Traditionally, bulging muscles were seen as a detriment in golf. The thinking was that building body mass decreased the flexibility and feel needed to excel. Then along came Tiger Woods and, well, now every young pro looks like an NFL defensive back.
Still, Tour players are no match in the muscle department for many amateurs, whose bulk wasn't necessarily built with golf in mind. (Perhaps some were former football players, weightlifters, etc.) There is a point where you can have too much of a good thing.
The problem many muscle-bound golfers face is an over-reliance on the arms. It doesn't matter how much you can bench press — if the whole body isn't involved, you'll struggle to hit the ball as far as your pip-squeak playing partners. And you'll never hit it consistently straight.
Instructors talk about using the body's big muscles to control the swing, meaning the hips, torso and shoulders. If all of your muscles are extra-large, here are a few tips to help channel that power efficiently to the golf ball:
- At the top of the backswing, your shoulders should be rotated at a 90° angle to the target line. A good checkpoint is to turn until your left shoulder is beneath your chin.
- At the same point, the hips should be turned approximately 45° to the target line.
- The hips lead the downswing, with the left hip rotating toward the target and the shoulders following, bringing the arms and hands along for the ride.
- At the end of the swing, your chest should point left of the target while the hips face the target directly.
Remember, good golf requires synchronicity between the upper and lower bodies. You can try to overpower the ball with your burly arms, but you won't get very far.
Muscle Bound Golfers – Swing Involves More than Arms
When searching for more power in their golf swing, golfers will try just about anything. They will spend hundreds of dollars purchasing new equipment, they will buy instructional books and take lessons, and they will even take tips from random other golfers at the range. When it comes to adding distance, it seems that there is no limit to where a golfer will go with the hope of tacking a few extra yards onto the end of their shots.
Along that same line, many golfers head to the gym when they decide they would like to hit the ball farther. After all, won't additional muscles mean more distance? It works in other sports, so why not golf? While it is true that building muscles can help you hit the ball longer under the right circumstances, there are plenty of ways in which this plan can go terribly wrong. Specifically, if you build so much muscle that you lose flexibility in your upper body, your swing will actually get slower instead of faster.
Think about the average player that you see on the PGA Tour – what does he look like? Is he muscle bound with giant arms and a barrel chest, or is he slender and toned? Obviously, the latter is the typical form that you will see among the best players in the world. The golf swing is about rotational speed rather than raw power, meaning slender players tend to have the advantage when it comes to generating distance from the tee or out of the fairway. Building big arms might have advantages in other parts of life, but it isn't going to do you much good as far as golf is concerned.
The reason that a slender build is preferable for golf is the fact that you need to be able to turn quickly in order to produce power at the bottom of your swing. You won't be able to accelerate the club head up to a good speed just with your forearms or even your biceps – the acceleration of the club happens as a result of the turn that you make with your lower body and torso in the downswing. Turn toward the target quickly and on balance and you will have a fast swing. Turn slowly, or not at all, and you will always lack power. It really is that simple.
Of course, that doesn't mean that muscular golfers can't succeed on the course, they just need to know how to use their bodies in the right way to get the club up to speed. One of the reasons golf is so frustration for so many people is the fact that you can't overpower the swing – it just can't be done. Even the strongest golfer needs good timing and a smooth rhythm to produce great results. If you are an individual with a muscular build, learning how to use the club properly is the only way you will be able to reach your goals.
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 necessary.
The Right Mindset
In order to use the golf club correctly, you have to think about the swing in the right way. This is a point that gives many players difficulty, as they never get past the thought of simply trying to overpower the golf ball with their muscles rather than using their tempo and timing. If you stand over the ball feeling like you are just going to force it down the fairway, you are always going to be disappointed in the results. Those who try to overpower the ball will frequently make the following mistakes –
- Grip too tight. This is a common problem across many amateur golfers, and it usually starts due to a poor mindset. When you think about forcing the club through the hitting area as opposed to letting the swing happen naturally, you will be inclined to grab onto the grip of the club as tightly as possible. When you hold the club too tight, you will be unable to create a free-flowing swinging action – and you will lose club head speed as a result. Although it might be opposite to what you would expect, a tighter grip will actually cause you to hit the ball shorter rather than longer.
