Is it recommended to drop one’s elbow during the stroke?

There is a lot of misunderstanding and misrepresentation in the “elbow drop” arena. The general “don’t drop the elbow” advice is not as rigid as some people think. Obviously, for an extreme power shot, the elbow will want to drop naturally during the follow through (due to the momentum of the arm and cue). The problem lies with dropping the elbow too much or when it is not intended, especially if the elbow is dropped unintentionally before cue ball contact. For most (almost all) shots, and for most people (especially beginners), accuracy and consistency will be better if the elbow is not dropped before (and maybe after) cue ball contact. A potential problem with dropping the elbow after cue ball contact (e.g., when it is not required based on shot power) is that if one’s timing is a little off, the elbow might drop a little before contact, which can affect tip contact point accuracy. A complete list of both advantages and disadvantages of dropping the elbow during the stroke can be found below.

Here’s a video demonstration of a non-elbow-drop pendulum stroke:

Elbow drop and pendulum vs. piston stroke are also discussed in:

Elbow drop advantages:

An advantage of dropping the elbow during the stroke is it can allow more power by involving the shoulder muscles. Having a slightly “choked up” grip, where the forearm is forward of vertical at CB impact, and using a more upright stance can also help add power. Related discussion and demonstrations on how to add power to a break shot can be found here: power break technique advice.

Other possible advantages of dropping the elbow during typical (non power) shots include:

  • If the elbow is dropped before tip contact, it might make it easier to get more cue speed with less overall effort, and more smoothly.
  • If the timing and coordination of the elbow and shoulder are good, the cue tip can be made to move in a straight line over the entire stroke (i.e., a “piston” stroke). This could help some people maintain truer aim and sighting and hit the desired point on the CB more consistently.
  • Since the elbow doesn’t approach maximum elbow flex (as it can with a pendulum stroke), elbow drop might result in less strain and discomfort for some people.
  • It helps encourage a more complete, more level (piston-like), and unobstructed follow-through, especially with shots requiring more cue speed.
  • It doesn’t result in the grip hand or forearm hitting a firm stop (e.g., on the chest).
  • It looks smoother, and many people think it looks better.
  • Many of the pros do it, and people like emulating the pros.
  • Many people find the elbow-drop stroke more natural.

Here’s a video by Max Elberle that demonstrates a well-executed elbow-drop stroke. As Max points out, the key is to not drop the elbow and hand before contact with the CB; otherwise, the cue tip will hit the CB higher than you might think it will.

If you want to experiment with a pure pendulum stroke with a still elbow, and if you have difficulty doing so, one thing that can help is to focus on keeping the shoulder joint totally still and locked during the stroke. The upper arm and elbow can drop only if the shoulder joint moves.

Elbow drop disadvantages:

Here are some possible disadvantages of dropping the elbow:

  • It can be difficult to control the coordinated motion of the shoulder and elbow required to achieve the desired tip contact point.
  • If the elbow is dropped before tip contact by accident (or by too much), the tip will hit the CB higher than intended (and the cue might bang into the rail).
  • With elbow motion, it can be more difficult for some people to keep the cue moving along the desired line (e.g., if the elbow also tends to “chicken-wing” out sideways as it is moving down).
  • It can take a much longer time to master and be consistent with an elbow-drop stroke.

Some people use what is called a “J” stroke, where the grip hand follows the pendulum motion on the back swing and forward swing into the ball, and then the grip moves in a straight line (with elbow drop) after CB contact and during follow through. If you trace out the path of the grip hand, it looks like a “J” turned sideways. This is a combination of a “pendulum stroke” and a “piston stroke.” If done well, this gives the benefits of the pendulum stroke tip contact point accuracy, and the follow through of a piston-stroke, but some people might have trouble with dropping the elbow at the right time and right amount consistently. For more information, see follow through.

