THIS SERIES OF POSTS ON THE ANATOMY OF THE GOLF SWING IS DEDICATED TO THE GREATEST ANATOMY INSTRUCTOR IN THE WORLD – AND FORTUNATELY MINE, AT LOGAN UNIVERSITY –
DR. JAN CLIFFORD
Anatomy of the Golf Swing – The Shoulder (ie Upper Arm)
The shoulder refers to the ball-and-socket joint of the upper arm bone’s (humerus’) ‘ball’ to the shoulder blade’s (scapula’s) ‘socket’. The word shoulder can be used to mean upper-arm too.
The role of the arms in the golf swing is to deliver the club to the ball, so most golf mistakes happen by poor presentation of the arms – it’s usually too late to make many changes by the time the arms finally arrive at the ball (after the lower body, followed by the trunk and the shoulders, in a CORRECT downswing sequence).
Before we understand what good presentation of the arms might mean, we need to know the movement capabilities of the arm/shoulder.
The arm/shoulder (take a club in one hand and follow along) can move forwards – with a huge range of motion (FLEXION) – and backwards (EXTENSION).
The arm/shoulder can move away from the body – sideways – (ABDUCTION) and towards the center of the body (ADDUCTION). The relevant one for the golf swing is ADDUCTION (of the left arm), and is a movement which the body does not make very efficiently, as there is not much use for it in our every-day lives! You can try for yourself and see that the range of motion is limited.
The arm/shoulder can also rotate inwards (INTERNAL ROTATION) and outwards (EXTERNAL ROTATION). All of the following are different examples of internal and external rotation of the shoulder. Palm facing outwards is external rotation, palm facing behind you is internal rotation (see the first two of four pictures). Forearm close to the body is internal, forearm away from the body is external (see the third picture). Most importantly, when the forearms are in line with or further back from the target line than the upper arms, the shoulder is said to be in external rotation (see the fourth picture).
[The arm/shoulder can also make a combination-move – not important in golf – called circumduction].
So, if you’ve understood all 3 main pairs of moves well, describe what movements the arms have made in order to hold the club, at address.
Forward flexion, adduction and internal rotation, right?
Next look at your arms at the top of your backswing. Left (lead) arm? Right (trail) arm? Your left arm is probably adducted to start with (moved across the chest) and then it climbs higher than mere adduction will allow mainly because you’ve side-bent your left side.
Look at your right arm from down-the-target line. If your forearm is closer to the target line (an imaginary line connecting your ball and the target) than your upper-arm, it is in an internally rotated position.
Next look at your impact position – that is, what changes in position your shoulder made to get you from your top-of-backswing to your impact positions.
Actually, WAIT. STOP RIGHT THERE!
BEFORE you look at YOURSELF, lets have a look at where the arms of the best players in the world are AT IMPACT – after all, it’s the one phase of the golf swing during which the best players are truly the best, and very similar to one-another.
As can be seen the longest ball-strikers all serendipitously arrive at the ball in a similar manner – ‘from the inside’, with the lower body leading and the upper body trailing (correct sequencing), which is the biomechanical reason for both better distance and straight direction.
Why do they do that? We know that a primary requirement of the golf swing is to connect the inside-right (for a right-handed golfer) quadrant of the golf ball. (Contact to any other part results in a less-that-pure quality of impact). This can only happen if the lead left arm is arriving from the ‘inside’ with the trail right arm behind and below it.
To get back to YOU. How can YOU ensure that your arms are correctly positioned when moving towards the ball?
You will see if you compare YOUR top-of-backswing to YOUR impact that you’ve had to re-route your body into the position it was in at the top of the backswing, to get into the position seen in the picture of the Pros, OR MORE LIKELY, you never get into a position of externally-rotated shoulder.
What does re-route mean? Either your right side which was higher than your left at the top has to drop down, or you have to go from right shoulder internal to external rotation or both. NO TIME FOR ALL THAT, FOLKS.
You need to get into a top-of-backswing position which simply sets your arms for their role in the downswing and needs no extra movements to start the body moving target-wards.
In other words, your right shoulder should be well behind your right toe at the top of the backswing, and it should be externally rotated. It is NOT AT ALL easy for MOST BACKSWINGS to get the right arm into an externally rotated position and stay there almost until impact.