- Quick backswing. Another problem caused by incorrect thinking is a short and quick backswing. The backswing is the time during the swing when you can create distance between the club and the ball – and that distance is crucial to hitting the ball hard when you get back down to impact. Unfortunately, many golfers cut the backswing short in an effort to make a 'fast' swing, and they lose out on potential power as a result. You want to make a long backswing (while staying on balance) so you have plenty of time in the downswing to accelerate the club prior to impact. If you feel compelled to make a quick backswing, you need to adjust your way of thinking as you stand over the ball.
- Losing balance. The ability to keep your balance is the number one fundamental in golf, yet many golfers are willing to go off balance in an effort to swing as hard as possible. There will never be a positive effect from losing your balance during the swing, no matter how hard you think you are going to hit the ball by doing so. It is always better to stay on balance, as you will be able to create your maximum speed simply by turning toward the target as fast as possible while holding your balance nicely.
Just by thinking about overpowering the ball as you prepare to swing, you can effectively ruin your swing. The mind is a powerful thing, and it exerts a great deal of control over your game – thinking properly is the first step to playing well. Instead of thinking about using your big muscles to overpower the ball with an arm swing, you should be thinking about using rotation and tempo to accelerate the club smoothly. Ideally, there will be no sudden movements in your swing. Instead, there will be a gradual acceleration from the top down to impact, with the club slowing picking up speed until it is moving quickly through the hitting area. The first step toward building this kind of swing is changing the way you think. Forget about using your arm muscles to force the ball toward the target and accept the idea of making a relaxed, smooth golf swing. If you can trust in this line of thinking, increased power is sure to be just around the corner.
The Problem with an Arm Swing
When first getting started in the game of golf, it seems like using your arms would be the best way to swing the club – after all, your hands are holding the club, so why not swing it by moving your arms back and through? There are a number of problems with using an arm swing, and there is a reason you will never see a professional golfer using a swing that is based solely on arm action. Without proper upper body rotation, you won't be able to get the club very far from the ball, limiting the length of your downswing and the potential for power that you can create. Also, an arm swing is prone to putting the club off-plane, setting up a likely slice when you do make content.
Players who fight a slice on a regular basis often make a swing that is based largely on arm action. If you use only your arms to take the club away from the ball, your body will be in the way of your arms as they try to swing along a good path. Instead, your arms will have to move up and away from your body, placing the club above the ideal swing path that you should be using. Therefore, in the downswing, the club will be coming from the outside-in, and a slice will be the likely result. If you would like to fix your slice, or simply prevent one from becoming a problem, you should work hard on incorporating the rest of your body into the golf swing.
Timing is yet another problem with an arms-only golf swing. Players who use mostly arm action to hit shots struggle to use the same tempo time after time, as the pace of the swing will vary based on conditions such as pressure and even attitude. Using your whole body to swing the club is a much more reliable method, and you can expect to swing with a similar pace time after time by rotating your shoulders back and your hips through. Even for the muscle bound golfer, a swing that is centered on core rotation is going to be vastly more consistent and productive.
Playing good golf comes down to the ability to put the club onto the back of the ball in the same manner time after time. You have to produce a consistent ball flight if you want to hit great shots, and consistency is not something that you are going to find with an arm swing. Rather, if you want to play well day in and day out, it is the big muscles groups in your body that you should be relying on to propel the swing. The muscles in your legs and torso are going to perform more consistently than those in your hands and arms, and that is especially true when the pressure is on. It is hard enough to hit a good golf shot with an arms-only swing while you are standing on the driving range all by yourself – it is nearly impossible when you get onto the course and have to deal with the pressure of other people watching you play.
The only exception to this rule about using your body rather than just your arms to swing the club comes in the short game. When putting and chipping, you will be better served to use only your hands and arms while the rest of your body remains still. Since these shots don't require a long backswing or any accumulation of power, you can keep your lower body and torso steady throughout the stroke. This is why golf is so often divided up into two categories (full swings and short game). The two don't really have much to do with one another, so it is best to learn them separately. It is great to use just your arms to hit short game shots (along with some shoulder movement), but that same strategy will be a total failure in the long game.
Organizing Your Body Movements
The content above should make the point pretty clearly – you need to use your whole body, and not just your arms, if you want to make a quality golf swing. But how should you move your body, and what parts of your body should move when? These aren't easy questions to answer for the average golfer, but they are important nonetheless. If you hope to create a quality golf swing, one of the keys is going to come down to moving the right parts of your body at the right time.
