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4 Critical Fitness Tests to Compare Yourself to the Pros

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We’ve all seen a slow-motion swing analysis of a PGA Tour golfer on TV; inevitably, the commentators say something about how flexible the player is, which is why they can make that huge turn and generate so much speed. They almost always follow it up with something like, “This ability to turn is what separates these guys from most amateurs.”

What does this even mean? Where do the pros turn from that we can’t? Don’t they have the same anatomy as us amateurs? Do they have special joints that allow them to do this?

We are going to answer all these questions. By the end of this article, you will know and understand how pros create that much turn. You’ll also learn what 4 major areas you can test yourself on to see where you can improve, as well as how you compare to the pros on Tour.  

All the research done on the best golfers in the world has led to some very interesting findings, the most important of which for us are these four statistics:

  1. Most professionals can turn their thoracic spine (most instructors call this a “shoulder turn”) at least 60 degrees
  2. Most can rotate their hip internally at least 45 degrees
  3. Most can externally rotate their shoulder beyond spine angle when in golf posture
  4. Most can touch their chin to their collarbone

I intentionally use the qualifier “most” because there are some professionals that struggle in some of these areas, but they’re are able to overcome deficits with compensations. Just because you can pass these tests doesn’t mean you’ll play on Tour, but if you can pass these tests it means you have the flexibility and mobility to achieve the positions necessary in the golf swing for it to be repeatable, consistent, powerful and pain-free.

If you fail any of the following tests, I would strongly recommend you be careful when taking your next lesson to make sure that the professional working with you knows your restrictions. If they do not and they try to get you into certain positions, it often ends poorly for both of you. You can end up hurting yourself… and the professional loses a potential repeat client. Not to mention your golf swing and scores will probably not get much better.

Test 1: Seated Trunk Rotation

Seated in a chair, cross your arms across your chest so that your hands are resting on your shoulders. Rotate your torso to the right and then the left keeping your knees together. Your goal is to rotate 60 degrees in each direction.

If you cannot reach 60 degrees, the absolute minimum to swing safely is 45 degrees. If you are at 45 or below, you are in serious risk of injury and are going to have a very hard time getting into the most efficient and effective positions in the golf swing. The most common swing faults seen with people who have this limitation are loss of posture and standing up in the backswing. There are others, but these are the most common. The most common injury associated with golfers who fail this test are low back pain because the body tries to use the low back to make up for the lack of motion in the upper back.  

Test 2: Seated Hip Rotation

Seated in a chair with feet flat on the ground and knees bent to 90 degrees, rotate your lower leg out to the side attempting to have your shin angle reach 45 degrees without shifting, lifting or leaning of the body.

Common swing faults with golfers who fail this test are swaying and sliding (aka lots of lateral movement in the swing), as well as all of the loss of posture issues. If you cannot reach the 45 degrees seated, then you likely are not achieving full hip rotation in your swing. You need — at a minimum in our experience — at least 35 degrees on both sides to have a chance at swinging safely and efficiently. At 35 degrees, setup changes such a flaring your feet out sometimes are enough to make up for the tightness. 

As above, make sure your instructor knows if you fail this test so they can help you make the technical adjustments necessary. It is also VERY important to note that failing this test is the No. 1 predictor for low back pain in golfers. Just as with the upper back, if the hip is not rotating, the body often resorts to the low back to make up for the lack of rotation.

If you are seeing a trend here, you are smarter than most doctors. Low back pain in golfers is rarely an actual back problem when it starts. It’s most often caused by other areas in the body being limited and the body overusing the low back to compensate. If you can improve your rotary ability, you can GREATLY reduce your chance of injury.

Test 3: Shoulder Rotation Test in Posture

Standing in golf posture with elbows raised to the side to shoulder height, attempt to rotate your arms backward as shown in picture. Your goal is that they rotate past spine angle without your lower back arching. 

