The backswing forms an essential part of the golf swing and for many amateurs it is here where the trouble starts, and consistency becomes a distant ideal. This inconsistency can be a result of a number of physical limitations that can make you prone to making compensating moves in your swing. That is, you can only swing in accordance to your physical capabilities.
When making your backswing, a number of movements need to happen to move the club away from the ball correctly. This requires a certain degree of mobility, flexibility and stability in several areas. One needs adequate right hip mobility to allow for correct loading into the right hand side. Good shoulder mobility and stability is required to externally rotate the trail shoulder, to ensure correct setting of the club at the top of the backswing. The latissimus dorsi must be flexible in order to allow for correct rotation of the shoulders without compromising spinal posture at any stage during the swing. Having said this, I would like to focus specifically on the importance of the thoracic spine (mid back).
Unlike the cervical and lumbar spine, the thoracic spine is designed to be mobile as opposed to stable. It forms an integral part of your ability to complete a shoulder turn, whilst keeping your width and spinal posture. Many amateurs suffer from limited thoracic spine mobility (T-Spine mobility) and as a result are prone to a number of breakdowns in the swing as well as a predisposition to injury. Let us delve a little deeper into the importance of a fully functional T-Spine.
An easy way to identify if you suffer from limited thoracic mobility would be to look at your posture at address. If your shoulders appear slumped and excessively rounded at address, your spine will assume a C-Shape, thereby creating what is called a C-Posture. If it is in fact a muscular imbalance, making a conscious effort to straighten your back won’t make much difference. This is particularly common in older golfers over 50 years of age. If you have a C-Posture, it becomes virtually impossible to make a full shoulder turn without losing your angles.
Limited T-Spine mobility can cause a number of flaws to creep in to your golf swing, the primary flaw being a severe loss of posture. That is, a loss of the angles in the swing often reflected in either gaining or losing height. Being able to separately rotate your upper body from your lower body is essential in allowing you to rotate your shoulders around your spine without changing the original angles of you swing at address.
An inability to separate your upper body from your lower body could also result in you experiencing a reverse spine angle at the top of the backswing. This refers to any excessive upper body bend towards the target. It becomes extremely difficult to begin the downswing in the correct sequence, and more importantly, is the main swing fault leading to lower back injuries.
The body consists of an alternating pattern between mobile and stable segments. As a result, should your T-Spine mobility become limited, the stable joints immediately above or below will sacrifice stability to obtain the motion that is required. In this case, limited
T-Spine mobility could predispose you to either lower back pain, or shoulder pain. With golf being such a repetitive sport, such a limitation could have repercussions
sooner rather than later!
Below are two simple exercises that will get you well on your way to improving your T-Spine mobility:
Lie on your side, bring your knees up to approximately 90 degrees. Take your bottom hand, place it on your knees whilst stretching your top arm in front of you at chest height (Figure 1). This is important as we are trying to hold the knees in place throughout the movement.
Breathe in deeply and as you exhale, rotate your top arm across your body in an attempt to touch the ground (Figure 2).
Note that you only want to rotate to the point whereby you can keep your knees together as we want to separate the upper body from the lower body (Figure 3).
Repeat eight times each side for four sets.
Reach backs with external rotation:
Get on all fours with knees and hands shoulder width apart (Figure 4).
Place one hand behind your head, making sure your weight is evenly distributed throughout the remaining three limbs (Figure 5).
Whilst keeping a stable base (no rocking), rotate your shoulder and elbow upwards so that your elbow is pointing to the sky (Figure 6).
Repeat 10 times on each side for four sets.
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Titleist Performance Institute Golf Fitness Expert
In Association with the Logical Golf Lab, Durban Country Club