I personally believe that most people would be more accurate and consistent if they didn’t drop their elbow (although, dropping a small amount or after the hit is fine, especially if the drop is not exaggerated and doesn’t involve “chicken wing” motion). In other words, I think the potential disadvantages associated with dropping the elbow outweigh the potential advantages, for most people. However, obviously, if one has always been an “elbow dropper” and has countless hours of practice and successful experience under their belt, and one is a top player, it probably wouldn’t help one to attempt to change. Anybody can master any technique if it is practiced and reinforced enough. However, I agree with most top instructors, that people first learning the game should consider limiting or eliminating elbow drop.

Could you show some video examples of top pros executing fixed-elbow pendulum strokes?

from DTL (in AZB post):

Hunter Lombardo uses a pendulum stroke…..although the shot below is a soft shot, he does this on all shots except maybe a power draw.
http://www.tubechop.com/watch/7222414

Darren Appleton uses a pendulum stroke.
http://www.tubechop.com/watch/7222960

Alex Pagulayan uses a pendulum stroke.
http://www.tubechop.com/watch/7230899

Chris Melling uses a pendulum stroke. He takes some of the arc out of the back swing by pulling the cue more straight back which causes a slight elbow drop at the end of the back swing.
http://www.tubechop.com/watch/7230923

Niels Feijen has a pendulum stroke……no video needed.

The quality of players coming out these days just keep getting better and better. The winning play is trending toward the player with the best fundamentals. Soon, players like Busty/Efren/Frost with their loopy/loosey goosey strokes, will be a thing of the past. In 20 years if you don’t have a laser-like straight stroke with rock solid, near text book fundamentals (see snooker players below), you’ll have no shot at winning major tournaments.

Snooker players:

http://www.tubechop.com/watch/7223965

http://www.tubechop.com/watch/7224189

http://www.tubechop.com/watch/7224242

Below is S. Frost. Notice on this quick front on shot the up/down motions of his grip hand/elbow……….this is all provided by flexion/extension of a fixed shoulder (the shoulder and head are stationary, the movement is from rotation of the head of the humerus in the joint space).

http://www.tubechop.com/watch/7232339

Busty is similar but with a lot of added wrist action. Notice the up/down elbow during the stroke…..disappears on the last stroke.

http://www.tubechop.com/watch/7232479

Comments from others:

from Bob_Jewett (in AZB post):

In the second and third articles in this PDF http://www.sfbilliards.com/articles/2004.pdf are some thoughts and observations on what the elbow does during the stroke.

In my experience, players often have two distinct strokes. On soft shots their upper arms are motionless and the stroke is restricted to the forearm. The shoulder is frozen in place and moves not at all. On power shots, the elbow drops at the end of the stroke. In my view, this drop is essential on power shots to keep the arm happy and not hurt. I’ve tried a still elbow on such shots and it hurts. The drop is typically the thickness of the upper arm, so a few inches.

This observation applies to players as diverse as Allison Fisher and Nick Varner. Well, they’re not that diverse since they are both Hall-of-Famers.

In the case of snooker players, keeping the chin on the shaft forces a piston stroke, mostly. That will naturally lead to some elbow drop on power shots from the simple mechanics involved.

from Neil:

What is one of the main keys to playing good? Repeatability. So, what do you think the first thing an instructor is going to teach someone? Yes, repeatability. Now, the instructor can stick around for a few years and watch his student shoot thousands of balls until his mind finally gets trained to do it the same way, no matter what way that is, OR, the inst. can teach a simple way to be repeatable and accurate in the stroke. And, do it in a few hours. Which should he do?? (If you really don’t know the answer to that, stop reading now, you are too stupid to play pool, or to do much else.)

The pendulum stroke is easily taught, and is extremely repeatable and reliable. When set up properly, you hit the cb with a level stroke at impact, and right where you want to hit it. You are not hitting the cb while on an upswing as some have stated. If you are, you aren’t doing it right, go see an instructor.

It has been mentioned numerous times that you seldom see the top pros not dropping their elbow. This is true. You also seldom see them drop BEFORE contact, although some do. It seems to be the consensus on here that that means that you should drop your elbow. Let’s think about that for a minute….. when did the pendulum swing really come into play? Not very long ago. When did the top players start playing? A long time ago. This wasn’t even an issue when they were learning! So, how did they learn? By shooting thousands and thousands of shots. You can learn the same way too. (not a very time efficient method, though)

They, the top pros, have learned repeatability the hard way, over time. Doing that, they each have little and some have large idiosyncrasies to their stroke that works FOR THEM. To try and repeat their strokes, can easily be a HUGE waste of time. If we should only copy them, why don’t more people try and play like McCready or Bustamante, arguably two of the best players?