The Minimalist Golf Swing positions the body suitably during the set-up and keeps it in specific positions during the backswing, which force any golfer’s right shoulder (even one with Titleist Performance Institute’s famous C-Posture) into external rotation.
At the same time, the Minimalist Golf Swing’s pre-swing rotation puts the left scapula almost perpendicular to the target line, so that when the left arm is moved across the chest, it uses the bigger, stronger muscles of shoulder flexion rather than only those of adduction. [Any movement of the arm perpendicular to the scapula will use the muscles of flexion, a movement for which the human shoulder has a much greater range of motion.]
Anatomy of the Golf Swing Blog-post No. 4
Anatomy of the Golf Swing – The Shoulder Girdle (esp. Scapula)
[All descriptions are for a right-handed golfer].
The Shoulder Girdle, and, for that matter, all parts of the upper body, have one main function – to present the arms and thus the golf club to the ball in such a manner that the ball can travel as far, straight and high as possible. [For which results, the club must be moving as fast as possible and from an inside and shallow direction].
Often the terms ‘shoulder girdle’ and ‘shoulder’ are used interchangeably. They do, however, refer to completely different parts of the body. The shoulder girdle refers to two bones – the clavicle or collar-bone, and more importantly, for golf, the scapula or shoulder blade. [For more technical details on the ‘movement of the scapula and humerus’ see pg. 1861 in http://ptjournal.apta.org/content/66/12/1855.full.pdf].
The thin, triangule-shaped scapula has, on one of its corners, an indented area (the glenoid cavity/fossa), which serves as the ‘socket’, for the arm’s ‘ball-and-socket’ joint.
So the ‘ball’ (the top part or ‘head’ of the humerus or upper-arm bone) has a range of motion – in three directions – which is determined by which direction the scapula’s ‘socket’ is facing. In simple words, if the ‘socket’ faces up, the left arm can climb up across the chest more easily during the backswing. The opposite is true if the left ‘socket’ faces ‘down’.
Similarly, if the socket is presented forwards, with a hunched-forward shoulder, it restricts the range of motion of the right arm during the downswing.
[See how the right arm gets ‘crowded’ with a rounded back (pics on left, right arm in red) and is able to move freely with a flat right-side of the upper back (diagrams not to scale!)].
For the purpose of the golf swing, it must be noted that the main role of the ‘shoulder girdle’ or more specifically the scapula, is to be positioned so as to facilitate required directions of upper arm movement. The range of motion of each arm is determined by the direction in which its scapula is facing.
What are the expert opinions on the role of this region in the golf swing?
One result of a google search on the role of the ‘scapula’ or ‘shoulder girdle’ in golf, is Titleist Performance Institute’s C-Posture, or rounded shoulders. Two of several causes for this posture, they say, are – a lack of shoulder girdle mobility; or of scapular stability.
Actually, normal people have very stable scapular regions during the golf swing, simply because so many big muscles attach the scapula to the spine and the ribs.
Also, there is never any restriction of shoulder girdle mobility, AS LONG AS a golfer’s body positions the scapulae in the direction in which the arms need to move. UNLESS there is a CONFLICT of INTEREST in the roles of the scapulae and the arms, there is never a problem (with normal golfers).
The main lack of mobility in the area occurs when then right shoulder becomes protracted (hunched forward, with the right elbow staying behind, when seen from the side). Even young professional golfers with perfectly neutral spines (the lack of which TPI promotes as a big cause of poor swing mechanics) can get into a position similar to the dreaded C-Posture for various reasons (which will be discussed with the hip joint blog-post).
See the protracted right shoulder of many fine Tour Players:
See shoulders which are not protracted and allow a lot of freedom of arm movement in the impact area:
The protracted right shoulder is a problem because the humerus (bone of the upper arm) is not able to move freely off the scapula, and the right elbow and wrist are forced to straighten in directions they are not designed to straighten from, creating imperfect impact, as well as potential for injury at the elbow and wrist, when repeated over time. In other words, there must be gleno-humeral freedom of movement for an efficient, unrestricted downswing.
Looking at two consecutive positions during Suzann Pettersen’s downswing, with a protracted right shoulder pre-impact, can you see how her right elbow and wrist are bent at awkward angles? [Could that be why she had right elbow surgery in 2004? To see her entire swing motion see http://www.golfswinggallery.com/2011/suzann-pettersen-golf-swing/]
NOW THAT we understand that where the scapula faces is an important issue in the freedom (or lack of it) of the arms’ movement, we must ensure body positions which place the scapulae so that they do not interfere in the role of the arms. A mere correction of a C-Posture is not enough – even after a correction, or despite a perfectly neutral spine, a golfer can get the right shoulder (scapula) into position for poor impact.