The low back arching is the most common compensation seen (again demonstrating that if your back hurts, you probably don’t have a back problem, but an issue somewhere else in your body that is increasing stress on the back). Common swing faults seen with failed shoulder tests are chicken winging and flying elbows, as well as poor posture and difficulty being on the proper plane. In addition to back injuries, elbow and wrist pain are very common injuries with origins in the failure of this test.

Test 4: Neck Rotation Test

Seated in a chair, rotate your chin to touch your collar bone. Keep your mouth closed and do NOT shrug your shoulder.

What if you failed this test? What swing problems could you see? Perhaps the most common swing deficit with a failed neck rotation test is trouble not swaying and sliding laterally during the golf swing. Other possible swing issues that arise are standing up out of posture or having to use other body parts excessively to compensate.

While neck limitations are not common with golfers under 50 unless there is a history of traumatic injury, they are a LOT more common that you would think in the senior population. If you try to increase your “shoulder turn” in your golf swing but have an undiscovered lack of neck rotation, you are setting yourself up for potential disaster in terms of injury and most definitely performance. Neck limitations are probably one of the least-talked-about issues plaguing the majority of our senior golf population, yet they’re so easy to discover.

What Next?

This is a logical progression in your mind. You took the above tests and figured out you have some problems. Now you want to know what to do to fix them, right? Let us know how you did by emailing us at info@par4success.com with your results and we’d be happy to send you a simple fix or two for any tests you had issues with. We’re looking forward to helping you play better, swing faster and hurt less.

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Chris Finn is the founder of Par4Success and a Licensed Physical Therapist, Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist, Titleist Performance Institute Certified Medical Professional and trained to perform Trigger Point Dry Needling in North Carolina. He is regarded as the premier Golf Fitness, Performance & Medical Expert in North Carolina. Since starting Par4Success in 2011, Chris has and continues to work with Touring Professionals, elite level juniors & amateurs as well as weekend warriors. He has contributed to numerous media outlets, is a published author, a consultant and presents all over the world on topics related to golf performance and the golf fitness business.

6 Comments

6 Comments

  1. Ian

    Jan 16, 2018 at 5:53 pm

    Hiya
    One of the best wrx articles I’ve seen in a long time.
    There is a trend, recently, to a lot of “here’s what the pros do” instruction. Shoulder tilt angles, hip rotation, weight shift etc.
    This is all based on observation and probably decent information.
    When I am at the range, however, “what the pros do” is the last thing I see. I see all ages, all body shapes and all athletic abilities except “what the pros do”.
    This is article is great advice to get yourself in shape before attempting anything that the guys that spend 10hrs a day, every day, training, do.

  2. Rodger

    Jan 8, 2018 at 4:50 pm

    I wish you would create a printable option so that we could print out exercises, drills, and such. Impossible to remember these without referring to a print out.

  3. emil

    Jan 7, 2018 at 4:20 pm

    So, how does the average slightly obese soft bellied recreational golfer compensate for his failures?
    Simply by rotating his hips and shoulders in near unison with little to no X-factor differential between the hips and shoulders in both back and down swings.
    In the backswing this means the lead foot comes off the ground to release the hips so they follow shoulder rotation.
    In the downswing the hips and shoulders rotate in near lockstep and the torso has little kinetic core power output and the belly sags forwards and whips around to just before impact. Then the torso rotation blocks to stall the belly from being flung around and threatening the spinal column.
    There is a delayed weight shift even after the lead heel is replanted and the swing can easily degenerate into a reverse shift that promotes an OTC swing.
    The commercialized “Natural Swing” promotes compensations for this recreational swing. In his later years, Moe Norman had this kind of ‘windmilling’ style of swing and couldn’t generate enough clubhead speed to get drives over 200 yards. I saw it in person at his live demoes.

    • allan

      Jan 8, 2018 at 12:37 pm

      “OTC swing”? Over The Counter swing? 🙂

    • Chris Finn

      Jan 10, 2018 at 8:37 am

      Hey Emil, This is a great question, I see a lot of golfers just like you described. Size of the belly aside, the golfer still needs to have full rotation (or as much as possible) in the 4 areas described above. If they have limited motion in any of these areas and improve just simple that, 90% of them see swing speed gains.

