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Changing neural pathways to make a swing change

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I’ll bet that you can’t ride the bicycle in the video clip below. You’re probably thinking, “Come on, it’s a bike. How hard can it be?”

Watch the video clip below, and then read on.

Every time you pick up a golf magazine, take a lesson, or get a swing tip from a buddy you probably say to yourself:

[quote_box_center]“How hard can it be to add this little gem of golf swing magic? I can’t wait to go to the range and work it in before my weekend game.”[/quote_box_center]

The intrigue of the game of golf is that the golf swing should be very much like riding a bike. Once you learn to ride one type, you can easily adapt your skill set and ride a wide range of bikes: single-speed, 10-speed, mountain bikes, motor bikes, etc. Most golfers apply this same mindset to swing changes. Once they have the “basics” of the swing down, they think that making changes to it might require a little more thought, but in the end they will be very quickly doable. As the video shows, “very quickly doable” becomes a relative phrase.

The brain is an amazing super computer, capable of directing and coordinating complex motor and mental skills. Once a movement pathway becomes embedded into it, however, it becomes very set in its ways. It not only took Destin eight months to learn to ride the backward bike; he also struggled to recreate the neural pathway that allowed him to properly ride a regular bike, which he had done successfully for decades.

The bottom line here, as it relates to the golf swing, is that meaningful and lasting swing changes and game improvement are not going to happen by getting to the range once a week for an hour, and then teeing it up in your Saturday round. Sorry, it’s just not going to happen, just as none of the “bike riders” in the video could get on the very normal-looking bike and successfully ride it without days or even weeks of practice.

Tom-Duke-Bike-vs-Swing

It took Destin working every day for 8 months, 5-10 minutes a day, to finally reprogram his neural pathways to successfully ride the backward bike. The golf swing has many similarities to riding a bike — two arms performing two different movements, two legs performing two different movements, core balance and weight shift requirements, timing and sequence requirements, hand eye coordination, etc.

Learning a new swing, or maintaining a successful one, requires what I call a constant approach…. especially the older we get. The more consistent the refreshening process, the less likely you will be to revert back to your old ways. If you took the old highway for 30 years, you are going to have to constantly remind yourself after starting your car to make sure you take the turn for the new bypass. And even despite this conscious awareness of trying to take the new route, it’s amazing how often we find ourselves still getting on the old highway.

So yes, this is why the game of golf is so frustrating. But here are a few things to think about.

First, it is much easier to engrain a movement pattern if it’s natural, or in accordance with the laws of nature. The point here is that the more things we can “let” happen in the golf swing, instead of trying to make them happen, the less tension and compensations are required. It will also be easier to develop and consistently use these new neural pathways.

Second, we know we can considerably speed up the process of creating a new neural pathway if we are constantly refreshing the correct movement. Ten minutes a day verses 1 hour a week will yield faster results. Note that I said “correct movement,” not “correct positions.” Without getting too deep into the rabbit hole of neuroscience, the Holonomic brain theory supports that people learn motor skills not by linking a progression of positions together like line-by-line computer code, but instead by storing the entire movement as a neural 3-D hologram. An example is children who learn to throw their first rock not by being taught a progression of, say, 1,000 positions, but instead by watching a friend or sibling simply perform the motion, storing that entire movement memory, and then recalling it when interested in performing it.

As it pertains to the golf swing, this theory supports that not only is performing repetitions of a new movement a key in learning it, but to both feel and see the movement will only make your swing hologram more vivid.

I often ask students, “Do you have a perfectly clear image in your mind of what your golf swing looks like?” Very rarely do I get a prompt reply in the affirmative.

We have all had the experience where we go to the range and machine gun through hundreds of balls, followed up by a trunk slam and a “what in the heck just happened?” moment. Not only could you not see yourself, but in the haze of firing ball after ball you most likely only felt and were aware of your brewing frustration. If you don’t have a vivid image and feel for your movements, what are you expected to recall when you hit the start button on your golf swing?

A great way to increase your see and feel awareness, as well as to take a more “constant approach” to improve your golf swing (or maintain good form) is to incorporate no-ball mirror training into your regular practice routine. Positioning two standing mirrors in a corner that will let you see your movements. By removing the golf ball from the equation, you will instantly see how much ball-bound tension you have, as well be able to better focus on seeing and feeling your movements. Eyes-open, slow-motion swings will increase your visual awareness, and eyes-closed swings will further enhance what you are feeling.

Time and schedule conflicts that make it tough for many golfers to get to the range should no longer solely determine success, or lack thereof, on the golf course. Daily movement memory, no-ball training works in the convenience of your home, even for 5 or 10 minutes a day, will more quickly take the training wheels off the swing movements you are interested in performing.

For more information on these and other no-ball swing training routines, check out windandsling.com.

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Tom Duke is the Founder of Wind and Sling Golf Swing (WindandSling.com) and The Original Golf Company, and developer of the No-Roll Release™ Swing Trainer. He is a swing coach and long drive specialist who has trained extensively under the tutelage of Mike Dunaway, who many consider the greatest driver of the golf ball in history. Duke holds a Masters in Business Administration from George Mason University, and is certified by the internationally recognized AO Foundation for Intraoperative Spine and Orthopedics. He earned Collegiate All-America, is an Ironman Triathlete USA, and a proud benefactor to the St. Judes' Children's Hospital.

