The answer to the headline question is: the hips. Unfortunately, bad habits formed in everyday life – slumping over a computer for hours on end, for example – often carry over to our golf posture. The good news is, it's a relatively easy problem to fix, and it can greatly improve your swing.
Bending from the waist can be detrimental to your health as well as your swing. It puts the back in a curved or C-shaped position that stresses the spine and muscles, while restricting rotation during the swing and causing the arms to become too involved.
Bending from the hips, on the other hand, straightens the spine and allows your body to rotate comfortably around it. You'll be better able to achieve a full shoulder turn with much less effort, and to maintain your posture from setup to finish – a key to consistent ballstriking.
Here's a good way to bend at the hips instead of the waist:
- Standing upright with the knees slightly flexed, hold a golf club vertically along your spine.
- The club should touch the back of your head and the entirety of your spine. The only space between club and body should be at the neck.
- Bend gently forward, keeping the club in contact with your spine and head until you reach a spot that approximates your golf address position.
- If you feel gaps between club and spine at any point, straighten the back to eliminate the space and continue.
If you're accustomed to bending at the waist, the proper posture will feel a bit awkward. In fact, swinging from this position may take some getting used to – but your health and swing will be better for the effort.
Should You Bend from the Waist or the Hips?
Taking a good stance is one of the very first steps in the process of hitting good golf shots. There is a lot of work to be done both before and during the swing if you want to produce good shots, and it all gets started with a nice address position. Good golfers take the time to learn how to build a quality stance over the ball – poor golfers largely ignore this basic fundamental. If you are serious about playing good golf over the long run, a great address position is an absolute essential piece of the puzzle.
A good golf stance is one of those things that you know when you see, but it is hard to tell if you are taking a good stance when you can't get an outside view. Looking down at the ball doesn't really allow you to gain a good perspective on whether or not your body is in the right position. When you watch golf on TV, it is easy to see that nearly every player on Tour uses a beautiful stance to support their swing. Getting yourself into a similar position is certainly possible, but it is going to require that you dedicate some practice time to this seemingly basic part of the game.
One of the key components to a good stance is the way that you bend out over the ball. You can't stand straight up while hitting a golf shot – well, you probably could, but the results would not be pretty. You need a degree of bend in your upper body to give your arms room to swing through the shot with plenty of speed. So, when bending out over the ball, should you bend from the waist or the hips? Which would be better for building a quality stance? Does it even matter?
Starting with the last question first, yes, it definitely matters. The fact is that most players will be much better off when they focus on bending from the hips rather than the waist. Bending from the hips will force your legs down into an athletic stance, with flexed knees and your backside sticking out behind you. This is ideal for starting a swing. On the other hand, if you bend from the waist, you will likely be hunched over the ball and your stance will be anything but athletic. Stick with bending from the hips and your golf swing will get off to a much better start.
This might seem like an extremely mundane and rather tedious point to focus on in the grand scheme of the golf swing, but it is the little things that count in this game. Even small mistakes that are made in the set up – such as bending from the waist instead of the hips – can lead to big problems later on. If you are willing to spend time and effort on the small details, the big pieces of your swing will largely take care of themselves.
All of the instruction below is based on a right handed golfer. If you happen to play left handed, please take a moment to reverse the directions as needed.
Get a Good Look
As mentioned above, it is hard to work on your stance when you can't see exactly what you are doing. For that reason, it is best to practice your address position in a place where you can see your stance in the reflection of a mirror. By standing in front of a mirror while learning your stance, you can instantly see exactly how you are doing. This method is far preferred to using video tape, where you have to stop and watch the tape time after time while trying to tweak your positions. Some golf courses have a mirror set up out on the driving range for this exact purpose, but you can even practice at home in front of a tall mirror if necessary. Of course, if you choose to work on your stance in the house, you will want to do so without the use of a club (or there could be expensive repairs in your future).
Once you have located a mirror where you can practice your stance, you don't need to have any big complicated plan in order to get better – just take your stance over and over again, working on bending from the hips rather than from the waist. If you see your backside sticking out behind you and your knees flexing nicely, you are likely doing well. If, however, you notice that you look hunched over and your knees are barely flexed at all, you have some work to do.
In addition to learning how to bend from the hips rather than the waist, you can also check on the following three points of your address position while practicing in front of the mirror.
