Next time you go to the driving range, take a look around at everyone who's there. You'll see a wide range of abilities, ages, body compositions, and genders.
Notice who's hitting the ball well and who isn't. The answer might surprise you.
Why is it that yoga Mom, who plays once a year while on vacation with her family hits the ball so well and makes Dad consider quitting the game?
Why is it that strong, twenty-something, body builder is struggling to keep his driver straight while the teenage girl next to him pounds drives down the middle with little effort?
Why is it that some pretty swings yield terrible results while some non-traditional swings seem to get the job done?
Once you understand how the body functions, you'll never think about the golf swing the same way again.
The story goes that Gray Cook and Mike Boyle were in a bar, having some drinks. That night, Mike asks Gray to explain how the body functions. Gray says to Mike...
"The body is made of an alternating pattern of stable segments and mobile joints. If that pattern is broken, dysfunction, compensation, and ultimately pain and injury will follow."
Mike was so blown away by this simple yet profoundly accurate explanation that he wrote an article called The Joint-by-Joint Approach.
To make sense of how this plays into the golf swing, let's first divide the body into two categories:
1. Stable Segments
2. Mobile Joints
Stable segments are parts of the body that remain unchanged when influenced by outside forces. They generate and store power, create balance, and provide the stability needed to produce torque.
Remember, every action has an equal and opposite reaction. Since golf is a rotational sport, it's important that our body can properly produce rotational forces.
*Torque = rotational force.
Even though the foot is made up of 26 bones, 33 joints, and over 100 muscles, it is considered a stable segment. The foots unique design allows it to adapt to and grip the surface it's on.
The arches of our feet allow us to run, jump, and bound. Our toes give us a broad surface area to balance yet are dexterous enough to play guitar with.
If you've ever had your feet slip during your golf swing, the rotational forces produced by your body exceeded the torque your feet had with the ground. The result? A massive loss of power and balance.
It would make sense to think of the knee as a mobile joint. After all, the knee bends quite a lot whenever we squat, run, or jump. However, since the knee only moves in one plane of motion, it's really a stable joint.
We've all seen football players get their knees blown out. They're not meant to move in any direction other than forward and backward (flexion and extension) so when they get kicked in sideways, the whole system collapses.
Our legs are massive power producers. As a whole, they generate the majority of our strength. When a golfer takes their backswing, they twist and load their hips full of torque. Assuming the foot is able to stay stable to the ground, the player is free to generate as much force as their body will safely allow.
This is why it's so hard to generate a ton of power out of a fairway bunker. Since it's hard to keep your feet planted, it's hard to make a powerful swing without slipping. Unless of course you're this guy... (the magic happens at 0:38)
3. Lumbar Spine
If there was ever a place we needed stability it's the lumbar spine. The number one reason people stop playing golf is due to pain or injury. Ask a room of golfers how many of them have ever experienced back pain, you'll see all the hands shoot up.
The lumbar spine doesn't like to move around too much. It prefers being stable. The job of the core muscles is to do just that. Most torso rotation occurs in the thoracic spine.
Players who live sedentary lifestyles (sitting more than 6 hours a day) often suffer from chronically tight hip flexors. This forces the glutes to shut off and the back to lock up causing lower-cross syndrome.
This muscular imbalance redirects forces to the lower back. Learning how to activate your glutes can be the key to ridding yourself of back pain when golfing. That's why it's so important to master the concepts of midline stability and how to properly brace your midline before each shot.
The goal is to reduce any tension in the arms to allow an efficient transfer of power through the body resulting in improved efficiency, and therefore, higher club speed.
Often times, tissue inflammation in the arms causes a painful sensation near the elbow joint known as tennis elbow or golfers elbow. It may also make it harder to grip the club. This unwanted tension slows down club speed.
Once the power produced from the legs is sent out of the torso, the job of the arms is to create a lever that swings around the body producing whip like effects, sending a little white ball hundreds of yards through the air. If the kinematic sequence is broken in the arms, there is a massive loss of power at the end of the chain. This is why most great golfers keep their lead arms extended throughout the swing.
If you have to use one of these, chances are there's unwanted tension in your arms and/or elbows. Consult your doctor to learn more about how to reverse elbow dysfunction.
The art of the grip is that how you hold the club doesn't only determine how much power is transferred into the ball, but also what kind of ball flight you'll produce.
If you've ever heard the terms "strong grip" "neutral grip" and "weak grip" it has nothing to do with actual strength but everything to do with the loft of the club at impact.
Most players death grip the club, trying to make impact perfect. This causes the wrists to lock up preventing the club from releasing, resulting in a slow swing speed with inconsistent ball flight.
