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The Lower Body: Focus on three areas for a better backswing

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Your lower body action is important for many reasons within the golf swing. It can influence things like power, attack angle, balance and swing plane, to name a few.

What most people do not know is that there are three areas of in the lower body that you should be mindful of in order for you to gain the maximum efficiency on the backswing. In this article, I would like to explain these areas and why they are so important.

If you look at your lower body and its parts, you can split it up into a few components for the rear leg only:

  • Foot Action
  • Knee Action
  • Hip Action

It’s vital for you to control each of these components in order to store the most potential energy and use it in your downswing. Losing control of one of these actions will cause you to have a “power leak” in your backswing, which will result in your lower body not work correctly during the downswing. Thus if you are having trouble with your forward swing, I bet you can link it back to your lower body actions to the top!

The Setup

Screen Shot 2015-02-09 at 11.58.09 AM

In the photo above, you can see that the right foot, right knee and right hip are all lined up and ready for the backswing to begin. It’s these components that will govern the amount of backswing hip rotation you have and where your weight goes on your right foot to the top. It will also provide a stable platform for your pivot to work from during the transition. If you have a tendency to set up incorrectly — getting these “dots” out of line — you are only asking for trouble.

The Top (GOOD)

Screen Shot 2015-02-09 at 11.57.50 AM

As you get to the top, the body should be “on the dots” once again, within reason, and at this point we are striving to achieve foundational stability. It’s NOT about immobilizing the lower body, because as you can see I am still twisting and turning, displacing weight to the top. These foundational points allow me to load up on the inside of the rear foot and be poised and ready to explode forward with the lower body leading and powering the pivot train through the ball.

The Top (BAD)

Screen Shot 2015-02-09 at 11.57.30 AM

Anytime you slide off these dots, you will tend to see a “bowing” of the right side of your body at the top. This causes the weight to move to the outside of your right foot at the top and reduces the amount of torso lean over your right leg at the top as seen earlier. This will reduce width at the top as well. 

As we know, whenever you slide on the backswing it is much tougher to use the lower body to begin the downswing and thus the shoulders and arms take over and an over-the-top path tends to happen. If you are having trouble starting your downswing from the ground up, I’d venture to say that your lower body work is sloppy to the top. 

How can you work on your lower body issues and control your lower body more effectively to the top? Use my simple foot-in drill with practice swings and you will feel how to better control the lower body during your backswing. From there, try to find the same feeling with your normal right foot position in your full swing.

First, Turn in Your Right Foot at Address

Screen Shot 2015-02-09 at 11.57.16 AM

Then, Take Your Swing to the Top

Screen Shot 2015-02-09 at 11.57.05 AM

You will feel pressure on the inside portion of your right side when you do this drill correctly. This is the feeling you will look for when you return back to normal swings to the top. 

A word of caution: I would not hit balls with this drill, as it tends to put too much pressure on your right knee, but it’s a great drill for you to work on in slow motion during your backswing.

If you can achieve this feeling to the top of your swing, you will be loaded and ready to hit the ball longer than ever before! 

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Tom F. Stickney II is the Director of Instruction and Business Development at Punta Mita, in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico (www.puntamita.com) He is a Golf Magazine Top 100 Teacher, and has been honored as a Golf Digest Best Teacher and a Golf Tips Top-25 Instructor. Tom is also a Trackman University Master/Partner, a distinction held by less than 15 people in the world. Punta Mita is a 1500 acre Golf and Beach Resort located just 45 minuted from Puerto Vallarta on a beautiful peninsula surrounded by the Bay of Banderas on three sides. Amenities include two Nicklaus Signature Golf Courses- with 14 holes directly on the water, a Golf Academy, four private Beach Clubs, a Four Seasons Hotel, a St. Regis Hotel, as well as, multiple private Villas and Homesites available. For more information regarding Punta Mita, golf outings, golf schools and private lessons, please email: tom.stickney@puntamita.com

17 Comments

17 Comments

  1. LY

    Mar 6, 2015 at 1:39 pm

    Many,many years ago I heard Ken Venturi giving a golf lesson and he said that one of the most important swing thoughts for most amateurs was to maintain the flex in the right knee. He said you will see a lot of amateurs straightening out their right knee on the takeaway which changes their spine angle, and causes their head to move up. (if you are a right handed player). He said that if you could maintain the same flex in the right knee throughout your backswing you had a better chance of making solid contact. This is the only swing thought that I use. When someone at my club wants me to look at their swing, the first thing I look at is the right knee. And about 98% of the time they either straighten the right knee or it moves way off the ball to the point that the inside part of their right foot is coming up slightly off of the ground. Naturally when I mention this to them they immediately start hitting the ball better and I look like I really know what I’m talking about!
    This was a great article and I will be forwarding this to a few of my high handicap friends.

