Category Archives: Golf swing kinematics

Sort your neck for more shoulder turn

What golfers call shoulder turn is actually thoracic (a.k.a. upper back) rotation, however as the head remains still whilst the upper back turns our cervical spine (a.k.a. the neck) must be able to rotate too if you are going to achieve full shoulder turn in your backswing.

The neck also plays a vital role in how well the rest of your body functions.  As Dean Somerset says, along with the feet and the core, the neck is one of the major stability centres in the body. To generate power, you need mobility. To have mobility, you need stability. Proximal stability feeds distal mobility. Instability signals the brain and nervous system to put the brakes on power output because it feels threatened. A lack of stability is a threat to your nervous system.

If the deep core stabilizing system of your body (of which the deep neck flexors are a part) is unstable, your nervous system will simply recruit more superficial muscles to take over. Neck position, therefore, can play a HUGE role in not only arm movement but also hip mobility, in other words we talk a lot about fixing alignment from the bottom up (i.e. at the feet up) but fixing from the top down is also an important strategy.

In the case of the shoulder, every muscle that holds the shoulder to the body and keeps it from falling down, is held up by the neck. If the neck is in a forward head posture, muscles like the sternocleidomastoid, scalanes, levator scapulae, and upper traps will be all jacked up, which will alter the ability to move the arms around. One of the most common relationships is inhibition (weakness) of the deep neck flexors to facilitation (tightness) in the hamstrings. Lack of stability in the neck causes a reflex compensation in the hamstrings to take over the job of the neck flexors. Neck alignment/ head position will also play a role in hip mobility due to the anatomical link to the spinal chord.

The deep neck flexors flex, side bend, and rotate the head as well as being a big part of the stability system we discussed. They do a ton of stuff. Assessing them is critical.

So, how can you determine if the deep neck flexors aren’t up to par?

The first test we like to utilise is a standing cervical rotation. Standing upright in good posture with the feet together turn the head to the left as far as you can and tilt it down, you should be able to touch your collar bone with your chin, then repeat on the other side.

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Take a close look and you’ll see in the first picture I’m quite able to touch as high on my collar bone and also my shoulder has shrugged up slightly in order to help me get my chin and collar bone too touch. These are the sort of things you need to look for and suggest your neck rotation may not be up to scratch.

Next up we use a supine neck flexion to test the activation of our deep neck flexors. Lying on your back place the base of your thumb at the top of your sternum and point your thumb. Pull your neck down to touch your thumb and hold for 20 seconds.

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Do you feel fatigue, soreness, discomfort, shaking, or the need to hold your breath during this exercise? If so that indicates the muscle may be inhibited and needs activation/strengthening.

So what can you do about it?

The key is to activate the neck flexors after releasing areas of your neck such as the sternocleidomastoid, scalanes, levator scapulae, and upper traps that have been prone to tightness and stiffness.

Sternocleidomastoid hands on SMR

Supine lacrosse ball deep neck flexor activation

The video is an abbreviated version just to give you an idea. The full exercise involves; holding ball under chin for 20 seconds. Next side bend right and left four times keeping control of the ball. Then rotate right and left four times maintaining control of the ball. Lastly do not hold your breath or clench your jaw.

So, If you’re in need of more shoulder turn check your neck function. If you find a weakness or lack of mobility put these exercises into action and I bet you’ll see an improvement.

Incidentally, this article came about from  question posted on twitter so if you want your questions answered pop over to twitter (follow us if you aren’t already!) and tweet it to us.

6 Physical attributes of elite golfers

One of my major roles in working with a golfer is to identify and fix physical limitations that might interfere  with an athlete’s ability to best “acquire” the swing mechanics for them. As such when I’m watching the top golfers in the world I’m often looking to identify the physical attributes they share. Here are six physical attributes I’ve noticed in most longer hitters and elite golfers:

1. Sufficient Hip Mobility

You don’t have to do anymore than watch a slo-mo of a good golf swing to recognize just how aggressive the hip rotation is during the golf swing. In particular, it’s essential for hitters to have sufficient hip internal rotation.

