The human body is a fantastic engine, capable of accelerating a golf club head to blistering speeds – well over 100mph and all within the space of 0.2 seconds. What’s more, the golf swing requires over 300 different joints to move through large chunks of their range of motion, while 640 muscles fire to drive the movement.
This makes the golf swing as complex as some of the hardest movements in sport, such as Olympic lifting and gymnastics. But when you have golf pros like Bryson DeChambeau, Rory McIlroy and Lexi Thomspon all pumping iron to build club head speeds, it’s tempting to think the entire focus of your efforts should be on getting faster, and rotating more explosively.
In fact, you need to turn that thinking on its head in order to optimize your control and training of your body, in order to hit the ball faster, and further. Get used to thinking about deceleration as much as acceleration, and anti-rotation as much as rotation because there are some hidden truths to training your body for a better golf swing that will blow your mind…
1. The Potential Is There To Be Unlocked
The world of golf has largely come around to the idea of working out for increased club head speed. Players like DeChambeau lifted weights not only to get stronger, in order to produce more power, but also to put on lean muscle mass, to produce more ground force and then transfer that into the swing.
Of course, this process takes time. Newbies to the gym can make surprising initial gains in strength and speed, even after 4-6 weeks, but more experienced weight lifters have to invest months rather than weeks – (see the RSNG guide to how fast you can add club head speed here.)
But some players, such as Kevin Chappell, have made jaw-dropping gains in club head speed within a mere fortnight. After the 2017 Open Championship, Chappell reportedly increased his club head speed from 119-121mph to 127-229mph, by the time he rocked up at the World Golf Championship event a couple of weeks later. So, what’s going on?
By focussing on better body control, and making small adjustments to technique, he was able to unlock an astonishing amount of speed
Chappell, once he set his sights on club head speed, went back to the drawing board with how he was using his body to drive his swing. By focussing on better neurological body control, and making small adjustments to his technique, he was able to unlock an astonishing amount of speed. Read on to find out more about the quick fixes that can help you to unlock speed, while improving your biomechanics in order to reduce injury risk…
2. Why Control Beats Flexibility
Golfers often obsess about flexibility and range of motion, believing that unlocking these things in their joints will automatically lead to a better golf swing. But, as Craig Davies, author of Golf Anatomy says, “the range of motion you cannot control is the range of motion that you do not own!
“Your body is not able to get accurate information on location, speed, or direction of movement, and is not able to create or resist the force required to move in the desired manner.” Just being passively flexible (during a static stretch, for example) is not enough. In fact, in sport science terms, the end range ‘zone of flexibility’ is where athletic performance is lost – the only range of motion that counts is within the zone of controlled mobility.
Within this zone of controlled mobility, mechanoreceptors in your peripheral nervous system (around your joints) send an accurate picture to the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord) of the joint complex’s relation to the rest of the body, the ground, the golf club and the ball. And the CNS has to then interpret the signal accurately.
If either the picture sent, or the interpretation of it, is inaccurate – through a lack of physical awareness and CNS training – then accuracy and ball flight will suffer, especially when you move to increase your club head speed. And this lack of control can then lead to injuries (we’re looking at you, lower back).
As we can see from the example of Kevin Chappell, just playing golf isn’t always enough to ensure an accurate picture is being sent by the PNS, and then interpreted correctly by the CNS, in order to maximize club head speed. So how can we help this process along?
3. It All Starts With The Feet
From an early age we all get used to wearing socks and shoes, often for most of the steps we take in our lives. This saves us from stepping in unmentionables, but it also cuts off a key source of data being sent from our joints and nerves to our brains.
Proprioception is a powerful tool in your body’s arsenal that your feet and ankles perform unconsciously, sensing changes in the angle of the ground underneath you, as well as your physical location in relation to it. It provides your brain with ways to adjust and respond. It is key to both balance, and interpreting how the ground will affect things you do on it, like hitting a ball.
Wearing shoes and socks deadens the sensitivity of proprioception to the extent that deliberately training it through exercises can make huge improvements in your ability to control your mobility. In Golf Anatomy Craig Davies lists some useful drills that you can do without a gym, in order to instantly train your proprioception for golf. Here are four of them:
(a) Big Toe Raise
Why? Got a sore lower back from smashing balls at the driving range? Surprisingly, this may be down to you not having enough extension in your big toe for you to achieve a controlled, powerful ‘toe-off’. “A lack of big toe extension forces the athlete to use the oblique axis rather than the transverse axis of the foot, and the result can be significantly more rotation through the lower back,” says Davies, pointing out that this can lead to damage in the discs of the spine. How? This one is easy: simply stand in bare feet, with feet facing forwards and most of your weight on your right foot. Then attempt to lift up your left toe without lifting any of your other toes at the same time. Repeat 20 times and then switch sides. This can be difficult for some, but stick at it and you will improve after a couple of weeks!