  2. Shaun

    Mar 4, 2015 at 7:07 pm

    I have a bad swaying problem and my instructor told me you want to have the feel of turning and looking over your right shoulder at something behind you so I could feel the turn in my torso and hip. It’s helped a great bit and I’m looking forward to trying this as well. Anything to help get rid of this darn swaying. Thanks for the tip Tom.

    • Barry S.

      Mar 4, 2015 at 8:08 pm

      Shaun, I hope you don’t mind me putting something out there for your consideration. Without seeing you swing I would take an educated guess and say the reason you have a bad swaying problem is because you are taking the club back wide along the target line. Watch Sam Snead’s takeaway. He didn’t take the club wide he took it around or what people incorrectly call inside. Would like to add more but I haven’t figured out how to make paragraphs here so let’s just leave it at that.

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qYbiwWi_9k0&feature=youtu.be

      • Shaun

        Mar 4, 2015 at 9:45 pm

        Nail on the head Barry! I don’t mind the input and thanks for it. I’ll have to work on the inside take away and see if that helps me out. I get thru the ball great according to the instructor but I’m losing power & torque from my swaying causing an overlong backswing and reverse pivot. If you anybody else has input I more than welcome it. Thanks again

  3. Jeremy

    Mar 4, 2015 at 12:59 am

    I think a backwards sway—as opposed to a proper hip turn—also puts a lot of strain on your hip, hamstrings, and glute in the back leg. That’s what I’ve been finding after trying to return to full strength after knee surgery. Everything, including my lower back, feels better when I keep my spine straighter and really rotate at the hips instead of swaying my weight backwards.

  4. Speedy

    Mar 3, 2015 at 10:12 pm

    As the old instruction said, swing around the fence post.

  5. tom stickney

    Mar 3, 2015 at 4:47 pm

    Philip– Use your mirror and watch yourself swing to the top…that’s the best drill of all

  6. tom stickney

    Mar 3, 2015 at 4:46 pm

    Mike– check to see if your rear knee is straightening…sounds like a reverse hip shift to me

  7. Mike

    Mar 3, 2015 at 4:08 pm

    Tom – My foot and knee stay on the dots but my hip moves toward the target. The opposite of your example. Any ideas?

  8. Philip

    Mar 3, 2015 at 3:37 pm

    Tom, thank you very much for the information and your time to prepare it.

    I have done similar drills to this one, just to help my body understand the “feel” I am looking for and then allow my body to take control now that it can feel what I am targeting. I now am able to do what you describe in the above video (although I did the “bad” for WAY too long) because I learned to feel it and trust my body to repeat it.

    This winter I was finally able to see the golf swing as a swing and not a method to hit a golf ball. I improved my swing greatly with drills like above and also just making swings in slow motion (with a mirror sometimes) so that I could connect the dots between set-up and the swing. I’ve never learned so much, so fast, with so little effort.

    I am interested in any other drills you have that do not involve hitting a golf ball and focus on paying attention and discovering golf “feels”.

  9. tom stickney

    Mar 3, 2015 at 3:14 pm

    James– 1) that’s an ok way to do it, if you have the flexibility to do so. 2) Moves into your left toe then into your heel for most people during the downswing. No problem sir

  10. tom stickney

    Mar 3, 2015 at 3:12 pm

    Barry– understanding the areas of concern will help those whom are having issues with their backswing. Of course you don’t think about all of these when you swing but it’s nice to understand how it’s all put together

  11. tom stickney

    Mar 3, 2015 at 3:11 pm

    Barry– there are many ways to describe the backswing motion- the one you describe was popularized by Jim McLean.

  12. Barry S.

    Mar 3, 2015 at 2:58 pm

    The BS pivot is a shift and a turn. You step onto your right foot similar to taking a step when walking followed closely by a turn.

    Are you worried about Foot Action, Knee Action and Hip Action or their alignments when you walk? I hope not or it will take you forever just to cross the street.

  13. james

    Mar 3, 2015 at 2:30 pm

    Tom: thanks for the article, as it deals with somethings i have been wondering about. Two question:

    1. I find that weight being placed at the inside of my rear foot restricts my hip turn. I’m okay with that but lately I’ve been hearing lot of pros talk about not restricting the hip. Any comment on this?

    2. Where should the weight be during the downswing and the follow through in regards to the feet? I am currently finding most of the weight being placed at the heel of my lead foot (and causing ankle pain, hence my curiosity) during the transition and finish.

    Thank you for your time in regards to these questions in advance.

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TXG: 8 handicap fairway wood & hybrid fitting

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Finishing the full bag fitting for our Mizuno contest winner by dialing in a fairway wood and hybrid!

