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Changing neural pathways to make a swing change

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I’ll bet that you can’t ride the bicycle in the video clip below. You’re probably thinking, “Come on, it’s a bike. How hard can it be?”

Watch the video clip below, and then read on.

Every time you pick up a golf magazine, take a lesson, or get a swing tip from a buddy you probably say to yourself:

[quote_box_center]“How hard can it be to add this little gem of golf swing magic? I can’t wait to go to the range and work it in before my weekend game.”[/quote_box_center]

The intrigue of the game of golf is that the golf swing should be very much like riding a bike. Once you learn to ride one type, you can easily adapt your skill set and ride a wide range of bikes: single-speed, 10-speed, mountain bikes, motor bikes, etc. Most golfers apply this same mindset to swing changes. Once they have the “basics” of the swing down, they think that making changes to it might require a little more thought, but in the end they will be very quickly doable. As the video shows, “very quickly doable” becomes a relative phrase.

The brain is an amazing super computer, capable of directing and coordinating complex motor and mental skills. Once a movement pathway becomes embedded into it, however, it becomes very set in its ways. It not only took Destin eight months to learn to ride the backward bike; he also struggled to recreate the neural pathway that allowed him to properly ride a regular bike, which he had done successfully for decades.

The bottom line here, as it relates to the golf swing, is that meaningful and lasting swing changes and game improvement are not going to happen by getting to the range once a week for an hour, and then teeing it up in your Saturday round. Sorry, it’s just not going to happen, just as none of the “bike riders” in the video could get on the very normal-looking bike and successfully ride it without days or even weeks of practice.

Tom-Duke-Bike-vs-Swing

It took Destin working every day for 8 months, 5-10 minutes a day, to finally reprogram his neural pathways to successfully ride the backward bike. The golf swing has many similarities to riding a bike — two arms performing two different movements, two legs performing two different movements, core balance and weight shift requirements, timing and sequence requirements, hand eye coordination, etc.

Learning a new swing, or maintaining a successful one, requires what I call a constant approach…. especially the older we get. The more consistent the refreshening process, the less likely you will be to revert back to your old ways. If you took the old highway for 30 years, you are going to have to constantly remind yourself after starting your car to make sure you take the turn for the new bypass. And even despite this conscious awareness of trying to take the new route, it’s amazing how often we find ourselves still getting on the old highway.

So yes, this is why the game of golf is so frustrating. But here are a few things to think about.

First, it is much easier to engrain a movement pattern if it’s natural, or in accordance with the laws of nature. The point here is that the more things we can “let” happen in the golf swing, instead of trying to make them happen, the less tension and compensations are required. It will also be easier to develop and consistently use these new neural pathways.

Second, we know we can considerably speed up the process of creating a new neural pathway if we are constantly refreshing the correct movement. Ten minutes a day verses 1 hour a week will yield faster results. Note that I said “correct movement,” not “correct positions.” Without getting too deep into the rabbit hole of neuroscience, the Holonomic brain theory supports that people learn motor skills not by linking a progression of positions together like line-by-line computer code, but instead by storing the entire movement as a neural 3-D hologram. An example is children who learn to throw their first rock not by being taught a progression of, say, 1,000 positions, but instead by watching a friend or sibling simply perform the motion, storing that entire movement memory, and then recalling it when interested in performing it.

As it pertains to the golf swing, this theory supports that not only is performing repetitions of a new movement a key in learning it, but to both feel and see the movement will only make your swing hologram more vivid.

I often ask students, “Do you have a perfectly clear image in your mind of what your golf swing looks like?” Very rarely do I get a prompt reply in the affirmative.

We have all had the experience where we go to the range and machine gun through hundreds of balls, followed up by a trunk slam and a “what in the heck just happened?” moment. Not only could you not see yourself, but in the haze of firing ball after ball you most likely only felt and were aware of your brewing frustration. If you don’t have a vivid image and feel for your movements, what are you expected to recall when you hit the start button on your golf swing?

A great way to increase your see and feel awareness, as well as to take a more “constant approach” to improve your golf swing (or maintain good form) is to incorporate no-ball mirror training into your regular practice routine. Positioning two standing mirrors in a corner that will let you see your movements. By removing the golf ball from the equation, you will instantly see how much ball-bound tension you have, as well be able to better focus on seeing and feeling your movements. Eyes-open, slow-motion swings will increase your visual awareness, and eyes-closed swings will further enhance what you are feeling.