Many of the top players also jump up in the air when they break. Does anyone really think that is a good thing to do? It has been proven over and over that it is not, and adds NOTHING to the break. (except a lot of problems if you don’t have your timing just perfect.) Remember what your mothers taught you? Just because Timmy is jumping off a bridge doesn’t mean you have to do it too! There’s a lot of wisdom in that if you bother to think about it.

It has been stated that you can’t get proper follow through with a pendulum stoke. Again, if you can’t follow through for 1/1000 of a sec, (all the time the tip is on the cb) you better quit now. The ONLY reason for any follow through is to not stop the stroke. You want the tip going smoothly until contact. All the pendulum stroke does is alter where your follow through goes AFTER contact. It does not minimize it in the least.

If you drop your elbow BEFORE contact, you are much more prone to not hitting the cb where you intend to. Hence, the up and down swings in play that many players suffer from. If one muscle is a little tight, it changes where you hit the ball. Dropping your elbow before contact introduces the shoulder muscles into play. Just something else that can go wrong. Why not eliminate as much as possible that can go wrong??

What many of the top players have learned over trial and error is that if you extend your cue along the shot line on the follow through, it really helps you keep the stroke straight on the way to the cb. The mind finds it easier to make everything work properly with a longer line to work with than just the few inches to the cb.

NO ONE is saying that method doesn’t work, or is bad. If it works for you, great! However, there is an easier way to achieve the same results, yep, the pendulum stroke. The top players are not going to change what took them many years to ingrain into their subconscious to achieve the same results. That would be rather foolhardy. But, when you are learning, or even if you have been playing a long time and DON’T have a repeatable stroke, the pendulum stroke is an easy way to get one. The fewer moving parts you have, the less can go wrong.

It has been wrongly stated that you can’t get enough power with a pendulum stroke. And that you can’t get anything put a dog-break with it. Baloney. I have make 8 out of 9 balls on the break with a pendulum stroke. When Scott and I played, right after the first break of mine, he started laughing and said “And people say you can’t get a good break with a pendulum stroke!” First off, the break is not so much about power, as it is about accuracy and a good rack. Just ask Donnie Mills, or Corey Duel. And, you can get all the power you need for ANY shot that comes up during a game.

Many times, when you have an experienced player, and he/she tries to shift over to a pendulum stroke, they have problems. ANY time you try and learn something you are used to doing a new way, you have to give it time to erase the old way of doing it, and ingrain into your subconscious the new way. How long that takes, varies with the individual. Even after you have the new way ingrained, sometimes the old way still creeps in. It took me the better part of a year to finally let my subconscious go and trust it enough to stroke correctly when I switched over to a pendulum stroke. And, the old way still creeps in now and then and messes me up.

Once you get to the point of NOT thinking about your stroke, but letting your subconscious stroke it, the pendulum stroke is a VERY effective tool! Many players reach a plateau, and can’t seem to get any better. I feel there are two main reasons for this- they do not have a repeatable stroke, and/or they really don’t pay attention to just what is happening when they shoot a shot. The don’t know just where they hit the cb, where the cb hit the ob, and where the cb went after contact with the ob, and what speed was used. Not KNOWING those things, you can’t possibly duplicate and expand on them.

Another thing you will see a number of top pros do, is to do their warmup strokes with the tip on the cloth well before the cb. They have the natural talent, and years of experience to bring the tip up precisely to where they want it on the final stroke. If you don’t have their natural talent, or years of experience, good luck with that. So, is that also something we should all do just because they do it? Are there better ways to accomplish the same end result? Busty looks like he is using an old water pump when he strokes. Should we copy that move too? Why not? The pros do it. Mainly, because we aren’t them.

We don’t have the natural talent, or the time to invest as they have done. We have to use whatever methods we can to shorten the time it takes, and to make things as easy as possible. The pendulum stroke really helps the fundamentals and repeatability. Aiming methods can really help in their area. Kicking systems in theirs, etc.

