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It’s Time To Upgrade Your Body



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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Mike Carroll is a Strength & Conditioning Coach specialising in the physical training of golfers. He combines his scientific background with real world experience to provide effective solutions for golfers who require improved physical function to enable better play. Having worked with athletes from a wide variety of sports since 2011, Mike turned his attention to golfers exclusively in 2013. While playing himself, and following the professional game he noticed there was huge potential for golfers of all levels to improve their performance by getting their bodies in a state more optimal for the demands of golf. Since then he was worked with hundreds of golfers from all over the world, both in person and online. Mike is originally from Cork, Ireland, but currently based in Irvine, California. He is available for in person and online training services and can be contacted by via his website He has a BSc in Sport & Exercise Science, UK Strength & Conditioning Association Accreditation, and TPI Level 2 Certified Golf Fitness Professional.



  1. Ray Bennett

    Feb 23, 2018 at 6:14 pm

    The only relevant comment by the author was “I am not a golf coach”. Golf instruction is not in a good place when fitness instructors who don’t understand the complexities of pelvic nutation and counter nutation of the pelvis in the golf swing, peddle their b/s on this site.

    • Cool Canuck

      Feb 24, 2018 at 1:50 am

      “nutation”? Is that like gyroscopic or is it more like nutrition?

    • ted

      Feb 24, 2018 at 2:36 am

      Methinks the hips wobble is more of a libration than a nutation… but whatever works for you.

    • Michael Carroll

      Feb 27, 2018 at 5:06 pm

      Hi Ray, what in particular did you think was b/s? Can you go into more detail about why you don’t feel I understand the complexities of pelvis movement?


  2. steve

    Feb 22, 2018 at 4:06 pm

    The X-factor stretch for separation between the pelvis and shoulder span is essential for a powerful golf swing. Most recreational golfers achieve a small X-factor separation but then rotate the pelvis and shoulders in unison. They don’t maintain the X-factor stretch where the hips rotate first and then the shoulders follow to generate shoulder torque. In most cases this is because there is no torso/spinal flexibility and the hips and shoulders just lock and rotate together.
    Why does this happen? It’s because most rec golfer’s bodies are molded into a sedentary positional state; they can sit but can’t swing around. The other reason is obesity and the pot belly freezes the hips to the torso into a solid unit. I see it happening everywhere on the golf course and range. It’s so obvious.

    • Tel

      Feb 23, 2018 at 2:27 am

      Yes it’s so obvious thats it’s you, oh the clueless, annoying one

      • Ogo

        Feb 23, 2018 at 2:55 am

        Slack day at WRX?

        • ted

          Feb 24, 2018 at 2:38 am

          Annoying is anything over a 140 character twitter blurt cause beyond that the gearheads lose consciousness.

  3. Ogo

    Feb 22, 2018 at 3:52 pm

    This article only applies to the top 1% of golfers. The remaining 99% only play golf for fun and pain. 😛

    • Michael Carroll

      Feb 27, 2018 at 5:08 pm

      Hi Ogo, the vast majority of my clients are average club golfers. The principles definitely apply to the masses for both performance and longevity.

  4. Lee

    Feb 22, 2018 at 3:35 pm

    That’s Marcus Stroman.

  5. Wes

    Feb 22, 2018 at 1:46 pm

    X factor? Take your broscience back to the 1990s.

    • steve

      Feb 22, 2018 at 4:31 pm

      The X-factor is a legitimate biomechanical condition and is essential for a powerful golf swing. If you are obese or just plain stiff you have an I-factor unison rotation… and no power.

      • Wizardofflatstickmountain

        Feb 23, 2018 at 11:31 am

        I take distinct pleasure in beating guys that look like the Under Armour mannequin.

        I’ll stick to my six pack and hotdog at the turn.

        • Cool Canuck

          Feb 24, 2018 at 1:45 am

          The only thing you beat is meat… buzz off

  6. Smith

    Feb 22, 2018 at 12:55 pm

    This is a terrific article. Looks like I’ve got my work cut out for me. Thanks for sharing!

  7. PG

    Feb 22, 2018 at 12:21 pm

    This doesn’t really match the title of the article. It’s a series of tests, it doesn’t explain how to “upgrade”. Maybe this is a taste of what’s to come?

    • Ogo

      Feb 24, 2018 at 2:21 pm

      Our’s is not to wonder why,
      Our’s is but to do and cry 🙁

    • Michael Carroll

      Feb 27, 2018 at 5:13 pm

      Hi PG, I’m sorry you felt the article didn’t match the title. I wanted people to use the series of tests to get an understanding of where their biggest deficiencies are, rather than prescribe generic advice. I hope to contribute more training material in the future.


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