Time and schedule conflicts that make it tough for many golfers to get to the range should no longer solely determine success, or lack thereof, on the golf course. Daily movement memory, no-ball training works in the convenience of your home, even for 5 or 10 minutes a day, will more quickly take the training wheels off the swing movements you are interested in performing.

For more information on these and other no-ball swing training routines, check out windandsling.com.

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Tom Duke is the Founder of Wind and Sling Golf Swing (WindandSling.com) and The Original Golf Company, and developer of the No-Roll Release™ Swing Trainer. He is a swing coach and long drive specialist who has trained extensively under the tutelage of Mike Dunaway, who many consider the greatest driver of the golf ball in history. Duke holds a Masters in Business Administration from George Mason University, and is certified by the internationally recognized AO Foundation for Intraoperative Spine and Orthopedics. He earned Collegiate All-America, is an Ironman Triathlete USA, and a proud benefactor to the St. Judes' Children's Hospital.

15 Comments

15 Comments

  1. Pingback: The Brain Game. » Golf in Portugal

  2. Pingback: July 2015 Happenings From John & Susan | John T Fitness

  3. mikee

    Jul 2, 2015 at 7:00 am

    There is excellent scientific research confirming this theory

  4. jargon

    Jul 1, 2015 at 7:12 pm

    I’ve been working with this technique for 2 years now …. it’s been difficult if not impossible to change my swing . it’s so myelinated in ! I’ve been using the mirrors now with out the distraction of the golf ball and am making slow progress with help from my swing coach Lucas Wald .

  5. Kyle

    Jul 1, 2015 at 2:23 pm

    Great article.

  6. Gareth

    Jun 29, 2015 at 3:06 am

    Great Article Tom

  7. John

    Jun 28, 2015 at 9:46 pm

    Tremendous article.

  8. Jim

    Jun 26, 2015 at 6:23 pm

    Great article thanks Tom!

  9. David

    Jun 26, 2015 at 8:38 am

    Great article. This runs parallel to The Talent Code by Daniel Coyle, in talking about the programming of myelin to make consistent movements.

  10. Derek Wall

    Jun 26, 2015 at 7:06 am

    Google “IKKOS” for some pretty amazing research and products regarding altering neural pathways “permanently.” The product was developed by a high level swim coach, but Sean is refining it for use in other sports… golf included.

    • Tom Duke

      Jun 26, 2015 at 10:58 am

      Hey Derek…thanks for your interest…already have reached out to the Ikkos team!

  11. other paul

    Jun 25, 2015 at 11:33 pm

    Very interesting. But I have found it not that difficult to make changes when they are drastic. 2 weeks ago I had never hit a ball over 280 on course without the help of wind. Today with a new swing I started on Saturday I hit 315 (won a beer for it to). And I haven’t had issues with reverting to an old swing. More like forgetting to consciously add features if anything.

  12. Alex

    Jun 25, 2015 at 4:16 pm

    Can’t I have my brain changed?

  13. Adam

    Jun 25, 2015 at 2:25 pm

    this was an incredibly interesting read.
    Very enlightening! Makes me think about where else in life this applies…

  14. Cons

    Jun 25, 2015 at 2:01 pm

    Solid article.

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Instruction

Fixing the shanks: How to stop shanking the golf ball (GolfWRX Explains)

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May you never be concerned about fixing the shanks! But if you’re begging the golf gods for guidance how to stop shanking the golf ball? Ready to offer up your first-born child for the wisdom how to stop shanking irons? Frantically asking Google how to never shank a golf ball again?

Fear not. We’ll get to drills to stop shanking irons shortly that are guaranteed to ingrain the proper feel and anti-shank action, but first, a brief discussion of what exactly a shank is (other than will-to-live crushing).

More often than not, a shank occurs when a player’s weight gets too far onto the toes, causing a lean forward. Instead of the center of the clubface striking the ball—as you intended at address—the hosel makes contact with your Titleist, and—cover your ears and guard your soul—a shank occurs.

How to stop shanking the golf ball

If you’ve ever experienced the dreaded hosel rocket departing your club at a 90-degree angle, you know how quickly confidence can evaporate and terror can set in.

