7 Steps to Throw Better Bags in Cornhole, Backed by Science

Cornhole Europa, Cornhole in Germany




It was the finals of the 2018 Konken Cornhole Club Tourney in Konken Germany. In a daze of Pils beer and poor gym lighting, my husband and I made the finals, against two dudes, one of them being the champion of the Swedish Open. And I out-threw my husband! My husband who can do the “pancake” (some weird twisting bag thing that is supposed to work better) and practices all the time and cares about winning.


As a physical therapist I totally geek out on biomechanics. Let me explain, no too long, let me sum up. I was that annoying person in yoga class asking questions of the teacher about the exact angle needed in a downward dog. (Shame on you, past Morgan!)


Talk about ruining the vibe. I could see the corners on the teacher’s mouth start to turn downward when I opened my mouth.


Teacher: “Just flow with it.”

Me: “I’d like to have really good posture, how do I go from this really awkward position to the next really awkward position?”

Teacher: “Think about ujjayi breath, pull up and in with your “lower abs” or your 5th chakra.”

Me: But, how should I hold this pose, and breathe with my belly but still pull my belly or “chakra” in and up?”

Teacher: “It’s 99% practice, 1% theory”

Me: WTF? This is like a politicians answer.

Me to myself: “F%*k your chakras. I have to breathe and my abs have to move in and out and what the heck is a a “lower ab”? I dissected an actual human and there are just abs. (BTW, dissecting a cadaver is a lot of manual labor!) There are four layers of abs from the inside to the outside, and they run the entire length and breadth of the abdominal cavity. There’s no division under your umbilicus. Sorry, under the fifth chakra.”


So how should we throw cornhole bags to win?

Practice, duh.

10,000 hours should do it. Focused practice.

But how to practice? And are there any scientific ways to improve?

99% practice but with 1% good theory might be the way to go for most of us. No lower ab cues please.


1% theory question: what is good sound scientific theory on how to throw 1 pound sandbags to a target 27 feet away. My mission!


As a physical therapist I immediately go toward thinking about how to hold our bodies.


**Should we use a reciprocal stance where our left foot is forward and we throw with our right arm?


**Should we take a step while we throw?


**Is it all about upper body strength? Are men usually better?


**Could that goofy thing where your leg flies up behind you actually work?


**Should we throw a bag like darts, with the same foot forward as throwing arm?


When we want to sink some bags, what’s the best way?

I decided to investigate the physics of this, or in human movement, biomechanics. Some people might refer to this as “form” of movement. Or technique.


Let’s take running as an example of something very simple and well studied and performed competitively for thousands of years.


Running. It seems so simple and that everyone should do it the same way. We’re all humans with about the same anatomy.

Is there something funny about his stance and posture…who cares?

Four-time gold medalist and eight-time world champion Michael Johnson is widely celebrated as one of history’s finest sprinters.


Most running coaches trained on the popular POSE method or Chi method (that costs several thousand dollars to attend) would cringe seeing this and instruct their clients never ever to run like this. But…the 8-time world champion and four time olympic gold medalist seemed to make it work. Yeah yeah, juicing. Non-argument because they all did in the 1990s before the drug tests were good, so compared to all other juicers his ram-rod form still beat them all.



To the left is Usain Bolt. Considered the fastest human ever, period.


He is the fastest sprinter in history, the world-record holder at 100 and 200 meters and the only person to win both events at three Olympics.


He is the posterchild for perfect running form. His forward leaning posture, his heel right under his butt, and his hamstrings “pulling” confirm the POSE method.


But it’s not so simple. His stride is completely uneven.

The fastest man in the world of all time has a permanent spinal condition called scoliosis. This is a congenital problem with abnormal curvature of the spine. His spine curves so much that his right leg is a half inch shorter than his left leg. His right leg appears to strike the track with 13 percent more peak force than his left leg. And with each stride, his left leg remains on the ground about 14 percent longer than his right leg.



What, wait?

But, biomechanics…???

Despite marketers, coaches, and trainers’ desires, it seem there’s no one perfect way. The negative consequences of thinking that you are doing something the wrong way because a coach selling a “program” or “system” are far reaching. Once an idea has been planted in your brain, it will affect your performance negatively.


Mankind has been competing at running for-eva. If scores of scientists cannot figure out the best way to run for performance and a man with a twisted spine and uneven legs is undoubtedly the best runner ever of all time, well — we might have to be satisfied right now with not knowing.


Perfect posture doesn’t exist.

Maybe it’s more of a question of adaptation vs rigid definitions of what is “right” and “wrong”. And adaptation is easy — focused practice.