Tour players have been shown to have hip internal rotation of at least 45 degrees on both sides, not having adequate hip internal rotation will limit your ability to rotate in the golf swing, possibly resulting in sway or slide during the swing.

Unfortunately, these ranges of motion are usually the first to go in the dysfunctional lumbopelvic (hip/lower back) postures we often see with younger athletes or desk jockeys. As the pelvis dumps forward into anterior tilt, it blocks off internal rotation – and the athlete will extend and rotate through the lower back instead of the hip.

This leads to not only limited hip function, but also an increased risk of injury. The athlete may develop a number of hip issues (bony overgrowth on the head of the femur or the hip socket, a torn labrum, sports hernia, etc). There may also be extension-based lower back pain, including stress fractures and disc injuries.

This loss in hip motion is generally related to point 2…

2. Sufficient Core Control

Many of the hip mobility restrictions we see in these athletes aren’t just because muscles are short, or bony blocks have developed to restrict range of motion. Rather, they may be in place just because the athlete’s core control is so out-of-whack that alignment issues limit range of motion.

“Imagine driving a car that’s out of alignment; turning to one side will wind up being more difficult”

The good news is that it’s often possible to get quick changes in an athlete’s hip mobility just by modifying posture, incorporating positional breathing, and doing a bit of activation work. I’ve regularly seen athletes gain 10, 20 or more degrees of hip internal rotation in a matter of 30 seconds without stretching or manual therapy, adding some core control in the right places can definitely be a powerful thing.

Remember, the research clearly demonstrates that the core works to transfer – not develop – force during the golf swing. Its job is to take the force developed in the lower extremity and make sure that it is delivered to the upper extremity and, ultimately, the club. This function should be reflected in the exercise selection we use, as we gravitate toward rotational medicine ball variations and chops/lifts rather than sit-ups, crunches, and side bends.

3. Sufficient Thoracic (Upper Back) Mobility

Thoracic mobility is obviously vital in achieving a full shoulder turn whilst maintaining core and hip stability in the back swing, but it is also of major importance in the downswing/transitioning:

Take a look at the video below of Jason Day’s swing sequence  – like all long hitters – gets his hips moving forward while his hands are still held back and up in transition from the top of backswing.

To do this, you need three things. We’ve covered the first two: hip mobility and core stability. However, you also need sufficient mobility through your upper back to allow this “separation” to occur. Even if the hip and core components are ideal, if the upper back isn’t sufficiently mobile, the hands can’t stay back to allow a) the x-factor stretch to be increased b) force transfer without “energy leaks” and c) the right timing for this transfer.

I should note that while thoracic rotation (transverse plane) is predominantly what we’re seeking, you can’t have sufficient rotation if you’re stuck in a rounded upper back/ forward shoulder posture (flexion/sagittal plane). If you look like this, you’ll need to get your extension back to help unlock the rotation you seek.

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t-spine mobilisations on a foam roller are great way to develop thoracic extension and fix your hunched posture.

4. The Ability to Hip Hinge

In the golf swing, you see a small amount of hip flexion as we go back, followed by seriously powerful hip extension in the downswing. It’s important though to distinguish the hip hinge (the hip flexion in the backswing) as pre-loading, whereas the extension and internal rotation that takes place in the downswing is actually unloading. In other words, the former stores the elastic energy we need, while the latter releases it over a sufficient range of motion to generate as much clubhead speed as possible.

To be honest I’m actually shocked at how many, even advanced,  golfers have lost the ability to hip hinge correctly. And they’re usually the higher level guys who have hip and lower back problems too! If you can’t effectively pre-load your hips, you’ll have to go elsewhere to get your power – or you just won’t create it.

Without getting too sidetracked, here’s a quick rule with respect to the hip hinge: players need to be able to touch their toes without a huge knee bend (greater than 30 degrees) or hyperextension of the knees.  We also need to consider how much posterior hip shift their is, whether they can reverse the lumbar curve, and whether they return from the toe touch with predominantly hip or lower back motion, and how much flexion in the upper back there is. It should look like this:

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Image credit: TPI

As a general rule with my athletes I look to develop a good hip hinge pattern with Bulgarian bag good mornings, barbell RDL’s and Kettlebell deadlifts, then to load up the pattern with heavy barbell RDL’s, Trap bar deadlifts and Sumo deadlifts.

