Every twenty-first century product is jumping onto the add-value-through-internet-use bandwagon. So too are the cardiorespiratory fitness machines. One cannot help watch even a little bit of TV without seeing ads for the exciting looking Peleton cycle which allows one to cycle with people from all over the world or be in a virtual cycling “class” right from one’s home. As to the famous Coach Michael’s Nordictrack X11i, it simulates virtual settings of some of the most beautiful corners of the world. What is the science behind these and other similar machines? Obviously the TV ads are making an impression because just saw a couple of Peleton cycles at my own small gym. What is the idea behind handlebars which make one lean forward, pedals that are tiny, and no heart rate monitors? Is it a message that it is only for 20-something-year olds who may not worry about low back pain as they lean forward excessively and do not feel the need to at least occasionally measure their heart rate? Are the small pedals meant to look sleek, or reduce air friction force for better speed (on a stationary bike!). What about if a foot slips off the tiny pedals? As to the Nordictrack incline machine. at what speed should 40% extra incline be tackled? Do they offer any advice with the machine? Does it have any heart rater monitoring? Why would one not simply put one’s good old 20th Century treadmill into a good incline? Basically, my question is – looks over functionality? Form over science? Many modern mechanically driven products now have some internet-related features and wonderful, modern designs, but are they maintaining the science?
How to decide which putting stroke is best?
The new NEWS & REVIEWS section will have short snippets of – you guessed it – NEWS, all of it related to some science that concerns golf – and there are many.
So, which stroke “look” is better – a pendulum (in which the arc of the putter is circular) or a stroke with a bit of an ellipse at the bottom (ie. slightly flatter in the bottoming-out area)? The latter because it gives your a greater margin within which to connect the ball.
Many like the pendulum stroke and go to great lengths to acquire it. In the post-body-putter era, what are a person’s options? Read about Bryson deChambeau (the mad scienctist)’s new putting stroke, its advantages and disadvantages on page 72 of https://en.calameo.com/read/004756792e3682610235b
What Golf Swing Research can – and cannot – tell us
- What is golf swing research, where can you find any?
- How should you know whether to use the information contained or take it with a pinch of salt?
- Will your golf game improve with this information?
The best place to find golf related research is at scholar.google.com. Simply type in golf swing, uncheck “include patents” and “include citations” and about 46,400 results will show up. That just goes to show that a lot of people have done research on some aspect of the golf swing. So how should the casual reader interested in knowing more about which research studies might make interesting reading or which swing concepts to apply to their own swings or indeed which studies to take with a pinch of salt?
Start with a search term which can narrow down the topic, for instance, golf swing biomechanics. Now only 4870 entries appear. The best thing about the google scholar search engine is that many complete research papers are available and do not have to be purchased.
Let’s pick one paper to better understand what good research design involves and understand whether a particular study has information worth incorporating into one’s golf swing or has suggestions for what not to do to. The third hit from the top is titled “The relationship between biomechanical variables and driving performance during the golf swing”, and is freely available as a pdf document. The first few things to look for are how recent is the paper is and which journal it is published in.
The ABSTRACT gives an excellent starting point for a reader wishing to know whether the paper is of interest. The next section is the INTRODUCTION. In its final paragraph may be seen the researchers’ question, which they base on the gaps in existing research conducted by others on the same subject. In this paragraph the authors might also state their hypothesis or what they expect their results to reveal. Any “exploratory” study such as the current one might not have a hypothesis. Our chosen paper claims that the authors will look for the key factors among many variables measured during the golf swing which relate to golf ball speed.
Next comes the METHODS section. Here it is important to find out how many participants were used for the study. Many golf studies have small “sample sizes” so that they are really not applicable to the general population but only to a few specific people. In order for a research study to “generalize their findings” they should have a large enough number of participants. Our chosen study has a good number of participants. Does the study apply to average or skilled golfers, young or old ones? This study has a good mix of handicaps and ages of participants, so the results should apply to the average golfer, not elite ones.
The METHODS and RESULTS sections are crucial when assessing a paper’s merit, but are rather technical. Sometimes the tables attached are simple to follow. Table 1 shows the variables chosen for analysis. How did the researchers determine what they would measure, of the hundreds of aspects that they could have? Here it is important to understand the background of the researchers. Did they merely take ideas from previous studies? Do they have extensive experience in how a golf swing actually does or does not work? Were there any golf instructors who see cause-and-effect every day of their lives involved in the team to make suggestions for what to look for? This is a weakness in most golf studies.
The DISCUSSION typically provides the reader with an explanation of what was presented in the results section as well as the researchers’ interpretations of the results. Once again, the question arises, how qualified are the researchers to make a valid interpretation of what they found?
