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Why your desk job is ruining your golf swing

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I imagine that most of you reading this are doing so while sitting at a desk, hunched over a computer. If you’re not, there’s a good chance that you spend considerable amount of time in that position. Our increasingly sedentary lifestyle, mixed with our heavy use of computers and wireless devices, has made this position more common than it should be.

Bad posture

Maybe you’re aware that your seated posture can and should be improved, but what you may not know is that it has numerous effects that will carry into your golf posture and your golf swing.

They include:

  • Forward hip tilt: Also know as anterior pelvic tilt, it’s associated with tight hip flexors, which are a group of muscles on the front of your hips that pull the knee upward. Tight hip flexors can prevent the glutes (butt muscles) from firing and cause them to become weak. Strong glutes are essential to hip stability in the golf swing, as stable hips provide a platform to turn against in the golf swing and eliminate things such as slide and sway. The glutes are a major factor in developing power in the golf swing, too. If you want to hit it a long way you need strong glutes! Inactive or weak glutes also force the hamstring muscles to become overworked and excessively tight. If you have tight hamstrings, the root cause may be tight hip flexors and/or anterior pelvic tilt.
  • Hunched upper back and forward shoulder posture: Sitting hunched over a computer screen forces chest muscles to tighten, which can cause excessive curvature of the upper back (thoracic spine) and postural muscles in the upper back to weaken and loosen. The thoracic spine (T-Spine) also becomes stuck in flexion, and the ability to extend and rotate the T-spine becomes lessened. Limited T-spine mobility will radically reduce the amount of shoulder turn you are able to make, and ultimately the power you are able to create in your the golf swing.
  • Weak anterior core. Core strength is essential for efficient power transfer and maintaining good posture in the swing. The weaker your core is, the more difficult power transfer and good posture becomes.
  • Forward cervical spine position: Although the head stays still during the golf swing, the shoulders rotate, so golfers experience large degrees of cervical rotation both the left and right in the golf swing. Similar to a rounded upper back posture, a “forward head position” limits your ability to rotate at the cervical spine. Consequently, this limits shoulder turn or causes you to lose posture in order to complete a full backswing. Further, a forward cervical spin position can also cause the posture muscles in the upper back to shut off. Who knew your neck was so important in the golf swing?

So, what can you do about it?

Movements in the gym are used and repeated to improve postural issues, which occur over time. Since any repetitive movement will affect posture, however, you need to be sure you are selecting the right movements and performing them in a proper manner. If you don’t, you won’t be getting the full benefits of postural correction. And if you use the wrong exercises, they can even feed into your postural deficiencies.

Here a my top 5 strategies to help you correct that posture

1. Get back to neutral alignment of the spine with appropriate mobility exercises.

The Exercise: Get into a half-kneeling position with hand outstretched in front of you touching a wall. Make sure your front foot and back knee are not too close together or too far apart. Grab hold of your back ankle with your free hand, keeping your head and spine in neutral alignment with your core engaged and rock back and forth. You should feel a stretch in the hip flexor of the leg you are holding.

The Exercise: Lie with your back on the floor with your knees bent and feet on the floor and flatten out your lower back so it is in contact with the floor. Keep it there throughout the movement. With your chin tucked and core engaged, raise your arms overhead. Next, slowly pull your elbows down toward your sides, keeping them in contact with the ground. When you can no longer keep contact with the floor or your lower back arches off the floor, push back up again. 

2. Develop more thoracic extension.

The Exercise: Lying on the floor with your upper back on the foam roller, perform five crunch-like movements on the roller, trying to curl your back around the roller more and more with each rep. Then move slightly down so the roller is higher up on your spine and repeat. Move the roller up the spine two or three more times until you reach a point just below the base of the neck, and repeat the process at each new position. 

3. Improve anterior core strength

Exercises that promote anterior core strength and don’t involve spinal flexion are your best bet. The deadbug is my absolute favorite here. There are so many variations, and it does a nice job of teaching the hip disassociation we need in the golf swing, too.

The Exercise: Lie on your back and raise your arms and legs so your arms and upper leg form right angles to the spine. You will feel the lower back flatten to be in contact with the floor when you do this. Lower the arm and opposite leg, exhaling as you do so. Make sure to stay in neutral spine (i.e. don’t let lower back arch as you lengthen). 

4. Program twice as many pulling exercises (think rows and chin-ups) as pushing exercises (bench press, shoulder press and dips).

Most people (particularly men) do the opposite; heading to the gym to do way too many sets of bench presses and bicep curls. This further compound the effects of sitting all day. A 2:1 pull-to-push ratio will redress the back strength issues this often creates and help re-adjust shoulder positioning.