5. Lower Body Strength/Power

You don’t have to be an elite powerlifter or Olympic lifter to hit home runs. However, you do need enough strength and – just as importantly – the ability to display that force quickly.

On the strength side, I seriously doubt you’ll find many hitters in the big leagues who aren’t capable of deadlifting at least 1.5 times their body weight, and if you do find some, they’re probably guys who have been around for quite some time and gotten much more efficient with their patterning to use every bit of force they have in the tank. Or, they’re just carrying too much body fat.

On the power side, it’s not good enough to just be a weight room rockstar. It’s also important to be able to take that strength and apply it quickly in more sport-specific contexts with drills like rotational medicine ball throws, sprinting, jumps and lateral jumps. Once you’ve got the foundation of strength, your power training can really take off – and that includes your swing mechanics. Until you’re able to put more force into the ground, it’s going to be difficult to generate more clubhead speed unless you have glaring deficiencies in your swing mechanics that can be cleaned up. For more on developing strength and power in a golf-specific context take a look a this article (it’s an oldie but a goodie!)

6. The Ability To Pelvic Tilt

If you take a look at the swings of the best golfers in the world you will see that whilst the pelvis usually starts in a neutral, it moves into a small amount of anterior tilt in the backswing and posterior tilt in the downswing.

Note how Rory’s belt line moves slightly to point dow towards the floor more as he swings back, then moves quite a bit during his downswing to a much more horizontal position at impact.

This really piggy backs on point number 4 from above, as we discussed there in order to generate power in the golf swing. We must first go into hip flexion to create power then quickly reverse this and extend the hip to release that power in the downswing. The problem with this is that a hip flexion to extension pattern causes the head to move down and up if neutral spine is maintained. The shift from anterior to posterior pelvic tilt allows us to extend and rotate the hip in the downswing, clearing the way for an ideal club path and angle of attack with the ball striking advantages that accompany that, without the head moving up and down too much, and the difficulties in timing and maintaining our centre of gravity and stability that would bring.

So there you have it, there’s my list. This is only my top 6 though and by no mans is it exhaustive, ankle doors flexion, ankle supination and pronation and glute strength are few that come to mind that could easily have been included too. Anything else you’d add in? What would your top 6 look like?

 

3 ways to increase force production in the golf swing – strength, speed and stability

While strength alone isn’t enough, strength is probably the first factor you should focus on to improve velocity. To develop more power, you need to be stronger. Put plainly, the more force you can exert, the further you’ll hit it.

Studies demonstrate, lower body strengthening is an area that deserves a lot of attention. The legs are are essential in creating ground reaction force and the first stage in transferring that force from the ground through the body and into the club.

Take a look at pro’s these days. A lot of the guys that have big legs, hips, and butts are some of the longest hitters, and the ones who look like they do it most effortlessly. Jason Day is a great example:

Jason Day a.ka. Quadzilla

Jason Day a.ka. Quadzilla

The stronger your legs, the more force you can generate. This has been shown in numerous studies to correlate to velocity in all most all rotational sports including golf.

Whilst a base of strength is incredibly important and something I see many golfers still overlook, strength alone is not enough and could even be detrimental. Research in the strength and conditioning world has shown that training certain qualities, like strength and speed, results in velocity specific adaptations to the body.

Better stated – train slow and you’ll swing slow.

Once a baseline of strength is established, I tend to focus on evolving the ability to ‘explode’. What I mean by this is you want to move with intent – fast, quick and crisp. This is area many golfers are lacking, they don’t know how to explode.

Once an athlete understands how to move a heavy weight slowly, you want to transition to moving a moderate weight fast, and a lighter weight even faster.

Speed trap bar deadlifts against bands (the band tension makes it harder at the top so momentum means the faster you pull the easier it is) are probably my very favourite exercise at the moving moderate weight fast end of the spectrum. Exercises like plyometric jumps, med-ball throws and kettle bell swings are effective for the lighter weight even faster part.