The main issue with golf swing studies is that although they makes for good “fact finding missions” their results should not be considered as a case of one factor CAUSING another to take place. (Even when the number of participants is decent – which is usually not the case). Why not? NO studies in golf (that I have seen) are EXPERIMENTAL and so cannot really establish cause and effect. For example, if I say “The sky is blue. I am happy” I am merely making a correlational statement which tells a person that when the sky is blue, I am happy. In order to say that the blue sky causes my happiness, I have must conduct an experimental study. I should assess my mood when the sky has some other color. I should look for other factors that might make me happy. Only then can I state that the blue sky actually CAUSES my happiness.
In golf, to prove that X-Factor (the difference in how rotated the shoulders are compared to the hips at the top of the backswing) CAUSES greater ball speed, a study should compare those with and without X-Factor to be able to state that X-Factor CAUSES greater ball speed. Better still, a study should take a group of people who do not have a big X-Factor, measure their ball speed, train them to increase their X-factor and then reassess their ball speed to see if it does indeed increase. MGS research is the ONLY golf swing research ever to actually manipulate the swing to study its efficacy, as is the requirement of truly experimental research.
Someone pass the salt, please.
Individual Joint Positions Matter
- Excessive whole-body movement and individual joint positions BOTH matter.
- Which joints are important for a successful golf swing.
- Only the MGSS full-swing does all that is required.
The last (December 8th) blog post discussed how the brain’s control of all movement is complex, and changes constantly, especially under conditions of anxiety, fatigue and injury. Thus it makes sense to reduce the amount of movement that golfer makes, which would then require less brain-commands, to fewer muscles, and serve to simplify the brain’s job! It was also discussed that the movements to be retained should be those that are “free” and do not come at a high cost.
The only truly “free” downswing movement is the rotary “coil-uncoil” one, as explained in the previous post. Further evidence for this “free” force availability comes from a seminal work by the king of seminal works on the spine – Professor Stuart McGill, of the University of Waterloo, Canada – in which he studied the potential of the muscles to create both linear and rotary force when already pre-rotated (as the Minimalist Golf Swing i.e. MGS is!).
Some direct quotes from his 1990 study “Kinetic Potential of the Lumbar Trunk Musculature…”:
“Most muscles (his study mainly assessed muscles at the L4-L5 lumbar joint) increase their potential to contribute to axial torque with greater amounts of twist.” Even the rectus-abdominus and the erector spinae group, which are basically vertical muscles that mainly bend the spine forwards and backwards, are able to contribute to trunk rotation when they are pre-rotated.
Another meaningful quote, “Changes in muscle length are an important consideration, given the modulating effect of [the muscle’s] length on force production: …a lengthened muscle produces additional force from passive stretching of the passive elastic component of muscle.”
And finally, “Various extreme postures appear to affect the moment potential (line of muscle action or moment arm) of individual muscles and the collective sum of agonists [main muscles acting to create a movement] contributing…”
Thus it may be said that rotary backswing action can produce significant pull on the joints to help create greater downswing clubbed speed, more so in the case of the MGS with its trunk being rotated pre-swing.
However, mere rotation is not enough, it must be sequenced from the ground up, and this can only happen if certain important joints of the golf swing are positioned so as to aid, and not hinder, pure trunk rotation.
Firstly, the hips should be level at the start of the downswing. if the trail hip is higher than the lead one, and flexed too (as is the case with all typical swings) the butt muscles of that side have to work to level the hips before pure rotation can begin. That involves two movements, whereas pure rotation is only one, which makes more sense given the time constraint of the downswing. The downswing lasts at most 1/3rd second, within which all the unbending and untwisting of joints bent or twisted during the backswing has to be completed.
Secondly, and even more importantly (because this second position will probably improve the first one too), the trail trunk must remain laterally flexed (side-bent) throughout the backswing. The line of action or the direction in which three important muscles can pull the body changes dramatically (to either help or hinder the downswing), based on their positions at the top. Trail side lateral flexion (especially when combined with pre-swing rotation of the trunk) is perhaps the most important movement of the back- and downswings.
In a typical swing, the trail side is always higher at the top of the backswing. As a result the main muscles of torso and arm rotation – the external obliques, pectoralis major and latissimus dorsi – get pulled upwards during the backswing, so that their line of action is only good for pulling the trail trunk and shoulder down and forward during the downswing. Hence the over-the-top (OTT) movement (defined here as the lead arm and clubbed move drastically inside the target line post-impact) that most golfers have. Even the professionals have this movement, if you go by this particular definition of OTT! The forward and down movement of the trunk which takes place at great speed, both at and post impact – if not before – is what causes most injuries of the spine and other major joints too.
It can thus be seen that for the body to avail of the free force available to it (that of stretched core muscles) and to simplify the brain’s role of controlling movement, it is important to reduce/remove up-and-down, down-and-up-again, and side-to-side movements; maintain the rotary one; and position vital joints of the body appropriately.
