Muscle Power Golf??...... NOT!
Published on May 24 2015
-by Kelvin Miyahira
My journey into the world of physical training began over a dozen years ago. As I looked for better ways to train my students for speed, I realized that much of golf training was stuck in slow, heavy lifting. It seemed as if American football training was simply adapted to golf. Since we’re not colliding with 300 lb. football players, does it make sense to train this way?
Then we started hearing about the core and “core stability.” So I tried some Paul Chek workouts and gave it a try, but I saw no progression towards the goal of being a lot more dynamic, explosive and developing more clubhead speed. The exercises simply weren’t dynamic enough.
I invented the Speedchains which proved to build speed rapidly but also potentially ingrained bad swing patterns for users with already incorrect swings. So while I was on to something in terms of using active stretch/plyometric training but I then realized that this type of training needed to be even more specific. My understanding of the human body and its movements was too superficial. I needed to delve deeper into how the body actually worked.
After researching and learning more about the anatomy, spine engine and lastly the fascia, I got it. Thus while most of the training industry is still enamored with isolated muscle work and questionable understanding of what “stability” means to the top researchers, I developed a training methodology to incorporate the latest in myofascial science as well as Gracovetsky’s theory on spine engine and human locomotion.
Let’s look at what some of the cutting edge research shows about how and why you need to train your body for the fascia to work properly in the one second it takes to perform a golf swing.
The Fascia !!!
Even after this article was published in September 2009, fascia still did not become a household name. Tom Myers of Anatomy Trains fame and Dr. Robert Schleip, leading researchers in the field of fascia, were interviewed for the article and explain just the tip of the iceberg to the interviewer. Schleip says we have one body wide muscle that is separated into 600 different muscles by anatomists but it is connected via fascia, aponeuroses, tendons, ligaments and other microscopic fascial components.
They alluded that Tim Lincecum’s ability to throw a fastball was more due to the fascia than his muscles since he is of slight build. One could say the same about Jamie Sadlowski’s ability to hit it far with his slender build. But they did a shallow mainstream article to just tease you with the subject and it leaves you wanting more substance.
So what else is wrong about our understanding of muscles?
Stretch Shorten Cycles
Yes, this phenomenon does exist. Previously we thought that it was due to muscles being able to lengthen and store energy. But now we know that it is the fascia that is doing the lengthening, storing energy then contracting. Kawakami 2002 found that while performing slow movements the muscles were stretching and contracting (weight training is good for this).
But in faster or more explosive movements, it was the connective tissues (fascia) that were lengthening and contracting while the muscles contracted isometrically. Thus, the fascia can stretch/contract faster than muscles! That’s why they should do the work instead of your muscles in a golf swing!
Sidenote: What is also important to understand is that if you use the elastic recoil, it takes less effort than if you use muscular effort. This is efficiency! The golf swing, as performed by most amateurs uses very little of the fascia’s elasticity and recoil. Firing early right hip internal rotation to drive the legs uses muscular effort. Firing early right shoulder internal rotation uses muscular effort.
The more appropriate way of using one’s muscular effort is to use it to “hold back” while loading or pre-stretching the fascial elements by externally rotating the hip and shoulder so that you can use the elastic recoil of the internal rotators/fascia just before impact. Of course everyone releases early therefore this is why it is so easy to slide/stall and to flip therefore not get the maximum from your body’s fascial elements.
No wonder amateurs barely hit it out of their shadows while using more muscular effort than pros. This also explains how pros can appear to use little effort and hit it so far. Or how young teenagers without full body maturity and muscle development can hit it 300 yards or more. One can think that it’s all about flexibility but there are yoga/pilates teachers out there with a lot of flexibility that can’t hit a golf ball far. So it’s about the fascia that’s trained properly and well developed for explosive power. You can develop this too!
Understanding of Fast and Slow Twitch Muscle Fibers Incorrect
Kangaroos were studied to find out if they had higher percentage of fast twitch vs. slow twitch muscle fibers. No, they don’t have a higher percentage of fast twitch muscles than humans. So this means their fascia has evolved to store and use the elastic energy.
Check out these springboks/gazelles bounding and leaping high and far into the air. They are thin with small muscles but very elastic fascia, these animals are capable of running over 60 mph and jumping over 12 feet high. Pay attention to the video as they long jump easily over the width of the road and over cars.
One can train to have increased storage capacity of the fascia. This study showed that daily rapid running or sprints induced tendinous tissues to increase the elastic storage and therefore rebound more. Take this training notion to all critical elements of the golf swing and you can build yourself a better body.