I’d be naive to tell you how to throw your bags! This is a “yes and” question. Some people will rock it out with a reciprocal stance, others like darts. Some need the flying leg and others a double leg stance. Smaller people might need to use their hips more, maybe not. It all depends on what, how, and the duration of your practice.


In a game of accuracy and precision like cornhole your entire ecosystem is challenged. Strength, endurance, neuro-muscular fatigue, motor control, confidence, and mental focus are all required to work together.

People are amazing adaptable creatures. We are complex and varied, and find ways to adapt to what is meaningful and generally less physically painful.


Me after trying to throw cornhole bags with same arm and leg forward. Like darts, except it’s a 1 lb (400 gram) bag and 27 feet (8 meters), and not a dart. I’m not willing to put in the time and work to “adapt” to that.

It doesn’t matter which strategy or “method” you choose, but there are principles which can be applied to help you level up your game. Sometimes it’s not about things you add, or arguing about non-relevant details of preference.


Focused practice with repeatable movement is what counts the most for good performance. That’s the 99% of performance those ancient yogis were talking about, booyah! I think I get it now.

So to get really good at cornhole:

33*(Practice +Practice + Practice) +1% Theory

= Cornhole King or Queen

(1% Theory = 1. Biomechanics + 2. expectation mindset + 3.parasympathetic tone)

Biomechanics: Fancy word for really simple physics related to joint movement considering muscles, energy, biological stuff.


2. Parasympathetic tone is a fancy word for relaxed. Relaxed and ready to perform your best!


3. Expectation Mindset: I totally made that up. I kind of like it. Basically brain training to get all placebo (good juju) happy and nocebo (bad headlines) avoidant to optimize performance at a task.




7 Steps To Throw Better Bags in Cornhole, Backed By Science


Throw however you are adapted and expect success. But follow these 7 principles of what NOT TO DO to level up your game.


Stop Standing All the Time between games, between sets. Muscular fatigue is detrimental to your precision and since most of your muscle mass is in your lower body, find a seat/table and plop your butt down to recharge your legs and preserve your accuracy.


Stop Holding your Breath! Performance in a precision sport relies heavily on being able to engage the parasympathetic branch of our autonomic nervous system. A relaxed state without extra tension allows your aim to be true. A trick many rifle shooters use is to fire on the exhale and so softly they aren’t even sure when they actually pulled the trigger. Trick your brain into CALM by using your breath.


Stop Throwing at your Opponents Pace. Find your own rhythm and don’t let anyone put baby in the corner. Rushing or slowing down your natural pace will lead to anxiety and tension and kill your expectation mindset.


Stop Randomly Switching up your stance or throw. R-E-P-E-A-T-A-B-L-E-biomechanics creates muscle memory and thereby improves performance. This is one of many examples of less is more. The least amount of physical effort and the least amount of complicated interplay between joints the better. It’s okay to experiment with physical variables, but actually experiment. Hold some things constant. Have a dependent and independent variable you are testing to see if you can improve performance by tinkering. Stick with a strategy long enough to see if it actually improves your performance. And hint: don’t try to change too much too quickly or else you might get a back spasm. The human body is adaptable, but it takes time (practice).


5. Stop Avoiding Rituals. And actively pursue placebos and mental imagery. Sports psychology baby! An expectation mindset is at the core of every champions being. Best performance enhancing drug ever. Try things like favorite socks, mantras, or rituals like the same little spin on the bag before you throw. Do this every.single.time and let your brain come to expect success. Tinker around and find rituals and placebos that suit you and stick with it no matter what. And completely and totally avoid any bad headlines or self flagellation. It does not help to reprimand yourself. Accept the situation as is and then commit to moving forward.

Haka Dance Ritual. That’s one hell of a placebo.

6. Stop Thinking. Rumination about the past and anxiety about the future is murder on performance. Stop thinking and be present (easily said). The best performers in all fields are masters of focusing in on the present moment to let all of their training and practice shine. Consider meditative practices to allow yourself to be in the right mental space to sink cornholes every time. This also lets the expectation mindset shine on your performance.


7. and duh, Stop Drinking too Much. Everyone thinks they are so much hotter with alcohol. But, is that true? Maybe for Waller. Perhaps it can help with the stopping thinking part.


Pro Tip: Do like the Germans and mix fizzy water with your wine, or cola/sprite with your beer = More stamina! And quite refreshing.

And a bonus 8th: Have fun, it’s cornhole!


Check out this post if you want to learn the rules to get started playing.


With love,

-Cornhole Europa

Let’s Throw Some Bags & Make the World Better

Proudly affiliated with Beyond Exercises

13 views

Sign up for the Newsletter & get FREE lifetime access to the library

LET'S THROW SOME BAGS!

  • White YouTube Icon
  • White Facebook Icon
  • White Instagram Icon

© 2020 Made with Cornhole 💖