Further, the upper back is also somewhat of a complex structure comprised of a number of different muscle groups, including the rhomboids, serratus anterior and lower traps that often times need to be activated with more specific work. The face pull is my favorite way to hit these often neglected muscles. See the video below.

5. Get strong glutes!

The single-leg glute bridge is a nice way to feel glute activation and build some glute max strength when you start adding external load. Make sure you feel the glute doing the majority of the work, however, and not the hamstring.

The Exercise: Start by lying on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor with your knees and feet together. Extend one leg from the knee and lift the pelvis off the floor, fully extending the hips until your body forms a straight line. Try to feel the contraction in the glute as much as possible, rather than the hamstring. Shoot for a percentage of 80 percent glute and 20 percent hamstring as a goal. Just touching your hamstrings or your glutes can serve as great reminder as to where you need to feel the movement and where you shouldn’t be feeling it. 

Lateral band walks primarily work the glute medius, the muscle primarily responsible for resisting hip rotation, and a therefore great for developing stability.

The Exercise: Keeping the shoulder blades retracted (think about pulling them down and back), chin tucked and core engaged, step to one side. Make sure to not over-step, as this will result in loss of balance on the toe of the landing foot, turning it too far out and reducing glute engagement.

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Nick is a TPI certified strength coach with a passion for getting golfers stronger and moving better. Through Stronger Golf he uses unique, research based training methods to create stronger, faster, more athletic golfers. Golfers who are more coachable, achieve higher levels of skill mastery, play injury free, and for longer as a result of improved physical fitness.

13 Comments

13 Comments

  1. christian

    Sep 20, 2015 at 12:15 am

    “Most people (particularly men) do the opposite; heading to the gym to do way too many sets of bench presses and bicep curls”
    It’s just that biceps curls IS a pulling exercise, and not a pushing one.

    • Nick Buchan

      Sep 25, 2015 at 8:08 am

      Christian, technically bicep curls are a pulling exercises yes but it only works the biceps not the lats or muscles of the upper back, nor does it give the benefits of scapular retraction and improving shoulder posture that are important with pulling exercises so for this reason I don’t count it as a pulling exercise when balancing pushing and pulling ratios. Additionally the standing position, with weight out in front, most bicep curl from and insertion of the bicep means they tend to negatively affect shoulder position in a similar way to pressing exercises. If you want to do curls, may i suggest doing incline bench curls as these negate many of the problems with standing curls.
      Thanks for reading,
      Nick

  2. Large chris

    Sep 18, 2015 at 7:47 am

    Great article, but seriously please don’t start doing foam roller movements etc in the squat rack as per the video above. Just find an empty floor and wall space. Be considerate.

    • Nick Buchan

      Sep 18, 2015 at 5:16 pm

      Haha totally agree Chris! In my defence it was a quite day and very early in the morning, you can get away with it when there are only two people in the gym!

  3. Craig

    Sep 17, 2015 at 2:33 pm

    Nick, great article and interesting for biomechanics/physical therapy lovers. Under the forward hip tilt section wouldn’t tight hip flexor create lengthened and weak hamstrings? Lower crossed syndrome would have tight hip flexors and tight back extensors with weak/lengthened hip extensors and weak core. Just wanted your thoughts, thanks!

    • Nick Buchan

      Sep 18, 2015 at 5:27 pm

      Craig, The reciprocal inhibition effect of the hip flexors does effect the strength of all hip extensors yes, so hamstrings, glutes, abductors, etc, but I find most peoples biggest problem in this regard is weak glutes. You are correct that tight hip flexors pull the pelvis into anterior tilt and as such the distance between the origin and insertion of the hamstring (basically the knee and the hip) is greater so from an anatomical point of view the hamstring has been lengthened. However this lengthening means the hamstring is effectively slightly stretched already so when you try and lengthen it further, by hip flexion, the hamstring will feel tight, despite technically being lengthened! Most people who complain of tight hamstring it is probably actually anterior tilt and tight hip flexors that are the problem rather than the length of the hamstring. Not sure I’ve explained that all that well but hope it makes sense!? Thanks for the question!

  4. Scott

    Sep 17, 2015 at 9:27 am

    the videos really help. thanks for the article!

  5. Nick Buchan

    Sep 16, 2015 at 11:39 am

    Thanks for the comments guys! Appreciate it!

  6. Nick Randall

    Sep 15, 2015 at 9:54 pm

    Nice article Nick – love your work!

  7. Golfraven

    Sep 15, 2015 at 2:54 pm

    Great article. I like the home excersised or those that don’t require further equipment. I might get a mat for my office space and do some of those during working office hours. Currently I stand away from my desk regurlarly and do either putting or swing excercisea but guess this is not helping my core muscles. would be great to see some excercises you can actually perform at the desk or office chair.