Training muscles in isolation vs training the whole neuromyofascial web
The myofascial web needs to be trained in as wide a range of angles and directions in order to create the lattice-like structure of the fascia that can move freely in any direction. The golf swing requires a huge range of motions in many different planes (not pertaining to swing plane but frontal, sagittal and transverse plane movements).
Healthy fascia has a lattice-like appearance from moving (training) in multi directions.
If you train in only one direction, you will build fascia in only one direction. From Myers, a latissimus dorsi muscle with the fascia arranged in a parallel pattern. This will ultimately leave you with weakness or difficulty in moving in other directions. So if you are a powerlifter, you can train this way. But a golfer needs to train in multiple directions that more closely resembles a golf swing.
This might be most controversial but most important of all golf specific training. We’re told to passively stretch slowly and hold positions for a 30 seconds to a minute. Active stretching was considered to be dangerous by many in the field. But current research shows that active pre-stretch then immediate contraction is the best way to develop the elastic recoil in your fascia!
What is the fascia?
Let’s take a step back and understand what fascia is. Fascia is connective tissue that is ubiquitous. It surrounds and connects every muscle fiber, muscle bundle, bone and organ that forms a tensegrity structure that keeps us upright. It is considered to be any dense irregular connective tissue sheet in the human body, including aponeuroses, joint capsules, or muscular envelopes such as the endo-, peri- and epimysium. (Langevin & Huijing, 2009).
At a microscopic level, the endomysium or fascia surrounds or ensheaths every muscle fiber. Then there is the perimysium that surrounds bundles of muscle fibers. And then there is the epimysium that encapsulates entire muscles. Therefore, fascia is everywhere! And impossible to separate from the muscle. While anatomy drawings may show nice, neatly separated muscles, the fascia is what might be separating what in the artists view are “individual muscles.”
Here’s a diagram of how the muscles are connected in parallel to the fascia and fascia to bone.
Myers and others have found fascial connections throughout the body that go from head to toe. Contracting your abs will also contract pectorals, biceps and OTHER MUSCLES. Especially for golf there are specific spiral, lateral and front/back lines that we would like to use in order to perform the golf swing better. This is where a lot of training must be more specific to involve head to toe fascial lines vs isolated muscle groups.
Peter Huijing found that there are even lateral connections from different muscles. Even agonist/antagonist muscles have these fascia connections that are transmitting force laterally across muscle groups. This means that when you contract your biceps you are also transmitting force to the triceps via these lateral connections.
These are pictures of healthy fascia. It takes on a lattice like appearance. At every level the fascia is capable of stretching/contracting but it must be in a condition to do so.
If one’s body is too sedentary or is not stretched out periodically, one can build up fuzz or adhesions in the fascia and restrict your motion.
From Schleip’s presentation, sedentary lifestyle creates a matted felt-like structuring of the fascia. One cannot move well if this is the case. Thus if you feel any tightness or difficulty in performing your golf swing, this could be a good reason.
Good News! Fascia Adapts!!!
It is important to know is that fascia is highly adaptive. Putting tension or strain on your body causes myofibroblasts to create more fascia or collagen along the line of strain. It is the body’s natural process to make you more efficient in what you are doing. So sit all day in a hunched posture, your fascia will help you retain that posture. Or move like a tiger or gazelle and you can create fascia to help you remodel the fascia too. So there’s hope for everyone to start moving today and build a better fascial network for tomorrow.
But this is another reason why training must be specific! There is no point in building fascia at different joint angles or in different movement patterns than in a great golf swing. I cannot express this strongly enough. Training is about building movement patterns because movement patterns will build fascia along those lines. What was once thought of as muscle plasticity, is actually the fascia that is able to adapt and re-form along new movement patterns!
High Magnitude Deformation of Tendons while Training Produces faster development of fascia
From a study done with the Achilles’ tendon, they found that frequency of training did not matter as much as high magnitude of deformation of the tendon created best training adaptation. So for our golf swing, we want to add resistance or speed of stretch in order to create larger deformation of the fascial stretch components so that we can build more fascia and faster.
Neurologically, this makes sense too. Building movement patterns is clearly about getting one’s body to move as you want it to and it takes some neural input in order to do so. But once you understand the movement intellectually, it’s more about getting your myofascial web to perform the motion fast and correctly.
Current Training Effectiveness
If you already believe, you can skip the rest of this article. But I feel it is of absolute importance to take a critical look at why the dominant physical training methodology is mediocre at best and damaging to your golf swing at its worst.