The MGS provides a golfer with more of the “free” force and less of the “dangerous” ones, and positions the joints for more effective downswing movement. Overall, it positions the golfer at the “top of the downswing” so that all joints are situated correctly for their roles in the downswing. No time is wasted in “transition” from top of backswing to top of downswing, which truly is a case of undoing the unnecessary. Even though changing to MGS requires a swing change of existing golfers, it does not have as steep a learning curve, because the unusual new set-up triggers the new backswing so that a golfer is not confused between old and new movements. It also uses positions which prevent bad sequencing while facilitating good movements, so that the famed summation-of-speed aka kinematic sequence aka proximal-to-distal sequencing of lower body before upper body happens effortlessly and unconsci
Reduce Swing Movement for Better Ball Flight, Consistency, and Safety from Injury
Why and How Should Overall Swing Movement be Reduced?
- Why should overall movement be reduced?
- How should whole-body movement be reduced
- How will it improve your full-swing and give you more swing-satisfaction?
Although many golfers do not realize this, it is the brain that controls all movement – whether new or learned. The brain has an extremely complex method for controlling movement, with many parts involved in different aspects of the movement such as planning and execution. Even when a movement has been “learned” and a good degree of automaticity achieved (automaticity as seen in walking, when we humans do not have to think about placing one foot in front of the other), there is a lot of variability in the movement. Variability within a small range is said to be beneficial, as it prevents overuse injury. However, the brain is able to select a few aspects of a movement which are the most important, and keeps them stable, despite overall variability. For instance, when standing from a sitting position, the brain keeps the center of mass (balance point of the body) stable, so that the body will not topple over.
The brain’s control of movement changes in conditions of anxiety, injury/pain and fatigue. Thus it can be seen that the brain’s control of movement is very complex; movement is prone to variability with some limited stability; and movement changes under unusual conditions.
If the movement itself were simplified, the brain would have a simpler motion to control and be able to be more efficient in its control of the simpler mechanism. The best way to simplify is to reduce motion – especially whole-body motion. The less body parts that are bent and twisted during the backswing, the less organization the brain requires to have, in order to unbend and untwist them all – especially given the fact that the downswing only lasts 1/4th to 1/3rd of a second. If whole-body movement is to be reduced, in which directions should the movement be reduced? Of the four basic whole-body movements – up-and-down, down-and-up-again, side-to side and rotary, which can a golfer afford to cut off? WHICHEVER MOVEMENTS ARE NOT FREE.
Not free? What does that mean? It means the movements to reduce are the ones where extra muscular effort is required to undo the movement made during the backswing. The first movement to consider is the up-and-down one (yellow arrow in the picture). The trail (right-side for a right handed golfer) shoulder is lower than the lead one at address, and once again at impact. What sense does it make to have it higher at the top of the backswing, as all typical golf swings do? This movement is purely redundant and does more harm than good, so it is the first that should be removed, simply by keeping the trail side of the body lower from address to impact.
The next movement to consider is the down-then-up-again one (red arrow in the picture). This has become popular in recent times, with many golf instructors advocating a squat-jump type of downswing movement, as they believe that once a person squats, the ground pushes that person up again (ground reaction force or GRF), which will help to raise the lead hip and thus lead shoulder. If the lead shoulder can be high at impact, the lead shoulder and arm can form a long lever which gives better club speed. The issues with this are three. Firstly, there is no proof for GRF pushing a person, and it does not make sense either. A simple explanation is that if one stands on a basic weighing scale, the number shown on the dial represents the force one is applying on the scale, which should be matched by the ground. If the scale is put on even a fine carpet (or grass!), that number increases. Does that mean a carpet pushes us up more forcefully than a hard floor? If so, why do we have a tougher time getting out of a squishy sofa than a firm one? Secondly, the loads on the spine, hips and knees are at their highest at the lowest point in the squat, making it a risk factor for injury. Thirdly, the down-then-up-again move is silly is because if one stood maximally upright throughout the swing and simply allowed the trail arm to straighten, it will automatically push the lead side up (at least that is the case with the Minimalist Golf swing – MGS). This, then, is another movement one can easily discard.
How about the side-to-side movement golfers refer to as weight-shift? Some “experts” believe that one can use the frictional force of the trail leg against the ground to push off off, but it is difficult to push off a leg that has a large proportion of the body’s weight going through it (try standing on just your trail leg then attempting a push off it, to understand).This movement can give the swing some starting momentum if a golfer is quick enough to shift weight forward at the beginning of the downswing, but comes at a high cost. If a golfer is not fast and strong enough to shift weight at the beginning of the movement, the torso, which has been “wound up” during the backswing begins its rotation, leaving the golfer’s weight stuck on the back leg, resulting in that very common and dreaded slice. So, side-to-side movement should be reduced to a great extent too.
