This is part 2 (continued) of a 4-part series examining different phases of the golf swing. These phases include the set-up, backswing, transition into the downswing, and weight shift and rotation to impact. Most know that each phase is important into achieving a consistent and powerful golf swing. As a result this series will provide are simple exercise interventions to make each phase easier for the amateur golfer. This article is about physical interventions and exercises to make a better backswing.
In my previous posts I discussed ways to improve your address posture and backswing. Before you start thinking about improving your movement in the downswing you must make sure your positioning at the top of your swing is correct. It’s unlikely that I move onto downswing movement training if a client exhibits swing flaws at the top of the swing such as reverse spine angle, reverse pivot, and/or over rotation of the hips and shoulders. Based on my experience, a vast majority of amateur golfers exhibit at least one of these flaws at the top of the swing.
One of the best ways to avoid flaws at the top of the swing is to make sure the trail leg and foot is properly loaded and performing the role as stabilizer of the upper body and shoulder rotation (unless you use stack and tilt). Ideally, at the top of the swing the trail leg and foot should accept the majority of the golfer’s weight. More specifically, the back of the trail foot and heel should be loaded at the top. More times than not, golfers I assess do in fact get the majority of body weight to the trail leg. However, most do not properly get to the heel of the foot.
The key to loading the trail leg and heel is to keep the leg stable and eliminate almost all lateral motion in the backswing. A golfer can have one or more multiple physical restrictions making proper weight shift and load difficult. What we know is that a golfer must have adequate hip internal rotation (over 45 degrees), strong hip muscles and glutes, great balance, and good movement patterning to be successful.
There’s a great swing drill you can use to determine if you have what it takes to properly load your trail foot consistently. It’s called the trail leg loaded backswing. In your address, shift 80-90% of your weight to your trail leg with the knee slightly bent. Now take a slow backswing while maintaining 80-90% of your weight on the trail leg. Make sure your knee does not move or change its angle. You know you are doing this successfully if you are able to make a full backswing without moving your weight away from the heel of the trail foot or without the knee straightening out or “bowing” outside of the foot. If you struggle doing this then it’s likely you have a physical restriction such as poor hip mobility, strength, or balance.
It is difficult to self-evaluate golf specific physical restrictions. I recommend that if you struggled doing the drill correctly that you seek out golf fitness professional. In conclusion great ball striking requires proper loading of trail leg and foot. In my next post we will turn our attention away from the back swing and move to part 3, transition into the downswing. If you have any questions about how your body affects your golf swing, please email me directly at [email protected].
Golf Fitness Coach
FitGolf Performance Centers of the Delaware Valley
It has been a very exciting time in the golf world lately! The Masters finished up and a new star was born. Jordan Spieth took his first green jacket and the number one spot at the Masters.
It is difficult to think this 21 year old ever had swing faults. But he did, and lots of practice really paid off. Many athletes are born with natural talent however, it is also extremely hard work to make it to the top and then maintain that spot.
Back in 2006 Spieth partnered up with his current trainer, Cameron McCormick. McCormick saw right away that Spieth’s swing was steep and this produced a reverse pivot. Spieth also had a tendency to slide his hips during the back swing instead of rotating.
McCormick accredited these swing faults to immobility and weaknesses within Spieth’s glutes, quads, hamstrings, core, and his lower back. The main muscles that are firing during the swing. After 9 years together, extensive training, and a better mind to muscle connection McCormick has created a Master!
Everyone has to start somewhere. Look at Rory McIlroy, he has been working with his trainer, Steve McGregor since 2010. When McGregor first worked with McIlroy it was very apparent that there were a few issues.
McIlroy has been swinging a club since he was a toddler without a large focus on his own physical fitness. Instead he had been relying on his natural athleticism. This worked for him, for a period of time. McIlroy, you see without the proper physical training he was actually creating a problem for himself. This led to an injured lower back from overuse and an imbalance in strength between his left and right side
McGregor worked on core and back strengthening along with more single arm and single leg exercises. After a short 5 years with his trainer, McIlroy is sitting pretty as a top golfer with an increased club head speed, more distance with his driver and being able to hit the ball harder without losing his balance.