But for some to get on here, and make statements that they have about the pendulum stroke, only shows how little they do know about it, and about the general concepts of pool, what works and why it works.

Nobody is saying that dropping your elbow is bad, or that you can’t play good that way. If it works reliably for you, keep doing it your way. But, if you find that you are not reliable, try the pendulum stroke. It is a much easier way to get repeatability. And, that is what this game is all about. There’s not much point in learning how to get the cb to do what you want it to do if you can’t hit it where you want to. Thinking you hit the cb in one spot, and actually hitting it in another only puts into your subconscious something that is wrong. Then, when you DO hit the cb where you want to, you get a different reaction out of it, and get all confused and lose confidence in yourself.

from pooltchr:

…the vast majority of students who come to me are looking for consistency. The best way to achieve this is SPF and no elbow drop. There are select shots where dropping the elbow may allow more power, but that same majority would be giving up a lot of accuracy to gain the power. In my opinion, accuracy is more critical than power. There are always going to be players at the top of the game who can control a full arm stroke with accuracy and consistency. They would be in the minority.

I have had very good success helping students improve their control by using the pendulum stroke. As an instructor, I have to consider each student as an individual, so I can’t say I would ever say that a student MUST not drop their elbow. But so far, whenever I have had a student try the pendulum stroke, they have shown very quick improvement in accuracy. I have one student who uses this stroke on his break! He regularly makes something (often multiple balls) and almost always lands the cue ball in the center of the table. I don’t see any reason to introduce a full arm swing to a player who would be better served from an accuracy standpoint by developing a simpler motion. When the student comes to me who can consistently make controlled contact with a full arm stroke, I don’t think I would suggest any changes. Until that student appears, I think this is the best method to teach. There are going to be exceptions, but I suspect they are few and far between.

from Mike Page:

If you were to install webcams in a hundred poolrooms throughout the world and view 1000 random elbow drops on pool strokes, those 1000 strokes might be divvied up as follows:

990 strokes: category A elbow drops
9 strokes: category B elbow drops
1 stroke: category C elbow drop

category A elbow drops

The vast majority of them–are plainly and simply bad mechanics. This person’s elbow is moving during the stroke, as perhaps is his or her head, making strokes inconsistent, making strokes rely on carefully choreographed timing of different motions, and encouraging the addition of other compensating motions. These people absolutely will benefit from learning good mechanics like those Randy and Scott and Steve and others advocate so well. These people should heed the advice of instructors like those I just mentioned and practice it until one nipple is as calloused as the bottom of a foot, imo.

category B elbow drops

These are solid players whose elbow is still at the time of contact. The stroke is a simple pendulum stroke until after the cueball is gone. The impetus for dropping the elbow in the follow through perhaps comes from the desire to have a long, exaggerated follow through, or perhaps it comes from wanting a level, horizontal follow through (instead of the tip approaching the cloth as in the pendulum stroke). These people don’t necessarily need to change anything. The biggest problem they cause is for others. They embolden the category A folk–who don’t recognize the difference–thus providing a disincentive for the category A folk learning good mechanics.

category C elbow drops

This is, for example Mike Masséy. These people are capable of a good pendulum stroke and perhaps employ a pendulum stroke on most of their shots. However, on power strokes, e.g., a break shot or a power draw shot, you will see an elbow drop. These players’ elbows are moving at contact because the point is to add some speed by pivoting about the shoulder. In fact focusing on the elbow drop is like focusing on the thunder instead of the lightning. The lightning here is the elbow raise on the backstroke. Then pivoting about both the shoulder and elbow on the forward stroke increases speed. Most players, imo, should never do this for, say, a draw shot. The reason is that while the speed increases a bit, the bigger effect is our precision in where we contact the cueball goes down by a more significant amount. So I would say if you can’t consistently draw one and a half table lengths with a pendulum stroke, then there’s no way you should be futzing with this stuff. And if you CAN consistently draw one and a half table lengths with a pendulum stroke, then…well…you’re more or less good to go!

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