I’m sure you have heard the saying, “Practice doesn’t make perfect, perfect practice does.”
Well there’s another saying that I like better that you maybe have NOT heard. That saying is, “Perfect is the enemy of better.”
Golfers often get stuck in a rabbit hole trying to master or perfect their golf swing without considering their body’s limitations or capacities.
The truth is that it takes more than just hitting countless golf balls at your local driving range to master your golf swing and maximize your power, accuracy and consistency on the course.
What does it actually take?
I may have lost you, so let me start off by explaining what kinematic sequencing is, and more importantly, why you should care about it.
In short, kinematic sequencing it is the transfer of energy from one area in your body to another.
Specifically, it can be thought of as the organization of our adjacent joints, and the relationship they have with the surrounding musculature. The actions and/or potential movements that can be created by the interaction of the two is referred to as our kinetic chain.
Take swinging a golf club for example…
The club itself actually becomes the final destination of the energy produced by your kinetic chain to generate force to hit the ball, while the sequencing is the path from start to finish.
For optimal performance of your golf swing there is a precisely timed sequence of body movements. The ideal kinematic sequence for a golf swing from the top of the back swing is for the power to be initiated by your hips, transferred to your thorax, (mid torso and shoulder complex) then through your arms/wrists, and finally to the club face.
I’m using the golf swing for the purpose of explaining kinematic sequencing and power production, but know that this application applies to ANY sport that involves throwing or rotational power, including but not limited to baseball, tennis, hockey and lacrosse.
Bottom line: if you present a weakness or a faulty movement in one area, it will impede your ability to transfer energy to another.
Your body will always take the path of least resistance, which can result in compensation if there are any blockages present along your chain. This will not only cause a loss of power, but also cause you to overuse or misuse other parts of your body. These manipulations can further lead to swing flaws and inconsistency, also known as “swing faults” amongst most golfers.
It may seem obvious, but the majority of amateur golfers don’t swing as effectively as Tour professionals. They also don’t hit the ball as accurately, as consistently, or as far.
Why should you care about all of this?
Well a better understanding of the causes of your faults and why they can hurt your swing will help you recognize what makes a great golf swing, the underlying cause of your inefficiencies, and how you can fix them.
All things that will ultimately improve your golf game.
The graph below shows the rotational speeds of the hips, (pelvis) chest, (thorax) lead arm, and the golf club during a typical professional golf swing.
In this graph you can see the swing has relatively smooth accelerations and decelerations until after impact. Each segment reaches speeds that are faster than the previous segment, and then decelerates rapidly as energy is transferred outwards, with each segment peaking fractionally later than that of the previous one. The hips peak first, (A) then the chest, (B) then the arms, (C) ending with the impact of the club (D).
As I just stated, each segment of the body builds on the previous segment—increasing speed up the chain. However, you can also note from the graph above that each segment of the chain slows down once the next segment begins to accelerate. This is due to the distal segment pushing off the proximal segment causing a sequential deceleration or stabilization of the segments.
I know that’s a lot to digest, so the best analogy I can think of to help you understand this concept is to think of the handle of a whip. The first thing you do is accelerate the handle of a whip to generate speed. Then you rapidly decelerate the handle to transfer speed to the next part of the whip.
Still with me?
First thing to understand—if you have good kinematic sequencing (hips-thorax-arms-club)—is that you build speed as you execute your swing. But if your timing is off, and let’s say you initiate movement with your arms first followed by your hips, then your potential power, speed and consistency will suffer as a result. Essentially, you have no flow.
The second component to understand is that whenever speed or power production is a consideration you have to equally respect your capacity to decelerate or stop.
The reality is there is no point of being able to go fast if you cannot effectively slow down. What may be more interesting is that the faster you can stop moving correlates with how fast you can move in the first place. This is not only important from a change in direction stand point, but also applies to swinging motions where sequential deceleration is needed to have actual stabilization at each joint involved.