For way too long, physical trainers have been neglecting the importance of the fascia. This could ultimately be the reason why we’ve seen golfers go into the weight room and end up bigger and fitter yet slower and less flexible. Now with this “core training”, I’m seeing golfers that cannot move their body correctly. Either their lower body wants to outrace their upper body or their upper body dominates their lower body. In other words, this core isolation training modality does not train coordination of these fascial components. Also highly questionable is their understanding of a great golf swing. They’re training a golf swing yeah, but what kind of golf swing are they training you for? My guess is a bad golf swing.
But they (TPI/Nike and other fitness gurus) can point to all the top players they train and how they train them today (a decade or two after they truly developed). Well I’m not buying it. Here’s why.
Remember a young Tiger Woods in the US Amateur playing with a 43 ½” Cobra steel head driver with a heavy steel shaft. On the last hole he needed to carry a bunker 320 yards to have an easier shot to the par 5. Well he flew it no problem. At this time he could not have weighed more than 155 lbs and he was bone thin.
Fast forward almost 20 years and he’s bigger (probably 30 lbs more lean muscle mass), stronger but slower. He’s hitting it shorter (averaging a little over 293 yards) while using the latest technology in titanium heads, carbon fiber shafts and high tech golf balls. No doubt he’s lost at least 10-15 mph on his swing speed averaging around 115 mph this year.
I might also add that doing all this training to get stronger has NOT helped one bit in injury prevention despite the constant marketing of the opposite we hear from those in the fitness field. Why?
Gary Woodland Basketball
Tiger skinny 1990
If you are an amazing physical specimen with athletic ability in the top 0.01% of the players in this country, you are lucky. You probably have 120+ mph swing with hand eye coordination, ability to mimic sports movements easily and have exceptional feel for the game. And most importantly, you have an innate sense to use your body in the most athletic way possible. Thus where everyone struggles to hit it 230 yards, you hit it 330 yards or more. I think of guys like Tiger Woods, Bubba Watson, JB Holmes, Gary Woodland and even a young Jack Nicklaus as exemplars in this category. I’m sure the bulk of the guys on tour were like this as well.
Here’s a typical story I’ve heard over and over. This from a student of mine that played golf at UCLA and really is a thoroughbred. I asked him the question of when he started bombing it. This is his accout.
“I was young. I first started playing golf in 8th grade, so like 13/14 years old. By 9th grade I was hitting it farther than most on the high school golf team and getting it up to 300. But really consistently hitting it 300 yards junior year high school, so 16 or 17. Then senior high school, freshman and sophomore of college is when I really started crushing it. So around 19 to 20 is when I would say is when I hit it farthest ever. I mean a mile. I was probably 50 yards longer than most teammates and guys I played with. That was when I basically could hit it as far as I wanted, it was unreal.”
If this story sounds familiar, you’re a thoroughbred. Below, here’s another thoroughbred.
Here’s last year’s Asian Tour Order of Merit leader, Kiradech Aphibarnrat from Thailand. Does he look like he can swing?
No doubt, he’s a thoroughbred. He just may not look like one. Let’s not judge the book by its cover……………..This guy can really move and he rips it. He’s not muscular and sculpted like many on the PGA tour. How does he do it?
Or how’s this future Hall of Famer? Coming out of college he was drafted as the 199th pick and the 7th quarterback selected. Perhaps these NFL Combines are letting some great athletes slip through the cracks due to judging the book by its cover?
So let’s say we rewind the tape and look at these thoroughbreds when they were in their early teens. You’d see athletes skinny with little muscle development or a little chubby and anything but thick, muscular football player types yet could pound the ball as far as they do 10 years later with full physical development. So are we correct in attributing their awesome power to the training that builds their muscles? NO! They already had the speed, coordination, excellent movement patterns AND fascia properly built in by the time they were teenagers. That’s why they are thoroughbreds!
Yet these thoroughbreds are not immune from slow destruction that can come from “friendly fire.” Judging from what we’ve seen from Tiger, the answer is no. Even Superman has his kryptonite.
If you’re not a Thoroughbred: Avoid falling for the Marketing
If you’ve understood even half of what I’ve said thus far, you would be educated enough to keep yourself safe from harm. Great golfers or athletes were developed PRIOR to being trained with these programs and methods. Maintenance of a thoroughbred’s body is entirely different than building one from scratch. Current programs might help you take the clubs out of the trunk or make you less tired after the round but as for building a better body and a better motion? I think it’s the opposite. So even throroughbreds must take notice. Fascia is slow to adapt and in one year about half of your fascia will be turned over and with that, better performance each day.
But for those still thinking that current training is helpful let me spell it out thoroughly.
Problem #1: Golf Specific Training is an overused term!
