The Golf Swing and Traditional Dogma
I ask every first-time student to do this “drill”
- Get into your address position and look to see which shoulder is lower
- Get into your impact position and look to see which shoulder is lower
- Get into your top of backswing position and look to see which shoulder is lower
And then I ask them what sense it makes for the shoulders (and, in fact, the entire torso) to flip directions. One person has said “maybe because I raise my arms”? That needs no reply. Another said “because we must stretch muscles that we wish to contract in the downswing”. Now that response did, indeed, have some validity. However, the muscles that get stretched UPWARDS (as the trail side of the torso rises), mainly the trail-side external obliques, will then contract in a downward direction, rather than a towards-target direction. And this one I get all the time, “It’s obvious because we rotate around a forward tilted spine and must maintain the spine at its inclination during the downswing”. Why do we HAVE to incline the spine in the first place? There is only one reason, not a particularly scientific one, at that. Let’s look at a bit of golf history to understand. It all began (probably) with golf clubs being rather short. Why is that though? One of the theories of who the first golfers were is that they were shepherds in Scotland who knocked pebbles into small holes in the ground with their crooks – which for experienced shepherds were only of a length to reach the ground after being hooked around the forearm (http://theshepherdscrook.net/
So then golfers intuitively bent forward because the clubs were short (or because they were tall!). Do you think Mary Queen of Scots or Old Tom Morris had a fixation about “spine angles”?
[To digress: the only things we MUST DO in a golf swing are (Other than have good speed):
- Arrive at the ball from an inside path
- Connect the ball at its near, trail-side quadrant.
Everything else has been added on by famous players and teachers, subjectively and piecemeal. And, in recent years, by some researchers who do not know whether their theoretical ideas can actually work in practice because they have not taught tons of golfers. There are too many “must make” movements that have been added on in recent years and when put together they can be useless at best and harmful at worst.] So now we have created generations of golfers with a forward spinal tilt at address, and that one factor itself can have both performance and injury issues.
THE SCIENTIFIC FACTS:
- The forward spinal tilt at address is accompanied (by tradition) by a torso position at the top which may be visually observed as the lead side (shoulder, hip, knee) being lower than the trail side at the top of the backswing. It involves a combination of forward flexion, side-bend and rotation. However, from that top of backswing position, the downswing is expected to produce the sequence of pelvis-before-thorax (or shoulder, if you prefer) HORIZONTAL rotation. Now the muscles that can provide horizontal rotation of the pelvis are the gluteal muscles, but they require the pelvis to be level (not lead side down and trail side up) to act effectively. If, instead, a golfer uses the external obliques at the front of the torso, along with the trail side pectoralis major and latissimus dorsi to start the downswing (much easier), one gets an over-the-top movement as these muscles contract downwards and forward. BRIEFLY, THEN, the TYPICAL TOP OF BACKSWING POSITION cannot be easily undone by THE MUSCLES WE HAVE.
- Equally importantly, the brain and spinal cord were really not designed for golf, but rather for hunter-gatherers whose main activities were to run (lower limbs) and gather fruit/eat (upper limbs). All the parts of the central nervous system (ie brain and spinal cord) focus their resources on controlling muscles of the extremities (arms and legs), while having little input into torso movements. (a really detailed article here: https://www.minimalistgolfswing.com/the-brain-and-the-mgs/). Thus, while motor control theory tells us that the brain is very capable of coordinating many movements within a well-learned skill, it will probably simply try to “do its best” which may not be adequate for the sophisticated pelvis-before-thorax movement a golf downswing requires, based on its complex, three dimensional, top of backswing position. In short, THE TYPICAL TOP OF BACKSWING POSITION cannot be undone in perfect sequence during the ever-changing situation in golf play, by the HUMAN CENTRAL NERVOUS SYSTEM.
PERFORMANCE ISSUES (one can blame all of the following on the uneven lead and trail sides of the top of the backswing resulting from a forward spinal tilt at address)
- Over the top shots
- Too limited a space between the trail shoulder and wrist, making straightening of the trail elbow and wrist at the correct time and in the correct directions inconsistent. This in turn results in the dreaded two-way, unpredictable miss.
INJURY ISSUES (once again, one can blame all of the following on the uneven lead and trail sides of the top of the backswing resulting from a forward spinal tilt at address) 1. One research paper (Comparison of spine motion in elite golfers with and without low back pain) found a significantly greater forward lumbar tilt of address in their participants with low back pain compared to those without (and, incidentally, those with low back pain also had significantly greater lead side lateral flexion - side bend - at the top of the backswing!). And while one could argue that they had that forward tilt to mitigate the pain, it is far more likely they got the pain from constantly holding the spine, especially the lumbar spine, in forward tilt, especially during the great speed of the downswing. 2. The crunch factor has been associated with low back pain, and increases greatly when the trail side of the torso must be dropped down from a greater height during the downswing. [crunch factor, in simple terms, is the combination of trail side side-bend and torso rotation speed, during the downswing]. So, what should a golfer do instead? I have developed a golf swing in which a golfer has as upright a posture as possible (given the historically short clubs – am working with Cobra-Puma’s one length clubs for better solutions). Then the backswing is an arms-only movement which maintains the lead shoulder higher from address to backswing, so the arm-club system has a fixed-height for its hub. Then, finally, for the speed, the “engine” is of course the torso. It is harnessed very minimally and very late to move the arms rapidly through impact, based on the principal of “proximal stillness for distal speed”.
Why should anyone trust this information? It is based on either the text-books in the subjects of anatomy, motor control and biomechanics and/or all golf swing research ever conducted and/or my own 27 years of research on the golf swing, including for my recently completed doctoral dissertation. So, if you'd like to know how to get into positions and make movements which will improve performance and reduce some injury risk factors, get in touch! For in-person and online lessons contact me at: www.YourGolfGuru.com
For video lessons: www.mgs.golf
For inquiries on hosting/marketing certification courses for golf instructors or health care professionals (including all the basic sciences that are a must for everyone in the business of golf): www.YourGolfGuru.com
Kiran Kanwar, Ph.D., LPGA Master Golf Instructor.