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Your pelvis is the key to more distance

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The golf product industry was built selling products that help you gain distance, and being fit for the right equipment can help you gain distance. Despite this, I routinely see golfers who have been fit for clubs still lacking one thing that can help them with distance: pelvic control.

The pelvis is the key to more distance. It is also the key to improved lower back health and better posture, too, along with the distance and power that all golfers crave. One thing I’ve never heard from a golfer is, “I want to hit the ball 20 yards less; I just hit it too far.” From tour players to long drive competitors to amateur golfers, distance is king, and more can be unlocked by ensuring the pelvis is working properly.

Our pelvis is the connection between our upper and lower body; it’s the vehicle for weight and power transfer throughout the golf swing. There are many muscles that affect movement and positioning of the pelvis, but the most important place to start is with neutral positioning.

Most people spend the majority their day sitting. Let’s paint a quick picture: wake up, shower, sit during breakfast, commute to work sitting 20-30 minutes, sit at your desk for 7-8 hours, commute home sitting, eat dinner sitting, watch television sitting and go back to sleep. For those of you who train at a gym, think of how many exercises do you perform where you are sitting — probably most of them. Just to prove a point, you are mostly likely sitting while reading this article. We do a lot of sitting as a society.

Sitting promotes prolonged pelvic positioning that places our pelvis in a backward-tilted position. This promotes tight hamstrings, back and upper thigh muscles, as well as weak buttock and abdominal muscles. Prolonged sitting is robbing you of distance on the golf course. So I guess the answer is more standing, right? I wish it were that simple. Standing incorrectly can cause similar problems.

Before we go further, let’s discuss some basic anatomy of the pelvis and talk about what it does. The pelvis does three basic things.

  1. Tilt
  2. Side Bend 
  3. Rotate

Each motion affects the other. If there is too much or too little tilt, you have difficulty rotating. If you have too much side bend you have difficulty with tilting, etc. The goal is to find a neutral position. 

Pelvic tilt

Anterior (forward), Neutral and Posterior (backward) pelvic tilt.

Your neutral pelvic position is defined simply as the middle between forward tilt and backward tilt. Here’s you how to find neutral.

Sit in your chair with your feet on the ground. First, we should have some awareness of where you currently are. Is your pelvis tilted forward or backward? Imagine you’re wearing a large belt buckle; is it tilted closer to your belly or more toward the floor? Awareness of where we are is an important first step. Now let’s find the middle of our motion, or our neutral position.

Our cadence and order for movement to find neutral is

  1. Arch your back.
  2. Flatten your back.
  3. Arch your back.
  4. Flatten half way.

I will now take you through finding neutral in sitting.

Arch your back or belt buckle so it tilts toward the floor. Now flatten or round your back.  This is the same motion we do when we relax sitting into a couch. Then arch your back again and flatten your back half way. The position you are in is your neutral position (keep in mind that it’s different for everybody).

This neutral position is the key to balance, power and most importantly distance in the golf swing. It sets you up to be able to load into your backswing and transfer power and weight into your lead leg. 

Finding Pelvic Neutral (Seated)

PelvisArticlejpg

Finding neutral spine in sitting.

Most golfers are not in a neutral pelvic position when they address the golf ball. There are two common pelvis faults that you’ve probably heard of that plague most golfers: S-posture and C-posture. 

S-posture is a setup position that can lead to lower back pain, balance issues and inconsistencies in our swing. C-posture can lead to similar issues, but most important to us as golfers is both postures are robbing us of distance. 

Finding Pelvic Neutral (Standing)

pelvicpostursjpg

Pelvic tilt and affect on spine posture.

Our brain is in protection mode at all times. If you are set up in either S- or C-posture and are risking a possible injury, your brain will decrease your muscle force output. This means you are working at a decreased capacity when you swing the club. Proper setup with your pelvis when you address the ball is vital for setting the foundation to a fast and stable swing. Trying to hit a golf ball from an improper pelvic position at address is like trying to fire a cannon from a canoe. You will have to get it “just right” to get any distance. 

Finding and maintaining this neutral pelvis position can be achieved by spending more time in neutral and exercising there as well. The first step starts with finding neutral, as explained earlier, and supporting it while you are sitting at work and home. To train neutral you will first start by lying on your back with your knees bent up.

