There’s no doubt that many golf faults can be cured with technical expertise, but there is a growing interest in physical limitations within the body and their effects on the swing. There has been much speculation about the role of fitness, and the types of fitness training appropriate to golf. In the early days there wasn’t a great appreciation of the difference between strength and power, and certainly not the increase of strength at the expense of sequence, and therefore to the detriment of full body power.
One thing is for certain, there is a clear correlation between proximal to distal sequencing, and good golf performance. As with any sport requiring efficiency of motion, power and timing, golf performance can be optimised by efficient distribution of motion throughout all available joints. It would therefore be beneficial to assess and solve any functional issues that might prevent a joint from making its contribution to the function of the golf swing.
The golf swing can be thought of as 2 parts- the backswing and the downswing. However, in reality thins aren’t as simple as that. In fact in slow motion, it can be seen that the downswing commences significantly before the top of the backswing. This may sound a bit counterintuitive, but when viewed in slow motion, particularly in the advanced golfer, the hips, the powerhouse of the swing, begin to move into the downswing before the shoulders have completed their turn.
Bubba Watson, (picture reversed) known for his distance off the tee, is a great example of proximal to distal sequencing.
This leads to massive muscular loading during the transition- During the early to mid backswing, the Thoracic spine is required to rotate to the right, and laterally flex to the left, driven distally by the arms. Since the hips are also rotating to the right a little, this is a fairly gentle right rotation with the proximal pelvis, and distal shoulders moving in the same direction. When the hips start down, they translate, and rotate hard to the left, while the shoulders are still rotating to the right- proximal and distal segments moving in opposite directions- creating massive loading of the abdominals and the lumbar area in a very short period of time.
Many of the top golfers- Sergio Garcia, Ben Hogan and Phil Mickelson to name a few, are known for the power they create in the golf swing, from a ‘lag’ of the club head behind the hands, as they approach the impact position. This leads to massive acceleration and power through the ball, and is an aspect of the swing that sets them apart from the average golfer. To draw a parallel to the way in which power is produced within the body, it could be said that every joint in the body is an opportunity for this power in terms of the lag that is produced, as segments move in opposite directions or at different speeds to each other and therefore lengthen and load the muscles that cross them. To take the Thoracic spine as an example, if a player is lacking type 1 motion, sequence will not occur as naturally as if the motion was feathered nicely through each segment.
In terms of injury prevention and management in golf, training for good motion at the foot and ankle, hips and Thoracic spine can take stress away from other body parts.
For example, if a player strives to make a 90 degree shoulder turn, it would be beneficial to optimise thoracic spine motion, to absorb as much type 1 motion as possible to prevent excessive strain on the lumbar area (or elsewhere, for that matter), which due to the orientation of the facets is more suited to type 2 motion. Likewise, a right handed golfer with poor left foot supination and hip internal rotation on the same side may experience some difficulties from excessive internal rotation of the knee during the follow through.
Any such functional deficits can often be restored with well directed exercise prescription, and Functional Manual Reaction (FMR) techniques to change the speed of segments as they move, to encourage separation and relative motion. Whether your goal is to hit the ball further, play for longer, or just to play golf pain free, the use of functional science techniques is the way forward for the future.