Following is a list of the major parts of your body that are involved in the golf swing, along with some details on what they should be doing, and when they should be doing it.
- Shoulders. It is the shoulders that are responsible for driving the backswing. As you stand over the ball at address, you should be in a position that leaves your shoulders square to the target line. From there, you want to turn your shoulders away from the target as soon as you begin your swing. In fact, thinking about turning your left shoulder under your chin is a great way to initiate movement in your swing. Rather than dragging the club back with your hands or your arms, turn your back to the target and allow your shoulders to move the club into position. It is amazing how simple the backswing can be when you trust your shoulders to get the job done. A big shoulder turn will lay the ground work for a powerful downswing, especially if you are able to stay balanced while making that turn. Learn how to start your swing with a turn of your shoulders and you will be on your way to making a swing that incorporates your whole body.
- Legs. The legs play a supporting role in the golf swing, but it is an incredibly important role nonetheless. Right from the start, your knees should be flexed and your legs should be holding the rest of your body in position nicely. Balance is paramount to hitting good shots, and you are only going to stay balanced if you use your legs to keep everything together. Standing with straight legs at address is a common mistake made by amateur golfers, and those same golfers will usually fall off balance shortly after the swing begins. Get into an athletic position at address with your legs and maintain the knee flex that you establish all the way through the rest of the swing.
- Hips/Torso. Just as your shoulders were the engine of your backswing, it is the hips and torso that are going to power the forward swing. When you arrive to the top of the swing, you don't want to transfer control of the swing to your arms – instead, you want the hips to take over and begin the rotation toward the target. Right from the top, your left hip should begin to rotate to the left, pulling the rest of your body in that direction. The speed that you are able to generate in your swing is going to be a function of the power that your hips are able to create on the way down. A fast hip turn will lead to plenty of club head speed coming down into the ball, and a long shot should be the result. Of course, there are other considerations such as the quality of the contact that you make and even the equipment that you use, but your hip turn is going to have a lot to say about the distances that you are capable of reaching.
On paper, it seems so simple – use your shoulders to start the swing, use your legs to support the swing, and use your hips and torso to turn through the ball and send it toward the target. While there is nothing particularly complicated about the golf swing, it does take plenty of practice to make it happen correctly over and over again. To teach yourself how to move the club with a body-based swing as opposed to one that depends only on the arms, spend plenty of time on the practice range while focused on the three points listed above.
Flexibility is Vital
Physical conditioning is important in golf, but perhaps not in the way that you might have imagined previously. Rather than building big muscles to hit the ball long distances, you will want to focus on flexibility. The flexible golfer is almost always going to out drive the muscle bound player, because having great flexibility makes it possible to create a big shoulder turn in the backswing and fast hip turn in the downswing. Also, being flexible throughout your body will help you to stay down in your stance longer, meaning you will have an easier time keeping your balance.
If you feel motivated to do something from a physical perspective in order to improve your golf game, you should absolutely prioritize flexibility above other fitness pursuits. Losing weight can be part of gaining flexibility for some people, so talk with a fitness professional about what you can do to improve how you swing the golf club. Many gyms have trainers who work specifically on fitness for sports, and you may even be able to find a trainer who is experienced in working with golfers. Of course, before you start any new fitness program, you should always talk with a doctor.
As you pursue added flexibility, the shoulders and hips are two areas that should get the most attention. Having increased flexibility in your shoulders will make it easier for you to complete the backswing and get the club will up away from you head at the top. Also, flexible hips will allow you to drive toward the target aggressively without placing undue stress on your lower body. Many golfers have back problems, and a large number of those problems stem from a lack of flexibility somewhere else in the body.
For many golfers, it is just hard to believe that flexibility, rather than raw muscular strength, will help them to hit the ball farther. Even if you are having a hard time wrapping your head around that concept, you need to trust this fact if you wish to reach your potential on the course. When you think of the longest hitters on the PGA Tour, you don't think of guys who have stacked muscles on top of muscles – it is generally players who are slender, flexible, and have great swing mechanics. In fact, a few professional golfers throughout the history of the game have seen their performance take a dive once they began to spend more time in the weight room.
Muscle bound golfers may have a harder time creating a great golf swing than players who are slender and flexible, but that doesn't mean it is impossible. The first step in the process is learning what it truly important in the golf swing – tempo, rhythm, and body rotation. Take the swing out of your arms and put it into the core of your body and you will almost certainly be happy with the results.