15 Comments

15 Comments

  1. Pingback: The Brain Game. » Golf in Portugal

  2. Pingback: July 2015 Happenings From John & Susan | John T Fitness

  3. mikee

    Jul 2, 2015 at 7:00 am

    There is excellent scientific research confirming this theory

  4. jargon

    Jul 1, 2015 at 7:12 pm

    I’ve been working with this technique for 2 years now …. it’s been difficult if not impossible to change my swing . it’s so myelinated in ! I’ve been using the mirrors now with out the distraction of the golf ball and am making slow progress with help from my swing coach Lucas Wald .

  5. Kyle

    Jul 1, 2015 at 2:23 pm

    Great article.

  6. Gareth

    Jun 29, 2015 at 3:06 am

    Great Article Tom

  7. John

    Jun 28, 2015 at 9:46 pm

    Tremendous article.

  8. Jim

    Jun 26, 2015 at 6:23 pm

    Great article thanks Tom!

  9. David

    Jun 26, 2015 at 8:38 am

    Great article. This runs parallel to The Talent Code by Daniel Coyle, in talking about the programming of myelin to make consistent movements.

  10. Derek Wall

    Jun 26, 2015 at 7:06 am

    Google “IKKOS” for some pretty amazing research and products regarding altering neural pathways “permanently.” The product was developed by a high level swim coach, but Sean is refining it for use in other sports… golf included.

    • Tom Duke

      Jun 26, 2015 at 10:58 am

      Hey Derek…thanks for your interest…already have reached out to the Ikkos team!

  11. other paul

    Jun 25, 2015 at 11:33 pm

    Very interesting. But I have found it not that difficult to make changes when they are drastic. 2 weeks ago I had never hit a ball over 280 on course without the help of wind. Today with a new swing I started on Saturday I hit 315 (won a beer for it to). And I haven’t had issues with reverting to an old swing. More like forgetting to consciously add features if anything.

  12. Alex

    Jun 25, 2015 at 4:16 pm

    Can’t I have my brain changed?

  13. Adam

    Jun 25, 2015 at 2:25 pm

    this was an incredibly interesting read.
    Very enlightening! Makes me think about where else in life this applies…

  14. Cons

    Jun 25, 2015 at 2:01 pm

    Solid article.

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The important lessons you can learn from Peter Senior’s golf swing

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He may not be a household name in the United States, but Australia’s Peter Senior has a swing for the ages. At 60 years old, Senior has 34 worldwide professional wins including the 2015 Australian Masters beating a competitive field with several top-ranked players in the world. Turning professional in 1978, his career has spanned over 40 years.

Senior’s game and swing have stood the test of time, and the longevity of his career should be recognized. Senior formerly worked with Australian instructor Gary Edwin, and the structure to this swing taught to Senior paved the way for a future of consistent, high-quality professional golf.

Having a great golf swing isn’t the only key to becoming a great golfer, one must learn to play the game. However, you can learn a lot from Senior’s swing.

The origin to Senior’s swing lies in his set-up. Senior sets up in what I call his “hitting angles” or a position that mirrors impact.

From this position, Senior is able to simply keep these angles he established at address throughout the swing. This is why the set-up is so critical. The further he deviates from these “hitting angles”, the more he will have to find that impact position with his body in the backswing and downswing. In other words, more movement. The goal of his backswing will be to maintain these original starting angles.

From the picture, Senior has maintained his original body shape that he established at address. From this position, it will be much easier and repeatable to return the club to impact.

Note how his impact position now mirrors his original address position. All his original angles were maintained with a slight bump of the body towards the target. From impact, he can simply fold up his arms as his right side of his body rotates around his left side, keeping the clubface square to the body.

This standing tall finish position with the head following the torso is much easier on the back. His body has come forward and around beautifully, covering the ball for a proper strike.

The beauty of Senior’s swing lies in its simplicity. The changes Senior made to his swing can apply to anyone. Let’s look at two simple drills to make your swing more efficient and powerful.

“To a large extent, my backswing is a product of my set-up position” – Tiger Woods, Golf Digest 2020

To get into these impact angles simply practice pushing into an impact bag with the head and shaft of the club. Make sure your trail arm is tucked, lowering the trail shoulder as you pressure the bag.

To get the feeling of the proper coil from this set-up position, grab an impact bag and hold the bag in front of you.

From here, swing the bag around you with your arms keeping the top of the bag level. You will feel the trail side of your body move back and the lead side move out, coiling around your spine angle.

The trail glute will also move back and around with this drill, a key move the great Ben Hogan used to pivot his body. To develop an efficient swing and a long, injury-free career, take note of Peter Senior’s key moves.

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Fix early extension: 3 exercises to get your a** in gear

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It’s pretty common knowledge that “early extension” is a problem for golfers everywhere, but how does it affect your body and your game? And what can you do to fix it?

First, let’s look at early extension in its most simple form as a physical issue rather than a technical issue.

