If you want to get better at pool, you need to practice . . . the right way
It takes a lot of practice to get better at pool. Just like any of the other best bar games.
But most beginner pool players practice pool the wrong way.
Beginner pool players often skip right past the fundamentals into advanced concepts, such as combo shots, draw shots, run-out patterns, powerful breaks, cue ball spin techniques and more.
Don’t get me wrong. To become an advanced pool player, you will need practice technical shots and strategies.
But for the rest of us, getting better at pool starts with consistent practice of fundamental pool techniques and mechanics.
You will become a much better player by mastering the basics.
Start an Effective Pool Practice Routine by Focusing on the Following Fundamentals
1. Practice Your Grip
A common mistake many beginner pool players make is gripping the cue too tightly.
It’s natural to think that the harder you grip the cue, the more precise your shot will be.
But that’s the wrong approach. You should practice using a light and loose grip instead.
If you hold the cue too tightly, it can raise the butt of the cue when you shoot.
This takes the end of the stick above horizontal on the backswing, making it much harder to shoot a straight and accurate shot.
A tight grip also increases your chances of accidentally jumping the cue ball off the table.
Instead, your grip should be just strong enough to pick the cue up off the table. Hold the cue lightly, resting on your fingers. It should not even touch your palm. Your pinky finger can stay free.
When you practice, try to keep the grip nice and light while maintaining control.
Find the right balance of lightness and control, and stick with it.
Learn more about how to hold a pool stick.
And for a good demo of proper grip technique, check out this video:
2. Swing Like a Pendulum
With your light and loose cue grip, you now can move to the next step: working on your pendulum swing.
As you’ll see, it’s very important to shoot with your body in alignment with your aiming line.
But it’s very hard to stay in alignment if your shooting arm is not still.
Many beginner players have way too much movement in their upper arm when shooting.
The best way to solve this problem is by thinking of your upper and lower shooting arm as a pendulum.
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Your upper arm should stay even and still through the whole process.
Your lower arm, below your elbow, will swing back and forth to shoot. The backswing should always be slow and steady.
When holding the cue, make sure your shooting hand is directly under the elbow.
The lower arm can swing past the elbow when you make impact with the cue ball. But it should never stop short of your elbow.
Practice a smooth pendulum swing with different length shots.
Remember, the back swing is slow, but you can control the speed of your shot with the forward swing.
3. Practice Your Bridges
Your bridge is one of the most important aspects of your game.
You can master the grip, stance and alignment, but if you have a clumsy or inconsistent bridge, it won’t matter.
There are two basic bridge types for most shots: the ‘open bridge’ or ‘closed bridge’.
The closed bridge is preferable for advanced players who shoot harder shots with more spin on the cue ball.
An open bridge is the best bridge type for the rest of us. It’s more suited for softer shots, but you can still get plenty of power when needed.
The Open Bridge
To practice the open bridge, first place your bridge hand firmly on the table. Then cup your hand and press your thumb against your forefinger to form a “V”.
The cue is then placed on the “V” of your index finger and thumb.
You can raise or lower this bridge by either pulling fingers towards you to raise it, or pushing your fingers away to lower the bridge.
Your goal should be to create a solid foundation with your fingers spread on the table.
The contact area between your index finger and thumb should be large enough to firmly rest the cue. You can use the fleshy parts of your index finger and thumb to help guide your shots.
Practice the open bridge until it feels comfortable and you’re able to do it consistently.
Here’s a good demonstration of how to shoot with an open bridge:
Other Bridge Types to Practice
There are times when you will need to modify your standard bridge.
Two of the most common examples are when the cue ball is close to the rail, or the cue ball is obstructed by another ball.
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The Rail Bridge
You’ll need to change your bridge for shots that are close to the rail. There are two ways to handle this.
The first is when the cue ball is 4 inches or so from the cushion on the table.
In these cases, you will put your bridge hand flat on the rail. Now place your thumb under your index finger. The cue is placed on the rail, resting against your thumb under the index finger.
If the cue ball is closer than 4 inches, you can use an open bridge on the rail. The cue will sit between the thumb and forefinger, with the ther three fingers stabilizing the bridge on the rail.
Over the Ball Bridge
The other type of bridge to practice is when you need to shoot over an obstructing ball.
Here you would place your forefingers on the table behind the obstructing ball. Raise your hand as high as necessary to shoot over the obstructing ball and contact the cue ball.
Now create a “V” with your index finger joint and your thumb. Make sure the bridge is strong and stable before shooting down on your cue ball.
These scenarios are common, so practice them as part of your normal routine.
(Tip: For those hard to reach shots, it might be time to learn how to use the mechanical bridge.)
4. Work on Your Stance
One of the best and most fundamental things you can practice is your stance.
As a general guideline, you should have your front foot at least a shoulder width apart from your rear foot.
The rear foot can be placed at roughly a 45° angle. This should feel stable and comfortable. The front foot can point straight forward.
