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Athletic development specialists dedicated to the art and science of excellence in movement

Sways and Slides: Applying the Joint-by-Joint Approach to Remedy Two Common Swing Faults

Excess lateral movement is a problem for many golfers. However, just by looking at the positions in the golf swing, it is difficult to tell whether sways and slides are true stability problems (which they often seem to be on the surface) or whether the underlying cause is poor mobility.  Many instructors without formalized training into the human body know intuitively that to cure a slide or sway, you must replace the lateral movement with rotary movement.  Nevertheless, if we conclude the problem is mobility, the next question is “What is causing the poor mobility?”  We can expand the inquiry even further and consider such causal factors such as poorly fitted equipment and misalignment, but in this post we will focus on the basics of the body-swing connection.

A review of the joint-by-joint approach

To understand the concept of "mobility before stability" we should review the basics of the joint-by-joint approach. The body works in alternating patterns of mobility and stability. The ankles, hips, thoracic spine (upper back), glenohumeral joint (shoulder), and wrists are all designed as highly mobile joints. The feet, knees, lumbar spine (lower back), scapulae, cervical spine (neck), elbows, and hands are segments that crave stability. While each of these stable segments has mobility properties, their primary role is to provide support for the mobility craving segments.

In defining mobility, we must realize that mobility is not simply tissue length in our conventional concept of "flexibility" but instead involves a neuromuscular component as well.  A player can have adequate mobility in isolated static positions but lose mobility in a dynamic situation.  Nevertheless, some people are totally locked up and unable to do anything (at which point we need to call in the massage therapist). Most players with poor mobility patterns will simply release that energy to some place that normally requires stability. For example, energy that should be utilized through T-spine rotation often transfers into the lower back to create a reverse spine angle. Think of instability as inefficient mobility.  

Sway

For a right handed player, it is obviously more efficient to turn "into" the right hip on the backswing than it is shift the weight to the outside of the right foot. If you are a right handed player and your body lacks the fundamental ability to turn to your right, a sway may be more efficient for your body at the present moment. When your brain says "GO!", your body will find movement from someplace, so we might as well ensure the movement comes from an efficient source such as the hips, the thoracic spine, and the ankles.

The best way to determine whether a functional mobility source exists is by screening the player. If a swayer fails the physical screens designed to identify mobility issues (particularly those of the hip, T-spine, and ankle when dealing with a sway) there’s a good chance the player sways to overcome mobility limitations. Stability can facilitate mobility but it won’t create mobility. Screens are powerful tools because they identify the patterns that a player LIVES with, and has probably lived with for decades.

A slide is the downswing complement to the sway. If your preferred fundamental movement patterns involve limited thoracic, hip, and/or ankle mobility, a slide may be your body’s way to generate movement in the downswing. As with the sway, the visual presentation screams "INSTABILITY" but the true cause might be immobility.  You need not nor should not think about your mobility pathways while swinging, but pivoting around the lead leg will be difficult if you lack hip, thoracic, and ankle mobility.  During the downswing, the body knows it is supposed to create speed but will be forced to resort to a lateral move if the rotary movements are not available. Many coaches do teach some lateral movement in the downswing to help flatten the swing plane, but this is not to be confused with an outright sway.

Final notes

I won’t tell you how to swing the club (go see your golf professional for that) but just realize that you have a few options to deal with a sway or slide . First, you can follow the appropriate corrective exercise progression to improve basic mobility and stability patterns and complement this progression through sport specific neural stimuli with drills and practice. Second, you can develop a swing that works around that mobility limitation and try to groove a sway. As a third option, you could ignore the mobility limitation and simply try to fix the swing technically, which essentially means layering a technical fix on top of a movement dysfunction.

If you select number three, recognize the daunting task ahead. Your brain might live with a certain neuromuscular pattern inhibiting the mobility needed for a quality backswing. Any technical fix sent to your brain on the golf course not only competes with the fundamental pattern, it must also compete with all the other thoughts that go through your head when you stick a club in your hands and try to hit a ball. If you attack mobility problem with stability solution you’ll either lose mobility altogether or create a synthetic fix that won’t hold up under pressure (and then you start questioning yourself, lose confidence, and end up with a mental problem to go along with a swing problem!) 

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