Removing tension from your hands frees the wrists allowing the club to release and club speed to increase.
Mobility is the combination of normal joint range of motion and proper muscular flexibility.
Mobile joints are free to move in all planes of motion. They allow us to walk, run, squat, swing, pick things up, reach over our heads, punch, kick, throw, pull, climb, crawl, and everything else we can do as humans.
Mobility also allows our muscles to create elastic energy which turns our body into a rubber band that can stretch and snap with increased power output. As mobility improves, potential swing speed goes up without sacrificing stability.
The feet create torque with the ground and provide a solid foundation. The legs create a strong platform and store the horsepower. The ankles are what connect and transfer power between the two.
Ankles have a wide range of motion. This allows the feet to move and respond to a variety of surfaces, slopes, and conditions. It also allows the legs to bend and extend while keeping a secure grip to the ground.
During the golf swing, our foot is constantly trying to find stability with the ground. As the legs and hips twist, turn, and generate torque, the ankle adapts to allow the foot to stay flat.
Since the golf swing can generate hundreds of pounds of force, it's important that energy is stored correctly in the right places, otherwise, we get hurt.
What does good ankle range of motion look like? Take a look at badass Alea Helmick of CrossFit ReVamped knocking out a perfect pistol squat.
2. Pelvis (Hips)
I have a challenge for you. Jump as high as you can, without squatting first...
If you're able to do this, please send me a video, I'd love to see it.
The point here is that even if you can squat two or three times your body weight, without your hips, your leg strength isn't functional.
The pelvis plays an incredibly important role in the golf swing. It stores most of our power generated during the backswing. If the pelvis cannot rotate correctly, a shearing force may be applied to the lower back.
Pelvic Tilt, Flexion, Extension, Internal Rotation, and External Rotation are all vital to the function of the swing and the health of the body. Healthy hips should allow you to squat "ass-to-grass."
3. Thoracic Spine
The thoracic spine allows our torso to twist, forward bend, back bend, and side bend. With the support and stability of the core muscles, it's free to move about in any plane of direction needed.
In the golf swing, when we think of shoulder turn, what we're really talking about is thoracic rotation. If you have a short backswing, trouble getting your arms over your head, or lose your posture during your swing, chances are you're exceeding the range of motion in your T-Spine.
That being said, I'd rather see shorter, more efficient golf swings than long loose swings where we sacrifice stability just to get the club to parallel. Parallel doesn't mean more power, proper loading does.
The problem with today's sedentary lifestyle epidemic, is that more and more people sit at desks all day with rounded backs causing dysfunction throughout the body.
Just as lower cross syndrome effects the lower body, upper cross syndrome effects the upper body and is usually a result from prolonged sitting in a compromised position.
Like the hips, the shoulders have incredible range of motion and allow us to transfer power in nearly any direction. The shoulders create a pivot in which we turn our bodies into a whip and send incredible amounts of power out through the club.
Some players have flatter swings (Matt Kuchar) and some players have steeper swings (Fred Couples). Neither is right nor wrong. They both produce great swings. What we want to make sure of though, is that you swing the way you do by choice, not by necessity.
A great example of this is Fred Couples. Couples has a "flying elbow" in his backswing. This is a style choice, not a mobility necessity. I suggest finding a TPI Certified Professional to screen your body and find out where restrictions may be in your swing may be.
Why is it that professionals can generate so much more club speed while looking like they're barely trying? The secret is lag.
Great players understand that they need to store energy in their wrists until the last moment. The longer they hold on, the more that power is amplified. The opposite of this is casting, in which a player tries to release the energy from the top of the swing resulting in a massive loss of efficiency.
At the top of the swing, all the power generated through the feet is stored in the legs and pelvis. It doesn't get transferred through the torso until the transition of the golf swing. As the pelvis rotates hard towards the target, the torso winds up, stretches, and sends that power shooting outward through the arms and into the club.
If the first thing you do on the downswing is move the club, you've broken the kinematic sequence and lost efficiency.
Now that you understand how the body functions, what does this mean for you and your Golf Swing?
The big takeaway here is that there's no one right way to swing a golf club. There's an infinite number of ways to swing a club. It depends on you and your body. Everyone is different, so everyone will swing differently.
A good program like Mobiltias Golf will help you find your ideal swing by removing restriction, adding stabilization, and refining movement patterns.
If you'd like to learn more about finding your ideal swing, please email me here.
Disclaimer: I do not claim to be giving medical advice. Please consult your doctor before trying any new physical activity or wellness program. I also do not claim to own any of the images or videos used in this post.