How about rotary movement, or the typical coil-and-uncoil motion that most golf swings have to some extent or the other? The downswing “uncoil” is a spontaneous movement (especially if the backswing has stretched the muscles or the torso adequately) and thus totally “free”. It is spontaneous because if the core muscles (external obliques and even the pectoralis major) have been stretched (as they are in the MGS), they contract very forcefully, because of a spring-like action of muscles, or the stretch-shortening cycle. Although the rotary movement is “free”, it is important for it to be produced in the correct sequence of lower-body before upper-body. If produced correctly, it is able to deliver both better distance (through a summation-of-forces principle) and better direction (as the only known movement to allow the club to arrive at the ball from a natural, inside path).
Thus, the one movement which a golf swing must have is the rotary one, while all other whole-body movements can safely be eliminated altogether or reduced to a great extent. The next blog post will explain how to guaranty a correct sequence for the all-important body rotation.
The COSINE FACTOR
. How you can see majestic, high, straight flying golf shots that make your ball and heart soar
. Understand how the direction of a pushing force is as important as the amount of the force
. This is the first of a series of “what sense does it make” posts
If you have to push a heavy refrigerator across the floor will you get directly behind it or stand at an angle to it? Stand directly behind it, of course! Would it make sense for you to stand at an angle to the refrigerator or push it from an angle other than the one you want it to move in? No. After all, you want to use all the force you are capable of producing towards moving the refrigerator in the direction you wish it to move. It is not only the amount of force you apply, but the angle at which you push an object, that matters.
If you push while standing obliquely to the refrigerator, only a part of the force you intend to put into it actually goes into it! The diagram below is slightly mathematical, for the benefit of those who want to know more. The purple arrow is the direction of the force being applied, and the total force can be broken up into two components – the horizontal component which helps to push the refrigerator in a useful direction – forward – and the vertical one which is merely wasted. That horizontal component of the force is called the cosine of the force.
[What multiplying the cosine of the angle at which the force is applied to the amount of force applied does, is that it multiples the force by a number from 0 to 1. When the angle is 0°, ie. the direction of push is along the intended direction of movement, the force applied is multiplied by one (the cosine of 0°). As the angle of application of push gets closer to perpendicular to the direction of desired movement, one multiplies the force by a smaller and smaller number, which indicates that less and less “useful force” which can actually help to move the object, is being applied to the refrigerator].
That is exactly what is happening in golf – all golfers’ clubs (regardless of whether they are skilled and professional or merely weekend warriors) move way inside the target line after impact. That happens regardless of whether the club approached the ball from the outside or the inside. Just stand behind any golfer at a driving range to see what I mean! When the club moves way inside the target line past impact, the golfer is only applying a portion of the force intended for the ball into it – and the rest into the ground or the air around the ball (hence the ant joke where one ant tells the other the safest place to remain uninjured from while a golfer swings is the top of the ball!).
But, you might argue, the ball goes straight, so why worry? Well if you hit the ball as far as you’d like with no sideways movement, that is certainly true. Neither the club moving off at an angle sideways (as illustrated above), nor upwards (and causing a thin shot) will matter, because you do not need any further directional or trajectory-related improvements. If however, you, like the rest of us non-Herculean humans want the maximum distance you can extract from every shot, and need the higher trajectory which aids maximal distance, your swing needs to change from a “what sense does that make” type of swing.
In the typical “what sense does that make” swing, not only do the hips rotate too early, but so too does the torso, and that is what pulls the shoulders and arms “in” too early too. The Minimalist Golf Swing, on the other hand, starts the golfer with a pre-swing rotation of the pelvis and torso away from target, so that the golfer’s hips during the downswing move from way-closed to square. The shoulders which always lag behind the hips, are therefore barely square at impact, and so too, then, are the arms. The club is thus able to move along the target line a fraction of a second longer than otherwise, before the torso’s inevitable rotation pulls it inside the target line again.
Compare the impact positions of the most athletic female golfer and an average one, below. The golfer on the left has both her hips and shoulders open to the target. In the picture on the right, the golfer’s shoulders have just reached square while the hips are slightly open to the target line. Note that because of the MGS pre-swing torso rotation “closed” to the target line, the hips have rotated a long way, just in a different – and better – direction.
In any golf swing, as soon as the downswing is initiated, the strongly stretched core muscles begin a rotation, much like a coiled spring does as soon as it is released. The trick is to find a way to make that rotation help rather than hinder impact. The only useful solution is to set up so that the powerfully rotating pelvis and torso are just slightly open, while the lagging shoulders are square or closed, so that the club is able to move along the target line for a mere fraction of a second, rather than drastically inside.
The body positions associated with the “cosine factor” has many implications for injury too, as research shows that slight compression (from forward bending) combined with side-bending and rotation can cause a wide variety of spinal injuries.
