2 weeks ago
I’m quite frequently asked for tips to help improve turning speed. As with lookahead, a decent amount of the improvement in your turning speed will come with practice and experience. An example you have probably heard me cite before is my one-handed turning. Although I completely understand the techniques required to turn a cube with my right hand, my fingers and muscles simply aren’t used to the moves, and I can turn a cube (one-handed) with my left hand almost 3 times faster. This is because of the hours and hours I have spent just practicing and doing solves.
To clarify, this short blog is mainly focused on the physical manipulation of the cube, but will also include some tips to improve turning speed in a solve (for example, by using better algorithms or move sets).
The most important thing is pretty simple - hardware. With the incredibly wide range of modern speedcubes available, it shouldn’t be too difficult to find yourself a cube which makes you comfortable, and more importantly, confident when trying to turn at a high speed.
If you have tried a bunch of different cubes and still seem to suffer lockups on even the most basic triggers (eg R U R’ U’), then the issue is likely to be with your turning style. Often, beginners will try and turn their cube aggressively and with a lot of force, when this isn’t really required at all. In fact, it’s probably preferable to turn more calmly and accurately - which may actually result in a higher overall turning speed. By keeping your hands quiet and keeping the cube in a stable position in the air, it will allow you to be more consistent with your fingertricks and turn more accurately. By “keeping your hands quiet”, I mean that you should try and keep your hands as close to a neutral position as possible at all times. For example, when you do a U move, your fingers and hands should barely move from their position, besides the index finger on your right hand. Similarly, when you do things like R/R’ moves, try to avoid exaggerated movements of your hand, and aim for a more subtle tilt of the right hand.
In my opinion, calm, accurate turning is a good goal for a beginner, as it lays a good foundation to allow you to transition more easily to doing solves at high speeds, as you won’t need to change very much about your fingertricks or hand movements, apart from just speeding them up. With regards to turning accuracy, we're lucky these days that cubing hardware is good enough that even the most inaccurate turners can get away with it. Still, turning too aggressively at a high speed can lead to lockups, and so from my experience, turning in a more calm manner will mean individual turns are more accurate and consistent. On big cubes, accurate turning is especially important. I also notice that when I get tired, I get a little bit more lazy with my fingertricks and my turning is less accurate - achieving consistency in your turns definitely requires a good degree of focus.
Another key thing to consider are the sorts of moves you actually do in solves, and whether they easily allow you to achieve a high turning speed. As an example, an F2L pair solution R U’ R’ U R U’ R’ is very “fingertrickable”, in that all you’ll be doing is just rocking your right hand back and forth whilst using your index fingers to do the U and U’ turns. This can be done very quickly. A shorter solution for that F2L pair (in half turn metric) is F’ U2’ F R U2’ R’. However, this solution is obviously a lot slower to execute as it is a 3-gen solution requiring you to fingertrick the F layer. These are the sorts of things to consider when deciding between different ways of solving pieces.
On the algorithm side of things, it’s pretty straightforward. Firstly, you need to need to use “good” algorithms, and then “good” fingertricks. Looking at PLL for example, there are some cases in which there is clearly a “best” algorithm for the majority of people, such as the T permutation, the Jb permutation, and the E permutation, along with fairly standard fingertricks. However, there are plenty of PLL cases where you’ll need to decide between a few algorithms and devise fingertricks that suit you best for each case. Because of individual habits and things such as hand size, what works for some people may not work for others, and it’s definitely good to experiment with different algorithms and fingertricks to figure out what works best for you, as fingertricks can be quite an individual thing. Certainly, watching the PLL fingertrick videos of the fastest cubers can be a good guide to help you with that.
Once you have fingertricks and algorithms with which you are comfortable, then it is really just a matter of drilling them over and over again to improve your execution speed. In solves, your hands will often be in non-standard starting positions before an algorithm, and so it’s useful to practice regripping before algorithms. Doing last slot + last layer scrambles can assist with drilling this.
In addition to practicing regripping before algorithms, it’s also useful to have multiple different fingertricks for the same algorithm (generally just from different starting hand positions). For example, I am able to perform a T permutation starting with my thumb on either the front or bottom of the cube. Flexibility in your fingertricks is quite important - the frequently cited example is the U2’ double flick fingertrick with your left hand. The ability to do U2 and U2’ very quickly is very beneficial.
It’s also important to know and understand your biases and use them to your advantage. Most speedcubers are either left or right-hand biased. Depending on your hand size and how that impacts your natural grip and fingertricks, you will have a certain level of ambidexterity. Examples of cubers who are very good at effortlessly switching between their left and right hands are Max Park and Hyeon Kyo Kyoung. I’m fairly biased towards my right hand, so generally if I have a decision between using my right or left hand to solve an F2L pair, I’ll choose the former. If you feel like you’re not very good on your opposite hand, then it’s definitely worth practicing, as it can be quite restrictive. If you’re right-hand biased, then a good drill is to do solves and force yourself not to use any R moves at all. In my opinion, the natural grip and hand positions of some people allow greater degrees of ambidexterity in solves, in addition to habits developed when starting out cubing.
The last thing I’d like to briefly mention is ‘riskiness’ of fingertricks. It’s pretty nice and actually looks quite cool to have all sorts of weird and fancy fingertricks in your solves, but when it comes to competition, the chances are that you’ll mess it up under pressure. If you attend WCA competitions, my advice is to try and keep your fingertricks and movements pretty standard. That is, don’t stray too far from a solid, neutral grip on the cube, and avoid using uncomfortable or difficult fingertricks.
I do think there is a slight element of natural ability for turning speed, and hands come in all different shapes and sizes. Not everyone can turn like Lucas Etter or Bill Wang, but for the majority of people, I don’t think this is much of a restriction on your solve speed. If anything, it may force you to be smarter and more efficient in your solutions to keep up with them.
I hope this blog helps, or at the very least, provided some insight or interesting information!
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