During the swing, we are asking our body to not only create force, but also resist a number of different forces created by the aggressive rotational pattern we call a golf swing. The problem comes down to each player’s unique dysfunction which will likely include bad posture, weak glutes or a locked out thoracic spine for example.

So when we then ask the body to rotate, maintain spine angle, get the left arm higher, pressure the ground, turn our hips to the target (to name a few) a lot of mobility, strength and efficiency are required to do all of this well.

And not everyone, well actually very few of us, has the full capability to do all of this optimally during the swing. The modern lifestyle has a lot to do with it, but so does physiology and it has been shown that tour players as well as everyday golfers suffer from varying levels of dysfunction but can ultimately get by relative to learned patterns and skill development.

But for the majority of players early extension leads to one or more of the following swing faults:

  • Loss of spine angle/posture. During the swing, a player will ‘stand up’ coming out of their original and desired spine angle, this alters the path and the plane of the club.
  • “Humping” the ball. Johnny Wunder’s preferred term for the forward and undesirable movement of the lower body closer to the ball.

Lack of rotation during the swing occurs due to the shift in the center of gravity caused by the loss of posture as your body does its best to just stay upright at all.

Ultimately, early extension leaves us “stuck” with the club too far behind us and nowhere to go—cue massive high push fade or slice going two fairways over (we’ve all been there) or a flippy hook as your body backs up and your hands do whatever they can to square it up.

Not only is this not a good thing if you want to hit a fairway, it’s also a really bad way to treat your body in general.

As a general rule, your body works as a system to create stability and mobility simultaneously allowing us to move, create force, etc. When we can’t maintain a stable core and spinal position or force is being transferred to an area that shouldn’t be dealing with it, we get issues. Likely, this starts with discomfort, possibly leading to prolonged pain, and eventually injury.

The body has a whole lot to deal with when you play golf, so it’s a good idea to start putting in the work to help it out. Not only will you reduce your risk of injury, but you’ll also likely play better too!

So we have three simple exercises for you here that you can do at home, or anywhere else, that will help you with the following elements

  • Posture
  • Core strength
  • Glute function
  • Thoracic mobility
  • Asymmetrical balance
  • Ground force development

#1: Forward lunge with rotation

  1. Standing tall, core engaged with a club in front of your chest, take a reasonable step forward.
  2. Stabilize your lead knee over your front foot and allow your trail knee to move down towards the ground, trying to keep it just above the surface.
  3. Maintaining your spine angle, rotate OVER your lead leg (chest faces the lead side) with the club at arm’s length in front of your torso keeping your eyes facing straight forwards.
  4. Rotate back to center, again with great control, and then step back to your original standing position.
  5. Repeat on other leg.

#2: Bird dog

  1. Get down on all fours again focusing on a quality, neutral spine position.
  2. Extend your left arm forward and your right leg backward.
  3. Control your breathing and core control throughout as we test balance, stability and core activation.
  4. Hold briefly at the top of each rep and return to start position.
  5. Repeat with right arm and left leg, alternating each rep.
  6. If this is difficult, start by working arms and legs individually, only life 1 arm OR 1 leg at a time but still work around the whole body.

#3: Jumping squat

  1. Start with feet shoulder-width apart, eyes fixed forward.
  2. Engage your squat by sending your knees forwards and out to create pressure and torque, whilst sending your hips down and back.
  3. Squat down as far as possible whilst maintaining a neutral spine, active core and heels on the ground.
  4. As you naturally come out of the squat, push the ground away using your whole foot, creating as much speed and force as possible as you jump in the air.
  5. Land with excellent control and deceleration, reset and repeat.

Got 10 minutes? Sample workout

3 Rounds

  1. 10 Forward Lunge with Rotation (5 each leg)
  2. 10 Bird Dog (5 Each side or 5 each limb if working individually)
  3. 5 Jumping Squats
  4. 1 Minute Rest

If you can take the time to make this a part of your routine, even just two or three times per week, you will start to see benefits all round!

It would also be a perfect pre-game warm-up!

And one thing you can do technically? Flare your lead foot to the target at address. A huge majority of players already do this and with good reason. You don’t have to alter your alignment, rather keep the heel in its fixed position but point your toes more to the target. This will basically give you a free 20 or 30 degrees additional lead hip rotation with no real side-effects. Good deal.

This is a great place to start when trying to get rid of the dreaded early extension, and if you commit to implementing these simple changes you can play way better golf and at least as importantly, feel great doing it.

 

To take your golf performance to new levels with fitness, nutrition, recovery, and technical work, check out everything we do on any of the following platforms.

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Clement: Chicken wing? Just swing like Nicklaus or Woods!

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Your lack of width in the swing can come from a few sources that will surprise you. Advice like “keep your head down and still” and “keep your lower body stable” are absolutely, positively golf swing killers and will snuff out any possibility for you to create effortless speed and accurate width as well as cancel any follow-through you are struggling so hard to achieve! This video will help you easily remove the shackles that hold your potential back and free both your body and mind to bring the majesty into your golf action.

There’s no need to fix what isn’t broken!

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