On the golf training side of the equation, this is where underweight clubs, hand speed drills and simply practicing swinging faster come in to play.

Lastly, and probably the least well implemented, is training for stability. To improve clubhead velocity, you need the proper motor control and dynamic stability to stabilize both the arms, the core and the legs.

To properly transfer force that is developed from the ground, you need a strong AND stable legs.

You need front leg stability to efficiently transfer force in the downswing, also don’t forget the body has internal regulations to avoid injury. If the lead leg can’t stabilize the force, the theory goes, your body won’t allow you to develop maximum force in order to protect you from potential injury.

Incidentally, this is one of the reasons why I believe using weighted clubs is ineffective and can be harmful, especially for young golfers. You need the strength to be able to withstand the force to produce the force, your body will down-regulate force development to prevent injury otherwise.

To maximize velocity, you need to train the body to develop and withstand force. Too many programs focus on developing force alone. This can result in ineffective training programs as well as injury by pushing past your physiological limits. Whilst we use a lot of exercises to help develop force, we also use exercises such as reactive lateral jumps and lateral jumps with external rotation stick, which have a high deceleration component too.

Video credit: Eric Cressey

To recap; get strong so you can create more force, learn how to ‘explode’ and generate that force quickly, and develop stability so you can control and decelerate that force. Next, sit back and watch how far into the distance your drives now go flying!

How to develop hip stability

Following on from the importance of hip stability article I wrote last week, I thought it would be a good time to show you how we go about developing hip stability here at Stronger Golf.

We know we need to provide a strong stable lower body platform to create rotation around.  In my mind, that always begins and ends with developing a butt of steel! The glutes are arguably the most important set of muscles in the human body for performance. Strong powerful glutes will not only help you stabilise the hip in your golf swing and therefore hit it further and with more control, they will help to improve your posture, increase athletic performance and injury proof your lower back, hips and knees.

Unfortunately, most people, including elite athletes, have pathetically weak and under performing glutes, so lets take a look at how to strengthen them!

The gluteal complex is comprised of three muscles; glute maximus, glute medius, and glute minimus.

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The glute max is the largest muscle in the human body, and as such, is an extremely influential muscle. The glute max is very powerful hip extensor and also assists in the abduction and external rotation of the hips, and the stabilization of the knee. The medius and minimus are the main stabilizers of the pelvis and femur, and externally rotate and abduct the hips. Both of these muscles are integral to the alignment of the hips and maintaining that alignment, particularly in unilateral activities and exercises where individual legs have different motion and forces acting upon them.

The takeaway here is that these muscles work together to produce strong, powerful and stable hips, as such so we need to train them all. Happily, as you can see the functions of all these muscles are rather similar, so whilst some exercises hit certain muscles or certain functions better than others and we do need to have a well-rounded (no pun intended, but it’s a good one!) approach to training the glutes we don’t need to isolate each muscle individually, which simplifies training somewhat.

Getting the glutes to fire

Due to over-activation of the hamstrings and lower back muscles and inhibition of the glute max, many players are unable to simply contract the glute max by itself. You must break this neurological reflex before progressing to more advanced glute strengthening exercises or the athlete will simply continue to compensate for lack of glute activation by using the muscles of the hamstring and lower back, which whilst strengthening them isn’t going to help a great deal in our aim to develop more stable hips in the golf swing.  For this reason, I use a variety of body weight exercises such as, glute bridges, since-leg glute bridges, side planks, bird dogs, lying abduction, clamshells, and fire hydrants in order for athletes to learn how to fully contract the glutes and build some low level strength and stability before adding weight. Two of these exercises performed for 2 sets of 6-8 usually works well.

An important note here: if you are a coach you must ask the athlete where they feel the contraction and also look to see if the spine is remaining neutral though out the exercise, if you are an athlete try to do the exercise in front of a mirror see you can see if you maintain neutral spine and be honest with yourself about where you feel the contraction. If the reply is ‘mainly in the hamstrings’ rather than the glutes then you or the the athlete are still not activating the glutes. If this is the I have my players get into a supine position and practice contracting their glutes eccentrically (no movement) without simultaneous contraction of the hamstring or lower back. Once they can feel glute contraction like this you can the progress back up to the activation exercises above.