- We need to rethink the concept of “weight shift” and how we can use foot-ground reaction for golf swing power/speed
- In the golf swing, some say weight shift is more important, others that rotation matters most and still others that both should happen. Confusing?
- In the baseball pitch there are three distinct phases – the linear movement (weight shift), the torso rotation and the arm acceleration phases.
- Actually, the golf swing (although a much faster movement) is or should also be made up of all three distinct phases
In golf, many “experts” say we should shift weight to the right (for a right-handed golfer) during the backswing, and then use the right leg’s reaction with the ground to push off with so we can move weight to the left foot during the downswing.
What, first of all, is weight-shift and how do we create it? It is merely a redistribution of the body’s weight, created by leaning to one side or even lifting the arm up sideways. It serves to move the body’s balance-point, so that one side of the body now “weighs” more than the other. In other words, gravity acts on that side to a greater extent. Body weight distribution and movement go hand in hand, we cannot have one without the other.
How then does the ground come into the picture and what exactly is ground reaction force? Ground- or wall- or, for that matter, rock-reaction force is merely what happens when the body is in contact with any unyielding surface. The body uses muscular effort to move off against that resistance.
Let’s consider what happens in baseball pitching. To begin the movement, a pitcher (if right-handed) leans most of his body’s weight onto his right leg and even lifts up his left leg to exaggerate that weight shift. Then his “free” left leg moves forward in the direction of intended ball-release and, as it makes contact with the ground, is able to use muscular effort to pull some of the body’s weight forward. Next, the now “lighter” right leg can use its muscle force to push off the ground. When added together, adequate movement in the desired direction is created. So, what is that observation leading up to, you might wonder.
Consider another example. Suppose you sit on one end of a see-saw. That side will obviously go down. Now, try as you might, you cannot lift that side by merely pushing the ground with your feet. The see-saw can only go up if someone (at least as heavy as you) sits on the other side. See any pattern here? Not yet?
How about if you are sitting in a chair and wish to stand up. Try that with your hands crossed over your chest and with your spine completely upright. You would need to have very, very, very strong gluteal muscles to move from that position when your weight is directed straight down through the body part you are sitting on. Or, your trunk muscles can simply move your body forward to redistribute some of its weight forward, and then your gluteal muscles can easily contract to straighten your hips so that you can stand up.
Suppose you are standing and want to start walking. One foot will move forward, pulling your body’s weight forward with it, and then the now “lighter” back foot can push off. Do you see the pattern yet?
The basic premise is that a leg (or other body part) “weighed down” by having a considerable portion of the body’s weight on top of it, does not have enough muscle strength to overcome the “weight”, so some other “lighter” body part must move first, reduce weight on the side which has too much, allowing it to become “lighter” and now able to aid body weight redistribution so that the body can move in the desired direction.
This concept has the capacity to change how we create (any) movement and even our notion of the muscles we need to strengthen/stretch, based on that information.
Any golf swing which requires a right-handed golfer to shift weight to the right side during the backswing has two problems. Firstly the golfer is not easily able to push weight back towards target off the excessive ground reaction force created under the right leg. Well, you might ask, “Isn’t the left leg free to pull body weight forward”? No because the typical golf swing has a bend in the left knee and a drop of the left shoulder and hip, putting muscular pressure through the left side (see footnote). Overall it is tough for the golfer to move either leg. Therefore he uses some other strategy such as bumping his left hip or knee sideways (that great and disastrous movement often termed “transition”) or squatting to “unweigh” himself. Anything that will reduce weight on the right leg so it can now actually use the ground to push off of, to start the process of power/speed development. Secondly most golfers are not fast/strong enough to move their body weight forward sufficiently during the 1/3rd or less seconds the golf swing lasts anyway. They therefore get stuck closer to the right side during the downswing as the inevitable rotation of the pelvis begins. This causes the club to move sideways across the ball, creating that dreaded slice.
The solution? Lean the body through the left leg throughout the backswing as one swing method advocates? No because that creates other problems which are a topic for another day.
The only meaningful solution is to set-up as the Minimalist Golf Swing (MGS) does – with a pre-swing torso rotation. The natural result of such a rotation is that more of the body’s weight is placed on and, remains through, the left side. So the right leg is free to push forward, after which the second phase of the golf downswing – torso rotation – can begin.
Just as the baseball pitch has three phases that matter, the golf downswing should comprise a linear weight shift to the forward side, which helps create a power base, followed by torso rotation generated by strongly contracting abdominal oblique muscles. It should end with a forcefully internally-rotating right shoulder which has had its internal-rotator muscles stretched during the backswing (latissimus dorsi and others). More on phases 2 and 3 in the next post.
Finally, look at this poor guy. His weight shifts to his right side early in the backswing and stays firmly there. Combined with a high right shoulder which must drop down to get into impact, what combination of downswing strategies will he need? The more body parts which must be moved, unbent and untwisted during the downswing the more complex the movement. How then can he expect to be consistent or avoid injury from such a mechanically complex top of backswing position?