(b) Pronation/ Supination
Why? Good internal and external rotation of the hips is critical when executing an efficient golf swing, and the feet can play a dynamic part in unlocking this, if your body knows how. Increasing the arch of the back foot in the backswing will increase the amount of internal hip rotation, while pronating (‘collapsing’) the arch on the downswing will increase external hip rotation. How? Stand with feet shoulder-width apart and roll to the outside of both feet, to create a bigger arch under the foot. Then, roll to the inside of the feet while flattening them and ‘collapsing’ the arches inward. Repeat this 20 times.
c) Isometric Heel Raise
Why? This move continues the work of the Big Toe Raise, and should be done once you have made progress there. The dynamic, high-force movement of the push off from the toe during the golf swing (on the trail side) requires not only strength but resilience due to the repetitive nature, and the additional challenges of changing golf course terrain.
As Davies says, this move gives you that resilience, and makes you strong enough through the range of motion of the big toe to make it, “much easier to move into the finish position with the trail side of the pelvis facing the target, requiring less reliance on the lower back.” How? Stand with a volleyball or similar sized ball clamped between your ankles, then lift your heels as high off the ground as you can and squeeze at the top for five seconds. Repeat for 8-10 reps.
d) Single-Leg Aeroplane
Why? The reason many golfers don’t make consistent, flush contact with the ball is often down to hip sway and slide. If you cannot rotate your hips properly (due to a lack of controlled mobility or balance) then you are likely instead to sway (move away from the ball during the backswing) and/ or slide (move towards the ball during the downswing).
This drill will help you create a stronger mind-body connection and better hip rotation. And this means you will be able to keep the club on path during your swing, return the club face to the optimal impact position, and transfer more power to the club.
How? Stand on your right leg, soften the knee and hinge at the waist to lean forwards. Hold your left leg out straight behind you and your arms out level with the ground, to form a ‘T’. Keep your right foot, knee and hip aligned with each other, then rotate your torso to the left and then the right, keeping your arms locked in relation to your torso. Repeat 8-10 times then change legs.
4. Acceleration Is A Liability Without The Ability To Decelerate
In Golf Anatomy Davies identifies Dustin Johnson as having a secret weapon in the drive for distance. Not only does Johnson have a blistering club head speed, he is also able to use his body to decelerate the club in a very short space of time, because he has worked on it with his trainer, Joey Diovisalvi. “Being unable to decelerate the club brings injured players of all ages and all levels to our training and treatment centers,” says Davies.
So, it’s no good just developing speed if your body isn’t able to contain these additional forces once they are unleashed – you will literally pull yourself apart, as players such as Patrick Cantlay have discovered to their long-term cost – you can read the RSNG interview with Cantlay on how he recovered from this here.
Resisting trunk rotation with the big muscles of your legs, hips, core and shoulders is exactly what is required to slow the body down after impact with the ball
Davies says there is a three-part process to dealing with the forces in a golf swing, once controlled mobility has been achieved. The first is to resist force in a static position (rotational resistance); the second is to resist force statically in one area of the body executing a dynamic movement in other areas; and the third is to decelerate force as your muscles lengthen.
There’s a classic exercise you can do that doesn’t even require a gym, but replicates the exact demands of slowing the body down after impact with the ball, to prevent injury from the forces created, says Davies:
a) Antirotational Back Lunge
Why? “Resisting trunk rotation in transverse, sagittal and coronal planes while using the big muscles of your legs, hips, core and shoulders is exactly what is required to slow the body down after impact has been made with the ball,” says Davies, adding that the legs are the key to both generating speed and slowing it down. This exercise is ideal but you should work up to doing multiple reps gradually, because it can be challenging. How? Attach a resistance band or tube to a solid anchor at waist height. Stand so the tubing is on your right, hold the handle in two hands, then step sideways away from the tubing to create light tension in it.
Then push the handle away from your body so that both arms are straight and the handle is aligned with the centreline of your body. Step back with your left leg into a lunge and then return back to the start. Repeat with your right leg, and do 5-10 reps per leg.
5. Each Golfer Has A Unique Golf Swing Fingerprint
In case you’re still trying to impose a formula, or ‘ideal vision’ of a golf swing on your own movements, then know that the experts don’t think it exists. As Davies says of the pros in the game with the longest drives, “each of these players has their own golf fingerprint. They swing the club in a way unique to the abilities of their own bodies.”
What they do have in common isn’t pure strength. “Instead, it is their ability to exploit their bodies in an integrated, efficient manner. They are using and controlling motion through the full available range of joint complexes throughout their bodies and place significant value on maintaining and improving their bodies.”
For Davies this means training your body as a unit with purposeful explosive movements, rather than loading individual joints in isolation (as a bodybuilder would). Fortunately, RSNG has just the workout program you need to progressively build your strength for golf in exactly this way. Check out [Part One of this 6-week plan here](LINK TO RSNG’s Progressive Workout Plan For Golf Strength And Speed Will Add Yards To Your Drive).
You can buy a copy of Golf Anatomy by Craig Davies at Amazon.
Photos: Adobe Stock