- Flat back. One of the benefits of bending from your hips is that you should find it much easier to get into a flat back position. When checking your stance in the mirror, make sure your back is creating a straight line from your belt all the way up to your neck. It is this line that you are going to be rotating around, so any curve at address is going to wind up throwing your swing off track. By getting into a flat back position, you should improve the quality of both your backswing and your downswing. If you are having trouble flattening out your back at address, think about pushing your chest out toward the golf ball. This subtle move will open up your chest, which should pull your shoulders back slightly and help you to flatten out your back nicely.
- Relaxed arms. Tension in your arms at address is only going to cause trouble in the swing. You want your arms to be hanging down in a relaxed position from your shoulders at address so they can swing freely back and through. Tension is always bad in golf, but it is especially damaging when it makes its way into your arms. As you stand in front of the mirror in your stance, try swinging your arms back and forth (without using a club). If you can feel tension and restriction in the swinging motion, continue to work on your stance until they are hanging freely down in front of you.
- Head position. It is easy to forget about your head position while checking on everything else, but it is important to get your head into the right spot while over the ball. Your chin should be up, allowing your neck to continue the straight line that has been (hopefully) formed by your back. The big advantage of having your chin up can be seen when you actually start to put the club in motion – with your chin up and out of the way, your left shoulder will have room to swing back freely, which sets the stage for a great turn. If you were to keep your chin tucked down into your chest, you would run into a problem (literally) while trying to make a good turn away from the ball. Keep your head up and your eyes down to put the last piece of the address position puzzle into place.
Standing in front of your mirror at home might not seem like the best way to improve your golf game, but it can actually have a profound effect on the quality of your swing. Not all of your practice needs to be done at the driving range, and this is a great example. By getting a great look at your stance while rehearsing it over and over again, you will learn how to put your body in a good position from which to swing. Getting the pre-swing fundamentals correct is just as important as doing things right once the club starts in motion.
Implementing a Pre-Shot Routine
After spending some quality time in front of the mirror, you should be pretty comfortable with building a stance that is based on bending from the hips rather than the waist. However, it is one thing to build that stance in front of a mirror – it is another thing altogether to build it out on the course prior to every shot that you hit. Consistency is the name of the game in this case, as taking a faulty stance just a couple of times throughout the day could lead to poor shots that ruin your overall score.
In order to find the same stance shot after shot, round after round, a good pre-shot routine is essential. A pre-shot routine, for those who aren't familiar with the term, is exactly as it sounds. It is a routine that you complete prior to hitting each shot. This routine doesn't need to be complicated or time consuming, but it should be repeated prior to every shot without fail. Building a habit in the form of your routine will help you to do everything the same for each shot – and that includes helping you take the same stance.
The tricky part of building a good routine is that everyone uses a slightly different routine to get the job done. You shouldn't copy the exact routine of another golfer – instead, you should take the time to build your own routine that gives you confidence. It will take a little bit of effort to construct your own routine, but you should only have to do it once, as this is an element of your game that can last a lifetime.
As you are working on creating your own routine, focus on including each of the following three elements in one form or another.
- Swing trigger. If you had to identify one element of your swing that gives you the most trouble, what would it be? Think about that question for a moment. Once you have an answer, think about how you could incorporate something into your pre-shot routine that will remind you to pay attention to that trouble spot in your swing. For example, if you have trouble keeping your left arm down flat enough in the backswing, you could try tugging on your left sleeve prior to the swing as a way of reminding yourself to keep that arm down. Even just a subtle reminder such as a sleeve pull can be enough to put your mind in a good place prior to executing the swing.
- Focus on the target. At some point during your pre-shot routine, you should take a moment to stare at the target that you have selected for the shot. This is important because it helps to lock your mind on the objective for the swing, rather than just standing up next to the ball and hoping for the best. Too many golfers fail to identify a specific target, and they struggle with accuracy as a result. You will never hit a target if you don't aim at it, so set aside a moment in your routine to train your focus on the spot that you have picked out.
