Developing Speed in The Golf Swing
Daisy-May Kenny of Biomek Golf, in the First of a Series on Golf Biomechanics and Coaching, Introduces the Concepts of Generating Speed in the Golf Swing
Have you noticed how much further tour players are hitting it now compared to previous years? The game of golf has evolved into a sport where speed is essential to perform well, but how is speed created in the golf swing?
Could it be the equipment they are using? How they are training maybe?
( Professional golfer, Rory McIlroy, right, using the techniques, such as ground force, physical conditioning and technique that are discussed in this series by Daisy-May Kenny of Biomek Golf )
The purpose of this article is to highlight how speed is created in the modern golf swing, in the simplest way possible.
I like to break this down into 3 main sections:
When it comes to equipment, we are talking about the clubs you use, the ball you use and the shoes you wear. Believe it or not, they all have an impact on club head speed and distance. Perhaps the fastest way to see an increase in distance is getting properly custom fitted for clubs.
Many golfers are using clubs that are not optimal for their swing mechanics. Just by getting the correct shaft and head that suites you best, you can add on 25 yards to your driver alone.
THE BALL you use also has a big impact on how far the ball goes. It is all very well and good increasing your club head speed but, if the ball isn’t right for you then that speed won’t translate into more distance.
"There are many technical ways to add speed, but what works for one does not work for all; it’s a matter of experimenting with them and observing speed and distances with a launch monitor."
Some balls are soft, some hard, as they have different density of layers within the ball. Using launch monitors, we can measure a variable called ball speed.
This essentially tells us how much energy has been transferred from the club to the ball. Centered strike on the club face is undoubtedly very important and has a huge effect on ball speed, but the other component that affects ball speed is the ball itself. Getting fitted to find the ball that suites your swing can also add distance to your game.
FOOTWEAR is probably the most overlooked variable. The connection between the ground and our feet is essential to making a golf swing. This connection creates friction and enables rotation in the body. If your footwear is not well suited to you then you could find yourself hitting it shorter. There are too many golf shoes on the market today that are visually aesthetic but have a negative effect on performance. Some cram the toes in too tight, others have a really thick, spongy sole, some are too narrow, some too wide etc. These are all going to affect how a golfer creates energy with the ground.
Our feet are full of little proprioceptors that sense and react to help keep our balance. When we wear thick spongy footwear it's essentially like wrapping your foot in bubble wrap ... You take away the foots ability to sense anything. When we continuously wear footwear that disables those proprioceptors our balance gets worse and worse. Furthermore, wearing a shoe that has a high ratio of sole thickness from heel to toe ( meaning anything with a thick heel and thin toe sole ) is detrimental to efficient ground interaction and energy creation. It shifts the pressure too far into the toes which can inhibit efficient rotation. Getting the correct shoe for you is best done by getting custom fitted. There are shoe brands out there that provide this service. Having access to a launch monitor and pressure or force measurement tool is key to assessing the affect whether it be positive or negative, it has on your game.
How you swing the golf club has a great impact on the efficiency of energy transfer in the golf swing. In the golf swing energy is created from three main sources in the body. The lower body interacts with the ground. This creates the friction needed so that the mid body can rotate. Rotation creates energy that gets loaded onto the upper body which is responsible for loading and releasing the energy through the ball at impact.
The three segments of the body are responsible for specific areas of biomechanics:
LOWER BODY = Ground Reaction Forces MID BODY = Kinematic Sequencing
UPPER BODY = Wrist Mechanics
They are all interconnected and rely on each other as part of the process to energy production in the golf swing.
Ideally, we can all maximize our energy production from all three areas of the body, but sometimes physical limitations can affect and limit the energy coming from that segment. Therefore, you are best finding a swing that’s optimal for you as an individual. Doing this will not only increase your club head speed and therefore distance, but also protect you from injury thus increasing longevity. Getting physically assessed using the gold standard of screening methods from the Titleist Performance Institute (TPI) is the best way to learn what your strengths are and what areas of your body could be limiting your golf swing. With this information you can build a golf swing that fits you.
