Almost all golfers are aware of the importance of posture in the golf swing. Unfortunately, this oftentimes stops at the golf posture - they don’t consider that the postures they adopt throughout the rest of their lives are without doubt going to affect that golf posture and their golf swing characteristics. Further, my experience is that even those who do consider this are caught up in the same myths regards posture as the rest of the general public and have next to no clue how to actually go about changing it.
This article will attempt to address that, detailing some of the theories and research around the importance posture and how to go about effectively addressing issues you may have. We might end up dispelling a few myths along the way too!
But first let’s get the elephant in the room out of the way (I can hear the disgruntled S&C coaches already!) - the ideas I am going to present are a theoretical framework at this point with little evidence to point to their ability to predict or overcome issues - in fact static posture in particular doesn’t seem to be that important in predicting performance, injury or pain. However these drills still have value to me for the following reasons:
- The evidence does seem to point to posture being a range, with more likelihood of issues at the more extreme ends of those range. This framework is useful to bring an individual who presents a health or performance issue and lies at the extremes of range back towards a more neutral position.
- Research seems to point towards breathing mechanics and movement variability being important considerations. Repositioning pelvis and thorax repositions the diaphragm so it is more able to contribute properly to breathing.
- The drills here give the athlete greater awareness of where their bodies are in space and thus there ability to alter and control that, increasing movement variability.
- These concepts have proved invaluable in quickly and easily improving movement patterns with my athletes. An athlete that moves better, can be loaded more easily, thereby improving force production and tissue resilience.
Proper alignment is based on the concept of joint centration, which is defined as "a dynamic neuromuscular strategy that leads to the optimal joint position, allowing for the most effective mechanical advantage.”
In essence when the ball of the joint sits centred in the socket more range of motion can be achieved as joint structures will not contact, inhibiting range as a result. Load is also spread more evenly across the joint and joint structures are more protected from undue wear and tear. De-centration of a single joint can affect the centration of adjacent joints, which in turn affects the tonicity of the muscular system.
This explains why I and others, such as Bill Hartman, Mike Robertson and Greg McLean (I wanted to give a shout out to these guys in particular as they’ve been such big influences on my regarding this stuff), are such huge proponents of addressing alignment and posture before we address mobility/ stability, dynamic movement, etc.
One example of an alignment issue we are typically fighting to correct with almost everybody I work with is at the thorax/ ribcage and pelvis.
Scissor position V’s canister position
I would estimate 80% of the golfers I work with come through the door with some variation of this issue. The younger golfers I see, in particular, almost all have an extended or overly lordotic lumbar spine and a flat (again overly extended) thoracic spine. I would venture to go so far as to say this is the number one cause of injury, swing faults and performance issues I see in golfers.
If you look at the image below you'll see how, on the left, the pelvis and the ribcage are stacked - this means the shoulder joint, thoracic vertebrae, lumbar vertebrae, pelvis and hip joints are aligned more optimally. What’s more the core is properly positioned to transfer force. On the right, we see an overly extended lumbar position - creating anterior glide of many of these joints and a 'stretched' core position - this is nowhere near as effective for force transfer, range of motion or joint health.
This is the reason Dave Phillips refers to the pelvis as the power plug of the golf swing, just as a power cord needs to be plugged into to the socket to work so does the pelvis need to plugged in and integrated with the thorax/ ribcage above it. Indeed, one of the key physical contributors to clubhead speed is you’re ability to 'summate' or transfer forces up the kinetic chain, so you can see how your scissor position posture is potentially costing your distance.
A proper canister position also allows the lumbar spine and pelvis to work independently of each other. This allows the upper body to hinge well on the lower body (hello ’tight’ hamstrings, poor golf postures and maybe even early extension in the golf swing if you lack this ability!) and is essential to good rotation as a neutral pelvis not only minimises the amount of rotation at your lumbar spine but allows more rotation from the hips and thoracic spine.
"Bad golfers rotate at the lumbar spine, good golfers rotate at the hips and thoracic spine”
These issues compromise performance for sure, but additionally, research has also shown that over reliance on the lumber spine and poor swing mechanics probably increase our injury risk.
