Unlocking the Key to Power and Distance, Part 2
By STEVE WASHBURN, PTA, NASM-CPT
In my last blog post, I covered physical limitations and the potential impacts on power and distance in the golf swing. In this post, I discuss how swing efficiency will impact your golf performance.
The golf swing is a highly complex kinematic sequence. Building brute strength or raw speed isn't the answer. The average PGA Tour professional or high-level amateur spends hours every day in the gym, at the driving range and on the course to maintain and improve physical capacity, strength and speed. It takes a large amount of dedication and time in order to be one of the best. The good news, while it does require time to improve, an average casual golfer can expect a significant improvement in performance per hour of practice when they know where to focus.
As I mentioned in the previous blog, it is hard to build speed and strength if a strong foundation isn’t built first. The golf swing incorporates flexibility, stability, strength and motor control. When we have reduced flexibility, stability, strength or motor control, the body works overtime to try and make up the deficit. Any altered pattern will typically yield loss of distance as well, inconsistent ball strikes and increased risk of injury. Once we establish how your body impacts your golf swing, we can get to work creating your best swing.
Swing efficiency refers to the ability to generate, control and transfer load (force exerted over a surface or body) across multiple joints and muscles in a specific pattern to minimize loss of energy and maximize potential power. Simply put, limiting loss of energy during your golf swing will yield the largest increase of distance in the shortest amount of time. In order to do this, we need the ability to create or generate power and control how, where and when that power is applied during the swing. A lot of golfers strive for speed to increase distance and while speed is important, it is only one part of the equation. We will go more into the mechanisms in achieving more speed and power in the fourth part of this blog series.
Let's start with power generation. There are a couple of ways we produce power in the golf swing. Most notably, power generation comes from ground force. Ground force is the ability to use our larger leg/hip muscles to build storable energy by interacting (Push/Pull) with the ground. Our lower body's muscles are much larger in comparison to the upper body; therefore, we have the most potential to create power in our golf swing from the lower body. We also have the ability to add on to that initial stored power during specific sections of the swing using our core, arm, shoulder and wrist muscles. It is important to remember, the kinematic sequence of the golf swing dictates the proper flow of force to reach peak potential. If, for instance, we allow our arms to fire in front of our torso and hips, our ability to return to a proper impact position will be affected. This will lead to inconsistent impacts and a reduction in overall potential power and distance. Most people have the ability to generate ground force but lack the ability to control the force and allow it to efficiently build through impact.
For the golf swing to be efficient, it requires the golfer to have the ability to control and manipulate force. Once the power has been generated, we then must control the transfer of force through the torso into the arms and finally the club. In order to control the force and move properly, we must be able to stabilize body segments above and below our mobile joints. This is why building speed and power on a weak foundation can be problematic. If your body has physical limitations or struggles to stabilize under force, it will impact your performance and influence ball distance and accuracy regardless of strength or speed training.
The number one loss of efficiency that I see in most golfers today is the inability to stabilize the lower core abdominals. This results in the inability to match the lower body with the upper body, leading to multiple losses in performance. The inability to properly stabilize the lower core means that all of the power generated from the legs, which is where we want a majority of our power to come from, will be lost during unwanted/uncontrolled motion in the torso.
Our spine is made up of stacked joints with the potential for motion. While this is great for allowing motion, there can be a tremendous spike of pressure to the joints or surrounding soft tissue in the back if our core muscles can't control when and how motion is applied. This yields to the number one contributor of low back pain and injuries in most golfers. This also means the max amount of force that can be applied to the club at impact is drastically reduced. A majority of golfers try to compensate for this loss by speeding up the arms, releasing the wrist too early, swaying and other unwanted motions. This reduces control of the club face or impact position leading to decreased ball strike consistency and an increased likelihood of fat/thin and hook/pull or slice/pushed ball flights. All of this drastically decreases distance.
Increasing your golf swing efficiency is the quickest way to see improved golf performance. Not only will you see an increase in average distance of 15 yards just by hitting the center of the club face, better consistency and more optimal ball flight, but you will also reduce potential injuries.
In part 3 of Unlocking the Key to Power and Distance For Your Golf Game, we will cover the importance of getting fitted for clubs as well as what to watch for when buying clubs.
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.