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Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Up and Down and Around, Part 1

A few days back I did a post called Is Your Golf Swing Causing Back Problems? where I referenced Henrik Stenson and his teacher Pete Cowen. In the comments Peter Cheng left a link to a video of Cowen's "Ax Drill" and asked what I thought. Here's the video:

You see, the Ax Drill teaches you to twist your forearms -- a move that I am dead set against. In fact, my number one Basic Principle of the Game (and that link gives just one place where I've said it), whether it's a drive or a putting stroke, is:
The clubface should remain square to the stroke path; the forearms should NOT rotate during the execution of the stroke.
I guess my teaching is unusual just because of that one thing. But please note that Cowen actually says in this video that the swing would be so much simpler if we didn't need to twist our forearms!

It's been a while since I've done an instructional series, but that seems the best way to answer Peter's question. We DON'T have to twist our forearms, and this post series will explain why. It's basically all-new material and I'm guessing it will take 3 posts.
  • The first post will deal with the physical reason that we don't need to twist our forearms.
  • The second post will explain how this physical reason works in the modern golf swing, where the arms don't do a lot of work until the hands reach the impact zone.
  • And the third post will explain how it works in a classic swing, which is basically what Cowen teaches (very well, I might add) and in which the arms play a much bigger role in the swing.
So let's start with the physical reason we don't need to twist our forearms during the swing.

I'm not surprised if you're skeptical about the idea. Our swing plane is very clearly tilted at an angle during a golf swing. But don't misunderstand what I'm saying. I'm not saying there is no rotation during a golf swing, just that our forearms aren't what create that rotation.

And that, my friends, is a very different thing.

You see, most people don't have a clear understanding of how their bodies work. But that's very important knowledge if we want to build a repeating golf swing because our natural simple moves are easier to repeat. And in this case, your lead shoulder joint plays a vitally important role in how your swing works.

Just take a look at this drawing:

Shoulder bone -- actual vs imagined

Because the "arm bone" is slightly offset in the joint -- and actually angled forward a little, as you can see in the following two images from -- the arm doesn't move quite the way we might expect.

Shoulder bone
Shoulder joint

Because of this unusual construction, our shoulders have a range of motion that boggles the mind. But that offset can also have some unexpected side effects -- like unexpected rotation.

A few paragraphs down I've added a crude drawing that shows a couple of positions we typically take when we move our arms. In both of the positions in this diagram, the lead thumb is pointing upward. In the first position (A) the man is just standing straight and holding his lead arm out in front of his lead shoulder, parallel to the floor. In the second (B), he's taken a typical golf address position, again with his lead arm out in front of his lead shoulder to hold a club. In both cases, he keeps his lead hand and forearm relaxed while he moves his lead hand until it's opposite his trailing shoulder (no shoulder turn, just moving his arm).

Try each position for yourself. Here's a quick tip: Your lead thumb probably WON'T point straight up in the air when your wrist and forearm are relaxed. That's because most people's hands naturally turn inward slightly when they're relaxed. That's also why most people play better with a slightly stronger grip -- it's the most natural position.

Keep your lead hand and forearm relaxed while you move your hand from its starting position in front of your lead shoulder to its finishing position in front of your trailing shoulder.

How your arm moves in different stances

Here's what will happen. In the A position, unless you have a large chest, your hand will stay at roughly the same angle it was when you started. But in the B position, your hand will rotate noticeably toward your trailing side. That's because the offset design of your shoulder joint causes your tricep (the big muscle on the back of your upper arm) to roll across your chest as your arm moves. That's because your tricep and chest stay connected during the move. (How many times have we talked about the importance of connection in your golf swing?)

That's also why the big-chested person gets some rotation from the A position. When a thin person tries position A, their tricep and chest get disconnected -- there is no rolling action. The person with the thicker chest (and likely thicker arms as well) still gets some degree of connections

The rotation that happens during your golf swing should happen at your lead shoulder, not in your forearms. If you maintain that lead arm-chest connection throughout your swing, you will get a controlled rotation that is consistent on both the way back and the way down. You won't even have to think about it.

In contrast, when you create the rotation with your forearms, you have to consciously try to match the amount of rotation on the backswing with the amount on the downswing. And that rotation is added to the natural rotation at your shoulder! Furthermore, if you don't maintain that connection throughout your entire swing -- a very real possibility when you're twisting your forearms (think about all those pros sticking gloves between their lead arm and chest during practice!) -- if you don't maintain that connection, the shoulder rotation becomes inconsistent as well and makes the guessing game even trickier.

It's definitely much simpler to let the natural design of your shoulder, along with proper connection, create a consistent rotation at your lead shoulder rather than by twisting your forearms.

But believe it or not, the nature of the golf swing itself makes this shoulder roll a better move. And we'll discuss that tomorrow when we look at the modern swing.

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