Updated: May 29
On a recent flight I discovered an interview on TV with an Indian yoga master, he had been invited to speak at Oxford University and essentially share a Q&A with a selected audience around multiple philosophies, what was immediately evident was that although the discussion centred mainly around humans and life, almost all of the areas discussed are applicable to golf and movement. One of the most profound and evocative references the yoga master made was how human values are formed, in essence deprivation is what creates value, what you are most deprived of humanely are what you search for and value the most. This made me think and relate back to a previous article I shared around movement that instead of looking for areas you don’t have, be grateful and love the things you do have as one of the greatest Buddhist philosophies is how people are always looking for happiness and are often heard saying “I want happiness” However, if we look as these three words, I reflects the ego, want reveals the desire, therefore if you remove desire and remove the ego then what are you left with......One of the challenges with humans is they are not born with user manuals, therefore what creates many problems both in golf and movement is humans often suffer their own intelligence therefore understanding what movements are of value and what patterns need to be avoided can create reduce much internal unhappiness and ambiguity.
In this article I would like to share some thoughts around movement in golf, in particular the value of backswing and what influence this can have both anatomically in helping to reduce pain as well as how it relates to movement options and task completion in downswing/during impact. Also, how almost all players have deeply coded movements that they can rarely ever move away from, these deeply coded and protected movements can be reduced and/or enhanced both in a helpful and unhelpful way depending on both intrinsic moods and external influences.
What value does the backswing have?
In determining how successful a player is and becomes in golf (we can define what success is in future articles as this is independent and unique to each individual), the influence backswing has for most is minimal, this is evident by the multiple different ways major championship winning players move and yet are still able to win and be successful, therefore when improving a players backswing, often I am asked if this will help them become a better player, my typical response sits between either no and let’s see/who knows.. However, will it make the player move better and reduce the chance of pain, for almost all absolutely yes. Backswing has two main objectives, one physiological and one relating to movement options. Physiologically, how the player stands at set up and moves through backswing will determine and control how joints and tissues are loaded alongside what ranges joints move through. Simple muscle physiology shows us that the more elastically loaded tissues are through backswing the more myofascial recoil this helps the human produce through impact, also improved joint centration provides both mechanical advantage to the localised segment/joint as well as improved movement of energy across the segments. In addition, how the joints and tissues are loaded through backswing determine what ranges and directions they are asked to move through during down and through swing which will essentially control their exposure to movements and patterns they are happy completing vs. patterns they simply do not enjoy, in short ones that lead to pain. This was best reflected in a session recently where a young player had both lead wrist and lead shoulder surgery. The feedback from her coach was backswing had no value and it was all about impact. The challenge was how she adapted through downswing in response to how she moved through backswing placed her lead shoulder and wrist into positions and ranges they did not like, leading to both pain and then surgery on both. In the images below, the left hand image is impact pre improvement to her backswing with the yellow circle reflecting where her left shoulder started at address. The image on the right as where she is at impact once her start position and backswing had improved, once more the yellow circle reflects where her lead shoulder was as start. You can hopefully see the evident improvement in the right hand window shoulder and wrist movement on impact compared to the left hand image of impact when she was guided to believe that backswing had no value.
Alongside the physiological relevance to backswing, how the player choses to move through backswing is vitally important in either increasing or decreasing the movement options available for them to use and explore during downswing. Neurally, most skilled humans and successful players could make any backswing work, their spatial awareness (GPS) is that good and adaptable, regardless of how they chose to move through backswing they inherently know where impact is therefore their ability to adapt accurately and over very short periods of time is exceptional compared to less skilled and successful players. However the caveat to this approach is how they move through backswing to a level will control what adaptations they are having to make in order for the GPS to navigate and locate impact. This is one of many reason why these players can experience two outcomes, periods of unpredictable ball flights due to how well they able to match the movements at impact, plus certain flights are more challenging to hit than others due to the adaptation used to help create the match can encourage one particular ball flight to occur which then consequently can make the opposing ball flight more challenging to execute in a predictable way. Therefore backswing is of great value and importance in three main areas, force production, pain avoidance and providing the most movement options available to the player through downswing and impact. Ok, so how useable is this information? Well essentially you will decide this yourself, however the guidance is when attempting to improve backswing in future, there are three clear gains to be made by any such improvement but it is important to acknowledge will it make them a better player, let’s see, will it help them increase driving distance, reduce and avoid pain and provide more movement options to explore and play with, for almost all absolutely yes.
