Updated: May 29
Defining and describing good function in golf is almost as impossible as defining how many grains of sand it takes to create a heap, therefore on my recent travels to multiple countries it has allowed me the time to reflect and look at how different philosophies of good function can be defined and applied to golf (I am sure there are many more that I have not mentioned in this piece). What this has guided me towards and help create is a very divided mind and a state of mild frustration, also known as the kaizen philosophy of improvement and evolution. Some would argue that flexible thinking and internal debating is viewed as a healthy brain where as others would say it doesn’t help you sleep at night! Currently, my brain is divided into two very different compartments with very differing approaches to understanding good movement and human function in golf.
In no order of preference, part of my brain is using the concepts, research, literature and historical evidence of physiology, anatomy and deterministic biomechanics to define good swing function. This approach clearly states that there is an accepted way to move, joint load, tissue load, develop segment interaction (sequential sequencing), produce/apply force etc... However, I have been grateful and fortunate to work with over 1000 players this year including numerous tour professionals and when looking at how some of the best players and performers move, what I see amongst many of the most successful and best players is there are no dominant patterns, no accepted way of moving with much variability across players with many of these players not conforming to the accepted physiology and biomechanical principles researched. In addition, despite this many of these players have bene very successful and equally as many unsuccessful. Therefore, this has provoked and developed my current state of division, how do we define good movement and function?
Let’s explore these two worlds or the accepted world of movement vs. the reality of what highly skilled often players do.
The deterministic approach to biomechanics is there is a correct way to move and choice and variability is not really an option. Much research has been published over time and some wonderful, hugely helpful concepts and advanced understanding have been developed in these areas that have significantly improved player movement, function and performance as well as helping develop the non tangible gains of coach, player, support staff education. To write and discuss all the areas that research has provided for us is simply not practical and achievable in this very short review and discussion, therefore lets look at two of the more common areas of discussion – joint/tissue loading and segment interaction (kinematic sequencing).
The exceptionally short and simplistic review are joints enjoy moving in certain directions and are not so happy when moving in others. Certain patterns of joint and segment movement can clearly help the quality of the range achieved and help avoid areas such as pain. Alongside this, muscles (including soft tissue such as fascia, tendons etc.) produce maximum force by exhibiting and moving through certain patterns, namely first how much they lengthen, secondly how fast they lengthen then finally how fast they recoil. Research has shown that muscles that lengthen before they shorten can produce up to 3-9 times more force than a muscle that fails to lengthen before it shortens. Therefore, research suggests that when muscles move through certain patterns increase force production can be produced combined with when joints and segments move through certain directions improved joint health and function can be achieved.
Much attention has been directed towards segment interaction (kinematic sequence) in the past 10 years and it is well accepted by most that when segments achieve their peak speed in the downswing in a certain order (proximal to distal) alongside other intrinsic values such as high levels of segment acceleration/deceleration, time differences between each segment’s peak and the time difference between each segment peak and impact, ideal energy movement across the segments leading to maximal distal end speed can be achieved, in the case of golf increased club head speed at Impact. These discoveries were made most aware by the work of Bunn (1972 – summation of speed) and Putnam (sequential motions in throwing sports 1993).
Therefore to summarise, in the world of deterministic biomechanics there are clear advantages to be gained by conforming to certain patterns of movement if ones aims are to improve joint/tissue loading and reduce/avoid pain plus increase club head speed. However, lets now apply an element of reality and scale to this which has pretty much led to my currently divided brain. Looking at these values in the 1000+ players I have tested this year, on the initial test and collection of the first swing samples, only two conformed and exhibited these precise patterns. Therefore this is where my question start to develop:
We know that improving joint/tissue loading and segment interaction can avoid pain and improve club head speed, however if only two in 1000 players produce this are we in a current place where we are looking to develop a movement pattern that may be unrealistic?
Are these patterns coachable is so how (more on this in the next article)? Can coaching destroy these patterns if already in place?
