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Unlocking the key to power and distance in golf — Part 1

Every golfer is on a mission to improve power and distance on the course. There are so many different informational sources available regardless of whether the advice is good, bad or even misguided. After all, how do you know if the instructional video you just viewed will actually improve your swing?

The Titleist Performance Institute has spent decades studying every aspect of the golf swing and how a golfer’s physical capabilities and variables affect overall distance, power and performance. Power and distance in the golf swing stem from several factors that include physical limitations, power generation, swing efficiency and equipment. This four-part blog series will detail multiple factors that can negatively affect your golf performance as well as the steps needed to take your golf game to the next level.

The golf swing

The golf swing is a difficult and complex kinematic sequence that requires a unique blend of multi-joint flexibility, muscle stability/strength and motor control to achieve favorable results. The optimal kinematic sequence of the golf swing from transition to impact starts from the hips followed by the torso, then arms and finally the club.

The easiest way to envision the correct downswing sequence is to think of a relay race. We begin the downswing with the acceleration of the lower body and hips. The power and speed generated from the hips are transitioned to the torso, slowing the hips while simultaneously increasing the speed of the torso to build more power. The arms then grab onto the accelerating torso, slowing it while once again transitioning all the speed and power of the torso into the arms. As we near impact, the arms pass all of the stored speed and power generated from the hips and torso to the club. This creates the most efficient transfer of power to the ball. If at any point in the relay race the sequence is disrupted, the consequences can lead to reduced ball speed, spin, inconsistent ball contact and an overall reduction in distance.

Physical limitations

Let's begin with understanding how physical limitations impact power generation. Everyone has a different degree of flexibility, muscle stability/strength and motor control, all of which will affect the golf swing. Flexibility allows the body to move into the proper position, i.e., backswing/follow through. Muscle stability helps to control joint movement, generate power and reduce injury. Motor control refers to the body's ability to integrate motion based on information from external stimuli as well as proprioception (sense of self movement, force and joint position) and manipulate/recruit muscles to carry out the desired task. Flexibility, muscle stability and motor control are all required and equally important for a consistent and repeatable swing.

Limited flexibility

Having limited flexibility will impact your overall swing arc as well as affect the kinematic sequence during the swing. The most common areas we tend to see flexibility limitations in golfers are ankle, hips, thoracic spine, shoulders and wrists. Limitations to ankle, hip and thoracic spine will impair overall rotation and the ability to reach target positions during the backswing, downswing and follow through. Limited motion in the shoulder and wrist can impact how high your arms and club position are during the backswing/follow through, thus impacting shot shape, control of club face, contact point on the club face and possible injury. Muscle stability allows for better power creation and control while reducing injury risk.

Limited stability

Having limited stability, especially in the torso, is one of the biggest sources for loss of power and efficiency. It is also a leading cause of back injuries in golf. The abdominal muscles allow for stability, control and power generation around the thoracic and lumbar spine. Stability in this case refers to the ability for the abdominal muscles to tighten and increase thoracic rigidity (think abdominal brace). Increasing the intra-abdominal pressure with core stability will lead to a smaller percentage of energy loss from the hips. This also allows for a more efficient transfer of power from the torso and into the arms.

The same principle applies if there is unintentional movement in the spine due to lack of stability. An increase in unintentional or controllable motion leads to a higher percentage of power loss. In addition to power loss, there will be a large spike of pressure directly in the spine and surrounding tissue, which can lead to a back injury. A reduction of stability in the torso will also have a tendency to cause amateur golfers to speed up their hands to compensate for lost power and a disrupted kinematic sequence, leading to inconsistent shots.

Motor control

Motor control refers to the body's ability to integrate motion based on information from external stimuli as well as proprioception (sense of self movement, force and joint position) and manipulate/recruit muscles to carry out the desired task. As you can imagine, the golf swing requires a high level of coordination and motor control to perform. In order to improve motor control, we have to better understand what patterns make up the motion as well as the ability to break the global motion down into localized motions. Once we are able to do that, you can practice section by section until we have the ability to integrate it back into the global motion. The best way would be to practice the sections where you struggle by using exercises that mimic that particular motion or section of the sequence.

Physical limitations play one of the largest parts in overall power, distance and consistency in the golf swing. We need to identify the areas of weakness to overcome or change mechanics in a way that complements your ability. You can't expect to build power and distance on top of a faulty or weak foundation. Unless we identify physical limitations that impact your golf swing, it can become extremely hard to make the necessary adjustments to improve your power and distance. In addition, your golf swing may have been formed with bad habits and modifications in an effort to make up for flexibility or stability issues. A simple grip change or drill from information garnered from social media may cause more harm than good since it does not take into account your body’s own ability for motion or stability.

The good news is we can identify and measure your physical limitations with a TPI Movement Screen. It will not only pinpoint the physical limitations that impact your golf swing but will identify common swing faults generated from those limitations. We will develop a roadmap to help you reach your goals as well as a custom exercise and mobility routine to get you started on your path to improved golf performance.

If you have questions on how a TPI screen can benefit your golf game, contact our office today.

Steve Washburn, PTA, NASM-CPT, is the only Titleist Performance Institute Medical 2 certified professional in the Springfield area with the skills to address golf-specific injuries and rehabilitation. Steve identifies and addresses the underlying cause of pain not only to treat injuries but reduce the likelihood of recurrence.


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