release.
– At impact, upper body & hips are fully released (driven by rear foot), elbow is fully dropped (& driving forward), and weight shift causes rear leg to rise up for counter-balance.

Hillbilly’s tips: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p3U-qUPU134

My break analysis videos:
Hillbilly: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N2b7D4DYwjI
Nevel: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l0quThyaBeg
Morra: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EqjOVOUl1qw

See any similarities in my other videos?:
Buste 1: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o1lGmxqPNd8
Buste 2: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ysrxi_w6_B4
Archer 1: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NXTA2n-qkwY
Archer 2: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EmWyiZ73ymg

from Patrick Johnson:

As with other major breakers, it appears to me that the crucial feature in Larry’s powerful break is the involvement of his upper arm. The elbow drop and standing up are both integral to getting a full-arm swing.

Much is made of the “lunge” of these power breakers, and I’m sure that contributes significantly, but I believe the straightening of the arm for the full-arm swing is the most important element in getting more power – and, of course, the main difficulty in hitting the CB accurately.

from sfleinen:

Here’s of one of the most powerful (and controlled) breakers in the world — the mighty Russian, Evgeny Stalev:

http://youtube.com/watch?v=PkCG3q2PDa4#t=560

He’s all of 150lbs soaking wet, yet clocks in 35+ mph breaks (he was averaging that in the U.S. Open the video above was taken from). Evgeny (pronounced “yev genny” with a hard “g” sound in the second syllable, for those Russian-pronunciation-challenged like us Americans) uses shoulder, elbow, and his pectoral (chest) muscle to achieve this power. You’ll notice he doesn’t use any “lunging” motion at all, but rather a very smooth “forward drift” motion in his stance. … And he does all this with his playing cue!

In my opinion, Evgeny’s got one of the smoothest, most powerful, and, for what’s going on in his arm, accurate breaks around. Ask yourself, have you ever heard that kind of sound from a break? It’s one thing to hear it in this video; quite another to hear it in person (the video lacks some of the auditory fireworks that seeing/hearing this live gives).

from KMRUNOUT:

Having studied the break for some time now, I’ve watched most of the great breakers. You might notice that Evgeny Stalev is remarkably similar to Shane VanBoening. They both have that “forward drift” thing going on. However, both also gently stand up as they *back stroke*. Another similarity is that they both keep their bridge hand pretty well anchored to the table. The result is a setup that allows for a very gentle relaxed building of power. This, I think, is the reason why they are able to consistently hit the rack so square and control the cueball.

As for the body movement, here are my thoughts: can someone hit the rack in the high 20 mph range using just the arm, without moving the body? Not too likely. However, even if they could, it would seem to have to be a very aggressive movement. It would certainly be a very *short* lever and would require explosive power and speed. Remember that this power does not occur in a vacuum-there will be an equal and opposite force acting somewhere. This will require effort to keep the shoulder and the elbow from moving, and I think this can cost accuracy. By rotating the body slightly (the hips then the shoulders, like in a golf or baseball swing), you can provide a (moving) platform from which to execute this arm swing. You will notice a lot of breakers kick their leg back. This really has little to do with generating power. It is a *counterbalance*. The leg is rotating around the body in the opposite direction as the shoulders. This makes it easier to keep the spine in the same location as the shoulders (and leg) rotate around it. This can be practiced. The trade off is that initially you will have less cue ball control on the break. Soon, though, the benefit will be that it is *easier* (requires less effort) to swing the cue fast. So if you wish to break at, say, 25 mph…you *might* be able to achieve this with an arm-only swing (highly doubtful), but I would really like to see that motion result in quality cue ball control, because I doubt I would see that. If your goal is to break at 18 mph, then sure, use only your arm and you can have great cue ball control. 18 mph, though, is not always the best speed for a given table, especially in 8-ball.

I guess in summary what I am saying is that while you may get decent cue ball control at lower speeds with an arm only motion, I believe it is easier to develop good control at higher speeds using a more effortless technique, more like Stalev and VanBoening.

from Cornerman:

I notice that players that are stronger in the arm can break big with a short bridge. Others get great control with a super long bridge. Anyone who discourages the long bridge needs to step back and really really really make sure they understand the mechanic and why some players can indeed get better control with a longer bridge.