There is a lot of scientific evidence out there that suggests strong and physically fit people have a higher level of self confidence, self worth, and physiological well being. Knowing what your personal weaknesses are can go along way to making you into the strongest and most confident individual you can be!
Contact your local FitGolf Performance Center to find out what your fitness handicap is and how you can get started on your most powerful swing!
Get a Grip – The Farmer’s Walk
A golfer’s grip on the golf club needs to be strong and stable in order to handle the force produced by their legs and torso. If your grip and forearms are not strong enough to handle this power, then you can lose accuracy and control. There must be a fine balance between a relaxed grip and “death grip.” There are a few articles out there about using dumbbells to strengthen forearms. You can purchase fancy grippers to increase your grip strength. You may even go as far as carrying a racquetball or something to squeeze as you drive in your car. No matter what you choose help increase the strength of your grip, you will still need to make sure that you prescribe a number of sets and reps. You will need to plan your rest as well.
While it may be good to address grip by itself as an exercise, it may be more effective to take a step back and see if there is something that you already do that will help increase your grip strength. Just holding a weight in your hand, will automatically engage the muscles in your hand. Even though you are picking up the weight to do a different exercise (dumbbell bench press, rows, bicep curls, etc.), you still need to be able to HOLD the weight. In fact, it will be your grip that will give out before your larger muscles begin to fatigue.
So a simple way to increase your grip strength naturally is to be aware of the amount of tension you are creating to hold the weight. If you are using OTHER muscle groups to keep the weight in your hand, then you are not strengthening your grip any more. One of my favorite exercises to increase my grip strength, shoulder stability, core stability, as well as drive my heart rate up is the Farmer’s Walk.
How to perform the exercise
Perform this exercise for 2 to 5 sets, and work your way up to 1 minute. When you can walk around with good form for longer than a minute, it is time to increase the weight.
For all Questions related to Aerobic Training Programs, golf fitness, nutrition, and your mental game email me at [email protected]
Recently, I came across a great article in Golf Magazine regarding the USGA and Chevron partnership to collect and analyze data aimed at improving the “health of the game.” As part of the Eagles for Education initiative, the USGA is using interns to distribute GPS Logger to golfers to help track their position and movement every 5 seconds along the golf course. The information is downloaded and sent out to the USGA Research and Test Center which is located in Far Hills, NJ. The information will help golf courses plan their course layout by identifying issues with start times, course set-ups, and bottlenecks along the course. For golfers, they will be able to understand how their pace-of-play can be affected by walking versus riding and/or playing from different sets of tees.
It seems any golfer can benefit from tracking their own data. Whether you have a GPS unit on not, tracking your movement is irrelevant. Keeping notes on your round: weather, humidity, how you feel, what you ate, club selection, shot selection, and fatigue level – both physically and emotionally – will allow you to look back and identify what you did well, and what you did not do well. Many golfers seem to go right to the “mental game” and believe that a bad round was due to “second guessing themselves.” That could be true, but if you don’t write it down, then you can spend a lot of time just guessing.
At FitGolf, we can help you plan out your round from start to finish: self-screen, warm up, pre-round and shot routine, nutrition, in game adjustments, post –round cool down. We are trained to ask you the right questions to figure out what happened, but it will help us more if you keep this data and bring it with you during your session. Many athletes in other sports track their own data – MLB pitchers keep track of which pitches to use with certain batters, quarterbacks chart plays to see how well they execute, and endurance athletes work off training paces to peak at the right time. Golf incorporates all aspects of training, so there is a lot of things that can affect your game. Reviewing the data will allow you to go back through your round, and see where things may have gone wrong. If you know what you did wrong, you will be able to focusing on correcting this for the next time.
It also allows you to see the things you did well! Knowing what you do well will allow you to rely on your strengths when things get tough. And since you record every round, you’ll have more reason to celebrate when you are successful!
