Does improving your anatomy and movement options improve your swing?

Updated: May 29

An area that has attracted much attention has been the attempt to connect anatomical imbalances and constraints to how this could influence how players move in their swing, the approach by some is that if a player improves their anatomical frame and capabilities then this will improve how they move in swing alongside if a player has reduced movement options then this may lead to dysfunctional swing movement. Therefore, a question we could start with is defining what is swing improvement? As this discussion is looking at the player’s anatomy relative to their swing function, to avoid any ambiguity improvement in this article is defined as reducing the chance of pain/injury, increasing the movement options available to the player and providing improved abilities to produce force/speed. However what needs to be acknowledged is there are many other ways of defining improvement and they come in both tangible and non-tangible format, tangible gains could be classed as increased club head speed and ability to hit more ball flights/shots, however the non- tangible which for some are of equal value could be listed as enhancing the player’s aspirations, feels and understanding therefore although not palpable, clearly improving these areas can be viewed as gains.

Therefore, let’s look at this common concept around if/how improving a player’s anatomical frame/options may improve a players swing movements as well as exploring the possible thought behind these concepts.

Concept/question:

Do players that test and move well in a gym environment make the best movers in golf? Also, do people that test poorly in the gym move poorly in golf?

A common concept encouraged by some is to improve how you move in swing, then gym based training and improving your anatomical and movement options will allow you to improve/resolve swing movement that may be causing pain, disruption, unwanted variability and unpredictable ball flights. Now, undeniably for some this will be true, however for many this will lead to no improvement and in some cases lead to much regression. Let’s divide this question into three areas and provide you with the options to connect back to observations and experiences you may have made and been exposed to when working with players:

Improving the anatomy clearly helped the player move better in swing.

Evidently, for many players improving their movement options as well as improved physiological abilities (force production) has provided much gain in helping avoid pain, allow them to move in any way they choose and help increase and improved club speed. However, my concern is has conditioning moved away from its main requirement and drifted away from question that is needs to answer – will this help the human become a better player by assisting them in developing and refining skill and are the exercises ( I am not a fan of the word exercise as it is too mechanical, therefore when I find a better definition I will share) clearly helping achieve increased distance and reduced chance of pain without any distraction to the players ability to perform? The best description I have heard regarding ‘exercise’ is from Ido Portal, he calls them movements koans, the definition for the word koan meaning ‘riddle’. Allowing for the philosophy behind training for golf, quite clearly improving a human’s movement abilities will undeniably help and assist them and I have yet to find a reason for not becoming a better mover, however I am very precise in my wording, mover or athlete? Therefore, do we want to become a better athlete or a better mover? A mover is someone that can adapt and move in any way required for the task as well as producing the maximum physiological patterns currently available to them, examples of this could be John Daly and Angel Cabrera, I will allow the reader to decide how they wish to define these humans in golf, are they good golf athletes or good golf movers when you look at their ability and ball striking capabilities?

Increasing your movement options and physiological abilities can only be helpful as releasing these constraints will clearly help remove the need to move in an adapted way, however there Is a huge assumption and caveat attached to this, whenever you change a human’s movement options you then need to adjust their neural signals to allow them to use the new skills available to them, simply improving their anatomy will only help if they then know how to use it. For a period of time now golf has been told that if you become a better athlete you will become a better player, well I am not sure. Better player, no? Improved chances to learn and acquire skill in a pain free world, possibly? Better mover, skills refiner, pain free but only once you learn how to use these new options, most likely?

Improving the anatomy made no difference to how the player moved in swing.