The Minimalist Golf Swing not only positions the right scapula for better presentation of the right arm at impact (even for those with an existing C-Posture), but also positions the left scapula for a more efficient backswing (to be discussed in the blog-post on the shoulder/upper-arm).
The right scapula in the Minimalist Golf Swing, is rotated back, pre-swing, so that even a true C-posture-possessing shoulder region still has a long way to travel before it arrives at the ball, thus giving the right arm more room to move without being crowded-in by a protracted shoulder – see pic. below. [The above are not how-to comments, they’re strictly FYI].
Incidentally, have you ever FELT an over-the-top impact? A feeling of a crowded right shoulder and, if you look/feel closely enough, a right thigh which is pushed forward too much, too?
This FEELING is as old as the golf swing itself – one does not need swing video with circles, lines and angles drawn on a monitor to figure out a shot has been hit ‘over-the-top’ (ie. the club has arrived ‘over-the-top’ of the ball rather than approach it from its inside-right-quadrant).
Anatomy of the Golf Swing Blog-post No. 3
The Trunk/Torso [All descriptions are for a right-handed golfer].
The trunk or torso refers to the entire body except for the head/neck, the arms and the legs.
What are the anatomical structures in the torso region of the body? Basically, the spine (see first pic below) – of the thoracic region (with it’s attached rib-cage second pic below); the lumbar region (with its 5 big vertebrae, right below the section where the ribs attach, see third pic from top); and the sacral region, which serves to attach the spine to the two ‘hip bones’ (also known as innominate bones, coxal bones or pelvic bones, (see last pic) of the hip region, and thus, via a ‘socket’ in each of those, to the ‘ball’ of the thigh-bone (ie. the femur).
What movements is the torso supposed to make during the golf swing? Mainly, we are told, a rotation, and a great deal of study has been done on the amount of rotation desirable, based, as always, on what the best players in the world do.
The Titleist Performance Institute (TPI) has become a leader in the field of golf fitness and improving upon the ‘physical limitations’ of golfers. So, perhaps a good place to start is with what TPI has to say about what the trunk’s role in the golf swing. (One website which lists and describes the 12 TPI faults: http://www.finishfirstsports.com/the-twelve-most-common-swing-faults.html)
Of the 12 most commonly seen faults in golfers with limitations (according to TPI), we can ascribe 6 to the torso-region.
During the set-up there could be ‘C’ or ‘S’ posture which describe the curvature of the spine (see http://www.mytpi.com/improve-my-game/swing-characteristics/c-posture).
During the backswing there could be a ‘flat shoulder plane’ (a line joining the shoulders would be fairly horizontal, instead of perpendicular to the spine’s forward angle (see http://www.mytpi.com/improve-my-game/swing-characteristics/flat-shoulder-plane and pics below); and ‘reverse spine angle’ (with the spine leaning towards the target – see a screen shot below from the myTPI website).
Correct (first pic below) and flat shoulder planes (second pic below):
Reverse spine angle:
During the downswing there could be ‘loss-of-posture’ and ‘early extension’ (hips and spine straighten out of posture too early in the downswing); as well as ‘hanging back’ (see screen shots below from the myTPI website).
Add to this list the X-Factor and the X-Factor Stretch; as well as the Hip-Rise (two parts of the Triple X-Factor), observed by Jim McLean. McLean observed how the 5 longest hitters on the US Tour had a big angle between their shoulder and hip rotations, while the shortest had a small angle. This he termed the X-Factor. As pro-golfers start their downswing, they are able to increase the angle between the hips (which lead during the downswing) and the shoulders (which lag behind). This he termed the X-factor Stretch, which is considered a key biomechanical principle for increasing distance through stretching muscles which can then contract more forcefully, much as a stretched elastic band can. Finally, McLean has noticed a ‘hip rise’ made by the most powerful ball-strikers.
X-factor (first pic below) and hip-rise (second pic below):
So, summing up, for the production of power, a golfer should have a neutral (comfortably straight) spine at address. During the backswing, the thorax should rotate a lot relative to the hips; and the shoulders should rotate perpendicular to the spine angle which was set up at address. During the downswing, the spine should remain in its forward flexion, at least until impact, and the left hip should rise at that stage.
