Posture, the foundation for any exercise program designed to improve function. Like the size of your hands or the shape of your ears, it’s not something you can just think about and expect to change. Posture is a physical representation controlled by our simultaneous interaction of the mind, muscles and nervous system.
When we consider the relationship between posture and golf, it’s important to understand the difference between static and dynamic posture. In short, it’s the difference between posture when stationary and when moving. What this means for golfers is that having good postural alignment may not always guarantee maintenance of the same postural standards when addressing the ball and swinging the club. Despite the increased wear and tear, It also means a golfer with poor postural alignment can still maintain optimal working relationships of joints during a swing – Jack Nicklaus anyone? For the sake of optimal joint mobility, good health and longevity, the focus should be placed on the former in which a healthy posture from both a static and dynamic perspective should be achieved.
If you’re a golfer who’s aware of your posture imperfections or one who just wants to understand more about the scientific relationship, it’s important to consider posture from three different angles; standing, at address and during the swing. We’ll use the help of a couple familiar icons to make things clear, Ben Hogan and Bob Cisco.
When viewed from the side, imagine a plumb line hanging from the ceiling to the floor. Start by lining up the bottom of the line 1cm in front of your ankle bone (toward the toes). From here, good static posture would have the line hanging slightly in front of the middle knee, through the middle of the hips, midway between the back and abdomen, through the shoulder joint and up through the lobe of the ear. When viewed from the back, the pelvis, shoulders and head should sit level with a straight spine.
The Address Posture:
Hogan refers to the movement of addressing the ball as though you were sitting on a sports stick. The bend initiated at the knees and through the hip with weight shifted toward the heels. Your belt buckle should fall somewhere between 20-25 degrees of forward tilt.
While in the address position, Cisco highlights the importance to avoid protracting (rounding) the shoulders. Rounded shoulders promotes something known as thoracic kyphosis, or forward head posture and a rounded upper back. This in turn will restrict spinal rotation as shown with the dowel rod test below.
When looking at the address posture from the side, good posture would have a plumb line running directly through the shoulders to the base of support. A great way to imagine this when standing over the ball is the feeling of your armpits hanging directly over the balls of your feet. Hogan compares the posture of the arms to the initiation of an elevated deadlift – a fantastic exercise for improving postural strength.
The Dynamic Posture:
Dynamic posture refers to the backswing, downswing and follow-through. To really understand what happens to the body during the golf swing, a basic understanding of kinesiological and biomechanical requirements is necessary.
First and foremost, all golfers need to understand that while a shift in weight to the back leg is required for an efficient swing, a lateral shift of the hips is not. The movement of the hips is purely rotational and works in sync with the trunk and arms. Often referred to as “coiling” in the swing.
Imagine a rolling cylinder running vertically through the middle of the body. As we initiate the backswing, our body rotates around the cylinder and shifts toward the back hip at the top of the swing. As the coil reaches its peak, the cylinder quickly changes direction and shifts toward to opposite side during the downswing and follow-through.
When looking at a golfer from behind (or the side), a plumb line dropped from the hands or butt end of the golf club should always intersect with the feet at any point throughout the swing.
With a basic understanding of all three posture perspectives and the biomechanical relationship to the golf swing, let’s quickly address why all this matters. Golf is a rotational sport and to achieve full potential, golfers must be able to repeatedly rotate the body efficiently and explosively. With respect to gravity, when a golfer rotates his or her trunk they exert a tremendous load on both the spine and spinal cord. Vertebrae that are in place and aligned to the vertical axis will rotate normally whereas vertebrae that have deviated from the vertical axis will execute abnormal motion and eventually displace from normal position, a dangerous situation called subluxation.
Through a study conducted by Moshe Feldenkrais, it was proven that the body is mechanically most efficient when it is held so it can turn itself around with the least amount of effort. Physically, the position in which pelvis, trunk and head are vertically aligned and the spinal curvatures at a minimum is the position in which the least amount of muscle contraction is required to keep the body upright and steady. As a golfer deviates from ideal alignment, muscle activity and energy exertion increases causing a decrease in performance and potential onset of muscle pain. You probably experience this as you start to wear-down after 13 holes or so and it becomes difficult to maintain accuracy and control distance.
Improving posture isn’t the solution to a better golf swing, rather a pre-requisite for all aspects of proper golf conditioning. Good posture sets the foundation for the development or restoration of flexibility, stability, strength and power. Not only will your body composition change, but you’re much more likely to reap the benefits of professional swing lessons and knock those handicaps down a couple points.
Swing healthy folks!