Your weight should be balanced equally on both feet.
When you lean forward, keep your head low and level over the pool cue. But don’t strain yourself to get into this position. It should be as comfortable as possible.
You should now be able to place some of your weight on the bridge hand. This forms a tri-pod stance with your two feet and the bridge hand.
Once you have a stance that feels comfortable, balanced and low, try to be consistent with it.
Practice moving around the table and keeping your feet placement and form the same when shooting from different spots.
5. Practice Your Body Alignment
Proper body alignment is essential for accurate pool shooting.
Body alignment in pool means your stroking arm, head, eyes and cue are all lined up straight towards your target ball.
This is also referred to as your “vision center“.
To practice alignment, try to keep your head low and square to the aiming line. Your eyes should be level. Line up the cue so the tip is close to the vertical center-line of the cue ball.
When your sightline and cue are in alignment, now make sure your forearm is also in line and perpendicular to the cue.
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Take some practice shots when the alignment feels right. Just stroke the cue ball to an opposite corner pocket. Or take straight shots to the far cushion, trying to stay dead center.
Doing this over and over will help you get a feel for the proper alignment.
Once you have a technique, the key is to do it consistently for each shot.
Here are some more advanced drills for better alignment.
6. Find the Imaginary Aiming Line
You should always know what target pocket you’re aiming for. But the path to that pocket is sometimes less obvious.
And we’re not just talking about a complicated angle, bank or combo shot here.
When lining up for a shot, find the center point of the pocket you are aiming for. Then envision an imaginary line from the center point of the pocket to the center of the object ball.
This is the ball you plan to sink in that pocket.
The imaginary line goes through the back of the object ball to the point where you will make contact with the cue ball.
This is the center point of the object ball you are aiming for.
During your pre-shot routine, follow this aiming line with your eyes from the target pocket back to the cue ball, and then back through the object ball to the target. Do this a couple times.
When you are ready to shoot, keep your eyes focused on that center point of the object ball.
Try imagining these aiming lines for every shot you take during practice.
Also practice the process of following it back and forth to the cue ball before settling for your shot and aiming directly for that object ball.
Soon this will become a natural part of your pre-shot routine.
More on how to aim properly:
7. Master You Pre-Shot Routine
Your pre-shot routine is also how you pace yourself between shots during a game.
It’s how you get into your rhythm.
This is a personal routine that may include a quick list of things to consider before getting in your stance.
Many players like to take a quick survey of the whole table, inspect and chalk the cue tip, and then eye the target pocket with “quiet eyes”.
This basically means you spend a little time focusing on the target pocket alone.
From this point, you can determine your aiming line and establish your alignment and vision center behind the cue ball.
Place the cue right behind the center of the cue ball. Line up your rear foot, square your head, and level your eyes on the center of the object ball before getting into your stance.
Over time, this will become a focused and fluid process that takes place in a natural rhythm before each shot.
Finding a routine and doing it consistently can drastically improve your overall game.
More on the pre-shot routine:
8. Have a Pre-Stroke Routine
This is not the same as your pre-shot routine. Stroke prep takes place once in you’re in your stance and ready to shoot.
Before each shot, you should take a couple warm-up strokes with the pool cue.
These should be slow, steady and complete strokes. With each practice stroke, bring the cue close to the intended contact point on the vertical center line of the cue ball .
Your warm-up strokes should be slow on both the back and forward swings.
Take two or three of these swings to make sure the stroke feels straight and natural.
You also want to make sure your shooting arm is free and not touching your body during the stroke.
On your last warm-up stroke, stop right before the cue ball and confirm that your alignment is straight.
Then focus your eyes on the contact point of the object ball and start your final slow backstroke before striking the cue ball.
The key to stroke prep, like many of these pool practice tips, is to find a routine that works for you and do it consistently.
9. Practice Your Stroke Execution
Stroke execution is when you put all your preparation into action.
All the experts agree that proper execution starts with a smooth and slow back-swing.
No matter how hard you plan to hit the cue ball, you should always maintain the same slow and steady back swing. Don’t go back faster to shoot harder.
Keep your elbow up and in line with your body, head and bridge during the back-swing. The upper arm should stay quiet. There should be no moving from side-to-side or up-and-down.
Remember, your upper and lower arm should work like a pendulum. The upper arm stays still, while the arm below your elbow moves the cue through the shot.
Any acceleration should happen during the forward swing. The speed depends on how hard you plan to shoot. But your body should stay as still as possible during this process.
Keep your head still through the shot and try to follow through 4 – 6 inches straight ahead when shooting. This should feel like the natural end of the stroke.
Practice striking the cue ball a little above center. Not to right or left. Remember to hit the vertical axis of the cue ball for the most accuracy.
Stay tuned for a post about more advanced practice techniques.
But in the meantime, working on these basic practice exercises can have a major impact on the overall quality of your game.