How to correct scissor position
Re-setting ribcage and pelvic alignment prior to play or training gives the athlete a better chance of setting up in the golf swing or doing movements like squatting or deadlifting with a neutral spine.
As Greg Mclean of premier fitness systems puts it "If this isn’t fixed in the gym your golf swing is leaving a lot on the table”
The first step in fixing this is to address breathing and get the athlete breathing with the primary respiratory muscles like the diaphragm, so as the secondary respiratory that are overactive and contributing to the faulty pattern can down-regulate or ‘relax’. From there we focus on establishing a better rib cage position and engaging the abs/ hamstrings to bring the pelvis underneath that improved ribcage position.
The 90-90 breathing drill is an excellent example of a positional breathing drill we may use to correct this and is the first port of call regards exercise interventions for many of our clients.
Positional breathing drills develop awareness of where the body is in space, and give you a fighting chance of improving posture and movement, but they aren’t the end of the story. You also need to get more dynamic and practice better movement patterns to take advantage of that window of opportunity they create.
The half-kneeling PNF diagonal pull-apart is one of my favourite examples of a more dynamic exercise that builds up the positional breathing by moving up the developmental sequence and challenging the athlete to hold their canister position in the presence of dynamic movement - in this case shoulder flexion.
Consider your strength training exercise choices
It’s all well and good working on the drills above to create a better posture, rotate better, etc, but at this point in time it’s only a window of opportunity.
Your lifestyle and movement patterns feed that dysfunction and without addressing those you’ll soon be back to square one. We must make use of that window of opportunity to re-train and re-learn movement patterns.
The way we do that is to train those general movement patterns under load - load seems to have an almost magical ability to make movement patterns stick for better or for worst. For better or for worst is an important point here, it speaks to the idea that we must select exercises that allow the athlete to be successful (see this article for the number 1 rule when considering which exercises to select) in integrating that improve alignment into said movement pattern.
Take chin-ups for example, assuming you have the adequate strength and mobility to be doing them (an article for another day perhaps!), most do them from a bent knee position with the feet behind their COG that encourages an extended position, and if they don’t have adequate shoulder ROM they get even more extended to get their arms overhead. In other words the exercise is dragging them into that very same posture we have just been working to get them out of - and remember load has a magically ability to make a pattern stick.
For this reason I don’t program chin-ups until I’m absolutely certain the athlete has the adequate shoulder mobility. And when I do we always utilise straight leg chin-ups. Think about it - when you bend your knees and cross your feet over behind you as is typical when doing pull-ups and chin-ups - what's the first thing that happens? The redistribution of weight causes the pelvis to tip forwards and you feel a stretch at the front of the hip capsule and the lower back tighten.
The straight leg position, ideally with feet ever so slightly out in front of you, allows you to posteriorly tilt the pelvis by engaging the abs (you can even place a pad between the thighs to help reflexively engage the core), this means we are working in the posture we’ve been trying to develop and utilising loads ability to make a pattern stick to our advantage.
Similarly, if you aren’t able to maintain a neutral pelvis without rib flare (i.e. canister position) the worst thing you can do is put a barbell on your back - it further facilitates the bad pattern.
Doing more back squats won’t fix the problem either, the athlete needs to move down the list of progressions, re-train the pattern and if appropriate return to back squatting once a more integrated pelvic, core and thorax position has been established. In the meantime, anterior loaded squat variations such as barbell front squats, kettlebell rack position squats, goblet squats and landmine squats are going to be better options.
By implementing appropriate re-set and breathing drills in your training you can create a window of opportunity for better movement, which will allows you to load exercises heavier, improve force output and tissue resilience, providing you choose the right exercises for your movement capabilities. There is a huge upside with no potential downside - even the time invested is minimal- with regards these alignment drills so I wholeheartedly recomend you give them a try. I'd also encourage you to honestly evaluate your exercise selection within the prism of whether or not it improves your movement quality
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