Movements almost all humans have. I can only share my experiences and almost every player I have had the pleasure of spending time with has deeply coded movements that invariably connect back to day one. These movements and attractors are so well protected that to attempt to move them away from this can be very, very challenging and sometimes harmful. What I observe is when players are at their most successful, these patterns are reduced and hugely suppressed however when the players form regresses and their movements start to revert to the historical movements these patterns unintentionally and inadvertently re appear to much devastation, often significantly before the player becomes aware of any such shift in their movement. So, what is important to understand is what is the deepest movement that you have, how can you best reduce it and if/when your movement starts to regress, how can you best detect a shift back towards the deeply coded patterns that you have because to move away from them and remove them is almost impossible. Accept and embrace them rather than trying to remove them therefore perhaps a more accurate definition for any such movement is not a movement pattern moreover a human pattern.
Player and movement evolution.
One of my favourite philosophies and approaches when working with any player is to invest in movements now that will be most advantageous to you in 30 years time. This approach is applied to all segments as the body cannot be divided into segments, joints, muscles etc. as we are most accurately described better as a neurophysiological global movement system that often when training, the biggest gains made are the neurological ones rather than the more tangible physiological gains. However of all segments in the human body best served by this approach is the spine as essentially you are only as old as your spine and only as old as how well it moves. Why this is so important Is best described by Ido Portal as he states that from the final day of adolescence we all start to begin to die, therefore the humans that die slowest are the ones that live longest. Therefore I encourage all players to actively spend time exploring their ability to move as humans are opportunistic movers, not mechanical systems that move up and down on the same spot for 10 sets of the same repetition. Constraints create movement therefore apply this constraint led approach to learning different patterns and moves as task based constraints can open up much freedom to explore and invent. Both life and movement are unpredictable and chaotic and demanding permanent adaptation from the human, so how is a controlled and sterile typical gym based movement such as a press, lunge etc. reflective of life? Referencing Ido Portal once more, he states that until you have been thrown out of a gym you have never moved and training properly. Like we just described, the biggest gains often made are the neurological ones (brain evolution), this also applies to where most coaches and humans can evolve and expand the most is the way they chose to see the world. What is very evident on observation is we now live in a meaningless world where little if anything has any true meaningful value, one such as example is how the human ego influences how coaches communicate with players. Some coaches are very skilled at speaking, however all speaking achieves is affirmation of the ego, the more we speak the more we affirm to ourselves that we are correct however how is this encouraging player learning and development? Benjamin Franklin, one of The US founding fathers quotes this so articulately – “Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn”
Pupils learn essentially what the teacher wants to teach them however it is on the pupil to direct the teacher to the areas that they want to be taught, when you can establish this then you have something truly unique. In this world of instantaneous information, as discussed in previous articles the data for some has become more important than the story behind it, however in my experience of the most successful players that I have been grateful to spend time with, these are the ones that often produce some of the worst data (if comparing against deterministic normative references), however they truly connect with and believe the teacher regardless of what information is being delivered, therefore what is more value, the information being delivered or the trust in the person delivering the information? What we are aspiring to create is both, the best information currently available delivered in the most advantageous and expansive way that allows growth, evolution and autonomous movers.
So, what can we gain from this short discussion? Despite what some may suggest backswing is of great value however what is important is defining in which areas it is helpful. Avoid mechanical, repetitive movements as humans are intuitive, adaptable problem solvers. Make time to explore you and your movement history and set constraints to help establish and open up movements you were unware of as invest in movements now that will be most advantageous in 30 years’ time as this can start to reattach meaning to why we do what we do. What is more important, what the teacher wants to teach or what the pupil wants to learn? What is of more value, the information being delivered or the trust in the deliverer?