      Once that is cleared (they can come close to or do pass the tests above) the next step from a sport science perspective is sequence training as well as anti rotational core training to increase the amount of “x-factor” or separation at impact increasing the amount of stored energy to be released.

      Once should also test the golfers ability to generate power from the lower and up body as well as their total rotational power. This gives you insight into what your body can create in terms of raw power and these three areas correlate extremely closely to club head speed. *be on the lookout for an article here omg golfwrx on this coming soon for more details*

      If there is not interest in changing the size of the belly, these are the areas to start. Once you’ve cleared all that..let me know and happy to guide further.
      -chris

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How often should you actually get “Up-and-Down” based on your handicap?

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‘Up and Downs’ have long been the accepted measure of skill in the short game. The chart below shows average performance in this area for the PGA Tour and an array of handicap levels. How do you fit in?

A few points of definition: The above refers to short game shots around the green, other than from the sand. [Stay tuned: sand shots will be my next article.] I consider the short game to be all shots from within 50 yards of the hole. This distance was a topic of debate 30 years ago when I was developing my golf analysis program. I was fortunate to be working with Golf Digest Golf Schools and some of the top instructors were good enough to embrace the better form of game analysis that I was creating. In particular, I owe a great deal to Chuck Cook, Jack Lumpkin and Hank Johnson. Their help and encouragement in my early stages gave me a much needed boost of momentum. Little did we know that what I then called “Strokes Lost and Saved” would ultimately become the accepted standard of analysis on the PGA Tour — now know as “Strokes Gained.” Anyway, we agreed that 50 yards was the right distance range for the short game for two reasons:

  1. It represented the short game for virtually every handicap level, men and women.
  2. It was a short enough distance that it didn’t need to be sliced even further.

That said, I do NOT believe that “Up and Downs” are an appropriate or accurate measure of short game skill for two reasons:

  1. It represents the combination of two skills: Short Game and Putting.
  2. It ignores the ERRORS or shots that actually miss the green.

In my 30+ years of studying performance at all skill levels, I have found that it is the FREQUENCY and SEVERITY of bad shots (errors) that do more to influence a player’s scoring level than do all the good shots. Accordingly, I built the ability to capture data on the common errors in the game into ShotByShot.com.

The true measure of a player’s short game skill is their Strokes Gained in that facet. BUT, that is simply a number — a positive number is good and a negative number, not so much. But how then to best display the skill that is associated with the Strokes Gained number? I believe the combination of three stats to be the correct way to display short game skill:

  • Average putting distance, when the green is successfully hit.
  • Percent shots hit to within 5 feet of the hole
  • Percent errors, or shots that miss the putting surface.

Where does your game fall in these two important categories?

Note, that the two lines cross at about a 16 handicap. That is actually a better than average golfer yet for every Chip/Pitch shot that they successfully get to within 5 feet of the hole, they are also chunking or sculling one and missing the green altogether. Work to dramatically reduce the errors and that 16 will drop to 12 or 13?

You might ask: How can the PGA Tour make more errors than the scratch golfer? Good question! I have two explanations:

  1. They really are that good! Regardless of the relative difficulty of the shot, Tour players will go for it. They have the confidence that when they miss they will get the next up and down. At the same time, the amateur that has reached the lofty level of Scratch has generally done so thru rigorous consistency and the avoidance of errors. At the low handicap levels, a bogey can be acceptable but a mistake that results in a double is NOT.
  2. The tour Shotlink data considers the fringe of the green to be a miss whereas I recommend that players count the fringe as a green hit and a putting opportunity. Your long game has been efficient enough to get there and should be rewarded with the GIR. At the same time, to count the shot from the fringe as a short game shot will unfairly reward your short game skill for what was actually a putt.

That reminds me again of my very early days when Chuck Cook said to me: “Pete, Tour players don’t make errors in the short game!”  See Chuck, I was right, they do! For a Complete Strokes Gained Analysis of your game, log on to: ShotByShot.com.

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