Fortunately, the shanks are curable and largely preventable ailment. While there are drills to fix your fault you once the malady has taken hold, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

How to stop shanking the golf ball

If you’re trying to understand how to stop shanking the golf ball, you need to understand where the ball makes contact with the club during a shank.

Fixing the shanks

To avoid shanking the golf ball, it’s important to lock in on some keys…

  • Have a proper setup and posture…Athletic posture, arms hang down, neither too bent over nor too upright, weight on the balls of the feet.
  • Keep your grip light and arms tension free…If 10 is a death grip of golf club and 1 is the club falling out of your hand, aim for a grip in the 4-6 range. Make sure your forearms aren’t clenched.
  • Maintain proper balance throughout the swing…50/50 weight to start (front foot/back foot). 60/40 at the top of the backswing. 90/10 at impact.
  • Avoid an excessively out-to-in or in-to-out swing path…Take the club straight back to start, rather than excessively inside (closer to the body) or outside (further away from the body).

The best drill to stop shanking the golf ball

Set up properly (as discussed above), flex your toes upward as you begin your swing and keep your chest high (maintain your spine angle) throughout the swing.

Other than those focal points, keep your brain free of any additional chatter, which only exacerbates shankitis.

(For more advice, be sure to check out what our friends at Me and My Golf have to say below)

Now you know how to stop shanking the golf ball and have the tools to never shank the golf ball again.

Praise the golf gods!

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Instruction

Cameron Smith’s 3-month Covid-19 training block

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Whilst Covid-19 has presented countless grave health and economic challenges to the world’s population, it has also provided opportunity for many people to focus their attention on projects that they normally wouldn’t have time for.

Turns out PGA Tour players are no different, and in the case of Cameron Smith, we used the enforced break from competitive golf to undertake a very rare, uninterrupted 3 month block of strength training.

Cam plays 25-30 events a year spread across 4 continents and this presents a number of challenges to overcome from a training and programming perspective:

– Varying facilities

– Travel fatigue and jet lag

– Concerns around muscle soreness affecting ability to perform on course

– Physical and mental cost of competing

When combined, these challenges can often render even the most carefully planned training programs redundant. So whilst many golf fans were coming to terms with a prolonged absence of PGA Tour events, I was getting stuck into designing programs that would hopefully elicit the following outcomes for Cam:

– More muscle mass

– More strength

– More power

In a normal season, I’m hesitant to prescribe programs that focus on muscle gain, because the nature of the training volume tends to tighten Cam up (reduce his range of motion), reduce his club-head speed and elicit a lot of muscle soreness…..not an ideal combination for short term performance! But I knew in this case, we could get stuck into some higher volume work because we would have plenty of time to recover from any lost mobility, reduced speed and increased soreness before tournaments started again.

 

Mid March – Program 1 – General Hypertrophy Focus

We decided with the global virus outlook looking dire and the PGA Tour promising to deliver a 30 day notice before resumption of play, we should focus on hypertrophy (increasing muscle size) until the 30 day notice period was delivered. At that point we would switch to a more familiar power based program in preparation for tournaments starting up again.

Program Breakdown:

– 4 weeks

– 3 sessions per week

– 1 x lower focus (legs, glutes, core)

– 1 x push focus (chest, shoulders, triceps, core)

– 1 x pull focus (back, biceps, core)

– Gradually increasing volume over 4 weeks (more reps and sets to failure)

Training Variables:

Sets: 3 to 4

Reps: 8 to 12

Tempo: 2-0-2 (2 seconds up, no pause, 2 seconds down)

Weight: around 70% of maximum

Rest: 60 seconds, but this can vary when pairing exercises together in supersets or mini circuits

 

Example Workout – Lower Body Focus (legs, glutes, core):

 

Example Exercises:

 

Mid April – Program 2 – Lower Body Hypertrophy Focus

As Cam was about to finish up his first hypertrophy program, there was a fairly clear indication that there would be no play until mid June at the earliest. Knowing that we had 2 more months of training, we decided to continue with another hypertrophy block. This time increasing the focus on the lower body by breaking down the leg work into 2 seperate sessions and ramping up the training volume.