The longer bridge allows you to get to a higher speed while maintaining a lower acceleration. That is, you might be under more control with a longer bridge in getting the final desired stick speed. The shorter bridge, you’ll need to have a higher acceleration for the same final stick speed. And that will need more arm strength to keep under control.

At the [2006] Derby City, I watched intensely some of the hardest breakers. The timing and coordination is something that if it’s not natural, it would take some work. Again, add a few things at a time, and it could work wonders.

Elbow
There are two distinct power breaks that I’ve seen: Elbow Drop and Elbow Rise.
Elbow Drop Breakers: most hard breakers. For pros, this might include Bustamante, Sigel, Strickland, etc.
Elbow Rise Breakers: Archer, Breedlove, Lil John, Sparky Ferrule, Sarah Rousey.
In either case, the elbow drops, but since the Risers rise, the tip dips down on the back stroke, and shoots up on the final stroke. So, Elbow Risers aim at the center or a hair high on their setup.
For Droppers, most will aim low. Really low. Some aim right to the base of the ball or lower. Since they do this, and they get good contact, I assume the elbow is dropping before the tip contacts the ball.
Tip
Most of the hard breakers seem to be able to take that tip all the way to the bridge loop, often actually passing through it. This ensures the longest travel to get up to higher speed, without having to bully the stroke.
Backswing/Pause
I notice that most hard breakers take the final backswing relatively slowly, like they’re drawing a bow. Players like Sarah will actually pull it back to the loop and almost freeze with her raised elbow high in the air. Archer also freezes with the elbow higher, but not nearly as high as Sarah’s nor for as long a time.
Hips
There is definitely something to be said about rocking your hips back slowly on your final backswing and then leading with the hips on the final stroke before you start the forward swing. Pagulayan is a good example of this. On video, this might cause you to think he’s pausing his stroke because the stick stop at the full back position while his hips start their move forward. This is probably the most difficult timing transition. The hip lead is part of the aforementioned freeze.
Follow Through
A lot of today’s breakers follow through by letting go of the bridge hand, and bring the cue forward past the center of the table (if they can reach). I don’t know if this really helps, but the act of following through helps to not check up your stroke. I still follow through to the table like Sigel, but not so pronounced.
So, even if you do any of the above in small controlled doses, rather than the wild lunge like Breedlove or Sarah, it will add power.
Whatever you do, if you find the cueball going forward after hitting the rack, either lowering your tip at address, or raising your elbow during the backswing can prove helpful.

from Colin Colenso:

Firstly, the long bridge will help but so can these, but they may be tricky to control for accuracy until you practice it a bit.
Firstly, transfer some of the force to the more powerful muscles, the pectorals. You can do this in three ways.
Turn your body more side on to the shot.
Stand up a little higher.
Move your body away from the cue an extra inch.
You’ll start to get a slight discus version of a swing which can produce much more power than standard cueing which relies a lot on the biceps.
Also, relax you wrist and focus on letting it flex back in the early part of your forward delivery.
When I put these together and time the wrist, my biggest problem is keeping the CB on the table. The CB can land by the center pocket and bounce off the table from being only a fraction off center on the break.
But give it a try, coz at even 80% effort, if you can time these things using more of the pecs and wrist, you’ll get plenty of power and can still control the accuracy.

from Jal:

You want the cueball to have some topspin when it meets the rack. This will act like a brake and stop it from rebounding back too far.

It doesn’t necessarily mean hitting above center. The cueball will tend to pick up some topspin after it leaves your tip, even if it sails all the way to the rack. It gets it from the first bounce off the bed just after tip/ball impact, and of course, any subsequent bounces. (In fact, to my understanding, if it is airborne all the way, it should pick up more topspin from the one bounce than if it slid along the surface the entire way.)

Exactly where to strike to get the right amount of topspin depends on ball speed, cue elevation and cloth/ball conditions. But, it’s going to be near centerball.

The adjustment, in theory, is very simple. If the cueball is following too far forward, hit lower; if it’s rebounding back too far, hit higher. If it’s badly inconsistent, shorten your bridge length and/or slow down some until you get better control.

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