Rotary Power for Golf Performance
By Peter Twist
In sport, you are definitely only as strong as your weakest link, and for most athletes this is the core or speed centre, which includes abdominals, low back and hip musculature.
In golf, the core is a foundational region that drives the physical aspects of the golf swing. A strong core allows the golfer to maintain a fixed spine angle during the swing, maintain proper postural positioning in all phases of the swing, and lastly the core is a major source of rotation power for a successful and accurate long and short game.
The golf swing is a rotational athletic action where the body is rotating around an axis referred to as the spine angle. Maintaining a fixed spine angle provides the platform for a mechanically efficient swing and ultimately leads to increased club head speed. Golfers who lack the strength and endurance in their postural muscles and are unable to maintain a fixed spine angle develop compensations in the swing which reduces the effective of the movement pattern, but eventually can lead to back injury and major game limitations. Golfers need to develop core strength, stamina and power that directly fuels rotation, but the muscle development must also follow the movement patterns required to execute the golf swing.
For a solid base of support which is capable of transferring power through the kinetic chain, you need to build strength from the center of the body out to the periphery, as opposed to preferentially working on the muscles you can see in a mirror. However, enhanced skill execution and rotational swing power cannot be optimized with traditional floor based sit up exercises.
Traditional core development utilizes floor based exercises such as crunches, sit ups, leg raises, rope crunches, and back extensions which predominantly isolate the spinal flexor and extensor muscles. For golf success, the core must be developed with the intent of improved performance. Nothing in golf is done in isolation, lying down. These isolation exercises actually cause low back injuries by isolating the abdominals or the back from the exercise equation, therefore removing the opportunity to collectively strengthen this region. Building core strength in one plane of movement sets golfers up for injury when the game demands high velocity torso force production, force absorption and rotation.
Think of driving a golf ball for distance. The skill begins with a weight shift and loading of the legs to sum power from the lower body, transferring the force through the core and expressing it onwards to the shoulder complex finishing at the finger tips directly to club head. A release of the back heel allows the athlete to “trigger” the hips and generate explosive whole body rotary power. In golf, rotational power is measured by club head speed. The cumulative force production of sequential core rotation generates more club head speed which is transferred to the golf ball and increases the distance of the drive.
To optimize the golf swing, effective development of rotary power is the key link from the weight room to the golf course. Preferred exercises use a closed kinetic chain position (standing up on your feet), weight shifts both laterally and horizontally (to pre-load the rear leg) and transfer of weight to the lead leg at a high velocity. When working movement around the spine, through a transverse plane, initial exercise prescription uses slow controlled movements, for time under tension to optimize strength and hypertrophy gains. Moreover, slow controlled movements on both the positive (concentric) and negative (eccentric) phases of the lift decrease the risk of injury.
I like to use weighted medicine balls, 6 foot long covered smart toners, and partner resistance exercises that allow powerful explosive strength training without having to decelerate at the end of the range of motion as is necessary with free weights. These accommodate full ranges of motion, whole body skill movements and explosive, high velocity training.
- To achieve desired results as well as prevent lower back injury, athletes are cued to ‘set their core’. The easiest way to explain this is to experience the ‘clenching’ or ‘bracing’ of the core when someone unexpectedly fakes a punch to your stomach. This corset effect is a set core that prepares the region to contract and exert force as well as absorb forces.
- Initially prescribe static hold supine and prone positioned exercises. Lengthen the duration of holds and add loading and/or instability to those positions to gain full core strength.
- Shift static core stability hold exercises to closed kinetic chain positions.
- Add slow tempo full ROM rotation through the transverse plane with emphasis on loading the eccentric deceleration phase. Use a 2:4 rep count (2 seconds concentric, 4 seconds eccentric).
- Increase the intent of power initiation at specific ranges of motion.
- Increase the loading, movement velocity and rep counts for a given exercise.
This training progression develops rotary power safely and effectively creating great body control, sequential high velocity power development and exceptional body awareness. Golfers that focus on developing whole body strength through the entire kinetic chain create precise and intuitive mind to muscle connections leading to smart muscles that quickly comply with the mind’s commands. These golfers are not only strong on their feet, they are bigger, faster, stronger and smarter.