Much of “golf training” is not really golf specific training. Just because your glutes work in the golf swing it isn’t enough to do squats, deadlifts, kettlebell lifts, etc. in an improper way for a great swing. Remember whatever movement pattern you use in the gym, your fascia will build upon those lines and angles.
This is Jason Glass, one of top trainers at TPI. “Lower body first” he says. “Proper sequencing is going to give you power.” Elite swings do not use the body this way. It starts with the spine first and then the movement is translated to the rest of the body.
“Be sure to get all the weight onto that front leg and squeeze your glutes.” Are we doing a golf swing or a basketball layup? That’s obvious.
“Lower body stays stable while the upper body is rotating.” Does it look like a golf swing?
Remember what stable means to researchers. It is about force closure and getting the SI joint to be able transfer powerful lower body movements into the upper body. I think there’s a big disconnect between the researchers and the trainers applying the research.
“That’s proper sequencing. Left leg is bracing.” But does it look like Gary Woodland? He’s not on his left side and bracing.
“Pelvis rotates around the posted left leg.” Does that look like Rory?
“Fire the right knee first, then fire the upper body.” Translation: Fire right hip into internal rotation starting the downswing. There is also lack of right lateral bend in this exercise.
“Pelvic Powerhouse! Move right knee to the left elbow while in a plank position. Upper body is stable so you’re creating power with your pelvis.” Doesn’t look like a golf swing to me in any way.
Power is from the ground up so do these goblet squats for increased power! Ummmmm, where in the golf swing does it look like we just stand up? Where’s the specificity of movement? Spine movement? Lateral bend?
“Turn internally towards the target” Joey D says while moving the Morning Drive’s host right leg into early internal rotation.
Prior he mentions “we don’t want the right knee coming out to the ball.”
Never mind that Bubba, Jamie, JB and many other great ball strikers do this. And driving the knee inward is just a way to fire once and stall.
“Get onto that left side. We want everything moving toward that target.”
Here he is promoting dual IR or internal rotation for balance. It’s another way of saying lock up your lower body and don’t let it contribute to the motion.
Ever heard of a guy named Sam Snead??? Isn’t this how training goes when you don’t understand the golf swing or how the human body works? Yet it all looks great and he’s on TV so it MUST be right………..argumentum ad populum.
According to the experts, there should be ankle, knee and hip extension at impact that will power the swing explosively! Oversimplification maybe???
Does that look like a golf swing? Maybe a bad swing. We see many jump/stallers look like this. Don’t they know the left hip must remain flexed at impact? Guess not.
How about this? Yikes! Yet, this idea is going around like wildfire. Squat, then jump! They probably didn’t get the memo that Snead started squatting in transition not in the backswing. Also, this guy is lateral bending to the left and standing up.
JB is keeping his left hip in flexion. So why train for extension?
How about this one? Isn’t that rotation along with a left lateral bend? Right elbow stuck behind, no right side lateral bend, no lower body contribution to the throw, no external rotation of the left hip/femur. I could go on and on.
In a great golf swing, should both hips extend as Lexi Thompson does? Sure the right hip is extending but the left hip is staying flexed!!!
Performing golf specific work requires your exercise to closely resemble the movements of a great golf swing. Thus if it doesn’t look like a golf swing you should question doing it. Why would you want to work so hard to just to ingrain improper movement patterns into your swing???
Problem #2: Core Training and Sport Science
One other aspect of training that is to be questioned is the notion of the “core.” Much of it is highly questionable in terms of the full understanding of the meaning of the word “stability” as the top researchers like Paul Hodges, Manuel Cusi and Andry Vleeming intended. THis is a construct error which means that the understanding of training by the training community is plain wrong.
One of the major pet theories of the biomechanical community is the idea of proximal to distal (P-D) sequencing or the kinetic/kinematic chain theory (there is also simultaneous peaking theory but no one pays any attention to that one because it does not sell). This is related to another ill-founded theory is that the swing starts from the ground up. These overly simplistic theories have been repeated so often that they become truth therefore we accept these ideas without any reservation or scrutiny.
So if you’re a trainer without much knowledge of the golf swing, you take these two ideas of the core and the kinematic chain then you build a program around it. It’s so perfect! The ideas fit like a glove.
But if a trainer/strength coach truly understood what movements were performed in a great golf swing, they would NEVER train the way they do. It isn’t their fault they don’t understand the golf swing. It is highly complex and no one has laid out all of the moves in a golf swing so that anyone could understand it (until now).
So let’s play along with these ideas to see how they fly.
If the legs start the downswing (highly desirable since the swing starts from the ground up) then brace while the upper body fires, it puts a major demand on the transverse abdominis and the obliques to supply the needed power to drive the downswing. This is especially true since the lower body has already done its job (peak pelvic rotation starts the downswing then must decelerate rapidly to transfer its energy to the next segment).