If you’re in good shape physically and you pass all of the TPI screens then you can realistically get into any swing position you want without any pain. Looking at the long drive athletes is a great way to observe the technical changes that need to be made when adding distance. There are many technical ways to add speed, but what works for one does not work for all; it’s a matter of experimenting with them and observing speed and distances with a launch monitor.
Things like lifting your lead heel in the backswing can add length to your swing, creating energy with the ground as it slams down on the downswing. Also making changes like lifting your arms higher to add more length to the swing. This helps create a greater stretch between the upper and lower body acting like a slingshot creating energy as the swing winds up and releases.
Foot positioning at setup can also create optimal conditions for you to create speed. Often many amateur golfers set up with their stance either too narrow or too wide which can offset balance and when too wide, limits rotation. Simply finding a stance width that suites you can help you add speed to your swing.
How you grip the club also has an affect on speed and distance. There are two connection points when hitting a golf shot and those are the feet with the ground and the hands on the club. How you grip the club affects how you swing the club but also how efficiently you load and release the energy from the upper body to the ball. Finding a grip that suites you best can not only improve your swing technically but can add speed instantaneously.
There are many more technical changes that you can make to add speed but those are just a few I wanted to highlight in this first article.
Our bodies are the foundation of our golf swings. How much speed you can create is heavily affected by how your body moves and functions. These include: mobility, stability, strength, power, balance, coordination, and dissociation. Also, our genetics and our neuromuscular system affect how much speed we can create.
When it comes to understanding why mobility and stability are so important you should take a look at the “joint by joint” approach created by Mike Boyle and Dr. Gray Cook. This is a systematic theory that describes the foundation of efficient human movement. The body alternates between mobile and stable joints and inefficient movement compensations occur when there is a disturbance in that pattern.
For example, if someone has mobility limitations in their thoracic spine (t-spine) and/or hips, they more than likely have lower back pain. This is due to the lower back compensating and rotating to make up for the lack of range in the neighboring joints. I recommend getting physically assessed by a TPI certified expert near you to highlight where you may be limited and get corrective exercises that will improve the efficiency of your movement. Search here: https://www.mytpi.com/experts
Balance, Coordination & Dissociation
There are many components in our bodies that help us to balance. They are in our inner ears, eyes, and neuromuscular system. Being able to stand on one leg with your eyes open may not be too much of a challenge but try it with your eyes shut. If you are much worse with your eyes closed, then we can assume that you rely on your vision way too much to keep your balance. The PGA tour average for standing on one leg with your eyes closed is 25 seconds and above! Training all balance systems listed above will help you maintain balance in your golf swing.
Coordination is another important component to speed generation in the golf swing. How well coordinated you are affects how you sequence your body during your golf swing. This affects how much energy can be created in the golf swing. Being able to lift your lead heel in the backswing and plant it at the correct time in the downswing as the hips rotate is easy for golfers with good coordination.
Dissociation is the ability to move one segment independent of another. This is very challenging for many people because it’s not something we do every day. Without dissociation, you will be very limited in how much speed you can create in your golf swing. This is because having good dissociation enables you to rotate your hips independently of your torso in the downswing, creating the ability to generate more torque, thereby increasing how fast you accelerate into rotation.
Strength & Power
Having a sufficient amount of strength and power in the body helps facilitate more speed production in the golf swing. Many people believe that if they get stronger, they get faster – but this is not always true. Being strong means that you can move a heavy load; being powerful means that you can move that load FAST. Golfers often perform slow heavy lifts in the gym and neglect to translate that strength into something more useful for golf – power.
Despite what some golf critics may say about golf not being a sport, the downswing takes, on average, 0.25 seconds which is an incredibly fast movement in a short amount of time. Lifting a heavy weight takes about 4 seconds. That is why it is important to train power after a sufficient strength base has been built. Simply lowering the weight and performing fast lifts helps all of your hard work in the weight room translate to your golf swing. Strength is still important as building strength increases the amount of force the contraction can create which creates more potential for energy production translating to club head speed. BUT the key is translating that strength into power.