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6 reasons why golfers struggle with back pain: Part 2

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This article is co-written with Marnus Marais. Since 2011, Marnus has worked with some of the world’s best players on both the PGA Tour and European Tour, helping them to maintain optimal health and peak physical performance. His current stable of players includes Dustin Johnson, Patrick Cantlay, and Louis Oosthuizen, amongst others.

You can find more information on Marnus and his work at marnusmarais.com

Following on from Part 1 of this article, we examine reasons 4, 5 and 6 for why golfers suffer from low back pain.

Reason 4: Weak Core Muscles

Before we make start making exercise recommendations for this complicated area of the body, it’s worth asking—what is the core exactly? There is considerable debate about this often misunderstood region. Back pain expert Professor Stuart McGill, explains it as follows:

‘The core is composed of the lumbar spine, the muscles of the abdominal wall, the back extensors, and quadratus lumborum. Also included are the multijoint muscles, namely, latissimus dorsi and psoas that pass through the core, linking it to the pelvis, legs, shoulders, and arms. Given the anatomic and biomechanical synergy with the pelvis, the gluteal muscles may also be considered to be essential components as primary power generators’

In a golf context, there is a common myth that the core muscles are our main source of power in the swing. In reality, the main role of the core is to provide stiffness and stable support for force/power transfer from our legs to our upper body

If we can create stiffness and stability in our core, we can help protect our spine and surrounding structures from unnecessary strain whilst also improving swing efficiency—pretty sweet combo!

Due to a combination of perpetual sitting, poor posture and other detrimental lifestyle factors, our cores tend to lose this ability to provide stiffness and stability. We can combat and correct this with a solid core conditioning program. Below are examples of some of our favorite exercises.

Dead Bug with Fitball – the combination of squeezing the fitball whilst extending arm and leg delivers all sorts of great stimulus for the core muscles.

Bird Dog – great for glute, core and back strength

Pallof Press – fantastic anti-rotation exercise. Good for strengthening the core whilst using the ground efficiently

Reason 5 – Not Warming up Properly/Not Warming up at All!

As we’ve explained above, mechanical back pain arises from too much stress and strain placed on the back. During the game of golf, we treat our spines terribly—expecting them to twist, turn and contort with the aim of producing decent golf shots!

If we don’t prepare our bodies for an activity like golf and just go out cold, we significantly increase the chances for strain and stress being placed on the lumbar area.

I’m sure many of you have had the experience of throwing a ball or a stick hard without warming up, and received a nasty sharp pain in your shoulder. Now, if you were to warm up before doing that; stretching your shoulder, making a few practice throws etc, you’d likely avoid strain altogether. Same goes for the low back and the golf swing – without a decent warm-up, there’s every possibility of a strain when trying to rip driver down the first!

By incorporating a warm-up into your pre-golf routine, you can significantly reduce the risk for injury AND help avoid that card wrecking double-double start! As a side bonus, warming up regularly can help your general health, fitness, and wellbeing too.

We know that most amateurs don’t warm up; a study done by Fradkin et. al showed that around 70 percent of amateur golfers seldom warm-up, with only 3.8% reporting warming up on every occasion!

A decent warm isn’t hard and doesn’t have to take ages to complete; research shows that a warm-up of 10-20 minutes is sufficient. In the video below, Marnus gives a thorough guide to a solid warm up sequence.

Reason 6 – Swing Faults

Let’s not forget the golf swing. One of the most common reasons I see golfers struggle with low back pain is that they are unable to “get to their lead side” and “get stuck” on the downswing. This causes the aforementioned excessive side bend and rotation from the low back, which we need to avoid! 

“Getting stuck” on the trail side

Now we aren’t golf coaches and therefore don’t deliver swing advice. However, there are some fundamental movement patterns that most golfers could benefit from practicing. In the videos below, one of our favorite body orientated swing coaches, Richard Woodhouse, is using one of our favorite training tools, the GravityFit TPro, to help teach an efficient movement pattern. The aim is to develop a strong connection between arms and body, using the hips and thorax to rotate, thereby helping to avoid “getting stuck.”

Summary

The absolute best practice for a healthy golfing lower back is working with a golf swing instructor and also a health/fitness professional that understands the body and swing connection. As a team, they would be able to identify and improve your individual swing faults, movement pattern dysfunctions, range of motion deficiencies, muscle weakness, imbalances, and alignment issues.

If you don’t have access to such expertise locally, you may want to check out the online services offered by Marnus and Nick here:

Marnus – https://www.marnusmarais.com

Nick – https://www.golffitpro.net/

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50 Second Fix: Chunking your pitch shots

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Want to fix your chunked pitch shots? Watch this!

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