by Chris Finn, from Par 4 Success
I am sure you’ve seen that the ability to turn shoulders and hips that is so impressive on the PGA and LPGA Tours. How do they do that? Should amateurs be able to do that? How much hope do we “normal” golfers have?
We are going to answer all these questions. By the end of this article, you will know and understand how pros create that much turn. You’ll also learn what 4 major areas you can test yourself on to see where you can improve, as well as how you compare to the pros on Tour.
What do pros do that most golfers don’t?
All the research done on the best golfers in the world has led to some very interesting findings, and differences, between the pro’s and the amateurs. The most important of which for us are these four statistics:
- Most professionals can turn their thoracic spine (most instructors call this a “shoulder turn”) at least 60 degrees
- Most can rotate their hip internally at least 45 degrees
- Most can externally rotate their shoulder beyond spine angle when in golf posture
- Most can touch their chin to their collarbone
I intentionally use the qualifier “most” because there are some professionals that struggle in some of these areas, but they are able to overcome deficits with compensations. Just because you can pass these tests doesn’t mean you’ll play on Tour, but if you can pass these tests it means you have the flexibility and mobility to achieve the positions necessary in the golf swing for it to be repeatable, consistent, powerful and pain-free.
How do I know if I can do these things?
If you fail any of the following tests, I would strongly recommend you think about taking action to fix the issues identified. We have seen thousands of golfers say good-bye to pain and achiness while at the same time saying hello to more distance by simply addressing these four main rotational centers.
Test 1: Seated Trunk Rotation
Seated in a chair, cross your arms across your chest so that your hands are resting on your shoulders. Rotate your torso to the right and then the left keeping your knees together. Your goal is to rotate 60 degrees in each direction.
If you cannot reach 60 degrees, the absolute minimum to swing safely is 45 degrees. If you are at 45 or below, you are in serious risk of injury and are going to have a very hard time getting into the most efficient and effective positions in the golf swing. The most common swing faults seen with people who have this limitation are loss of posture and standing up in the backswing. There are others, but these are the most common. The most common injury associated with golfers who fail this test are low-back pain because the body tries to use the low back to make up for the lack of motion in the upper back.
Test 2: Seated Hip Rotation
Seated in a chair with feet flat on the ground and knees bent to 90 degrees, rotate your lower leg out to the side attempting to have your shin angle reach 45 degrees without shifting, lifting or leaning the body.
Common swing faults with golfers who fail this test are swaying and sliding (the result of lots of lateral movement in the swing), as well as all of the loss of posture issues. If you cannot reach the 45 degrees seated, then you likely are not achieving full hip rotation in your swing. You need — at a minimum, in our experience — at least 35 degrees on both sides to have a chance at swinging safely and efficiently. At 35 degrees, setup changes such as flaring your feet out sometimes are enough to make up for the tightness.
As above, make sure your instructor knows if you fail this test so they can help you make the technical adjustments necessary. It is also VERY important to note that failing this test is the No. 1 predictor for low back pain in golfers. Just as with the upper back, if the hip is not rotating, the body often resorts to the low back to make up for the lack of rotation.
If you are seeing a trend here, you are smarter than most doctors. Low-back pain in golfers is rarely an actual back problem when it starts. It’s most often caused by other areas in the body being limited and the body overusing the low back to compensate. If you can improve your rotary ability, you can GREATLY reduce your chance of injury.
Test 3: Shoulder Rotation Test in Posture
Standing in golf posture with elbows raised to the side to shoulder height, attempt to rotate your arms backward as shown in picture. Your goal is that they rotate past spine angle without your lower back arching.
The low back arching is the most common compensation seen (again demonstrating that if your back hurts, you probably don’t have a back problem, but an issue somewhere else in your body that is increasing stress on the back). Common swing faults seen with failed shoulder tests are chicken winging and flying elbows, as well as poor posture and difficulty being on the proper plane. In addition to back injuries, elbow and wrist pain are very common injuries with origins in the failure of this test.
Test 4: Neck Rotation Test
Seated in a chair, rotate your chin to touch your collar bone. Keep your mouth closed and do NOT shrug your shoulder.
What if you failed this test? What swing problems could you see? Perhaps the most common swing deficit with a failed neck rotation test is trouble not swaying and sliding laterally during the golf swing. Other possible swing issues that arise are standing up out of posture or having to use other body parts excessively to compensate.
While neck limitations are not common with golfers under 50 unless there is a history of traumatic injury, they are a LOT more common than you would think in the senior population. If you try to increase your “shoulder turn” in your golf swing but have an undiscovered lack of neck rotation, you are setting yourself up for potential disaster in terms of injury and most definitely performance. Neck limitations are probably one of the least-talked-about issues plaguing the majority of our senior golf population, yet they’re so easy to discover.
This is a logical progression in your mind. You took the above tests and figured out you have some problems. Now you want to know what to do to fix them, right?
Let us know how you did by emailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org with your results and we’d be happy to send you a simple fix or two for any tests you had issues with.
Alternatively, as a thanks for being a part of the GNN community, we are offering complimentary 1 on 1 strategy calls with Golf Digest Top 50 Golf Fitness Professionals.
We’re looking forward to helping you play better, swing faster and hurt less.
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