You have probably heard of the term neuromuscular before and it’s a great word that actually explains how the body works pretty well. Muscles don’t work alone, they don’t have a memory, and they can’t make themselves move. That is where the word neuro comes into play — our BRAIN controls muscle movements.
A signal must be sent from the brain which travels down the spinal cord and is sent to the exact muscle needed to perform the movement. When this message is sent, the body knows if the demand needs to come quickly, or slowly. ( The above is an image of the neural pathways developed in the brain - click on the image for more information about neural pathway development ).
For example, if you are jogging slowly your brain will recruit "slow messengers" and "slow receivers". Compared to sprinting really fast, where the brain now recruits "fast messengers" and "fast receivers". How you train physically, trains your brain to use certain messengers and receivers more often than those that remain untrained.
There are 3 main muscle fiber types: fast, intermediate and slow twitch. Slow twitch fibers are great for exercise that is not as intense but lasts a long time like running for an hour. Intermediate muscle fibers have some slow twitch qualities and some fast twitch qualities. These are good for sports that are high intensity for extended duration's like CrossFit. Lastly, there is fast twitch muscle fibers. These are the ones that Kyle Berkshire (current world long drive champion) uses when he blasts the ball 474 yards. Your brain is very clever and adapts to whatever demand you place on it. If you train slow you will be slow. So, train fast, train power and you will increase the number of fast twitch muscles and therefore increase your potential to create more club-head speed.
Now I want to introduce you to 2 types of training that I have found to be the most successful in rewiring the neuromuscular system to make it use more fast twitch muscle fibers. The first training method is OVERLOAD training. This is where you stimulate the neuromuscular system with a heavy weight and gradually reduce that weight. This is great for golfers who lack stability. The Overload training method stimulates muscle activation needed to stabilize the movement since they are using a heavier load. Then as you reduce the load the speed naturally increases as the initial muscle activation enables the system to handle faster speeds than it thought.
The second training method is OVERSPEED training. This is where you stimulate the system with a light weight and gradually increase that weight. This is perfect for golfers with good stability who lack speed. The Overspeed training method stimulates the brain and the muscle to send and receive the message a lot faster by slightly reducing the weight to begin with. Then, by gradually adding the weight back on in small increments you are tricking the neuromuscular system into sending and receiving at the same rate it did with slightly less weight. The result is faster speeds with heavier weights leading to some seriously fast speeds when using your clubs!
Last, but not least, we have genetics. DO you think you have reached your club head speed limit? Are you wondering if there Is any more left in the tank? Your genetics do have a huge impact on your speed limit. The big question is — can we actually change our DNA? Unfortunately, or fortunately your parents gave you the DNA that you have and no, you cannot change it! BUT, we can change how our DNA expresses itself.
Take 2 identical twins and place them in vastly different environments for 18 years. Do you think those identical twins would be the same? One was trained as a long-distance swimmer and the other is a 100 m track athlete. Their genetics may have predetermined the limit to their speed, but how their environments challenged them differently, caused cell replication to meet the needs of the different sports. So, the bad news about not being able to change your DNA is not all bad. The good news is you can change DNA expression which changes how your cells renew and replicate.
In summary there are multiple ways to add speed to your golf swing. I hope this article provided you with a basic understanding of how the body, technique and equipment affects speed. In the next article, I will break down how training for speed differs for different populations like seniors, females, males, and juniors.
About Daisy May Kenny:
Daisy-May Kenny is a Golf Biomechanics Coach based in Charleston, South Carolina. Originally from London, Daisy-May came to the US on a golf scholarship and graduated with a Masters degree in Science at The University of West Florida. In 2016 she founded Biomek Golf, a global platform for golf performance. She is certified through the Titliest Performance Institute and is an ACSM Certified Exercise Physiologist.
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