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3 Essentials to Breaking A Habit

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You’re reading this article because you play golf and have spent various periods of time working on a shot or a part of the swing that you want to improve. You remember when somewhere along the road you hit a rough patch where you weren’t playing as well, and your ball flight was unpredictable. It’s happened to you, it’s happened to me, it’s happened to Tiger Woods.

And to fix the problem, you’ve gone back to the range to figure out what’s going wrong. Maybe you checked out this website for tips, or taken a lesson. And somewhere during that period you figured out the solution and then said, “Eureka! I’ve solved it! Now all I have to do is repeat this over and over until it sticks.”

Kind of.

I know what you’re thinking, “How could that be wrong? Why would repeating the new move be the wrong thing to do if it’s what my swing is missing?” And I understand why you may think this way. Nearly everyone thinks this way and because of this, golfers don’t improve as well or as a quickly as they could be. If you create a habit through repetition, why wouldn’t repetition be the solution to change it?

But how we overcome bad habits isn’t as simple as just repeating the motion in the way we want it to be. The complete answer is complicated and through a lot of scientific evidence over the past 50 years, we know that simply repeating a movement over and over isn’t the full story. But in sticking with the topic here, let’s look solely at what you need to know if you’re trying to break a habit.

A critical element to include in your quest to break a pesky habit is to create a new one that is stronger than the existing one. Officially, there isn’t really such a thing as “breaking a habit,” because a memory of what you learned doesn’t just go away. You can only create a new one that is stronger than the old one. And the old ones are typically stronger than the new ones.

This makes sense if you think about how much easier it is for golfers who learned as a kid. They have great habits that they don’t have to think about anymore. But if you have a bad habit from when you were a kid that you’d like to change in your mid-40s, then it will take some time.

How do you create a new habit to take over the old one? Here are three keys to your success:

  1.  Know when you’re doing it right or not. Find ways to know how the new movement feels so that you can stay alert to your body drifting back to the old ways. You do this by setting up a practice station with implements to give you a signal if you, say, swing too much from the inside. If you feel comfortable, then you are probably doing what you always did. Making changes is UNCOMFORTABLE and it will feel awkward.
  2. Commit to the change. Changing a habit can take a lot of time if you’ve been doing something differently for a long time. For example, you probably tie your shoes without even thinking about it. Well, if you decided to change the way you tie them, you’d have to think pretty hard about what you’re doing while you’re doing it and that can really mess up the movement. If you’re on the course and you’re trying to get that new move on, there’s a good possibility that you will hit some errant shots. But you have to think about it in order to make that change. And if you don’t commit to the change and stick with it, the time it will take to see that improvement will go up. So take the time to make the new movement feel more comfortable.
  3. Practice should be hard. If you simply repeat the movement over and over mindlessly, your brain isn’t really asked to do any work. The deepest and most productive learning occurs when you are asking yourself to create the movement from “scratch.”

The classic study by Morgan and Shea in 1979 asked two groups to perform a task. One group repeated the same movement from the same place, and the other group varied the movement slightly. In practice, the group that repeated the same movement did much better. But afterwards, when tested for retention and transfer, the group that varied up the task far outperformed the other group. Since then, various versions of that same study were repeated to see what happens and each time the same answer comes up: When you adjust your practice slightly (change targets often, limit the number of balls that you hit with the same club, etc.), your brain has to reorganize more often and come up with a motor pattern. And when it has to retrieve that motor pattern from memory, that memory will be strengthened, thus increasing the ability to perform it on command.

As a bonus tip, just because you can perform the movement doesn’t mean you’ve learned it. Truly learning a new movement means that you can do it without too much thought when it counts, on the golf course.

So to be sure that you are really creating the new motor pattern that you want, have a solid plan of attack with drills and practice that give you feedback about whether you’re doing what you’re intending to do. Then commit to it. You will be doing yourself a disservice if you decide to play with your “old swing” and practice with the “new swing.” You have to be all in. And finally, respect the part about it being hard. As the saying goes, you get what you pay for. Make the most of your habit changing practice by following these steps and you will be on your way.

