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The complex but important role of the thorax and pelvis during the downswing
By: Sean Horan (profile)
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This article focuses on the movements of the thorax (or trunk or torso) and the pelvis that occurs during the downswing phase of the swing.

This article focuses on the movements of the thorax (or trunk or torso) and the pelvis that occurs during the downswing phase of the swing.

Even though I am ignoring the important role of the legs, arms and club, just controlling the movement of the pelvis and the thorax to produce a successful swing is an extraordinarily complex task that the pros make look easy.

Both of these body segments not only rotate about three different axes, but also translate along three different axes (i.e. move forward or backward, left or right, and up or down). See Figure 1.

What’s more, there are multiple muscles that attach to both the pelvis and thorax, which need to be activated and controlled by the golfer for coordinated movement to occur.

Most skilled golfers produce a specific order and pattern of movement that ultimately contributes to the success of the full golf swing [1, 2].

The normal sequence during the downswing involves first the pelvis translating (i.e. ‘bumping’) and rotating to the left, closely followed by sequential rotation of the thorax, arms and club back toward the target [3]. From a practical sense, if the first downswing movement involves the incorrect body segment or incorrect pattern of segmental movement, the flow on effect is that it is very difficult to get ones swing ‘back on track’ by the time the ball is struck. The end result is that the swing is less effective and may also lead to injuries. Hence, it is vital that the first movement of the downswing is the correct one.


Figure 1.

From a physical perspective, there are a number of reasons why it might be difficult to control the complex movement of the pelvis and the thorax required for the downswing. For example, it appears that it is more difficult to sense the movement of these body segments or determine where the segments are in space than it is for other body regions like the hand (i.e. poorer proprioception). It may also be that because the required movements of the pelvis and thorax are intricate and occur rapidly, there is often some sort of trade-off between accuracy and speed of movement. This sacrifice of accuracy is easily and often observed when golfers are trying to generate greater speeds during the swing, - with a variety of swing faults resulting. Such faults may include: poor thorax-pelvis separation at the top of the backswing; forward thrusting of the pelvis during the downswing (i.e. pelvis moves toward the ball); and incorrect sequencing of the pelvis, thorax and arms during the downswing.

One simple test you can perform to assess your ability to independently move your pelvis in a coordinated manner is shown in Figure 2. In this test, assume your normal setup position however fold your arms across your chest. A good place to perform this test is in front of a mirror so you can get some visual feedback on your performance. Once in position, try to rotate your pelvis left and right in a slow controlled manner, while at the same time not allowing your thorax to move. Your upper body should remain still throughout the entire test. If you do the test well, your pelvis should move smoothly left and right with no jerkiness and through a range of about 45 degrees left and right. There should be no change in spine angle and your pelvis should remain fairly level. Another similar test is to turn side on to the mirror, and instead of rotating left and right, try and tilt your pelvis forward (anterior) and backward (posterior) while keeping your thorax in the same position.


Figure 2.

If you find that you have difficulty with either of these tests, or have experienced difficulty with the correct sequence of pelvis and thorax movement during the downswing, then you can try the drills illustrated in Figure 3. In the first drill you will need a dumbbell that weighs 3-5kg. Lying on your back with your knees bent up in the air; try to rotate your arms and upper body in one direction while your legs and lower body rotate in the opposite direction. Try to perform continuously without stopping between each rotation. You should be aiming for a nice smooth rotation of your lower half, and not ‘wagging your tail’ which involves a tilting left and right of your lower body.


Figure 3.

In the second drill, you need a very light medicine ball (1kg) or a basketball. Adopt your normal setup position once again with the ball held in front of you. Now take a significantly abbreviated backswing and pause at this position. From this abbreviated top of backswing position, try to throw the ball firmly into the ground just in front of your lead foot. It is important not to throw the ball too far out in front of you. If you are doing this exercise well, you will feel like your pelvis is leading first, followed by your upper body and arms. Repeat 15-20 times for both exercises. Remember the overall goal of each exercise is the quality and control of movement.

References

1. Burden, A.M., P.N. Grimshaw and E.S. Wallace. 1998. Hip and shoulder rotations during the golf swing of sub-10 handicap players. Journal of Sports Science, 16(2): 165-76. 2. Myers, J., S. Lephart, Y.-S. Tsai, T. Sell, J. Smoliga and J. Jolly. 2008. The role of upper torso and pelvis rotation in driving performance during the golf swing. Journal of Sports Sciences, 26(2): 181-188. 3. Horan, S.A., K. Evans, N.R. Morris and J.J. Kavanagh. 2010. Thorax and pelvis kinematics during the downswing of male and female skilled golfers. Journal of Biomechanics, In Press, Corrected Proof.

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