Sunday, May 13, 2012

Quit Calling it the Shoulder Turn!

The Shoulder Turn

The words that we use to teach golf are important in the process of learning. Harvey Penick was the first teacher who made me aware of how carefully I needed to choose my words. He would always tell his students to "grip down" on the club instead of choking down. He didn't like the visual images that the word choking inspired in a student's mind. One of the most commonly used phrases that is used to describe a move in the golf swing is the shoulder turn. This is so commonly used that it might seem silly to make a distinction about it, but that distinction might make learning the golf swing an easier task.

The turn away and back to and through the ball is accomplished by turning your torso. It is so often referred to by teachers and players as a shoulder turn, that many people believe that is the part of the body that should turn. This is confusing for new players and causes both new and experienced players to make the wrong move. Let's talk about what happens in your swing.

Your spine has different sections in it. At the top is the cervical spine and it turns a lot more than the rest of your spine. As you swing the club back, your cervical spine (neck and top of shoulders) is actually rotating the other way, to keep your head in place. Your thoracic spine (shoulder blades and mid back) is where most of the turning in your swing takes place. That is because the facet joints of your thoracic spine are lined up to allow rotation. This is unlike the facet joints of your lumbar vertebrae (lower back), which allow for only forward and backward flex. As you turn back in the golf swing, your upper thoracic vertebrae support the cervical spine in keeping your head at the ball while the mid back turns. Any rotation that happens in your lower body takes place in your hip joints. All of this is important and works together to create the proper sequence of motion.

When you call this rotation a shoulder turn, you often see people who stand up a bit in their swing to make sure their back faces the target. Many of the students we see on the lesson tee are folks whose thoracic spine is too tight or who have impingements in their hip rotation. You might think I am talking about older folks or folks who are out of shape, but I am not. I am talking about young players who are often overtrained in one area of their body and weak in other places. This is not a problem that bothers only the out of shape.

Think about having a sore joint, either from injury, overuse or weakness. For example, I had injured my right ankle so many times when I was a young basketball player, that it was weak, hyper flexible and stiff. As a young athlete, I was already doing things to offset these injuries. How about you? Your spine has joints all up and down and on both sides. Any of these can be suffering from past injuries, weakness or if you are an avid golfer, overuse. Your hip joints are made up of a lot of muscles that connect to your spine, pelvis and legs. That is a very unscientific way of saying, there is a lot going on there and an injury in any one of those ligaments or muscles will effect rotation, flexion, extension or adduction and abduction.

Wait a second, we were talking about the shoulders and now we are talking about the hips? What is the connection? If you have a problem with rotation in your hips, it will appear as though you aren't making a good shoulder turn. Most of the time, this presents itself as a sway to your teacher or it is the student who pops up out of her posture in her back swing. Either is a way to "turn your shoulders" despite being hampered with rotation in either your back or your hips. Another "fix" we see when your buddy tells you that you aren't making a good turn is to overwork your arms. You will get the feeling that your shoulders are working, but in fact, your arms have lost that relationship needed with your shoulders to create a free swing that produces power. I have seen countless big, strong men who couldn't produce power because of this move.

How do you know if this is how you swing? First, when you swing the club back, your left arm (this blog will refer only to a right handed golfer) swings on a small arc to the inside or closer to you as you rotate your torso. This causes your left shoulder to move down a bit. This is a proper shoulder plane in the golf swing. That plane is matched on the thru swing.

When you consciously think of making a shoulder turn, instead of rotating your torso, your move will be to force your left shoulder back. When you do that, your left shoulder comes up or flattens in golf terminology. You will also notice that you lose the tension in your right butt cheek that you gained with the little swing arc your left arm made at first. If you are one of the players we see on the driving range who doesn't even start the swing with that arc of a swinging left arm, then you have stood up early in the swing and your back is now up and down as though you were about to hit a baseball instead of a golf ball on the ground. As teachers, we see both of these moves quite often.

It is possible that you listened to people talk about the shoulder turn, took it literally and worked on the wrong move until you learned it. You need a lesson with a good pro. It is also possible that you have a good swing, but you have physical limitations that force you to move in counter productive ways to offset the inability to rotate. You also need a lesson with a good pro. In both cases, I would encourage you to get some help from a qualified, golf specific, physio therapist. At SMU, we are lucky to work with some of the best at The Move Project in Dallas, who are M.A.T. trainers. Their evaluations and work with our players have supported my teaching, improved our players motion and movements and taken away pain that radiated from forcing movements when stuck. I am also impressed with the work that NG360 is doing with golfers. They seem to have a good system of evaluating joint movement and giving appropriate exercises to follow it up. If you aren't lucky enough to have guys like The Move Project near you, seek out some of the professionals who are being trained in NG360 (the NG stands for Nike Golf and they are training only their own people at this point).

The power of words is important to teaching and learning the game of golf. Instead of heading to the range to work on your shoulder turn, instead, you need to work on turning your chest or your torso. If you can't do it, take a shorter swing and you will have more power than if you turn with only your arms.

Here are some links that might help you learn more about today's blog subject:
This is a segment on Ryan Overturf, who is one of the M.A.T. Therapists that we get to work with:

Here is a quick guide to how your spine works in the golf swing:
Here are golfers who are turning their shoulders.  The result is obviously not good.  They have lost their posture and their swing. 

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