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Trillium Rose is a certified teaching professional and Head Director of Instruction at Woodmont Country Club in Rockville, Maryland. An innovator and life-long learner, her knowledge of teacher effectiveness, mechanics and practice training have proven highly successful. She has improved the games of over 1,000 individuals who rely on her cutting-edge expertise, and honest, straight- forward approach. Her area of expertise is in helping golfers develop their skills as quickly as possible and help them practice efficiently. She is highly skilled at designing and implementing curriculum's that develop golf athletes with targeted practice plans. She was recently honored as the 2017 Middle Atlantic PGA "Teacher of the Year," and awarded a “Best Teacher in State” distinction (ranked #3). Selected as one of “America’s Best Young Teachers” by Golf Digest, Trillium Rose's name has been synonymous with quality practice standards and trusted education.

3 Comments

3 Comments

  1. Snoopy

    Jul 1, 2016 at 4:40 pm

    I had the “luxury” of a cheap local course where I could play until dark after 5pm for $10, and most days I had the course practically to myself. I could play 5 balls at a time if I wanted. So once I got a good feel on the range, I could continue to practice it on a real golf course. I’d encourage everyone to try to find a setup like that, so you can practice as much on a golf hole as you can on the range.

    • Snoopy

      Jul 1, 2016 at 4:43 pm

      The point I forgot to make was that your brain will learn faster when there is a real consequence to your shot.

  2. Stephen Lee

    Jul 1, 2016 at 2:41 pm

    thank you for sharing this with us. one thing that was missing from my practice session was variance in the movement that i was working on. im going to implement this from now on to get the most out of my practice session!

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Instruction

Your Body Is Your Most Important Piece Of Equipment; It’s Time For An Upgrade

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Clubs, balls, shoes, mental training, lessons. Golfers are always searching for the next thing that is going to transform their game. If a product has promise, golfers are like addicts; they must have it… regardless of the price. What’s usually ignored, however, is the most important piece of equipment for all golfers: their body, and how their physical conditioning pertains to golf.

Everything becomes easier by getting in better “golf shape.” You will likely hit the ball farther, have better energy and focus, fewer aches and pains, improved ability to actually implement swing changes and the durability to practice more.

When trying to improve your physical conditioning for golf, it would shortsighted not to mention the following requirements:

  1. Discipline: There will be times you don’t want to train, but should.
  2. Patience: Small, incremental progress adds up to big improvement over time.
  3. A Path: Make sure you use your time and effort efficiently by having a training plan that matches your goals.

If you can adopt these principles, I am confident you will be very happy with the return — even more so than the latest driver, putter or practice aid.

I like to compare having a well functioning body to a painter’s blank canvas. By ensuring you have adequate coordination, motor control, mobility, stability, strength and speed, you have the basic tools necessary for a high-performance golf swing. Of course, you will still need to develop a functional technique and specific skill level that matches your goals. On the flip side, if you are deficient in these areas, you are like a dirty canvas; your options are limited and you will need to make compensations to achieve anything close to the desired outcome. In simpler terms, movements that are universally desirable in the golf swing may be very difficult or impossible for you based on your current physical state.

Earlier, I mentioned the term “appropriate training,” and now I am going to discuss one of the ways to identify what this means for you as a golfer trying to use physical training to support a better golf game. The TPI (Titleist Performance Institute) Movement Screen is a great start for everyone. It is a combination of 16 exercises that are used to assess your current movement capabilities, identify limitations and provide you with your “Body-Swing” connection. The “Body-Swing” connection is a term coined by TPI that illustrates the link between physical deficiencies and potential swing tendencies based on its “Big 12” model. The Big 12 swing characteristics that TPI has identified are as follows:

  1. S-Posture
  2. C-Posture
  3. Loss of Posture
  4. Flat Shoulder Plane
  5. Early Extension
  6. Over The Top
  7. Sway
  8. Slide
  9. Hanging Back
  10. Reverse Spine Angle
  11. Casting
  12. Chicken Winging

It’s important to note these as tendencies rather than flaws, as great ball strikers have demonstrated some of them. When done excessively, they make high functioning swings more difficult and may make potential injury more likely. Rather than going through all 16 screening exercises (which would be a very long read), I have selected five that I feel provide a lot of useful information. They can often broadly differentiate the playing level of golfers.

1. Static Setup Posture

There is a lot of debate in golf instruction about what is the correct way to assume posture for the golf swing. Some prefer more rounded shoulders akin to what was common in years gone by: Jack and Arnie being good examples. Others prefer a more extended thoracic spine (less curved upper back): Rory McIlroy and Adam Scott are good examples. I’m not a golf instructor and clearly both types can hit great golf shots. I am more concerned with the lumbar spine (the lower back, which doesn’t seem to get as much attention when the setup is being discussed).