Now look at this far inferior golfer’s far superior downswing sequence. More weight through lead hip at the top? Check. Trail leg “lighter” and able to push off for good weight shift? Check. Weight shift followed by powerful torso rotation in phase 2.? Check. Trail shoulder maximally externally rotated at the top? Check. Trail shoulder’s posterior muscles (especially latissimus dorsi) not preventing an in-to-out path by internally rotating too early? Check.
The take home message then is that while downswing weight shift (intense and over a short distance) is essential, backswing weight shift is counterproductive, and how else can one have one without the other than with an MGS weight-distribution!
Footnote: I’m going out on a limb here (pun intended) when I say, without research to back me up, that the “classic” golf swing’s raised left foot is probably a more efficient way to quickly move the body’s weight towards target than the “modern” golf swing (flat foot, bent left knee, laterally flexed left trunk). It is not, however as ideal as the MGS, as it adds to the layers of complexity of movements to be “undone” during the downswing by adding foot and ankle dynamics to the picture.
Minimalist Golf Swing – by the numbers
- How the Minimalist Golf Swing helps you hit the ball Further. Straighter. Higher. Consistently.
- Is YOUR swing backed by science and research?
- The Minimalist Golf Swing – lives up to its tagline AND is the ONLY golf swing put to the test
How to acquire better ball-striking?
For a moment, forget everything you know about the golf swing. Understand that if somehow you can get your club to arrive at the ball on an inside-out path at maximum speed, you will hit the ball further, straighter and higher; do it more consistently; and reduce the loads acting on your joints so that you are less likely to get swing-related injury. The Minimalist Golf Swing (MGS) has taken all the guesswork of generations of anecdotal, subjective teaching to give you cutting-edge science backed by continuous research.
How can I test whether I have an in-to-out path?
Find a place where you can hit real golf balls and then retrieve them – for instance, into a net. Use a sharpie marker to draw a circle around a ball. Place the ball so that the circle lies along the target line, noting which side of the ball faces upwards. Rub the sharpie across your clubface, then hit the ball before the markings can dry up. Retrieve your ball, place it back on the ground with the correct side up and the circle on the ball once again lying along the target line, and look at the markings.
Chances are the markings are more prominent on the OUTSIDE of the ball (on the side of the sharpie-circle furthest from you). This is the sign that you do not arrive at the ball from the inside. Your clubface, therefore, is smothering the best possible launch angle you could create and possibly giving you side-spin as your club moves drastically inside the target-line past impact.
This out-to-in club movement is also a sign that during the downswing your shoulders rotated before your hips, so you are unable to generate maximum club speed from your big trunk and torso muscles.
How should I arrive at the ball from the inside which will give me better direction as well as distance?
The MGS is designed to not just help you deliver your club to the ball from an inside path at maximum possible speed, but to actively prevent mis-sequencing of the body parts. What that means for you the golfer is that even when you are aroused or fatigued and you are not able to repeat well-learned firing patterns, your body is positioned so as to avoid the less-desirable movements of the downswing.
So, simply trust in, and use, the MGS which has been tested through many research projects, big and small, published and not published, at all stages of its development. The MGS movements have been researched and refined since 1993, but increasingly so over the past 6 years since I started an MS program in sports science and then PhD coursework, in all possible subjects related to human movement. Being in graduate level course-work has also offered more opportunities and equipment for research.
I have had so many lessons, watched hundreds of tips on TV, read all the magazines, nothing has worked. Why should I trust this new method?
It is never a good idea to trust blindly. Therefore, look at the recent research projects on the MGS to understand why it is a good swing for every skill level of golfer.
Electromyography study, late 2015:
Electromyography (EMG) records the electrical activity of muscles, and is thus an indication of the level of a muscle’s activation. The greater the electrical signal, the more active a muscle is. Typically this converts directly to more force produced by a movement. This study was performed on 12 golfers, 9 male and 3 female, ranging in age from 18 to 73, with handicaps from 7.6 to 18. They participated in a single session in which the electrical activity level of five important muscles of the golf swing were tested. All five muscles tested were right side ones (all participants were right-handed), and have been studied previously by several researchers, as they are important for the golf swing. The golfers performed 5 shots with their existing swings using their five iron club and then their driver. After a brief lesson and hitting about 15 or so balls with the new MGS swing, participants once again hit five shots each with their 5-iron and driver clubs. Data analysis was conducted making a “time-normalized ensemble average” of 5 swings x 12 participants x 5 muscles x 2 clubs, giving the study good “power”. In simple terms the above phrases mean that each swing was divided into 100 equal segments (so that slower and faster swings can be suitably compared) and then an average was taken of 60 swings per muscle per club. “Power” is an indication of how meaningful a study’s results are.
