This article helps you to understand how your body moves and identify factors that may affect your performance.
You can’t fire a cannon from a canoe! This frequently quoted statement rings true for so many golfers that I see coming into the gym to do golf-specific fitness training. Their limitation? They cannot dynamically balance or stabilise.
As we all know, the golf swing is a stationary two footed skill, unless of course you adopt the Happy Gilmore approach to the game and then you will need a lot more than just balance! Physiotherapists and Strength and Conditioning (S&C) coaches use a variety of tests to understand how your body moves and identify factors that may affect your performance. However, one simple test you can try is the single leg balance with your eyes closed (Figure 1). I like this test because it highlights the golfer’s ability to use their proprioception (feel) to maintain their balance without the assistance of vision. I expect golfers to score at least 15 seconds on this test; over 25 seconds and you are looking solid!
Figure 1. The Single Leg Balance Test (Eyes Closed).
But why do we need stability in the swing? Surely as we have both feet on the ground it is not an important characteristic for a golfer to have? There are a number of reasons why it is important:
1. A golfer needs to be able to load up (or coil into) the trail side. Data that I have collected using a pressure plate and video analysis on the Men’s and Ladies’ European Tour has demonstrated that players that strike the ball longer distances actually transfer their weight further (laterally) into their trail side before transition into the downswing. This does not mean that these players sway during the swing. On the contrary, effective weight transference allows optimum coiling of the body during the backswing. However, some players have difficulty loading their trail side during the backswing. Possible physical reasons for this include:
Inadequate internal or external hip rotation range of motion.
Weakness or inhibition (not firing) of the gluteal muscles. The glutes are one of the main muscle groups used in the golf swing and poor gluteal function can affect your ability to create stability and maintain your dynamic posture through your full swing motion as well as in your chipping and putting set-up.
Flat feet may limit the amount of internal rotation occurring in the trail hip during the backswing and in the lead hip during the downswing.
Poor thoracic rotation (restricted rotation in the middle part of your spine).
Rounded shoulders and poking chin may reduce rotation into the backswing and therefore limit weight transfer and loading of the trail side.
I believe that getting a golfer into a good posture in the gym should be a key part of their physical training for golf. Achieving a balanced and functional posture through using two balance pads filled with air can be a good drill (Figure 2). The golfer must be balanced from heel to toe (50-50%) to achieve a good setup position and this gives the golfer an awareness of the muscles they need to use.
Balance pads can be used in the gym, at the range or even at home to develop balanced and functional posture. Poor stability on either leg leading to loss of loading to that side either in backswing for the trail leg, or downswing for lead leg.
Of course, difficulty transferring your weight during the swing could be a technical swing fault, in which case it will be your coach who will need to assist you.
In order to demonstrate the need for loading into the right side it is important to look at what is happening beneath the feet such as illustrated in the pressure profiles in Figures 3.0, 3.1 and 3.2. Explanation of pressure profiles: The white dots represent the centre of pressure movement (weight shift) throughout the swing. On the left of each picture is the left foot with the toes towards the top and the heels at the bottom and the right foot on the right of the picture. The brighter the colour, the more pressure there is being applied through the foot. An effective centre of pressure trace will look similar to Figure. 3.0. (taken from a Men’s European Tour player).
Figure 3.0 An example of an effective weight transfer: Male European Tour player’s 6 iron. Note the loading of the right side; the straight line of the dots from the right to the left, which as the player moves through the downswing, become more spaced out as the speed picks up.
Figure 3.1 Shorter ball striker on the LET – Note the lack of loading into the right side. The centre of pressure barely gets across the mid-line and therefore does not allow this player to coil over the trail hip. This was evident from the video of the swing and on testing; this player demonstrated a lack of stability around the core and right lower limb.
Figure 3.2 Longer ball striker on the LET – Note the further loading into the right foot compared to the shorter ball striker in Figure 3.1. Also notice the shift towards the toes as the player loses her dynamic posture through the downswing. Later we will discuss the forces at each stage of her swing.
There are other issues that we could discuss with all of these players’ weight transfer but hey, no one has found the perfect swing as yet!
2. Stability is also important in order to maintain dynamic posture through the backswing and downswing. Physical limitations and a lack of stability throughout the body can ultimately lead to a loss of energy transfer.