The problems begin right now. A ‘C’ spine can require a lot of physical rehabilitation not every golfer can be bothered with. An ‘S’ spine is not as common, and is often artificially created by golfers, based on instruction they’ve misunderstood (such as ‘stick your butt out’).
How can any sport expect even athletes with the healthiest spines to rotate one part of it against another? The cervical, thoracic and lumbar spines are parts of a whole. Imagine taking a plastic golf club and twisting its clubhead one way, its shaft another, and its grip end a third!
Most ironical, to my mind, is that a world of experts have not noticed that when the shoulders ‘rotate’ perpendicular to the spine, the movement is no rotation at all! It’s a side-bend, technically known as a lateral flexion. Look at a standing lateral flexion and The TPI definition of rotation of ‘shoulders around spine’.
BOTH pics below are LATERAL FLEXION!
These moves can cause great ball-striking inefficiency as the body must side-bend the right side while the lower body tries to start a rotation from this laterally flexed position; the arms must be dropped down; and the wrists straightened. Don’t forget that the left hip must rise at some stage during the downswing too! [TOO MANY MOVES, TOO LITTLE TIME]. In fact, in less skilled golfers, it is the left lateral flexion of the backswing requiring to be un-done, along with so many other joint-movements, which often causes those golfers to make a simplistic straight-line movement during the downswing which we term ‘hitting from the top’.
WHAT SENSE DOES IT MAKE FOR THE RIGHT SIDE OF THE TRUNK/TORSO TO BE HIGHER AT THE TOP WHEN AT ADDRESS AND AT IMPACT IT IS LOWER?
Likely injuries include: to the left and right knees (left as it has to straighten abruptly while being torqued rapidly; and right as it has stretching forces on its inside and compressive ones on its outside). Also to the left hip which is becomes straightened excessively while trying to side-bend the right side; to right side facet-joints; as well as to the left shoulder, elbow and wrist in cases of over-the-top impacts.
The Minimalist Golf Swing positions the torso/trunk in right lateral flexion (with the neck/head matched, see previous post), from address (A) to impact (I), which reduces one extra re-positioning procedure during the downswing, and aids ball-striking efficiency.
This positioning of the trunk/torso in right lateral flexion from A to I, is, in fact, the MAGIC MOVE of the MINIMALIST GOLF SWING, and there are many reasons why it truly is a ‘magic move’ (see rationale of MGSS 2013 on the blog page titled ‘the minimalist golf swing – what it is’). However good your ball-striking, you cannot experience as pure a contact as with the right side down from A to I.
After all, if the body is supposed to right-side bend plus left side rise (hip rise), during the downswing, it’s not as easy as if all it has to do is left side rise! Incidentally, even less-skilled golfers, or those who are older, or not as strong (see pic above, specifically with regard to the main ‘rise’ ie. shoulder rise), get a very good left hip rise (and, more importantly, shoulder rise) with the MGSS, as one extra move is done away with. It is only young, strong, golfers who can have enough muscle strength and thus speed to do both at the same time for maximal power. (Study some impact positions of Seniors of the Champions Tour in posts of May 2013 to see what that means).
Incidentally, The Minimalist Golf Swing pre-sets the ENTIRE SPINE in a PURE (ie. horizontal plane, as required during the downswing) ROTATION. This rotation creates very slightly more right side bend (too much can result in hitting behind), which the golfer then has to maintain during the backswing. The combination produces all 3 biomechanical principles required for power and direction success (for those in the know: stretch-shortening cycle, kinematic sequence and GRF) WITHOUT the golfer’s VOLITION – ie. AUTOMATICALLY.
Anatomy of the Golf Swing Blog-post No. 2
Starting at the top, the first region is the head. [All descriptions are for a right-handed golfer]. Typically a golfer likes to know where the eyes should be or what angle the head should be at during the backswing or at impact.
The head has no movement capabilities of its own, it merely rests on a movable neck. All movement of the head takes place through movement of the neck, correctly called the cervical spine, which comprises 7 vertebrae. These vertebrae together allow the neck to move three ways. The neck can move itself, and with it the head, forwards and backwards (flexion and extension), in a side-bend (lateral flexion) or with a rotary/twisting motion.