A brief summary of important results:
The external oblique muscle is a powerful torso rotator, and was found to be at a higher activation level throughout the back and down-swings with the MGS movement. This can be said to imply that it was stretched more during the backswing and thus contracted more forcefully during the downswing, delivering better body rotation.
The pectoralis major is a flexor or the shoulder (moving the upper-limb in front of the body). Once again this muscle’s activity followed a similar trend as the participants’ existing swings, but at a higher level of activation throughout. It may be stated that golfers were able to use this muscle to a greater extent with the MGS, indicating greater trail arm activation, especially when it would be most useful – during late downswing.
The gluteus maximum’s main role in a “typical” swing is to forcefully straighten (extend) a bent (flexed) hip, and previous research shows that it is most forceful during the early downswing. With the MGS, as the hip joints remain fairly straight (extended) throughout the swing, so this muscle was less active at all stages of the back and through swings. The MGS does not use hip flexion at any stage, allowing the pelvis to remain level throughout, and thus permitting pure pelvic rotation for more speed during the downswing.
Two other muscles considered to be involved in the golf swing are the latissimus dorsi and the biceps femoris, but their contributions with both the participants’ existing swings and the MGS swings were different for their five irons and their drivers, so are not discussed here.
Seniors’ study 2016:
This study was open to golfers over 50, and measured their ball-flight using a launch monitor to measure ball speed, ball starting direction, and ball launch angle. The participants had their existing swings measured for two sets of 10 shots, and then received a series of 10 lessons. Ball flight was measured during sessions five and six and once again during sessions nine and ten.
One already assessed result:
Ball-flight results have not yet been analyzed. However, participants were asked to respond to a questionnaire assessing their motivation to participate in golf before, and at the end of, the study. The questionnaire is called the Sports Motivation Scale II, and assesses an overall level of motivation as well as motivation within six categories – intrinsic, integrated, identified, introjected, external and amotivation (lack of motivation).
The age range of 14 participants was 56 to 77, with an average age of 67. Their overall motivation increased from 47 to 53 and their amotivation improved from -22 to -20. Although both showed an improvement, neither was statistically significant. Intrinsic motivation, or self-motivation to participate in golf, increased significantly (p<0.05), going from 53 before to 56 after the study.
It may be said that adopting the MGS increased participants’ motivation to play golf.
The year 2016 will stand out for, amongst other things, the release of a book which Golf Magazine termed the “Holy Grail” of the golf swing. This statement was reinforced by Forbes’ Lifestyle writer calling Brandel Chamblee’s book, “The Anatomy of Greatness”, the most important golf book of our generation, one which would remind readers of the lost secret to hitting the ball further. This is a book in which Chamblee “dispels myths of modern instruction with scientific precision and accuracy.”
When a Golf Channel analyst who has won at all levels – amateur and professional – writes a book on the golf swing, everyone sits up and pays attention. Why? Mainly because a good analyst’s job is to comment on the games and swings of the very best players, and so he or she has to become a keen observer of swing patterns. In addition, Chamblee has met, spoken with, and interviewed, every great player of every recent generation, to get more information on what the players themselves like or dislike about their games.
Any “expert” (instructor or analyst) has knowledge typically based on years of observation combined with personal beliefs based on an individual’s personal history within the sport This is no small achievement, as it takes years to master the art of knowing what to look for.
While observation is a vital tool, it is not, in science enough. The reason being that it often involves what is known as a “post hoc” fallacy. This fallacy in logical deduction takes place when one believes that just because one event preceded another, the first caused the second. For instance, one might say, “the group in front played very slowly, which is why my score was terrible.” While there might be a correlation between the two events, one cannot say in an incontrovertible fashion, that someone’s slow play caused one’s poor scores!
In science, in order to establish causation, not only must the cause precede the effect, and be correlated to it (that is, the same result is seen for countless people), but the effect should have no other cause besides the one proffered. The “sample size” too must be adequately large (that is, the findings should not be based on a small group of people). Finally, the sample population should be very varied (for instance, not merely involving Alex Morrison who passed on his knowledge to Jack Grout and thence to Jack Nicklaus), because a “connection” makes the golf swing practiced by those with the same influencing factors one of many that might succeed.
According to Chamblee, 99% of the great players of yesteryear used a move no longer taught in the golf swing. How different are the swings of those 99% great players (in evidence-based terms) from the original golf swings of the shepherds who played insouciantly in the fields of Scotland? With time, each famous instructor or player added to the basic movement patterns small subjective bits of information, which were mimicked by each successive generation. Whether the rounded posture, the “crucial” right knee trigger or the raised left foot during the backswing, to establish causation, it would be important to study two or more groups, each with different patterns, and show that only the one produces the desired effects. An even better research design would be if the same group of persons made different styles of golf swing to study which one did indeed produce better results that another.