Where does this energy come from, and how do we transfer it to the ball? The grass on the golf course not only keeps green keepers busy, it also provides the starting point for the swing. In order to begin the takeaway, we need to press into the ground and for the ground to push back with equal force unless of course you have hit a wild drive into a swamp where as soon as you move the ground swallows you up!
This principle is important in our basic set up and, as we turn the hips and shoulders into the backswing, we push with our feet against the ground to provide the force needed to begin the coil. The energy then transfers up through the body from the larger muscles around the core to the smaller muscles in the arms and hands in order to hit the ball with maximal clubhead speed. If your legs, glutes and core are like jelly then there will definitely be wasted energy transfer and you will not be hitting the ball as far and possibly as accurately as you would like.
3. Loss of energy transfer from the ground upwards – Applying force through the lead foot in the downswing.
So we know that the ground and stabilising the body through the coil is important for the backswing, but what about the downswing? Stability plays a key role in allowing us to produce the forces needed to get the clubhead moving quickly. Watch any of Tiger’s swings and you will see him squat into the downswing to create power. This downward and rotational force that he creates can not be used effectively without balance, strength and stability. Results from the LET again indicated that the longer hitters were able to utilise this force through the correct part of the swing in order to generate increased power compared to the shorter hitters. Using force platforms or pressure plates, it is possible to calculate the vertical forces the golfer creates throughout the swing. Below are the two examples of % body weight taken from the Ladies European Tour. One is the longer distance ball striker and one is the shorter distance ball striker that were discussed above:
When looking at this graph it is clear to see that the total body weight % applied through the floor is greatly increased through the parallel pre-impact phase, where the club is parallel to the floor on the downswing (ideal TBW % at this phase is 140%-160%). However, this downward vertical force is not continued through to the parallel post-impact phase where the player is almost off the floor at just 14% TBW. By not staying in full contact with the floor, thus losing energy transfer, there is a chance that this player, although a long hitter already, could in fact hit the ball further! There could be many reasons as to why this 14% TBW is occurring during this swing including:
Loss of posture due to physical factors:
Weak core – unable to stabilise the dynamic posture.
Tight calf muscles – unable to maintain the angle at the ankles and therefore has to stand up to release the stretch.
Weak / inhibited glutes – unable to stabilise the dynamic posture.
Poor balance – unable to stabilise the body in a dynamic posture when large forces are being produced.
Or just a combination of technical swing fault where she feels she needs to almost ‘jump’ through impact to generate power.
Once again the vertical forces created by this shorter ball striker on the LET reach 80% total body weight at the top of the back swing which was the average value from the research collected. The TBW does not then express itself through the floor until after impact has been reached. This is possibly due to the fact that prior to impact the player has not coiled into the backswing effectively and loses posture on the way down. Therefore the downward force needed to create power through the swing has acted out of sequence and the ball is not hit as far as it could be through impact. At parallel pre impact where the ideal TBW is 140%-160% this player has only achieved 77.5% through the floor which would suggest that the movements in this phase and before in the backswing need analysis by a coach / Physio.
This information was linked to video analysis in order to correctly identify why these forces were occurring in the way they demonstrated themselves on the graphs.
4. Transfer of weight from the trail side to the lead side in the downswing – Power development = club head speed.
Research in the past (Mason et al., 1995; Brown et al., 2002) has suggested that in order to create power and therefore clubhead speed it is important to transfer your weight. They found that:
the faster the weight moved from the trail to the lead side,
the greater the range of weight transfer,
and the further the weight shift was towards the lead foot by impact
leads to greater clubhead speeds being generated. This rings true with the results of the longer and shorter ball strikers on the LET presented above.
Ultimately the golfer needs to be good at many different skills in order to be successful at this sport. Within this, stability and balance can play a huge role in allowing the body to stabilise the player over an important putt, provide a solid base to create a descending blow when chipping, allow loading or coiling into the backswing to provide the opportunity for weight transfer into the downswing. If you ever do find yourself trying to fire a cannon from a canoe then can I suggest taking it to dry land (not a swamp!), strapping it down and ensuring it becomes a stable base on which to shoot from. Oh, and make sure you line it up at the target!
For more information about the Strength & Conditioning and Biomechanics support services Ben offers please contact him by email: firstname.lastname@example.org .