by Bob Forman
One of the common mechanical breakdowns I see in many golfers is a shortening of the swing arc in the backswing. As a result of this fault, the ability to generate power in the downswing is diminished and distance is often negatively impacted. Two of the physical requirements for a wide swing include a mobile thoracic spine (mid-back) and adequate strength in the triceps.
It’s often, if you watch golf, that you hear commentators talk about “good extension,” especially when they are analyzing someone’s swing. This reference is to the golfer’s ability to lengthen the takeaway and reach back with the hands and club in the initial phase of the backswing. Maintaining that distance or swing arc throughout the backswing (photo left) is an essential mechanical component for generating more clubhead speed.
Many golfers, however, due to physical restrictions can’t maintain that width as they strive to make that good, power shoulder turn often emphasized in popular golf publications. What typically occurs is a breakdown of the arms at the elbows bringing the hands in closer to the body (photo right). This action, often times undetected by the golfer, shortens the swing path and distance the clubhead will travel. The unwelcomed outcome is a loss of distance.
Mobility in the thoracic spine (T-spine) is imperative if you want to make a good upper body turn in the backswing. Muscle tightness in this area, which is very common, will limit the range of motion and more than likely result in a limited backswing. In order to get the club back further, golfers will either have to lean their upper bodies back toward the target, known as reverse spine, or bend the arms at the elbows.
A very real second concern of a tight mid-back is low back pain. The T-spine is where rotation should occur in the body. The higher up the 12 vertebrae you go in the thoracic spine, the more rotation. If range of motion is restricted in this region, the lumbar spine (lower back) will be recruited to help. The lumbar spine, however, is designed more for stability and actually only has about 5 degrees of movement in the transverse (rotational) plane. If recruited, the repeated rotation may very well strain the lower back.
To address muscle tightness in the T-spine, a focus on mobility must take place. First, get an assessment to see if indeed there is tightness to the mid-back. Any TPI certified instructor can detect this for you. If there is, determine to what degree, if it’s unilateral or bilateral and develop a game plan to target and correct the deficiency.
Two exercises that target the T-spine area are the Shoulder Roll on Stability Ball and Thoracic Rotation .
To perform the Shoulder Roll, kneel behind a stability ball with hands together, resting on ball. Slowly roll your hands and arms down the ball and out to the right, rotating the upper body as you reach as far as comfort permits. Hold for a 10 to 15-second count and then return to the starting position. Repeat toward the left. Continue to alternate sides 3 to 5x and remember to breathe normally.
When done on a regular basis, and that training factor cannot be overstated, these exercises will increase range of motion in the upper body and allow for a more efficient turn in the golf swing. It will also alleviate the need to recruit the lower back in helping with the shoulder turn. That will significantly ease the stress to the back. Less stress equates to less injury and a healthier golf game.
For the Thoracic Rotation, begin on all fours with one hand behind your head and hips settled back toward your heels. Rotate the upper trunk downward till a gentle stretch is felt in the mid-back area and then slowly raise extended elbow up and back as far as comfort permits. Continue to smoothly and slowly raise and lower the elbow 10 – 15 times and then repeat to other side. Breathe normally throughout.
Tricep weakness may also contribute to the arms breaking down in the backswing. There are numerous exercises to strengthen the triceps and here is one you can do anywhere with an exercise tube or band. Standing in a strided position, place one end of the tube or band under your back right foot and hold the other end with your right hand. Support your right elbow with your left hand up by your ear. Slowly extend your right arm up till nearly straight (do not lock elbow), and then slowly return to starting position. Perform 15 to 20x and then repeat with the left arm. Exhale on your effort (when your arm is extending)
Make sure you’re firmly standing on the tube or band as you don’t want it to slip from under you as you’re performing the exercise. Also, maintain a flat lower back. If you need to, pull your belly button into your spine (known as the vacuum exercise) as you’re performing the exercise. That will help to prevent you from arching your back.
Maintaining width throughout the backswing will help you generate more clubhead speed and get you further down the fairway. Correcting the common physical deficiencies that usually accompany the breaking down of the arms and swing arc will help you achieve that good extension throughout. It will also help you avoid the dreaded reverse spine and reduce the potential for lower back discomfort.
For more information about Bob Forman go to http://www.golfitcarolina.com.