PART 2: “DOWNSWING” INTO ACTION ON THE GREEN
Poor mechanics, a lack of flexibility and muscular imbalances can negatively affect a golfer’s game. Large deficits in trunk rotation lead to lateral body movement which displaces your center of gravity and throws your golf swing off balance.
Today’s post is all about the “swing.” Understanding the interconnected relationship bewteen the musculoskeletal system, the fascial systems and cognitive neurological responses to performance based movement patterns; all of which can impact your golf game for the positive or the negative, depending on your strengths and limitations. This statement seems obvious, however most golfers do not really know where to start when attempting to “improve their golf game.” At the end of this post I offer some tips on corrective movement preparation and mobility based stretches for pre and post green action.
The best place to start is at the beginning – Tee’ing off and the swing. The swing should be assessed as an overall structure and much like when you leave your house, you ensure you have your wallet, your keys, your phone, your necessities. Your swing is much the same – don’t leave the proverbial home without checking the below.
Breaking down the swing pattern:
- address setup, alignment and posture
- impact and follow through
- follow through and impact with the ball
This can be further divided into 2 styles of swing patterning, depending on the clients bio mechanics.
1. “Tail swings the dog”
This occurs when the body passively twists about in space in reactive motion to accommodate the movements of the arms and club coming across and in front of the body. The terminology “the tail swings the dog” gives an accurate visualization because the central axial of the torso has to reactively respond to the active movements of the appendicular torso (arms and hands) – try to say that 10 times fast! Those who are limber or especially younger athletes, will experience this style of swing because of the increased mobility in their joints, and ability to rotate with ease. They usually have a light, lithe torso that is very flexible and pliant and it can easily move about in space in reactive, but passive, response to forces generated by the actively moving arms/hands/club. This concern here is over rotation, which can decrease power output because of additional lag time bewteen the up and down swing.
2. “Dog swings the tail”
In contrast most adults and individuals who “get in the game” later on in life, as well as the corporate golfer will most likely will have a heavy, non-pliant central torso, which may not easily twist about in space in reactive response to arm movements across the front of the body. What we visually can see is the central torso (“dog”) actively powers this type of golf swing while the arms/clubshaft (“tail”) are passively swung around the rotating torso in response to forces generated by the large muscles of the central body.
When using a “dog swings the tail” type of golf swing, a golfer has to primarily move the central torso so that the shoulders rotate around the central torso’s pivot axis. As the shoulders rotate, the arms are forced to move because they are attached to the central body at the shoulder joint, and the arms are passively flung around the body by the rotating shoulders. This will be the main focus of this post since it is also a higher percentage of the “golf” population in my clientele.
Both of these styles are not 100% efficient, and can reduce power output and energy distribution through the many phases of the swing, however, many golfers will fall into one of these styles. The goal is to work towards multi segmental awareness so that the movement and transfer to energy can effectively make contact with the ball, this requires a full body integration with separation between lower and upper halves during the swing (aka – your hips are stable and move WITH and in conjunction through the rotation that is initiated in the trunk and upper body during the first phases of the up swing.
On other notable factor with this style is that lateral shift that can occur. The lateral shift is quite common when golfers have tight hips, s posture or kyphosis in the spine. The hips should move freely in rotation in an ossicallating manner, but rather than oscillate, the body has to compensate by shifting laterally in up and down swing, adn this can slow down and inhibit the upper body rotation – thus weakening your downswing.
Lateral deviation of your body during the backswing or downswing often results in a myriad of issues; such as:
- Loss of balance
- Reduced power
- Poor accuracy
- Over slicing the ball
- Topping the ball
- Poor shoulder and postural mechanics
Mike Vanderwolf, the Director of Golf Instruction at McCleery GolfAcademy allowed me to sit in on one of our mutual clients coaching sessions. Our client is an avid female golfer and fitness enthusiast. Her limitations primarily stem from past injuries with the respect to the hips; which has limited rotation and multi segmental ability to differentiate upper and lower halves, as well as extension patterning in both the anterior and posterior kinetic chains and fascial lines. Her strengths however; deeply impact her ability to perform well, even through these limitations. Our client has the strength to effectively power through the swing and is spatially and kinaesthetically aware in her proficiency when addressing her set up and posture for the swing.
