The Physiology Behind The Sway & Slide Swing Faults

by Bob Forman

You’re just not getting the distance you think you should be getting and can’t figure out why. You even broke down and bought those new clubs and balls the ads promised would get you further down the fairway. What gives?

Well the equipment technology has gotten better, no doubt, but all that technology won’t amount to much if the swing mechanics aren’t sound. Unfortunately, this applies to most amateur golfers and is the single most significant factor for the inconsistency and frustration golfers experience.

The textbook swing sequence is one that starts at the transformation and is characterized by an efficient energy transfer up the chain starting from the hips red line), to the golfer’s upper body green), then arms blue), and finally the clubhead brown). When done properly, it maximizes clubhead speed and distance, no matter what club or ball you’re using.

Body positioning has a lot to say about whether the swing will be in or out of sequence, and this is often influenced by the golfer’s anatomical make-up. Two common faults that interfere with the swing sequence are sway and slide. They are characterized by excessive lateral movement of the hip. Sway used to label this inefficient movement pattern in the backswing and slide in the downswing.

Moving the hips sideways in the frontal plane away from the target) during the takeaway usually results in a weight shift to the outside part of the trail foot right foot for a right-handed golfer) vs. the inside part of the foot where it ideally should be. With the weight shifted to the outer border, the golfer diminishes his ability to push-off the trail foot during the transition into the downswing. This, in turn, impacts the ability to produce power.

The weight-shift to the trail side during sway can also create swing plane issues. Instead of staying on top of the ball, the golfer as he moves laterally back and forth will produce a moving swing plane that can influence ball contact. This may result in miss hits and inconsistent shots.

To initiate the downswing, the golfer should bump the hip slightly toward the target in the frontal plane and then rotate. For many, the rotation does not occur and the hips continue on a lateral line toward the target. This is called a slide swing fault.

This moving foundation doesn’t allow for an efficient transfer of energy from the hips to the upper body as described in the swing sequence above. As a result, arm and clubhead speed is negatively impacted, robbing the golfer of distance.

In addition, depending on how much lateral movement there is, the risk of injury can increase due to the abnormal positioning and stress placed on the target knee and/or ankle.

Two of the primary physical deficiencies that correlate to sway and slide are a tightness in the muscles that are responsible for internal hip rotation and/or a weakness in the glutes. If one or both of these conditions are present on both sides of the body, you can anticipate both swing faults appearing. For many, however, there exists a unilateral deficiency that sets the stage for just a sway or a slide fault.

Internal hip rotators are active golf muscle groups associated with the hip that, if tight, won’t allow for freedom of movement, restricting hip rotation. This tightness is often seen in golfers and tends to be more prevalent on the target side.

Three good exercises to address tight internal hip rotators are knee drops, reverse clams and knee pinches.

For the knee drops, lie on the floor on your back with feet flat and knees bent. The arms can be at your side or overhead. Separate the feet wider than the knees. Slowly lower the knees to the same side while keeping your shoulders in contact with the floor. Hold for 10 to 15-seconds and then rotate to the opposite side. Do 3 sets to each side.

Reverse clams are done lying on your side with the heels in line with your body and knees bent slightly forward. While keeping the knees together, slowly move the top foot up, as far as comfort allows, and down 20 to 25x. You’ll feel the gluteus medius working on the side of your hip, in your back pocket, while you raise and lower the foot. Keep the pace slow and fluid. Breathe normally throughout.

For the knee pinches, roll down on a stability ball just a bit. Place the feet wider than the knees with the feet pointing straight ahead and parallel to each other. While keeping the heels flat on the floor, roll down the ball some more as you pinch your knees together as far as comfort allows. You should feel this in and around the hip area. Hold for a 10 to 15-second count and then push back up to the starting position. Repeat 2 to 3 more times.

Weak glutes can reduce lower body stability, which can cause excessive movement of the hips. Again, this can be a bilateral occurrence or just to one side. Bridges done with feet flat on the floor or while on top of a stability ball are good ways to isolate and strengthen the glutes.

Each can be performed with the hands palm down at your side or folded across the chest left photo), which makes the base of support less stable. When it becomes easy to do the exercise with both feet on the floor or on the stability ball, try the bridge with extension or lift one foot off the ball to progress the exercise as you isolate each side.

A third physical deficiency that needs to be considered if sway and/or slide are present is the inability to disassociate the upper body from the lower, otherwise known in golf as the X-factor. Not having this capacity may cause the upper body to pull the lower body with it, shifting the hips as it does. Tight lats and/or T-spine muscle groups can be the underlying mechanism and should be assessed to determine if they are lacking in range of motion. Refer to the article T-Spine Mobility, Your Golf Swing and your Back for more information and related exercises.

Correcting the physical deficiencies that correlate to the swing fault is just half of the fix. The other half being the rewiring of the brain-body connection that currently has you in the wrong movement pattern. To do this, you will need to practice the correct movement pattern until it becomes engrained.

A great drill for this is to wrap an exercise band around your waist with the anchor toward the side of the fault. So, if you sway, you’ll want to anchor the band to the trail side, if you slide to the target side.

Side step away from the anchor till a gentle pull is felt. Now, get into your golf stance with arms crossing your chest and go through the swing sequence. As you do, don’t let the band pull you into your fault.

This drill will train you to resist the pull, thereby helping you rewire your body to not move laterally while swinging the golf club. You’ll need to repeat this drill many times in order for the new movement pattern to become your new norm.

Poor swing mechanics can wreak havoc on your game and will most certainly, over time, take a toll on your body. Get together with a certified Golf Fitness Instructor and have a physical assessment done to identify and correct your problem areas. In doing so, you'll improve swing efficiency, ball contact, and get that distance you're looking for.

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