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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 [email protected] 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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I hope you all had an enjoyable Memorial Day weekend and took time to give solemn thanks to those true American heroes who gave all for our freedom over the many years past. We are all so very blessed to live in this great country, and the protectors of those freedoms are the most honored and blessed that have walked among us. We all owe them an unfathomable debt of gratitude.

I finished the weekend with my umpteenth watching of the classic golf movie, “Tin Cup.” I’m sure you all know it well.
So, just for fun, I thought I would extricate from that dramatic human tragedy/comedy some real lessons that we all might learn from this tale of Roy McAvoy, Texas driving range pro who achieves immortality of sorts by contending in his first U.S. Open and making the most mystical 12 on the final hole, which cost him the victory but secured his place in U.S. Open history. Or did it?

So here are my favorite takeaways from “Tin Cup”

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  2. There’s always a way to succeed. When Roy loses it at the regional qualifier and breaks all his clubs – except for his trusty 7-iron – he finds a way to get it home with only that one club. Of course, I would never recommend that drastic a measure, but the point is that when the chips are down – whether on the golf course or in life – it is wise to fall back on that old adage, “dance with who brung you”. When faced with difficulty, find an “old reliable” to fall back on. On the golf course it might mean going to your 3-wood on a bad driving day, or hitting bump and runs when your wedge play is sketchy. But in life, that might mean your spouse, a best friend, parent or sibling. There’s always a way.
  3. It’s all about the challenge…and having fun. A particularly funny scene is when Roy chooses to hit a bank shot off the portable toilet, rather than take a safe shot chipping out to the fairway. None of us are playing for the U.S. Open, so why not let go once in a while and try something crazy — just for FUN!
  4. Go for it! Roy came to the final hole with a chance to win the U.S. Open, but he chose to pursue his own even higher challenge – reaching the final green in two shots to set a U.S. Open scoring record. You all remember that final scene, where he dunks ball after ball into the pond fronting the green, before coming to the last ball in his bag. And with that one, he holes out for the most spectacular 12 in U.S. Open history.

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