Mike’s cueing during this coaching session focused on improving our client’s compensation pattern to continually hit too far right. Her limitation – being able to rotate properly through the hips, rather than just shift the weight and to anchor the lower body and lead with the upper body, rather than a lateral shift and reduced swing; which results in faulty swing mechanics, reduced impact during the downswing and follow through.
For today’s post, we will look at the down swing, as this generally seems to be a compensation issue for many golfers. When the downswing can be corrected, the upswing and impact with the ball becomes more efficient.
Getting Down with “The downswing:”
The first purpose of the downswing process is the need to generate swing power. The second purpose of the downswing process is to ensure that the clubshaft moves in space in the “correct” manner so that it will allow the golfer to produce an in-to-in clubhead swing path through the impact zone.
How that pivot action occurs can be seen in the kinetic link theory diagram below. The kinetic link theory is based on the belief that energy is transferred from one body part to the next body part in a set kinetic chain sequence and that energy is conserved during this energy transferal process (according to the law of conservation of momentum).
A key notable characteristic of the golf swing are the major biomechanical movement patterns involved in the downswing action; which evolve in a certain set sequence. This sequence is called the kinetic sequence; which starts from the ground-up with a pelvic shift-rotational movement.
During the initial phase the golfer actively shift and rotates the pelvis during the start of the downswing, pushing into the floor to connect the body and movement with ground resistance forces, this transfers load and the result is to torque the pelvis in a shift-rotational manner. This transfers the next sequence of movement to the upper torso and shoulder complex, where the body then starts to rotate around a rightwards tilted spine. This combined transfer of force and load results in what we call “the pivot action.” The pivot action essentially drives the swing from a swing power perspective.
Mike’s reccommendations for our mutual client is to work on multi segmental rotation in a variety of postures (supine, standing, all fours etc). A better understanding of the movement patterns and distribution of load through a rotation are key to improving overall performance on and off the green. Corrective movement and mobility/stability re patterning can effectively aid in improving movement where there is restriction and binding of the muscle and fascia, as well as cognitively understanding the relationship of the kinetic lines and sequencing.
This requires a certain balance of movement preparation drills both before her coaching with Mike and before hitting the green, a dynamic sequence that can “warm up” the necessary kinetic chains and fascial lines to lubricate the joints and aid in proper circulation of both energy and nutrients. In the gym, this includes adding in reactive response specific multi segmental rotational drills that focus on motor control and swing pattern for all the phases of the swing pattern.
An effective 8-10min movement prep drill could include:
- Soft tissue release with the roller, magic stick or foot roller (or all of the above)
- Soft rolling patterns (upper and lower)
- T-Spine rib pulls and arm circles
- Hip Flexor Stretch with Core Activation
- Kneeling Lunge with lateral stretch
- Reverse Lunge with twist and reach
- Walking knee cradle
- Leg swings (forward and side to side)
- ITB cross overs with hamstring integration
Key fascial stretches to consider for passive post golf or alternate days:
- Cat Flow Series (Anterior and Posterior Lines)
- Thread the needle (Spiral and Back Lines)
- The Bretzle or Thomas Stretch (Anterior and Spiral Lines)
- Triangle (use wall for posture) (Lateral Lines)
- Pigeon Pose (Lateral, Spiral and Back Lines)
- ITB Supine crossover (Lateral Line)
- Hip Mobility with cervical integration using soft tissue pressure pointing (Posterior and Spiral Lines)
Next week we will look at the fascia system and integrated lines in golfing. This 4 part series is not to be missed!
Mike Vanderwolf, the Director of Golf Instruction at McCleery Golf Academy – http://mccleerygolfacademy.uschedule.com/Home.aspx
The Fundamentals of Hogan, David Leadbetter – book