Perhaps one of the best examples I can provide with this question is to look at when elite level athletes go on dance shows like Strictly come dancing. If you test their movement options in a gym or take them through a series of tests, most of them would pass extremely well and display significant levels of movement options, joint ranges and segment control/co-ordination. However, what these tests often ignore and fail to connect back to is the task, the environment and how this relates to the player’s schema and understanding of what they are attempting to achieve, in short what the task means to them. They have the available options, however they have no current idea of how to use them, therefore it is a motor pattern/learning issue not an anatomical one. This is often what happens when you improve a player’s anatomy and movement, despite having these new options available to them, as yet they have no idea of how to use them therefore they continue to send the same signals leading to minimal if no gain in their swing function.

Improving the anatomy created much disruption and lead to the player’s movement regressing.

During my PhD research, one of the most revealing discoveries made was that for many improving their body structures and anatomical postures led to regression in their swing function, mainly segment position and orientation as well as segment coordination. For some this was a phenomenon (I do not believe in phenomenon’s, more on this later) however what this reinforced is if you change the structure and movement options available to the human however do not adjust the deeply coded signals that they are conditioned to send, this can create much chaos and disruption through the system as the swing patterns that they have relied on joints being in certain places and having certain movements available to them. If these joints are now being asked to move from different places and have more range available to them this can create a neuromuscular mismatch as until amended, the neural system has no idea how to process and use the new positions/options available. Therefore, in short, becoming a better athlete made them a worse mover. This is where biofeedback is vital and extremely valuable – to re code and adjust the signals the human sends to now create order and balance in the system. In my previous article I referred to Moshie Feldenkrais, one of his many philosophies was improving postural control should always be done in realtime movement hence the value of biofeedback being invaluable.

Whilst we are spending time around this area of discussion a thought that appeared was where some younger tour players are located with their development compared to some of the more mature, established players that are still being extremely successful at the highest level.

Of intrigue to me of late is why it appears many of the younger tour players appear to miss so many events through injury, despite investing significant time in the gym as well as having large teams around them (I have my thoughts on this) providing much sports science and medicine whereas older, more established players who overtly appear to do no gym based training move and perform extremely well with no visible or reported pain/injury. Now, there are many examples of younger players that have embraced training that are now no longer exposed to pain and have clearly gained from this approach and it is one I would support and there are many older players that could have avoided pain if they had trained and moved well much earlier in their career. As many of you know, I am not a big fan of comparable’s (for me the best comparable is when the player is happiest, moving great and performing their best) therefore attempting to compare what players do currently to what they did 20 years ago is simply unhelpful and of little value. One of the greatest achievements current players do is the remarkable distances they can now produce to which I am a huge fan as observing this live is a joyful experience, watching players like Dustin Johnson, Rory Mcllroy and Bubba Watson (ironically three different frames, movements and humans however there will undoubtedly be physiological patterns they all display that are similar around the ability to produce muscular force and speed) produce the distances they do is just a joy, the demands being placed on their bodies are clearly higher than past generations, however If they train more than these past generation of players then should this not help prevent and avoid such traumas? If not then perhaps this opens up the discussion of what and how they are training and it’s suitability and usability to both the task and the human? This is something we can explore and better understand over time as for some this is still the best use of sports science.

From my own experiences, two observations I have made are the best movers in the gym do not always (they do sometimes) make the best movers in golf and often the worse movers in the gym can often make the best movers in golf as in short, they just know how to move in within golf. In addition, some of the best athletes make the most injured players and some of the apparent ‘lesser’ athletes make the least injured players.

As discussed in previous articles, providing a balanced, educated view can only be of help to a player (as well as to the coach), therefore as shared in my last article, much of the role we have is to provide players with options and guidance to allow them to make better choices. On the subject of choices, making no choice is actually still making a choice, however my guidance would be to why not have both, move great in the training environment and move well within your swing (what needs consideration is what may be good training and good movement for one may not be good training and movement for someone else). Spiritually, I have a very simple philosophy surrounding humans I chose to invest my time in as time is the most valuable commodity we have- do they add value to my existence or do they take value away from my life? Therefore, perhaps we can apply this approach to movement and gym based training - is this movement providing value to my golf or is it taking value away?

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