Program Breakdown:

– 4 weeks

– 4 sessions per week

– 2 x lower body focus (1 x quad focused workout and 1 x hamstring / glute focused workout)

– 1 x push focus (chest, shoulders, triceps, core)

– 1 x pull focus (back, biceps, core)

– Gradually increasing volume over 4 weeks (more reps and sets)

Training Variables:

Sets: 3 to 4

Reps: 8 to 12

Tempo: 2-0-2 (2 seconds up, no pause, 2 seconds down)

Weight: around 70% of maximum

Rest: 60 seconds, but this can vary when pairing exercises together in supersets or mini circuits

 

Example Workout – Pull Focus (back, biceps, core):

 

Example Exercises:

Mid May – Program 3 – Power Focus

Once we received confirmation that play would be resuming 11th June at Colonial, we made the call to switch to a power focused program. Moving back to 3 days per week, lowering the volume and increasing the intensity (more weight and more speed in the main lifts).

The idea is to get the body used to moving fast again, reduce muscle soreness to allow better quality golf practice, and supplement the with more mobility work to re-gain any lost range of motion.

We also added some extra grip work because Cam discovered that with the muscle and strength gain, plus lifting increased weight, his grip was failing on key lifts…..not such a bad problem to have!

Program Breakdown:

– 4 weeks

– 3 sessions per week

– 1 x lower body focus (legs, glutes, core, grip)

– 1 x upper body focus (chest, back, biceps, triceps, core, grip)

– 1 x combined focus (legs, glutes, shoulders, core, grip)

– Volume remains constant (same sets and reps), aiming to increase intensity (either weight or speed) over the 4 weeks.

Training Variables:

Sets: 4 to 5

Reps: 3-5 for main exercises, 8-12 for accessory exercises.

Tempo: X-0-1 for main exercises (as fast as possible in up or effort phase, no pause, 1 second down). 2-0-2 for accessory exercises.

Weight: around 85% of maximum for main exercises, around 70% for accessory exercises.

Rest: 90 seconds, but this can vary when pairing exercises together in supersets or mini circuits

 

Example Workout – Combined (legs, glutes, core, shoulders, grip):

 

Example Exercises:

 

If you are interested in receiving some professional guidance for your training, then check out the services on offer from Nick at Golf Fit Pro

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What you can learn from Steve Elkington

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When you think of great golf swings from the past and present time, Steve Elkington’s golf swing instantly comes to mind. His playing career has included a PGA championship, two Players Championships and more than 50 weeks inside the top-10 world golf rankings. This article will examine not only key moves you can take from Elk’s swing but learning to take your swing to the golf course.

As opposed to looking at a swing frame by frame at key positions, viewing a swing at normal speed can be just as beneficial. This can give students a look at the sequence of the swing as one dynamic motion. Research also suggests learning a motion as one movement as opposed to part-training (stopping the swing at certain points) will enhancing learning.

When viewed at full speed, the simplicity of Elk’s swing is made clear. There is minimal motion as he gets more out of less. This swing pattern can correlate to a conversation he once had with five-time British Open winner Peter Thomson.

When asking Thomson keys to his golf swing and it’s longevity, Thomson explained to Elk, “You have to have great hands and arms.” Thomson further elaborated on the arms and body relationship. “The older you get, you can’t move your body as well, but you can learn to swing your arms well.”

So what’s the best way to get the feel of this motion? Try practicing hitting drivers off your knees. This drill forces your upper body to coil in the proper direction and maintain your spine angle. If you have excess movement, tilt, or sway while doing this drill you will likely miss the ball. For more detail on this drill, read my Driver off the knees article.

Another key move you can take from Elk is in the set-up position. Note the structure of the trail arm. The arm is bent and tucked below his lead arm as well as his trail shoulder below the lead shoulder – he has angle in his trail wrist, a fixed impact position.

This position makes impact easier to find. From this position, Elk can use his right arm as a pushing motion though the ball.

A golf swing can look pretty, but it is of no use if you can’t perform when it matters, on the golf course. When Elk is playing his best, he never loses feel or awareness to the shaft or the clubface throughout the swing. This is critical to performing on the golf course. Using this awareness and a simple thought on the golf course will promote hitting shots on the course, rather than playing swing.

To enhance shaft and face awareness, next time you are on the range place an alignment stick 10 yards ahead of you down the target line. Practice shaping shots around the stick with different flights. Focus on the feel created by your hands through impact.

Twitter: @kkelley_golf

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