X-Factors in your Golf Swing
While it is still early February, golf season in Canada is just around the corner! And while the snow and cooler temperatures might have you thinking more about hitting the slopes than the links, improving your golf game from a strength and flexibility standpoint should be starting now, as it takes about 6 weeks for our bodies to adapt to the training we put in!
Before discussing HOW to improve your strength and flexibility (which will not only benefit you in your day to day life, but ALSO for your golf swing), it is important to understand a bit of the biomechanics of the golf swing and what motions are the most significant in terms of producing a more powerful swing(and in return, hitting the ball a little further-which is never a bad thing!)
The above diagram demonstrates the sequence of a golf swing for a right handed player (in this case Keegan Bradley). Unfortunately for us golfers who play left handed, we will have to imagine a mirror image of this diagram. Essentially after addressing the ball, the upswing begins, where the club moves up from the ground to the overhead position. Once at the top of the swing, the downswing begins, where the club moves toward the ground to hit the ball. After impact, we finish the swing with the follow-through.
Work by Chu et al (2010) and Sinclair et al (2014) has shed some light on the most important components of the golf swing for developing faster club head speed at ball contact (which then translates into further ball flight). Below are some of the highlights of their work:
The backswing begins from the bottom up. This means, the power from the legs initiates a strong backswing.
Greater Trunk Rotation = Greater Swing Speed.This in the golfing world is also referred to as the 'X-Factor', in that those players who can dissociate the movement of the torso from the pelvis further (ie rotate more) tend to not only have faster club head speeds, but also tend to hit the ball further and be players of lower handicap. To develop a bigger 'X-Factor', it becomes important to learn to rotate the shoulders and hips in opposite directions, as this leads to a phenomenon called 'X-Factor Stretch'. X Factor Stretch is like the pre-loading of muscles, so when the time comes to use those muscles, they can contract stronger and faster than a muscle that isn't stretched. To help you understand this, think of a rubber band. By stretching the elastic completely prior to releasing the tension, it will allow the rubber band to fly further through the air than only partially stretching the rubber band prior to release. You could also think of a bow & arrow to help understand the effect stretch has on creating energy. Below is a video of PGA Tour Professional Adam Scott and his swing, that is often touted as being one of the most biomechanically correct on tour. When watching, take a look at just how much rotation he gets through the torso during the upswing by rotating his shoulders and keeping his pelvis relatively stable. This in large part is what enables him to generate such tremendous club head speed (in case you were wondering, he averages club head speed of around 120mph-certainly one of the fastest in the PGA!) In contrast, most amateur golfers' club head speed is below 100mph. And, since controlled speed=distance, you can begin to see just how this affects how far the ball travels! [youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PRSdzOqsTo0&w=640&h=360]
Greater weight shift from trailing leg to lead leg in the downswing=Greater Swing Speed=Greater Distance.This again reinforces the concept that using the big muscles in the legs to create power is so important for creating longer ball flight. Not surprisingly, professional golfers and those with lower handicaps adopt more and quicker weight shift in the downswing. It is important to note that while we are looking for weight shift, this doesn't mean we are wanting to see excessive movement toward the target during this part of the swing. Again, in the video above notice how Adam Scott is transferring a tremendous amount of weight from the trailing leg to the lead leg throughout the downswing, however there is actually very minimal lateral shift (a shift in the direction of your target). This minimal lateral shift is important because a large lateral movement can become painful on the hip.
Faster Wrist Release during the downswing=Further Ball Flight. What is important to note is that professional golfers were not only able to release the wrist during the downswing, but that they performed this quick 'flick' of the wrist just prior to impact. More amateur golfers were slower to release the wrist, and too often released early in the swing which causes decelerationof the club prior to ball contact (which, as you can imagine by this point means reduced club head speed and reduced ball flight distance). This concept is important because of inertia. To understand why, think of a figure skater spinning on ice. With their arms outstretched they will spin far slower than if they tuck their arms in nice and tight to their bodies. If the wrist releases closer to impact, the faster the club head speed will be just prior to impact. Conversely, if the wrist releases too soon in the downswing (sometimes called casting due to its resemblance to the casting of a fishing rod) this causes the club head speed to automatically slow down(all thanks to inertia!), so by the time of impact your club isn't travelling near as fast as it could be if you had released the wrist a bit later. And, you guessed it, this means you've just sacrificed some distance off the club! Check out this link to see just how inertia plays a role in generating inertia and velocity! [youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MjYk5TRpOlE&w=640&h=360]
Based on these 4 revelations about the golf swing, we can immediately see areas where improving core stability and trunk mobility can have a significant impact on your golf game and driving distance! And, sure enough,scientific literature has concluded that flexibility training provides sizeable increases in club-head speed! Check out my blog on how to develop your x factor.
Dr. Elaine Screaton (DC, BSc) is a NW Calgary Chiropractor currently practicing at Synergea Family Health Centre in Calgary, AB. Dr. Elaine is also an avid golfer in the summer, and plays to a handicap of 6.
Chu, Yungchien, Timothy C. Sell, and Scott M. Lephart. "The relationship between biomechanical variables and driving performance during the golf swing." Journal of sports sciences28.11 (2010): 1251-1259.
Sinclair, J., et al. "Biomechanical correlates of club-head velocity during the golf swing." International Journal of Performance Analysis in Sport14.1 (2014): 54-63.