What is the role of the head during the golf swing and why? Let’s first look at what the best players do with their heads.
One of the first items to appear when doing a youtube search for “golfer with excessive head movement during swing” is a video by Jim McLean, who has had the opportunity to study scores of the best players in the world. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fqbNBMQLQUU).
As McLean demonstrates the head movements of the back- and through-swings, it is clear that during the backswing the head can be vertical – or, in many golfers such as Jack Nicklaus, even tilted with the left ear leaning towards the left shoulder. However, at impact, the head – along with the entire trunk – is always tilted to the right! For every golfer, every time!
WHAT SENSE DOES THAT MAKE?
[Why tilt the head to the left, when that results in one more movement to be accomplished during the downswing, as the body has to shift weight targetwards and un-rotate; the trunk has to be tilted towards the right side; the arms have to be straightened and dropped downwards; the forearms have to be rotated; and the wrists have to be straightened! Whew!]
When a golfer has to rapidly change head-direction during the downswing from a left-ward to a right-ward tilt, it adds to the number of unnecessary moves that must be made to re-position the golfer’s body for the downswing. This messes up timing (the sequencing of body-parts) as well as increases scope for injury.
A rapid change of direction along with acceleration can cause injury to both the nerves that run through that region, and to the muscles and tiny facet-joints of the neck. (See http://www.aafp.org/afp/1999/1101/p2035.html for more information).
The Minimalist Golf Swing positions the head in right lateral flexion (right ear tilted towards the right shoulder), from address to impact, which reduces one extra re-positioning procedure during the downswing, and aids ball-striking efficiency. This positioning also prevents many of the known mechanisms of neck injury from occurring.
Anatomy of the Golf Swing Blog-post No. 1
‘Anatomy of the golf swing’ need not be some difficult-to-comprehend, scary, rocket-science phrase. All it refers to is how, during the golf swing, our muscles move our bones at our bone-junctions, correctly known as ‘joints’.
This will be a series of simple-to-understand posts on the anatomy of the golf swing, area-by-area or joint-by-joint. It will discuss the current movements made by the best players, therefore considered ‘typical’ or ‘conventional’ or ‘traditional’. It will then explain why those movements are not necessarily ‘ideal’. ‘Ideal’ should refer only to a movement which has been devised based on where the body should be at impact, to deliver the club to the ball correctly, based on physical laws of club-ball contact. NOT on how the best players swing.
After all, we know that even the best players in the world are very diverse in every area of their swings except impact, which they do get right, time after time. So, the only aspect of the golf swing we should learn from the pros is impact. Then, all we need to do is find a set-up and backswing which can put us effortlessly and repeatedly into the impact position of the pros.
Future posts on ‘anatomy of the golf-swing’ will also explain how a more efficient positioning of the body-area/joint under discussion, during the set-up and the backswing, can lead to both greater ball-striking efficiency and less scope for injury.
It’s a completely new perspective, so if you’re a dyed-in-the-wool, old-is-gold golfer who believes that the swings used by the shepherds in the fields of Scotland – slightly modified to make them workable with 21st Century golf equipment – are just the way they should be, this series of posts is not for you!
The ‘new perspective’ is based on the fact that the golf downswing typically takes place in a mere 2/100ths of a second. Would the brain be more efficient when controlling the least or the most number of un-bending and un-twisting moves (especially when the golfer is in a state of higher arousal or fatigue)? Much more neuro-muscular co-ordination is involved as a swing gets more complex.
No wonder it’s so easy for a beginner’s brain (as well as an expert’s, despite years of conditioning, when he/she is nervous or tired) to simply follow the ‘path-of-least-resistance’ and hit ‘from the top’ – a straight-line movement not requiring a sequential rotation of various body-parts. There goes TIMING!
To better understand the concept presented throughout this series, ask yourself this question. If a body part has to be in a particular position at impact, what sense does it make to have it positioned facing some other direction at the top of the backswing? [If you’re driving a car and need to head South, how does it help to have your car face North first?]
The posts which follow, will start at the top of the body, discussing one region at a time. They will also start ‘local’ (one particular joint) and then go ‘global’ (whole-body movement).
If, at the end of each of the succeeding posts you can ask (without any formal knowledge of musculo-skeletal anatomy), with reference to the the ‘traditional’ golf swing, ‘what sense does that make’, the purpose of this series would have been achieved!