Once competency has been established in these exercises the real fun can start!

Adding load

We can start adding in appropriate deadlift, squat variations (appropriate meaning based on their movement screen results and current mobility level). The trap bar deadlift is my absolute favourite as it’s higher handles reduce the mobility requirements while the position you take inside the bar means the load on the lower back is reduced, as you are aligned with the bars centre of gravity.

As I said earlier the glute max especially is a powerful hip extensor so it makes sense to train hip extension. Hands down the best way to train max hip extension with load is the barbell glute hip thrust.

when I teach people how to bb glute bridge, I have them posterior pelvic tilt and flatten out their lumbar spine. This prevents anterior pelvic tilt and lumbar hyperextension, it also shuts down the spinal erectors  (a.k.a. the lower back) and forces all of the burden onto the hip extensors (primarily glutes)

I also mentioned earlier the important role the glute medius and minimus play in single-leg exercises, so it makes sense to utilise them in our hip stability training too. My favourite is probably the reverse lunge or the Bulgarian split squat as these seem to be more knee friendly than the forward lunge variations in my opinion. Step-ups are also a great option. For any of these exercises a band can also be placed just below the knee on the working leg, with the force applied by the band attempting to pull the knee inwards, this will give an added component to the hip stability requirements.

As we are training for golf and golf is a lateral sport (not solely no, but there is still a heavily lateral component) it’s always good to include some lateral based movements. These movements also target the medius and minimus muscles, who’s primary role is abduction, to a greater extent.

Some exercises I like are lateral lunges, slideboard lateral lunges, x band walks, mini-band walks, lateral sled drags, monster walks, duck walks, lateral bear crawls, seated abduction with band resistance and side lying abduction with band resistance – yes there are lots of possibilities here!

A note on the side lying adduction: a lot of athletes want to drop their pelvis back and recruit their TFL and QL to make up for a lack of strength in the glute medius. Make sure to keep the hips perpendicular to the floor and the top leg from shifting anterior during the lift.

I haven’t left much out here, this is a pretty comprehensive program not just for hip stability but for strength and stability of the lower body in general. In return I just ask that you take this information, decide what applies to you and use it to improve your golf – well that and maybe like my Facebook page too! 😉

The glutes are No.1

Today’s article is a guest post from Nick Randall. Nick is a Strength and Conditioning Coach, Presenter, Rehab Expert and Massage Therapist contracted by Golf Australia and Golf Queensland to work with their elite player squads. Nick also recently developed and launched the world’s most comprehensive golf fitness app – ‘Golf Fit Pro’. You can also get individually tailored golf fitness programs on his website – www.golfitapp.com.

golfitapp-nickrandall-strongergolfThe 3 areas that have most influence on your golf swing are:

– Glutes / Hips

– Core / Pelvis

– Upper Back / Scapula

Get these working well and your golf swing has a much better chance of operating like you want it to! This post will focus on what many golf strength and conditioning coaches refer to as the kings of the golf swing, the glutes.

Our gluteal muscles are a complex group of muscles that do a variety of different jobs, all of which are very important to both our day to day functioning and more intense exercises and sports performance. They also have a crucial part to play in the golf swing.

They are largely responsible for controlling the positioning and movement of the pelvis and hips. What your pelvis and hips are doing in your golf swing has a large influence on the direction that your torso, arms and club are moving in as demonstrated in the principles of the golf swing kinematic sequence. This is essentially the principle that movements in your lower body have a flow on effect right the way up your body and all the way out the club head. (Note: Indeed a 2012 study found that increased pelvis rotation speed and stronger glutes lead to increased golfing performance).

The glutes are so important to our golf swing and our everyday function, and yet we see people who have poor glute activation and function on an all too frequent basis! Lack of glute activation and strength is the root of so many evils:

– Tightness and/or injury in hip flexors, low back, ITB and hamstrings.

– Poor motor skills in basic movements such as squat, lunge and bend.

– Lack of stability and control in lateral and rotational movements (golf swing). – Lack of power in a multitude of movements (running and golf swing for example).