So what does all this mean?
Long story short a golf swing is not all about swinging fast and hard. It’s about correct sequencing, segmental stabilization and mobility.
A lot of amateur golfers spend hours at the driving range with the intention to improve both the consistency of their swing, and their distance. However, at some point you will plateau as your body can only do what it is capable of UNLESS you implement a strategy to productively improve.
Some Important Considerations
As Titleist Performance Institute (TPI) certified fitness facility we use the TPI screen to ensure athletes have adequate mobility of their hips and control through their lumbar spine so they’re able to effectively transfer power from their lower body to their upper body during a golf swing.
The TPI screen consists of 13 individual tests in order to identify physical limitations that shape a player’s swing and/or can potentially contribute to painful movements.
The first thing we look at is if you have the capacity to move through your pelvis—via the pelvic tilt screen.
As you go through the transitional phase of the downswing your pelvis must go from an anteriorly tilted position, to a posteriorly tilted one. If you lack the mobility or motor control to do so you will find another pathway, which will often be through your lower back, which can lead to loss of power and injury.
The best way to train pelvic tilting is to pelvic tilt. We generally get clients to practice learning the movement while lying on their back with their knees bent. See the video below for an example of what I mean by this.
Next we progress it to a 4 point kneeling position, which is demonstrated in the video below.
Then when ready we get clients to practice it in a golf stance. See below for a visual of what I mean by this.
The next component we assess is dissociation.
The ability to dissociate your upper body from your lower body, and vice versa is an extremely important component for your lower body to lead the down swing.
Check out the video below of Jason Day’s swing to get a better idea of what I mean by this.
As you can see, Day demonstrates optimal kinematic sequencing that results in maximum power production. Day has perfected initiating and driving power through his hips before any other part of his body comes into play. His effectiveness at doing this is part of the reason he is currently the #1 golfer, hitting the ball with more power than most humans should.
To determine your proficiency with dissociation we assess your ability to move your hips independently of your torso via the pelvic rotation test, which can be viewed HERE. Conversely, we also assess your ability to move your torso independently of your hips via the torso rotation test, which can be viewed HERE.
Generally people will lack control to dissociate, the mobility to dissociate, or a combination of both.
Examples of exercises that we use to teach golfers how to maintain hip stability while moving through their upper body are the kneeling chop and lifting variations. However, if you don’t have access to gym equipment you can also try the drill below to achieve good dissociation of your upper and lower body.
To teach upper body stabilization we often utilize the step out drill demonstrated in the video below.
Or another favourite of ours is the stork drill, which you’ll find in this video.
There are 10 more tests that are involved in the full TPI screen, which enable us to determine exactly what your limiting factors are. It is important to acknowledge that the first step of your training program should be aimed at correcting any gross restrictions in your mobility and/or stability, as well as help improve any postural imbalances.
From there it’s crucial to build up base general strength.
I know that when most people think of golf they think of power. But maximal strength gives you a foundation, or the potential, to be more explosive and develop power.
Once you have undergone a period of building strength you can then focus on converting that strength to power.
The graph below illustrates the force-velocity curve to show you how the relationship between maximal strength and absolute speed is more or less a continuum.
The heavier the load lifted, the slower the movement, which is an example of max force or strength. Conversely, the lighter the load, the faster the movement, which eventually will transition into absolute speed. And then we have everything in between, like speed-strength and strength-speed, which deserve specific attention as they play a critical role in enhancing power and your capacity to decelerate.
The last aspect of your training is tying everything together. As strength coaches we ensure that your movement mechanics enable you to utilize the optimal kinematic sequence and that your kinetic chain, or the muscles involved in your chain, are trained to maximize your power potential.
What are the results?
Quite simply we’re able to reduce your chance of injury and help you consistently drive the ball further.
If you are interested in learning how a strength training program can help you with your golf performance, than I encourage you to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.