Place your hands on your buttock muscles and squeeze your buttock muscles as hard as you can. We are using your hands to measure how hard you are squeezing and if your right and left buttock are squeezing equally. You should feel a strong contraction when you tighten your buttock muscles. If your buttock muscles are not working properly, you may experience tightness in your hamstrings or abdominals. This means your buttock muscles are probably not working to full capacity or are inhibited. If you get a good buttock squeeze on both sides, try to squeeze one buttock at a time. You should be able to tight one buttock muscle with the opposite side relaxed. If these are easy, then your next move is to lift your hips in the air and perform a bridge. 

While your hips are in the air, straighten one leg out. With your leg straight, can you keep your pelvis level? If you experience any hamstring cramping, lower back tightening or cannot maintain a level pelvis, your buttock muscles are not working properly.

Your buttock muscles tilt your pelvis backward. This is important because when standing in golf posture your pelvis is already tilted forward so your buttock muscles need to be working to stop the pelvis from tilting too far forward. As you rotate your pelvis into your backswing your tilt decreases, which is controlled by your buttock muscles. If your buttock muscles are not stabilizing properly, you will not be able to control your pelvis and will be unable to transfer weight properly from your lower body to your upper body.  Being unable to control the stability of your pelvis will result in a loss in distance and inconsistencies with your swing.

If your buttock is contracting properly, we need to challenge you in different positions.  Standing up, can you tilt your pelvis forward or backward? Now get into a golf posture as if you have a longer iron, cross your arms and rest them on your chest and try to tilt your pelvis forward and backward. We will use the same cadence as before, arch your back, flatten your back, arch your back and flatten half way. This is your neutral position in golf posture. 

Beginning your swing in a neutral pelvic position is the key to more distance. As you flatten your back or rotate your pelvis backward you may experience vibrations in your pelvis. This can be alarming to some people, as it seems to happen involuntarily without your control. These vibrations have been commonly called “shake and bake.” If this shake and bake happens it is because your brain is having trouble coordinating the muscle contractions that cause your pelvis to tilt. This lack of coordination performing your pelvic tilt will affect your ability to smoothly use your pelvis during your golf swing. 

Your neutral position is individual to you and is your key to distance. Practice makes permanent, so we now need to train this position in standing. Our goal is to maintain a neutral pelvis while we squat, push, pull, throw and carry things. And if you can do that, there’s a good chance it will translate into more power on the golf course. 

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Dr. Jim Alberry is the owner of Functional Performance Physical Therapy, P.C located in Syosset, NY. He has a Doctor of Physical Therapy Degree from the University at Buffalo, where he did his undergraduate work in exercise science. Dr. Alberry is a level 3 certified medical professional by the Titleist Performance Institute where he also is an assistant instructor with their Level 1 certification. Jim is a consultant for several PGA professionals, strength and conditioning coaches and is a guest lecturer at local universities. He has worked with the PGA Tour, LPGA Tour and Symetra Tour providing medical coverage. Dr. Alberry blends the worlds of rehab and fitness and his specialization is in optimizing human movement and improving an athlete’s performance. Daily he helps golfers move better, feel better and play better.

7 Comments

7 Comments

  1. Bb1

    Apr 6, 2017 at 5:36 am

    Thanks Jim. Appreciate it.

  2. User

    Mar 30, 2017 at 11:24 pm

    Need to build a stronger pelvis so I can be better at Golf… and in bed

  3. Dill Pickelson

    Mar 30, 2017 at 11:18 pm

    hugely important topic. thank you.

  4. Bb1

    Mar 30, 2017 at 7:33 pm

    What commonly causes players to lose their posture and ‘stand up’ in their backswing or downswing from a physiological point of view?

    Also could you explain why they may do the opposite and lose height?