For all Questions related to Aerobic Training Programs, golf fitness, nutrition, and your mental game email me at [email protected]
Spring is FINALLY upon us and over the last couple of months I have been asking our golfers what their goals are for the 2014 golf season. In almost every instance, one of their goals includes distance and power. Some people are looking for an extra 10-20 yards while others are simply trying to delay the effects of aging and maintain the power they already have. As a golf fitness coach, assessing what needs to be done to increase power is not rocket science. I ask myself one, does this golfer have the necessary mobility and flexibility across all of the body’s joints to create power? And two, does this golfer have the necessary strength and stability around those joints to harness the energy flexibility creates? After a long winter of hard training the answer to these questions should be and usually are YES. From here I turn my attention to the golf swing itself. It is great to have the necessary power tools, but if you can’t put the pieces together then all of winter’s hard work goes to waste.
I have been looking closely at our golfers’ swings, and with the help of our technology I have seen that many of our golfers share a power killing flaw. This flaw is a lack of weight shift and pivot of the trail leg. Most amateur golfers are aware that the majority of power comes from the lower body, but don’t necessarily know how to create power without making the swing upper body dominant. The trail leg (the right leg of a right handed golfer) serves as the foundation from which all energy is created in the backswing. I commonly see trail legs that exhibit the “wobbly knee” trait and bodies that sway into the backswing. The key to loading and unloading the trail leg is to keep the leg stable without moving laterally. As previously stated, this requires both mobility and stability of the trail leg’s hip.
Many of our golfers are uncertain when I ask them whether or not they are loading their trail hip. There’s a great swing drill you can use to feel the sensation of a loaded trail hip. In your address, shift 80-90% of your weight to your trail leg with the knee slightly flexed. Now take a slow backswing while maintaining 80-90% of your weight on the trail leg. Make sure your knee does not move or change its angle. You know you are doing this successfully if you are able to make a full backswing without rolling your weight to the outside of the trail foot or the knee “bowing” outside of the foot.
If you can perform this drill successfully, go through AT LEAST 20-30 reps. Doing this will ingrain the loaded feeling in your brain, which will help you successfully load in a regular, complete swing. If you struggle with the drill and feel tight or unstable on your trail leg, you may need some hip stretching, hip stability exercises such as clam shells and side leg lifts, or balance work to improve your ability to load your trail leg.
For any questions on the body, fitness, and how it relates your golf swing, please contact me directly at [email protected] or by phone at 610-940-3835.
When we left off in the Previous Post, we looked at areas to stretch in the golf season. Today we will look at other areas to focus on this winter.
Additional areas to address in our path of increased flexibility is the calves. You would be surprised at the number of individuals that deal with tight calves on a daily basis. A lack of flexibility in the soft tissues can lead to several movement issues (deep squat, deadlift, walking, maintaining posture in the golf swing) and typically leads to a stiffening of the ankle due to the lack of motion. The soft tissues are easier to address than the joint stiffness, so this can be an easy fix if noticed early. To stretch the calves is simple, stand on a step (one at the bottom of the stairs is best), and drop one of your heels off while the other stays on the step. Hold until satisfied. Some variations of this stretch to target different muscles include a straight or bent knee on the leg being stretched. Simply attack the position that is most tight.
Moving up the leg, the large muscles found on the back of your hip bones are important in several athletic movements (deadlift, sprinting, climbing stairs) and are responsible for rotation in the golf swing. To stretch glutes and piriformis, lie on your back with your knees bent. Cross on leg over the other then grab the back of the leg still on the floor and pull it towards your chest. An added touch is to roll to the opposite side of the hip being stretch to increase the intensisty. Hold until satisfied then repeat on the other side.
In these head to toe evaluations area able to point out the specific areas of the body that are in need of attention. When completing the Functional Movement Screen, you gain comparable numbers that should where your right and left sides don’t match up. When opposite sides of the body move differently, it is found that the risk of injury increases when performing physical activity. This information shows you where to start to build a baseline movement corrections and reduce your injury risk.
The Golf Performance Assessment designed by Titleist Performance Institute is geared to target the specific needs of golfers. These things include pelvic control and torso mobility that are needed to perform at high levels on the course. The information gained from this assessment again provides a better understanding of the areas that need to be addressed to create efficient change in performance.