Note the difference between the spinal curvatures of Jack and Rory. I’m OK with either as long as the lower back is in a biomechanically sound position (explained in video).

An overly extended or arched lower back (which I demonstrate in the video) creates too large a space between the alignment rod and my lower back. This is a common issue I see, and it can lead to a lack of pelvis rotation, a lack of power due to the inability to effectively use the glutes and abdominal muscles and lower back discomfort. Cueing a slight posterior tilt (tucking the tailbone underneath you) often makes a noticeable difference in pelvis mobility, power, and comfort.

 2. Pelvic Rotation

Pelvic rotation is essential for X-factor stretch, the ability to increase the amount of separation between the pelvis and torso during transition (moving from the backswing into the downswing). This is often referred to as starting the downswing with the lower body/hips (while the torso is still rotating away from the target or is paused at the end of the backswing). It is critical for effective sequencing and power production. Increasing the separation between your pelvis and torso on the downswing increases what is known as the “stretch-shortening cycle” of your trunk and torso muscles, which is like adding more stretch to an elastic band and then releasing it. If you cannot separate pelvic rotation and torso rotation, it will be extremely difficult to be a good golfer.

In the video below, watch how Rickie Fowler’s pelvis rotates toward the target independently of his torso. This increases the elastic energy stored in his muscles and tendons, allowing for big power production.

 3. Lower Quarter Rotation

The Lower Quarter Rotation Test shares some similarities to the Pelvic Rotation Test, but one key difference is that it doesn’t require nearly as much motor control. Many people fail the pelvic rotation test not because of a mobility limitation, but because they can’t control the different segments of the their body and perform the action they want (motor control issue). The Lower Quarter Rotation Test, on the other hand, does not require anywhere near as much control and therefore looks more directly at the internal and external rotation mobility of the lower body. People who struggle with this test are more likely to sway, slide and have reverse spine angle.

DJ Top of backswing.jpg

I’m confident Dustin Johnson would do OK on the Lower Quarter Rotation test. Look at how well he can turn into his right hip.

 4. Seated Thoracic Rotation

This one usually resonates with golfers, as “getting a full shoulder turn” is something that golf media and players like to talk to about regularly. I think most people understand the concept of a sufficient shoulder turn being important for creating power. Restricted thoracic spine rotation can stem from a few different causes. A common one is excessive thoracic flexion (rounder upper back). To test this for yourself: 1) try the test in the video hunched over and 2) with your spine as long as possible. You should notice you can rotate farther when you sit extended.

5. 90/90 External Shoulder Rotation  

Many popular golf instruction pages on social media talk about the importance of shallowing the shaft in transition and trail arm external shoulder rotation. I understand the reasoning for this in terms of swing technique, but something that needs to be taken into consideration is whether golfers actually have the ability to externally rotate their shoulders. This is often not the case. Two interesting trends I have noticed with golfers and external shoulder rotation:

  1. A larger percentage of U.S. golfers compared to Irish golfers (the two countries I have worked in) tend to have much more trail arm external rotation available. This is mainly due to throwing baseballs and footballs in their youth, which doesn’t happen in Ireland.
  2. Shoulder external rotation, shoulder flexion, and thoracic extension really seem to reduce as golfers get older compared to other movements. Please take note of this and put some exercises into your routine that promote mobility and stability in the thoracic spine and scapula, as these are the foundation for sound shoulder mechanics. Thoracic extensions on a foam roller, relaxed hanging from a pull-up bar and wall slides with external rotation are some exercises I like to use.
MLB: St. Louis Cardinals at Toronto Blue Jays

I think this pitcher would have enough external shoulder rotation in his golf swing.

I hope this article gave you some more understanding of how learning about your body and then working on its limitations might be beneficial for your golf game. If you have questions about the TPI Movement Screen or are interested in an online evaluation, please feel free to e-mail me.

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Let’s Talk Gear: Frequency and Shaft CPM

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When it comes to fine tuning a golf shaft and matching clubs within a set, frequency and CPM play a critical role in build quality and making sure what you were fit for is what gets built for you.

This video explains the purpose of a frequency machine, as well as how the information it gives us relates to both building and fitting your clubs.

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How to Deliver the Club Better With Your Trail Arm

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The vast majority of golfers want to be consistent. The reality is that they are… the consistency they have just doesn’t produce the outcome they want.

In this video, I share a simple drill that will improve the way you deliver the club with your trail arm and give you a more consistent delivery from the inside to promote more consistent outcomes.

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