  8. Tim

    Sep 15, 2015 at 8:52 am

    great piece – I have just been given many of these exercises by my fitness trainer and physio to counter many of these issues from sitting at a computer all day.

    So far they are helping but given I spend 10 hours a day at the computer and only about 30mins doing the exercises not sure if its enough to really help.

  9. Nathan

    Sep 15, 2015 at 7:14 am

    Yep, certainly need more of this!

  10. Tanner

    Sep 15, 2015 at 6:36 am

    Like the short vids

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Instruction

What is ground force in the golf swing?

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There is no doubt about it, the guys and gals on tour have found something in the ground—and that something is power and speed. I’m sure by now you have heard of “ground reaction forces”—and I’m not talking about how you “shift your weight” during the golf swing.

Ground force in the golf swing: Pressure and force are not equal

With respect to ground force in the golf swing, it’s important to understand the difference between pressure and force. Pressure is your perception of how your weight is being balanced by the structure, in this case, the human body. Your body has a center of mass which is located roughly one inch behind the belt buckle for men and about one inch lower in women. When we shift (translate and/or torque) the center of mass, we create a pressure shift as the body has to “rebalance” the mass or body. This pressure shift can help us understand some aspects of the golf swing, but when it comes to producing power, force and torque are where it’s at.

Pressure can only be expressed in relation to the mass or weight of the body. Therefore, if you weigh 150 pounds, you can only create 150 pounds of pressure at one time. However, when we direct that mass at a larger object than our mass, all of a sudden that larger mass directs an opposite and equal reactionary force. So now, when a human being “pushes” their legs against the ground and “feels” 150 pounds of pressure, they now get 150 pounds of force directed back towards them from the ground, creating a total of 300 pounds of force that allows them to jump off the ground in this scenario.

If ground reaction forces don’t have anything to do with the “weight shift,” then what do they affect? Everything!

Most people use the same basic ingredients to make chocolate chip cookies. However, almost everyone has chocolate chip cookies that taste slightly different. Why is that? That is because people are variable and use the ingredients in different amounts and orders. When we create a golf swing, whether we are aware of it or not, we are using the same basic ingredients as everyone else: lateral force, vertical torque, and vertical force. We use these same three forces every time we move in space, and how much and when we use each force changes the outcome quite a bit.

Welcome to the world of 3D!

Understanding how to adjust the sequencing and magnitude of these forces is critical when it comes to truly owning and understand your golf swing. The good news is that most of our adjustments come before the swing and have to do with how we set up to the ball. For example, if an athlete is having a hard time controlling low point due to having too much lateral force in the golf swing (fats and thins), then we narrow up the stance width to reduce the amount of lateral force that can be produced in the swing. If an athlete is late with their vertical force, then we can square up the lead foot to promote the lead leg straightening sooner and causing the vertical force to happen sooner.

While we all will need to use the ground differently to play our best golf, two things need to happen to use the ground effectively. The forces have to exist in the correct kinetic sequence (lateral, vertical torque, vertical force), and the peaks of those forces need to be created within the correct windows (sequencing).

  • Lateral force – Peak occurs between top-of-swing and lead arm at 45 degrees
  • Vertical torque – Peak occurs between lead arm being 45 degrees and the lead arm being parallel to the ground.
  • Vertical force – Peak occurs between lead arm being parallel to the ground the club shaft being parallel to the ground.

While it may seem obvious, it’s important to remember ground reaction forces are invisible and can only be measured using force plates. With that said, their tends to be apprehension about discussing how we use the ground as most people do not have access to 3D dual force plates. However, using the screening process designed by Mike Adams, Terry Rowles, and the BioSwing Dynamics team, we can determine what the primary forces used for power production are and can align the body in a way to where the athlete can access his/her full potential and deliver the club to the ball in the most effective and efficient way based off their predispositions and anatomy.

In addition to gaining speed, we can help athletes create a better motion for their anatomy. As golfers continue to swing faster, it is imperative that they do so in a manner that doesn’t break down their body and cause injury. If the body is moving how it is designed, and the forces acting on the joints of the body are in the correct sequence and magnitude, not only do we know they are getting the most out of their swing, but we know that it will hold up and not cause an unforeseen injury down the road.

I truly believe that force plates and ground reaction forces will be as common as launch monitors in the near future. Essentially, a launch monitor measures the effect and the force plates measure the cause, so I believe we need both for the full picture. The force plate technology is still very expensive, and there is an educational barrier for people seeking to start measuring ground reaction forces and understanding how to change forces, magnitudes, and sequences, but I’m expecting a paradigm shift soon.

