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.
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.
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.