- Deep breath. A good deep breath can go a long way toward developing quality golf shots. You need to be relaxed to make good swings, and a deep breath in and out right before walking up to the ball is a good way to remind yourself to relax. In fact, believe it or not, it is easy to forget to breathe altogether when you get in a particularly stressful spot. By forcing yourself to take a deep breath before starting the swing, you can cause yourself to relax a bit and focus in on the task at hand. Pressure has a way of ruining an otherwise good golf swing, but a nice deep breath helps to fight back against that problem.
Hopefully, you already have a pre-shot routine of some kind in your golf swing. If not, the tips above should help you to create one that can hold up over the long run. Remember, you will get better and better at your pre-shot routine as time goes by, so this is not something that you want to be changing on a regular basis. Once you settle on a routine you should stick with it, and it will allow you to build more and more confidence in your swing and your game as a whole.
So what does all of this have to do with bending from the hips rather than the waist? It is all about consistency and repeatability. Learning how to take a good stance with a bend from the hips is fine, but you have to repeat it over and over if it is going to do you any good. In addition to all of the other great things that a pre-shot routine can do for you, it can also help you to make your stance look exactly the same shot after shot.
Consistency Through the Set
Many golfers get lazy when it comes to their short game shots. Since a full swing isn't the intention when they stand over a chip or putt, they decide to just stand there rather than bothering with a good stance. This, of course, is a serious mistake. While your stance is naturally going to adjust from a full swing to a short game shot – you will stand with your feet closer together, for example, you still need to focus in on the details. There should still be flex in your knees, and yes, you should still be bending from the hips instead of the waist.
Even though different golf shots call for different techniques and fundamentals, the stance remains an important part of the game no matter what club you happen to have in your hands. Playing good golf is hard enough with a proper stance – it is nearly impossible with a bad one. Take the time prior to any shot on the course, including your putts and your chips, to get your knees flexed and your upper body tilted out over the ball. The consistency you can gain just by focusing on these fundamentals is amazing, and even these small points may be able to take your game to a new level.
During your next short game practice session, take some time to pay attention to your stance and posture. Do you have a good posture over the ball, or are you simply bending over and hoping for the best? Take some time to practice your stance on short shots and you will quickly see how much you can improve. Your putting stroke will be more consistent when you use a good stance, as you will have an easier time rocking your shoulders back and through the ball. The combination of a good stance and relaxed grip pressure just might be all you need to sharpen up your short game performance.
One of the great things about golf is that you don't have to be in incredible shape in order to play the game. This is why many people continue playing golf long after they have given up the other sports that they enjoyed. For example, you have to be rather fit and have good knees to run up and down a basketball court in a rec league, meaning you may have to give it up at some point due to nagging injuries. While injuries are certainly possible in golf as well, they don't have to be 'career ending'. For instance, a player with bad knees may be able to simply take a cart rather than walking the course, allowing him or her to still enjoy the game for years to come.
With all of that said, fitness still matters in golf. If you are able to keep yourself at a reasonable level of overall fitness, it will be easier to hit good shots. Specifically, your flexibility is an important part of the equation. Players who have flexibility in their hips and their back will have a much easier time completing a full swing than those who are wound tight. Flexibility not only can lead to a bigger backswing and greater club head speed, it can also lead to a reduction of injuries in the long run. By maintaining a good level of flexibility over the long run, you will give yourself the best possible chance to hit powerful shots while avoiding injury.
If you decide to work on your flexibility in pursuit of a better swing, be sure to check with your doctor first. After getting permission to start some physical workouts, it might be a good idea to work with a professional trainer who is experienced in helping golfers. There are specific muscle groups that should be targeted for golf fitness, and a qualified trainer will be able to help you address those spots specifically. You don't have to work toward a world-class level of fitness – even a moderate improvement of your conditioning could go a long way to helping you move the club properly around your body. At the end of the day, the fitness goal that you should have for your golf swing is simple – don't allow your body to get in the way of what you want to do with the club. As long as your body isn't holding you back, you should be able to continue to work on improving all aspects of your game.
It is important that you bend from the hips rather than the waist when making a golf swing. Many golfers get this point wrong, and it leads them to a variety of swing mistakes. Work on taking your stance in a mirror until you are comfortable with this basic fundamental, and then take it out onto the course. Through the use of a pre-shot routine, make sure you are consistently using the same stance shot after shot. These details will require focus and dedication in order to get them just right, but that is exactly what is required to become the player you know you can be.