Golf is a sport that’s easy to fall in love with, but every regular golfer knows it can be a real pain, literally. There are numerous golf injuries that can result from a faulty swing, bad biomechanics, overuse, and poor physical conditioning. Statistically proven, the most common amateur golf injury is sustained in the low back region. Although injuries are commonly seen in the joints and discs of the spine, the most common back injury in golf are strains of the muscles and soft tissue surrounding the spine.
There are many different predictors of low back pain. Some predictors include poor joint mobility, shortened muscle lengths, abnormal body composition, and poor pelvic and core stability. Not having the ability to stabilize the body’s core and low back can be very detrimental to spine health and the golf swing. It leads to faulty biomechanics which in turn will lead to faulty swing mechanics. Many amateur golfers mask poor spine stability and weaknesses by deviating away from proper swing technique to achieve the feeling of a full swing. Doing this time and time again, round after round, can be detrimental to the spine and can make golf a debilitating sport to play.
One fitness predictor of low back pain is poor endurance in the side plank position. The side plank is a great exercise to challenge your core and the stabilizers of the lumbar spine. To perform the side plank, start by lying on your left side with your feet on top of each other and your left elbow directly under your left shoulder. From here, make sure that your top ear, shoulder, hip, knee, and ankle are aligned and form a straight line. Once that is determined, slowly lift your hips off the ground until your spine is completely straight and your body is aligned and symmetrical. Keep your top shoulder back by pinching your shoulder blades together. Hold for as long as you can. You know you’re done the set once you can no longer hold your hips up to where you first started, or you begin to rotate the shoulders and torso forward or back.
This exercise is about quality, not quantity! Make sure you can hold for an equal amount of time on both sides. Golfers that suffer from low back pain tend to have a large disparity in endurance time from left side to right (generally a right handed golfer can hold the left side longer). Only do as much on one side as you can do on the other. Record your times and challenge yourself each time you do this exercise by pushing to get a couple of additional seconds. Just remember, quality is the name of this game! Don’t sacrifice form for a couple of extra seconds.
So give the side plank a try to evaluate your core and low back stability. Improvement in this position can relieve pre-existing low back pain, prevent faulty biomechanics that will lead to new pain, and improve the golf swing as a whole.
If you have any questions about the side plank exercise or low back pain in golf please contact me, Jason Rivkin, by email at [email protected] or by phone at 610-940-3835.
Jason Rivkin, ATC, CGFI-FP1
For those weathered golfers, you have heard the cries of the calves either during or after each round. Especially for those who walk the course, carrying a bag of clubs that can rival a jump pack a marine uses when jumping out of a plane. Obviously, if you are looking to get maximum workout during your round, walking the course and carrying your clubs is the ideal scenerio. Understand that added stresses of doubling up activities require doubled time to help recover from each round.
The calves are important when considering swing mechanics. As we swing with speed, the centripetal forces carry our weight away from the body (the established axis), pulling us over our toes. To prevent this action, our body can respond in a number of ways like early extension (hips forward), leaning back (standing up), or staying centered (weight down). Active or tight calves will feed the dysfunction forcing us on our toes can be easily tested by the overhead deep squat. Start with feet shoulder width apart and raise both arms overhead. Keeping the heels down, drop your hips down towards your heels. Did your chest fall forward? Did you go up on your toes? These are just a few characteristics that show up when tight calves are responsible.
A simple way to keep those calves loose is to stretch. Start by standing on the bottom step of the stairs. With one foot solidly on the step, drop the heel of the opposite foot off the to get a stretch with a straight knee. After a minute, bend the knee on the leg being stretched. This bending of the knee targets the deeper muscle groups in the posterior calf. Once you have stretched for a total of two minutes, switch feet and repeat the same cycle on the other foot.
If a step is not accessible, find a tree root on the course, or prop your foot on the tire of the golf cart. Keep the calves inactive to keep the hips away from the ball. This will allow you to maintain a centered balance creating a powerful swing in the process.