With a few simple exercises you can wake your glutes up and get them working really efficiently in your golf swing. The exercises featured in the video below are some of the ways in which we get the glutes fired up.

 

Use these exercises blended into a warm up or between sets to activate your glutes, and feel your quality of movement improve.

 

Shoulder mobility and your swing plane

There are several physical characteristics that can directly influence the plane the club travels on, as well as, the orientation of the club face during the swing. Mobility in the trail shoulder (right shoulder, for right handed golfer) is one of the most important.

The position shown in the left hand picture, demonstrates the most stable position for the trail arm. The weight of the world can be supported with the trail arm more vertical. Indeed, many coaches have used the analogy of atlas holding the weight of the world over his head to visualise the positioning of the trail shoulder. This is also the most common position seen on the PGA and LPG tours today.

If the trail shoulder can’t get into this position due to a physical limitation, typically lack of general shoulder mobility, thoracic mobility and/or  shoulder external rotation, then a more horizontal trail arm will be seen. This will also often result in a higher swing plane than ideal and/or the club travelling across the line at the top of the backswing position, as shown in right hand picture.

The player has two choices. Adopt a less than ideal position of the trail arm in the swing or change their physical abilities. Below are some of my favourite exercises for increasing shoulder mobility:

Adding in some soft tissue work for the pecs is also a great way to manually improve muscle fascia and get back some range of motion in the shoulder.

And make sure to balance all pressing movements in your program with rows also. A 1:1 ratio at least, although for those who lack shoulder mobility 2:1 in favour of rows is probably closer to the mark.

bubba-watson-impact

Bubba’s swing keys to long drives.

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Bubba Watson has become one the most popular players on the PGA tour thanks to his success on the course, easy going demeanour, shot making savvy and not least those crushing drives!

But whats his secret to all that raw power in his homemade looking golf swing? Why is he out driving many of his fellow tour players who often exhibit more ‘classically’ correct golf swings? And what can you learn to apply to your swing?

To shed some light I’d like to take a detour into the world of long drive. The first notable difference between long drive competitors and tour pros is you’ll be hard pressed to find a long drive guy that keeps his lead foot on the floor.

The second thing easily noticeable, is a very high hand position and a backswing much longer than the average PGA tour player, this allows for greater speed to be generated in the trunk on the downswing.

Check out these youtube videos of Bubba hitting some drives in slow motion, notice these traits of the long drive competitors in Bubba’s swing too. I put two videos in because, well, it’s just fun to watch Bubba bombing drives!

There are other things, as well, that you might not notice first time round. Watch how Bubba squats down as he begins his downswing and then literally jumps back up through impact. This is known as vertical thrust, and is a trait shared with Jason Zuback and many other long drives champs. The squatting motion at the start of the downswing increases ground reaction force, this leads to more energy coming back through the lower body and transferring up the body to the club. This is then followed by literally a vertical jump as he comes through impact (if you look closely you can actually see both his feet are off the floor)!

Indeed, putting long drive competitors on a force plate often yields blackout though impact. This basically means they are not contacting the ground and the force plate just goes blank because there’s nobody on it anymore.

So how does hitting huge drives actually work? And how can you do it? 

3-D motion capture of the golf swing shows energy starts from the lower body, the lower body starts to create incredible rotary speed as the downswing is initiated (the lower body rotates the equivalent of up to 500 degrees per second at this point). That energy is then transferred to the trunk, as the trunk rotates (rotary speed is now hitting almost 900 degrees per second) it then transfers energy to the arms, the arms then transfer energy to the club (at clubhead speeds in excess of 140mph) and the club then transfers energy into the ball on impact. It is a perfect sequence seen in every long driver and results in ball speeds approaching 220mph.

The average tour players arm rotates around 900 degrees per second. On a longer driver the arms may rotate almost 1300 degrees per second. Almost 50% more energy can be generated from the thorax to the arm. This is an incredible difference that yields explosive distance.

Simply, the longest drivers can rotate their body faster than those who don’t hit as far. This is made possible by a perfect synergy of technique, strength and rotational speed.