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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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Instruction

What you can learn from the rearview camera angle

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We often analyze the golf swing from the face-on view or down-the-line camera angle. However, we can also learn how the body moves in the swing from the rearview or backside view.

When seeing the swing from the rearview, we can easily see how the glutes work. The trail glute actually moves back and around in the backswing. This means the glute moves towards the target or towards the lead heel. Note the trail glute start point and endpoint at the top of the backswing.

To some, this may seem like it would cause a reverse weight shift. However, this glute movement can enable the upper body to get loaded behind the ball. This is where understanding the difference between pressure, and weight is critical (see: “Pressure and Weight”).

This also enhances the shape of the body in the backswing. From the rear angle, I prefer to have players with a tuck to their body in their trail side, a sign of no left-side bend.

This puts the body and trail arm into a “throwing position”, a dynamic backswing position. Note how the trailing arm has folded with the elbow pointing down. This is a sign the trailing arm moved in an efficient sequence to the top of the backswing.

Next time you throw your swing on video, take a look at the rearview camera angle. From this new angle, you may find a swing fault or matchup needed in your golf swing to produce your desired ball flight.

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Instruction

How to stop 3-putting and start making putts

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When we are 3-putting we are ‘stuck in the box’. This means that when we are standing over the putt the second before we make our stroke everything happens to ‘go downhill.’ When this happens, depending on your playing level, things can become a bit erratic on the putting surface.

When a 3 putt happens, it is typically because you failed to do something before you made your stroke. The large majority of my 3 putts happen when I am not completely SOLD on the line of my putt, aka not committed. Questioning anything over the ball will lead to 3 putts.

Here is a breakdown/checklist on how to approach the green and get your ball in the cup without hesitation.

1. It starts with the approach shot into the green and the decision of direction you make to enter the hole. Scan the entire green with your eyes on the walk-up. Left to right and right to left. Look for a few seconds before you step onto the putting surface. This helps determine the high side and the low side, or if the green is relatively flat. Don’t be picky, just look and make a decision.

2. Once you get to the ball, mark it. Take 3 steps behind your ball mark. Now you must pick a line… Left, Center, or Right of the cup. (Skip step 3 if you know the line) It should take seconds but for those that are not sure it will take longer. Understand that every putt has a statistical level of difficulty. So to increase the odds, players must avoid putting in the unsure mind, and take the time to figure out a line. I also find that people who are 3 putting are overly confident and just not committed aka too quick to putt.

3. To commit, you must find the angle of entry into the cup. Walk up to the hole and look at the cup. How is it cut? Determine if it is cut flat or on a slope angle. This will help you see the break if you are having a hard time. Then determine how much break to play. Cut the hole into 4 quarters with your eyes standing right next to it. Ask yourself, which quarter of the cup does the ball need to enter to make the putt go in the hole?

I encourage using the phrases ‘in the hole’ or ‘to the hole’ as great reinforcement and end thoughts before stroking the ball. I personally visualize a dial on the cup. When my eyes scan the edges, I see tick marks of a clock or a masterlock – I see the dial pop open right when I pick the entry quadrant/tick mark because I cracked the code.

Remember, the most important parts of the putt are: 1.) Where it starts and 2. ) Where it ends.

4. To secure the line, pick something out as the apex of the putt on the walk back to the mark. Stand square behind the ball mark and the line you have chosen.

5. To further secure the line, place your ball down and step behind it to view the line from behind the ball. Don’t pick up the ball mark until you have looked from behind. When you look, you need to scan the line from the ball to the cup with your eyes. While you are scanning, you can make adjustments to the line – left, right or center. Now, on the walk into the box, pickup the mark. This seals the deal on the line. Square your putter head to the ball, with feet together, on the intended line.

6. To make the putt, look at the apex and then the cup while taking your stance and making practice strokes to calibrate and gauge how far back and through the stroke needs to be.

7. To prove the level of commitment, step up to the ball and look down the intended line to the apex back to the cup and then back to the apex down to your ball. As soon as you look down at the ball, never look up again. Complete one entire stroke. A good visual for a putting stroke is a battery percentage and comparing your ‘complete stroke’ to the percentage of battery in the bar.

8. Look over your shoulder once your putter has completed the stroke, i.e. listen for the ball to go in and then look up!

If you find a way that works, remember it, and use it!

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Instruction

Golf 101: Why do I chunk it?

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Whether you are a beginner, 10 handicaps, or Rory McIlroy, no one player is immune to the dreaded chunk. How many times have you hit a great drive, breathing down the flag from your favorite yardage and laid the holy sod over one? It’s awful and can be a total rally killer.

So what causes it? It could be several things, for some players, it could be a steep angle of attack, others, early extension and an early bottoming out and sometimes you’ve just had too many Coors Lights and the ground was closer than your eyes told you…been there.

This is Golf 101—let’s make it real simple and find one or two ways that a new golfer can self diagnose and treat themselves on the fly.

THE MAIN CAUSE

With beginners I have noticed there are two main things that cause the dreaded chunk:

  1. Players stand too close to the ball and have no way to get outta the way on the way down. This also really helps to hit Chunk’s skinny cousin: Skull.
  2. No rotation in any form causing a steep angle of attack. You’ve seen this, arms go back, the body stays static, the club comes back down and sticks a foot in the ground.

SO HOW DO I FIX MYSELF?

Without doing all-out brain surgery, here are two simple things you can do on the course (or the range) to get that strike behind the ball and not behind your trail foot.

This is what I was taught when I was a kid and it worked for years.

  1. Make baseball swings: Put the club up and in front of your body and make horizontal swings paying close attention to accelerating on the way through. After a few start to bend at the hips down and down until you are in the address position. This not only gives your body the sensation of turning but reorientates you to exactly where the bottom of your arc is.
  2. Drive a nail into the back of the ball: This was a cure-all for me. Whether I had the shanks, chunks, skulls, etc, focusing on putting the clubhead into the back of that nail seemed to give me a mental picture that just worked. When you are hammering a nail into a wall. you focus on the back of that nail and for the most part, hit it flush 9 outta 10 times. Not sure if its a Jedi mind trick or a real thing, but it has gotten me outta more pickles than I care to admit.

As you get better, the reason for the chunk may change, but regardless of my skill level, these two drills got me out of it faster than anything all while helping encourage better fundamentals. Nothing wrong with that.

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