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

The Golf Swing as an Expression of Underlying Movement Ability

The Titleist Performance Institute (TPI) has been a leader in using technology to refine golf fitness training. The essence of TPI’s contribution to the game is captured in the TPI philosophy. "We don’t believe there is one way to swing the golf club. There are an infinite number of ways to swing the golf club. However, there is only on efficient way to swing the golf club and it is based upon what your body can do." TPI’s philosophy tells us what our objective is (an efficient golf swing based upon our own body’s abilities), but what does it tell us about our current swing?

Our swing evolves with our movement abilities

Let’s take an extreme example: Most likely your shoulder turn is much less than that of Tiger Woods, John Daly or Bubba Watson.

For both you and for these players, the backswing is a function of the body’s fundamental capabilities. One way to improve the body’s capabilities is to simply practice a lot. With enough repetition (aka, beatin’ balls) you can often train the body to do something outside its current ability level. Practice makes perfect, right? But be warned….when we surround your landing area with little white stakes, plant some trees on the edge of the fairway, and fill some ditches with water around the putting greens and force you to post your results on a scoreboard for the world to see, the ball often starts doing some funky things that it wasn’t doing on the practice tee.

If you rely solely on technical corrections to improve your swing, you are rolling the dice that some narrowly applied sport specific motor skills will override the body’s underlying neuromuscular programming. Nevertheless, many high level players are successful at compensating their way around physical limitations.

Often the body "chooses" its most efficient method as a protective mechanism to prevent the user from creating physical destruction. Let’s go back to Messrs. Woods, Daly, and Watson. Most players who attempt to emulate these backswings would inflict serious back injury upon themselves.

As such, most golfer’s bodies choose a safer path by turning the shoulders 80-90 degrees rather than 100+ degrees. Again, this is an extreme example, but do realize that the golf swing is comprised of many lines of "code" (like a computer) for which the body subconsciously chooses an efficient pathway. The chosen pathway might not be efficient for hitting great golf shots, but it is sometimes the efficient pathway for protecting the body from injury.

Is it a swing issue or a body…or both?

For every player, the golf swing evolves as neuromuscular expression of individual’s physical makeup, where physical makeup includes everything from the player’s initial locomotor skill acquisition to basic breathing mechanics. Often the difference between a swing correction that sticks and an ephemeral swing "tip" that loses utility within a few holes is whether the player is trying to correct a sport specific technique issue or whether the player is trying to correct a physical limitation issue that manifests itself as a technique issue. An example of something that might be purely a technique issue is if a player plays a lot of rounds in the wind and allows the ball to get too far back in their stance. However, many players try unsuccessfully to cure a sway in the backswing or a slide in the downswing without considering that the lateral motion could be the body’s subconscious way to generate movement from a tight hip.

The Importance of Screening

It is incumbent upon each player and his or her support team (coach, trainer, and medical professional) to determine what the body is capable of doing and to allow technical development and conditioning to evolve in synchrony with each other. The beauty of the TPI screen, the Functional Movement Screen, and other related methodology is that you can determine where the limitations are and distill whether things are purely technique issues or whether they relate to fundamental movements. We can apply these tools most effectively if we take a holistic approach to understanding how the body is working. Critical to that understanding is the concept that the body subconsciously evolves in ways designed to protect us. If we try to superimpose sport specific visual corrections over a movement pattern that has evolved over a lifetime, the movement pattern will often prevail.

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