The best research studies are those which can be termed either “experimental” and which actually manipulate some aspects of the topic being studied, in this case the golf swing. Observational studies are not good enough to establish causation and, in fact, only three-dimensional observation can give details about a statement such as, “The start of the backswing begins with the entire body moving back the distance that the right knee has been set towards target.” In which direction should the body move back; how much rotation and how much translation, and of which body part is involved; how does knee position affect body motion, and the list of unknown factors goes on.
Bottom line, there are golfers who tout the “classic” golf swing as Chamblee does, and there are those who swear by the “modern” swing used by many Tour players today. Which group is right? Actually, neither. Both swings have movements which are prone to cause a lack of consistency. The ideal (such as The Minimalist Golf Swing) is a scientifically devised combination of the two, with a lot of pelvis rotation (which the modern swing does not advocate), but also no unnecessary backswing movements such as trail knee kick-in or a waggle to start the backswing, or any lead foot rise which the classic swing promotes.
Should one buy this book? Absolutely. It is a collector’s item, with an introduction from the inestimable Tom Watson, and photographs and anecdotes to interest even the most jaded golf book reader. It is a great attempt at looking at the anatomy of the swings of the greatest, and one looks forward to the day Chamblee looks at the anatomy of greatness of the golf swing itself, not just of the great golfers. Lessons from the best golf swings in history could evolve to lessons from tried and tested golf movements, which would help to bring a great golf swing to the general population of golfers, in a completely scientific manner.
Adapted from my article of May 2016 in My Avid Golfer Magazine.
Who is Bryson DeChambeau? Besides being only the 5th golfer ever to win both NCAA Division I Championship and the US Amateur in same year? He is a 22 year old Southern Methodist University graduate, who is known as much for his clever mind and physics degree as for his unique golf clubs.
The theories behind his single length clubs (all of approximately 6 iron length and constant overall weight; with changing lofts and probably different head weights) and jumbo grips have already received much attention. The influence of Homer Kelly’s Golfing Machine on his swing is also well-known.
In what other scientific ways does deChambeau stand out among his fellow professional peers? He is working in collaboration with some companies on devices which can show grip pressure through impact and on ways and means to formulate a putting model which can produce good results on any surface. He is trying out different shafts to see whether slowing down his speed or giving him lower trajectory might be more efficient. He says, “a robot cannot perfectly understand what a human is doing through a 3-dimensional stroke pattern,” which is why he is involved in shaft testing to factor in the golfer aspect.
What about his own game? DeChambeau has already, in a relatively short competitive career, made some very astute observations, which many far more experienced players have not yet cottoned onto. He believes cutting out excessive movement is vital. He also wonders why many golfers rely on “feel” so much. Feel, he feels, is after all like the wind – easily blown away. Golfers should instead have a “baseline” they can revert to whenever not playing well.
Bryson is capable of formulating his own theories and analyses, enabled by his long-time coach Mike Schy, a firm believer in letting his students grow and progress through self-discovery. In fact, modern learning theories all emphasize athlete-centered learning, where the athlete, through personal experience, improves both decision making and problem solving skills.
While his coach believes that “plane is king”, DeChambeau terms it “getting the momentum vector to be applied correctly on the plane”, and thus both, whether stating it in simple terms or couched in more physics-specific terminology, want a single plane swing for Bryson. The combination of a Moe-Norman-like palm-grip with jumbo club handles which better facilitate it, and the swing consistency of single length shafts, should make Bryson a winner every time.
What then has gone wrong as Bryson has struggled through several back-to-back events not making the cut? Has he not been able to return to his baseline? “The chemicals in my body allowed me to feel some pressure and did not allow me to perform to my best potential”.
He was spot on while making these comments, and those are the very same chemicals released in any golfer under pressure. It is the reason even the most seasoned players can perform well during the week and make the most amateurish mistakes over the weekend. The problem no-one in golf has even considered so far, is the placement and position of the key joints of the trail shoulder and the hips. When a golfer must make compensatory movements to undo complex joint positions from the top of the backswing, inconsistency is guaranteed, especially under pressure, when the chemicals Bryson mentions increase production! A trail shoulder which is tight or forward leaning at impact prevents the release of the club to the ball at the appropriate time and place. Similarly, inappropriately positioned hips cannot generate quick rotary speed as they become slowed down by hip-leveling or weight-shifting movements.
A chase for plane alone with no care for the shoulder and hip joints is a futile search, because it is a sign that the human body has not been factored into the equation. However, these facts will not elude the curious mind of this talented golfer for long. It will be a great experience watching this bold “I love going to extremes”, confident and scientifically savvy young man reach his full potential as he matures as a professional golfer.
Since this article was first written, Bryson has missed several more cuts and will probably be headed to Q school later this year.
Adapted from my article of July 2016 in My Avid Golfer Magazine.