    Many thanks

    • Jim Alberry

      Apr 1, 2017 at 12:40 pm

      Bb1, There are a few reasons one may “stand up” in their backswing. Every problem can fall under two basic categories, physical or technical. I can only speak to the possible physical causes. Not every golf fault is the result of a physical limitation. Sometimes our physical limitations are actually the thing that sets up apart as golfers. If you do not have enough rotation in your hips or spine that can cause you to “stand up.” If your shoulders do not rotate enough that could also cause a “stand up” by lifting your arms. Believe it our not if you cannot touch your toes that could be the reason. Sometime we cannot touch our toes because we do not move our pelvis backwards as we bend. Most of the time we are unaware that we cannot do this which affects our golf swing because as we begin our back swing and rotate our pelvis we should be “loading” our trail side/ trail heel which is the same as our pelvis moving backwards. Pelvic rotation is an ellipse motion so for a right handed golfer rotating into their backswing the right hip is moving backwards. If we are unable to rotate in our hips, stay connected torso to lower body and torso to arms we will probably “gain height” into our backswing. Most of these could lead to the golfer losing height as well. If this golfer is you the best thing you could do is get a physical screen to make sure there are not any physical limitations affecting your swing and get that tied into golf lessons to make the body-swing connection.

  5. larrybud

    Mar 30, 2017 at 1:54 pm

    While having a limber back and pelvis is all around good, it’s not the key to speed. Monte proves it:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TUx4Rtu58z4

    • Jim Alberry

      Mar 30, 2017 at 5:26 pm

      LarryBud-you are correct. Speed definitely can come from the arms, hands and wrists. Having a neutral pelvis and a solid base will allow you to transfer power to your arms and hands more efficiently so you can use that speed. This is the “firing a cannon from a canoe” example that is in the article. When your pelvis is stable you can “fire” those hands as fast as you can control.

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The Wedge Guy: The importance of a pre-shot routine

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I believe one of the big differences between better recreational golfers and those not so good—and also between the tour professionals and those that can’t quite “get there”—is the consistency of their pre-shot routines. It is really easy to dismiss something that happens before the ball is even struck as irrelevant, but I strongly urge you to reconsider if you think this way.

To have a set routine to follow religiously before every shot gives you the best chance to execute the shot the way you intend. To do otherwise just leaves too much to chance. Indulge me here and I’ll offer you some proof.

It’s been a while back now, but I still remember an interesting account on this subject that used the final round of the 1996 Masters—when Nick Faldo passed a collapsing Norman—as his statistical proof. This particular analyst reviewed the entire telecast of that final round and timed the routine of both players for every shot. What he discovered was that Norman got quicker and less consistent in his pre-shot routine throughout his round, while Faldo maintained his same, methodical approach to every shot, not varying by more than a second or so. I think that is pretty insightful stuff.

A lot of time has passed since then, but all competitive tour professionals pay very close attention to their pre-shot routines these days. I urge you to watch them as they go through the motions before each shot. And notice that most of them “start over” if they get distracted during that process.

While I do not think it is practical for recreational golfers to go into such laborious detail for every shot, let me offer some suggestions as to how a repeatable pre-shot routine should work.

The first thing is to get a good feel for the shot, and by that, I mean a very clear picture in your mind of how it will fly, land and roll; I also think it’s realistic to have a different routine for full shots, chips and pitches and putts. They are all very different challenges, of course, and as you get closer to the hole, your focus needs to be more on the feel of the shot than the mechanics of the swing, in my opinion.

To begin, I think the best starting point is from behind the ball, setting up in your “mind’s eye” the film-clip of the shot you are about to hit. See the flight and path it will take. As you do this, you might waggle the club back and forth to get a feel of the club in your hands and “feel” the swing that will produce that shot path for you. Your exact routine can start when you see that shot clearly, and begin your approach the ball to execute the shot. From that “trigger point”, you should do the exact same things, at the exact same pace, each and every time.

For me (if I’m “on”), I’ll step from that behind-the-shot position, and set the club behind the ball to get my alignment. Then I step into my stance and ball position, not looking at the target, but being precise not to change the alignment of the clubhead–I’m setting my body up to that established reference. Once set, I take a look at the target to ensure that I feel aligned properly, and take my grip on the club. Then I do a mental check of grip pressure, hover the club off the ground a bit to ensure it stays light, and then start my backswing, with my only swing thought being to feel the end of the backswing.

That’s when I’m “on,” of course. But as a recreational player, I know that the vast majority of my worst shots and rounds happen when I depart from that routine.

This is something that you can and should work on at the range. Don’t just practice your swing, but how you approach each shot. Heck, you can even do that at home in your backyard. So, guys and ladies, there’s my $0.02 on the pre-shot routine. What do you have to add?

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