But have you looked at the size of these muscles?
When looking at a cross section, look at how thin and small these muscles are? These are not muscles large and powerful enough to drive the golf swing anyway.
Think of a slice of bacon. What muscles are we eating? Obliques and transverse abdominis. Seriously, are they capable of that much power?
Once again, do you see how the word “stability” has been totally misunderstood/misused in the training world to mean “not move?”
Research World’s definition of “Stability”
Leading researchers Hodges, Vleeming, Cusi, and Serge Gracovetsky define the word stability in an entirely different way. They see stability as in how the sacroiliac joint must function in order to allow forces developed in the lower body to transfer its power to the upper body via MOVEMENT of the sacrum into the ilia by using muscle and ligamentous tissue (fascia) creating stable force closure and a powerful ring or like “another rib” that can allow lower and upper body to work simultaneously to generate even more power than by sequencing!!!
In other words, the transverse abdominis, rectus abdominis, the obliques along with the lumbodorsal fascia to create a force closure so that the sacroiliac ligaments can pull the sacrum into the pelvic bones thereby allowing for the transfer of forces from lower body to upper body and vice versa in a safe way.
The triangular shaped sacrum fits tightly into the innominate bones like a jigsaw puzzle thus allowing it to withstand shear forces while transferring forces from the lower half of the body. This is key for a golf swing!
Nutation or Counter Nutation
Related to the SI joint, here’s a great animation of pelvic movements involved in creating stability. Nutation must occur to provide the correct stability of the pelvic ring. Counter nutation creates instability and therefore increases the risk of injury.
The scientists mean that the sacrum must nutate and create a bit of lordosis for the force closure to occur. Add in Serge Gracovetsky’s contribution of lateral bend/lumbar lordosis to the mix and now you have the coupled motions that can produce powerful rotation. This brings the spine engine into the golf swing and now you have a hugely powerful human machine to swing a club.
By creating the pelvic ring and engaging the spine engine’s larger muscles like the pork gluteus maximus (pork butt), pork erector spinae (tenderloin), the lumbodorsal fascia which then brings in the latissimus dorsi and thoracic rib cage musculature/fascia.
If anyone has ever made barbequed ribs, you know what is involved in this. There is the silver skin that must be removed before cooking because that’s a super strong, elastic fascial layer that you don’t want to even try to be chewing through. Imagine how powerful that structure can be for your golf swing.
It is important to note that the diaphragm as well as the pelvic floor myofascial are involved in the movements as well.
But wait! There’s more!!!
The anatomy trains for Myers and others that have found these fascial attachments from head to toe in lateral lines, spiral lines, on the front, back, superficially and deep in the body, the human body can fire in these very complex ways to work together to produce a great golf swing WITHOUT having to think of every little individual muscle firing. Humans were meant to move this way optimally as a young Tiger once did. Too much improper training or incorrect golf instruction can surely ruin it but it is there for the taking.
So the next time you hear some strength coach mention “train the core” stop and think about what they really mean. They’re always thinking to “stabilize” or not move the lower body (decelerate) so the upper body can fire away. But that is making the transverse abs and obliques become the actual power source instead of using them to connect the upper and lower halves of the body so the ENTIRE body can work to produce power! For these trainers, it’s all about the bacon and individual muscle firings.
Problem #3: Lack of Dot Connecting in Science
Since the science of golf is still in its infancy we risk ruining our swings if we follow along blindly (Can Chris Como help Tiger Woods with the latest biomechanical science?). We have hardly scratched the surface. Golf researchers with narrow, deep slices of knowledge of very specific areas of study (too much quantitative biomechanics) but perhaps due to the Era of Specialization have failed to assemble enough information on a wider perspective that can actually connect the dots. You would have to understand the golf swing, anatomy, spine/pelvic function, Gracovetsky’s, Vleeming’s, Hodges’, Cusi’s, Schleip’s and other current fascial research work and more in order to put together a training program. If not, you get what these guys are promoting and calling it “cutting edge.” Not.
If you’re not a thoroughbred, you cannot do these incorrect workouts that thoroughbreds do and expect to make any improvements. It just doesn’t work that way. Thoroughbreds have the genetics, athletic ability/intuitiveness and past sports experiences that got them to where they are. They probably played a lot of other explosive sports to build their myofascial system to be so powerful. There’s virtually no chance an average Joe that’s been working in front of a computer for all these years can just jump out of the office chair and hit it like the guys you see on TV. It’s just not going to happen. But with a good fascial golf training program you can and will make progress.