 

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Why you are probably better at golf than you think (Part 2)

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Golf is very much a monkey-see-monkey-do sport. If you ever go to the local range, you are sure to see golfers trying to copy the moves of their favorite player. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it does not. While I understand the logic of trying to mimic the “secret move” of the most recent winner on tour, I always balk when the person trying to create their best impression fails to realize the physical differences between them and the best golfing athletes in the world.

Read part 1 here. 

In addition to most golfers not being at the same fitness levels as the best players in the world, they also do not have bodies that are identical to their favorite player. This single statement proves why there is not one golf swing; we all are different sizes and are going to swing the club differently due to these physical differences.

You have to understand your swing

The biggest reason I believe that golfers are better than they think is most golfers I meet do not understand what their swings should look like. Armed with video after video of their golf swing, I will always hear about the one thing that the golfer wishes they could change. However, that one thing is generally the “glue” or athleticism of the athlete on display and is also the thing that allows them to make decent contact with the ball.

We are just coming out of the “video age” of golf instruction, and while I think that recording your golf swing can be extremely helpful, I think that it is important to understand what you are looking for in your swing. As a young coach, I fell victim to trying to create “pretty swings”, but quickly learned that there is not a trophy for prettiest swing.

It comes down to form or function, and I choose function

The greatest gift I have ever received as an instructor was the recommendation to investigate Mike Adams and BioSwing Dynamics. Mike, E.A. Tischler, and Terry Rowles have done extensive research both with tour-level players as well as club golfers and have developed a way to test or screen each athlete to determine not only how their golf swing will look, but also how they will use the ground to create their maximum speed. This screen can be completed with a tape measure and takes about five minutes, and I have never seen results like I have since I began measuring.

For example, a golfer with a greater wingspan than height will have a golf swing that tracks more to the outside during the backswing and intersects the body more towards the trail shoulder plane during the backswing. A golfer with a shorter wingspan than height will have a swing that tracks more to the inside and intersects the body closer to the trail hip plane. Also, a golfer with a greater wingspan than height will have a more upright dynamic posture than a golfer with a shorter wingspan than height who will be more “bent over” at the address position.

Sport coats and golf swings

Have you ever bought a sport coat or suit for a special occasion? If so, pay attention to whether it is a short, regular, or long. If you buy a long, then it means that your arms are longer than your torso and you can now understand why you produce a “steeper” backswing. Also, if you stand with your feet about shoulder-width apart and your middle-finger tips touching the top of your kneecaps, you will have perfect dynamic posture that matches your anatomy. If it appears that you are in a taller posture, then you have your second clue that your wingspan is greater than your height.

Translation to improvement

Using this and five other screens, we can help the athletes understand a complete blueprint of their golf swing based off their anatomy. It is due to the work of Mike, E.A., and Terry that we can now matchup the player to their swing and help them play their best. The reason that I believe that most golfers are better than they think is that most golfers have most of the correct puzzle pieces already. By screening each athlete, we can make the one or two adjustments to get the player back to trusting their swing and feeling in control. More importantly, the athlete can revisit their screen sheet when things misfire and focus on what they need to do, instead of what not to do.

We are all different and all have different swings. There is no one way to swing a golf club because there is no one kind of golfer. I encourage every golfer to make their swing because it is the only one that fits.

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How golf should be learned

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With the COVID-19 pandemic, golf is more popular than ever. Beginners being introduced to the game often find that golf is very hard, much harder than other sports they have played. To simplify the golf swing and make the game easier, it needs to start with a concept.

Golf should first be learned from a horizontal position. If the ball was placed four feet above the ground on a large tee, players would naturally turn in an efficient direction with the proper sequence to strike the ball on the tee.

Take for example, a person throwing a ball towards a target. With their eyes out in front of them? having an awareness to the target, their body would naturally turn in a direction to go forward and around towards the target. In golf, we are bent over from the hips, and we are playing from the side of the golf ball, so players tend to tilt their body or over-rotate, causing an inefficient backswing.

This is why the golf swing should be looked at as a throwing motion. The trail arm folds up as the body coils around. To throw a ball further, the motion doesn’t require more body turn or a tilt of the body.

To get the feeling of this horizontal hitting position or throwing motion, start by taking your golf posture. Make sure your trail elbow is bent and tucked with your trail shoulder below your lead shoulder.

From here, simply lift your arms in front of you while you maintain the bend from your hips. Look over your lead shoulder looking at the target. Get the clubhead traveling first and swing your arms around you. Note how your body coils. Return the club back to its original position.

After a few repetitions, simply lower your arms back to the ball position, swing your arms around you like you did from the horizontal position. Allow your shoulders, chest and hips to be slightly pulled around. This is now your “throwing position” in the golf swing. From here, you are ready to make a downswing with less movement needed to make a proper strike.

Note: Another great drill to get the feel for this motion is practicing Hitting driver off your knees.

Twitter: @KKelley_golf

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