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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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10 Years Later: Why the assistant coach has made college golf better

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It’s been 10 years since the NCCA Legislation began allowing assistant golf coaches to perform on-course coaching in college events. Today, 94 percent of the top-100 men’s golf teams have assistant coaches, and the coaching pool is stronger than ever, with individuals such as Jean Paul Hebert (Texas), Jake Amos (South Carolina), Ryan Jamieson (Florida), Robert Duck (Florida State), Donnie Darr (Oklahoma State), John Mills (Kent State), Garrett Runion (LSU), Zach Barlow (Illinois), Bob Heinz (Duke), and 2017 Assistant Coach of the Year from Baylor, Ryan Blagg. The list includes a guy with 20+ PGA Tour experience (Bob Heinz), several former college standouts and some National Championship wins (Jean Paul Hebert – 1, Runion – 2, Amos – 2).

In the 10 years since the expanded role of the assistant golf coach, the National Championship has still been dominated by major conference schools, with only three non-major conference schools earning a spot in match play (Kent State 2012, and Augusta State in 2010, 2011). Of course, Augusta State went on to win both of its appearances in match play, earning back-to-back national championships under Coach Josh Gregory.

One of best examples of the success of assistant golf coaches is Chris Malloy at Ole Miss. Malloy, a graduate of Ole Miss, began his coaching career as the women’s assistant golf coach at Florida State. Shortly after, he was working with both programs and had an immediate impact, which included helping the men win their first ever ACC championship. Shortly after, Chris took over as the men’s golf coach at University of South Florida, transforming the team into a National Contender and a top-30 ranking. Today, at Ole Miss, Chris has done the same thing, transforming a team and a culture in three years, earning a spot in the 2017 NCAA National Championship at Rich Harvest Farms.

Another great example is Sooner coach Ryan Hybl, who in 2017 lead his team to the NCAA National Championship. Hybl, an outstanding player at Georgia, then was an assistant with the program from 2005-2009. The system continues to work as three notable assistants made moves this summer; Jim Garden from OU to Coastal Carolina, John Handrigan from UF to Notre Dame and Dusty Smith from Vanderbilt to Mississippi State.

Although to date, mid-major teams have not fared consistently on the national level. The system of assistant coaches has proven to be an excellent tool in broadening the pool of candidates. Last year’s National Championship featured six mid-major schools with half being wily veterans, and half being a product of the assistant coach route; Michael Beard of Pepperdine served as the assistant at Arizona State; Bryce Waller of University of Central Florida served as the assistant at the University of Tennessee; Bryant Odem of Kennesaw State served as the assistant at the University of Wisconsin. It will also feature teams like Oklahoma State, Baylor, Virginia, Oklahoma, Vanderbilt, Ole Miss and Purdue, which have coaches who have benefited from their experience as assistant coaches in their roles with these programs.

Practice Facility at the University of Central Florida

Practice Facility at the University of Central Florida

The pool of candidates for coaching positions today is deeper than ever. Athletic Directors are blessed to be able to interview several good candidates for almost each job. The result for the players are fully engaged coaches who bring passion and desire to improve each of their programs.

Bowen Sargent, the current head coach at University of Virginia and former assistant coach at the University of Tennessee under Jim Kelson, started coaching when the rules only allowed one coach. In the 10 years since the rule change, Bowen believes “it’s a positive change for sure. Having two coaches allows for a better student-athlete experience and for them to have more access to their coaches.”

Coach Bowen Sargent of UVA, along with former players Denny McCarthy and Derek Bard at the US Open

Coach Bowen Sargent of UVA, along with former players Denny McCarthy and Derek Bard at the U.S. Open

The diversity among coaches is also greater. Today’s juniors have the option to play for a skillful player such as a Mike Small at Illinois or Casey Martin at Oregon, or Doug Martin at Cincinnati, or even a world class instructor like Bryce Waller at UCF, Ben Pellicani at Limpscomb or Casey Van Dame at South Dakota State. Waller, an excellent instructor himself, has lead UCF to three National Championship appearance in 7 years. Likewise, Ben, a Golf Digest top-40 under-40 instructor who spent several years learning from Mike Bender has been instrumental in transforming Limpscomb into a national contender, participating in their first ever National Championship in 2017. Lastly, Casey who spent several years under Jim Mclean, then as the assistant at University of Tennessee, has transformed South Dakota State Men’s and Women’s Golf, with both teams currently ranked in the top-100 in the country.

Ben Pellicanni of Limpscomb University helping to read a putt

Ben Pellicanni of Limpscomb University helping to read a putt

Athletic Directors are also starting to put more funding towards golf resources. The result has been an explosion of golf-specific training facilities across the scope of college golf. Many mid-major schools have top-notch practice facilities, including places such as University of North Texas, University of Richmond, University of Central Arkansas and Illinois State to name a few.

Golf facility at the University of Central Arkansas

Golf facility at the University of Central Arkansas

The tremendous pool of coaching candidates has also benefited other levels of golf. For example, 2014 Assistant Coach of the Year Chris Hill is now the head men’s and women’s golf coach at Concordia University, a Division 3 School near Austin, Texas. In his two years as coach, he has already lead the program to seven tournament titles.

As time passed, I believe that we will see a change at the NCAA Championship and it will include a growing trend towards mid-major universities not only earning spots at the National Championships, but having success like Augusta State. The person at the head of one of those programs is likely to have come from the assistant coach ranks and should be thankful for the rule change, which lead to these opportunities.

Please note: As of writing this article, only 6 men’s teams in D1 do not have assistant coaches. They are UTEP (51), McNeese (84), Nevada (88), Richmond (89), Cincinnati (92) and Tennessee at Chattanooga (96).

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