If we move players towards these patterns of movement, do we start to create a possible situation where we improve the data however deskill the player as often when attempting to achieve these movements we move the players so far away from how the see the world that they simply cannot perform. This can then lead to further reinforcement of the existing pattern and make any future improvements even harder to enforce due to deeper level of neural coding and protection being laid down.
Certainly, in the case of established and highly skilled players, do we sometimes have to accept this is just the way they move and moving them away from this would create nothing but disruption?
Ok, lets now look the opposite approach and explore the more intuitive and independent, free thinking approach, in short the opposite of determinism.
As I mentioned, this year I have only observed two players to date that have produced the exact values suggested by research on the initial test that are considered ideal for good movement function in golf. Therefore, if there is such variability and independence in movement, how/where do we even start to define good movement and ideal patterns of movement? One possible answer could be ideal for who, ideal for what? Perhaps this has to be on an individual, task based case study of one approach? However, the challenge with this strategy is what happens if pain starts to develop as minimal if any consideration is given to how the player is moving and what they are attempting to achieve/deliver the club, how do we look to improve club speed if distance is an issue and based on the values the player is producing and returning they have maxed out their existing distance/force producing properties. Also, due to how they move they have become disabled in the ability to produce certain ball flights and trajectories therefore by improving movement this may enable them to become more variable at choice and with increased shot options. Therefore, this is where my questions with not using research to guide us and employing the available information and science to develop players becomes an issue. For example questions I ask myself include:
If a clear pattern of movement is observed and history suggests that when the joint moves in that direction, through that much range pain could happen therefore if we fail to advise and guide the player away from this and subsequently they become injured, in short this is on us as we failed to provide the ego free, unbiased level of support and guidance needed that could have best avoided this.
If a player is moving in such a way that makes one shot most likely to appear and clear movement feedback is provided that connects back to this, for example how the wrist moves and how this correlated back to certain ball flights, at what point do we share this feedback with the player in an attempt to improve ball flight? Are we clear in our understanding as to what is good functional biomechanical movement?
If increasing distance is an objective and we observe clear imbalances in the intrinsic force producing/force application values, how to we best provide accurate feedback as to where attention needs to be directed to best increase distance in an healthy way?
If a player wants to start a conditioning program for golf (or adjust their existing program), using the values available is the most accurate way of clearly defining perhaps the two main questions connected to a conditioning program, what are their priorities and what do they need to avoid.
Making this purely about the player, influences behind both approaches can include:
Past coaching/playing experiences
How they view and see the planet
Where they are as a human at that moment in time – mood.
This is an exceptionally deep, divided and complex area of discussion that needs significant more understanding in golf to best help us all in our aims to improve both player and staff development/education. To say it is all about ‘this’ and this approach is correct is simply not helpful and at worst lacking intellect and helps nobody. To have a balanced view you have to acknowledge, understand and accept all approaches. Perhaps a summary we can use today to best answer what approach to employ is - in the world of deterministic biomechanics there is clearly a functional/dysfunctional way to move as good anatomical joint/tissue loading and sequential ways of moving can help avoid pain and increase distance, however in the world of dynamical movement systems and independent thinkers/movers there is no such thing as dysfunctional movement as the system is never inherently broken, it’s simply adapted and always looking at ways as to problem solve. My brain is currently divided into two areas that are in constant discussion with itself, therefore what direction I go in with the player is determined by some clear signals – what question the player has and would like answering, what they would like to achieve/avoid in the session and how they would like to use the data and their time today? After all it’s their data not mine! If avoiding pain, increasing distance, resolving certain trajectories, understanding why they have the feels and thoughts they do are their objectives then evidently deterministic biomechanics could prove best, however if skill acquisition, refinement, autonomy, improved awareness, debugging the brain, then through the use of devices such as realtime biofeedback, discovery, discussion, good questioning, expansive thinking and a playful approach to learning with minimal overt constraints then this may be the better option. Therefore, based on what we currently have available, to help reunite my brain then perhaps it could be all about this one question, “Hello, how can I help....?”