October 27th, 2016

New Thoughts on Weight Shift and the use of Ground Reaction Force in the Golf Swing

  • 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? a-tw-f-on 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. a-kk-sequence-f-on-oct-16   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.

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