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FAQ: Balance or ‘Active Weight’ of a Whip

July 21, 2009

This is a response to a question someone posed on the Whip-Basics forum which I thought was a very insightful question, and I decided that the response was worth saving for others with similar questions to view.

Does the active weight [of a whip] feel lighter than the stationary weight?

To attempt to explain the balance or ‘active weight’ of a whip, I will attempt to create an imaginary scenario.  Let’s say I have three whips, I weigh them each on my scale, and they all weigh the exact same amount.  Also, all three whips are the same type of whip: same length, same handle length, same material, etc.  The ONLY difference between these whips is their rate of taper from the handle section to the fall.

Whip #1 tapers slowly, and stays fat for quite a while before the second half where the rate of taper increases sharply and gets skinny really fast toward the end.  #1 will probably “feel” heavy when it is cracked, often a syndrome called feeling “nose-heavy.”  In my experience, a whip like this will wear its user out quicker, flow from crack to crack in a continuous series a little slower, and the actual “CRACK” of the whip will be louder and easier to achieve.  Also, flicks are easier than cattleman’s cracks with this type of whip.

Whip #2 tapers more consistently throughout the thong, and would be what many would call “balanced.”  This whip, though it won’t feel light necessarily, also won’t wear the user out after a few minutes cracking it.  This whip is the easiest to crack, performs all cracks well with the proper form, and requires the least amount of energy to produce a crack.  With leather whips, a little lead is often placed in the butt knot to further lessen feeling of “weight” in the thong while cracking, even if the taper is like it is in whip #2.  A little more lead in the butt will make most any taper “feel” “lighter” in action, but the whip will generally still retain the performance cracking performance of whatever taper or balance it started out with.

Whip #3 tapers quickly off of the handle and into the midsection, and stays very thin with little room left for any taper at all by the time you get to the last ¼ of the whip.  #3 will feel much lighter than it actually is when it is cracked.  The last ¼ or so of the whip, or the fall and popper will feel like it floats a little – like by the time the energy reaches the end of the whip, the fall has gotten distracted and forgets which direction you were trying to point it, lol.  These whips, though they feel light to crack, are whips that require more energy from the user because by the end of the whip, the taper stops diminishing and therefore the energy starts to dissipate because there is no taper left to help continue to amplify the energy.  So the user has to put more energy in at the beginning in order to end up with a clean “crack” by the time the energy reaches the popper.

There are some other factors that can influence a whip’s “active weight” or balance, but taper is definitely one of the biggest and most common influences, and can be found in EVERY whip.  Nylon whips, as opposed to leather, add an additional wrench in this system by generally being weighted artificially on the inside, separate from (or actually hopefully to compliment) the taper of the whip.  But that’s a whole different story.  :-)

OK, end of imaginary scenario.  I hope that was a decent way of explaining balance.  Beginners tend to enjoy slightly “nose-heavy” whips because they crack easier and require less good form to create a crack.  This isn’t a bad thing though necessarily – you just have to pay closer attention to your form, and work hard to use the weight in the nose to your advantage.  A slightly nose heavy whip will create an awesomely clean crack with a ridiculously small amount of effort on the throw if your form is good.  Slightly lighter whips with quicker tapers can be nice for fast routines, perfecting form when you don’t want the whips to crack loudly, or for performers who have to use whips a lot and already have great form.  So slight differences in the taper can actually create advantages for a whipcracker.  But stray too far in either direction from the balance and taper of imaginary whip #2, and you’ll start to be burdened with some of the cons of using a #1 nose heavy or #2 floaty-light whip.

(Just as a quick historical side note, the overall balance of whips during recent decades has tended to move from the old-school #1 heavy feel to more in the #2 or #3 range… Whips used to be used primarily just for herding animals, so getting just one big fat loud crack at a time was what whipcrackers wanted.  More modernly though, whips are being used for sport, multiple whip-cracking routines, and by performers who have to crack whips practically all day long sometimes… so it makes sense that the balance or “active weight” of whips has lightened up a little with the new trend of how whips are being used).

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