September 2012


Author: Pete Popovich | Photographer: Photography by Anne

In the early 1990s, a new theory emerged on how golfers could hit the ball better and farther. At the time this theory was revolutionary, because it was contrary to the way the golf swing was being taught. For decades, golfers had been taught to turn their entire body away from the target on the backswing and towards the target on the forward swing. The testing done to prove this new theory, soon termed the X Factor, was cutting-edge at the time. But what was being measured, and was it being done correctly? What did the results really reveal? Is it something that you should implement in your own game?

The X Factor swing theory states that you can increase your distance by increasing the amount of shoulder turn in relationship to the amount of hip turn. This is based on the concept that your muscles and ligaments, if stretched far enough, will create a greater amount of elastic tension. This is supposedly done when the hip rotation is limited in relationship to the amount of shoulder turn on the backswing. When this tension reaches a certain point, it theoretically releases a greater amount of energy on the down and forward swing, thus allowing you to hit the ball farther. However, this may or may not be the case, and many people in various scientific communities have debated this theory’s legitimacy. Let’s take a look at what’s wrong with the theory and what you can do to improve the efficiency of your swing.

When attempting to implement the X Factor into their golf swing, the first thing golfers do is limit their hip turn while attempting to increase their shoulder turn. The result is usually a loss of distance and direction. But how can this happen if there is more tension in the body? The reason is that this thought process works against the fundamental way the body works. Let me explain.

Anatomically, the back is designed to bend forward and backward but has limited rotational ability. The lumbar (lower back) spine has the least rotational ability; the thoracic spine (middle back) has more, and the neck has the most. Throughout the golf swing, all three rotate a certain amount, but the incorrect amount can pose a threat to the physical well-being of the golfer. Why? Because the rotation of the lumbar spine is aided by the rotation of the hips, and if the hips do not rotate, the lumbar spine is forced to over-rotate.

How many of you suffer lower back pain from playing golf? A rotation of the hips allows everything above them (lumbar spine, thoracic back and neck) to appear to have more rotation. Stand in front of a mirror as if you were going to hit a golf ball. Without turning your hips or lower back, rotate your shoulders as far as you can.

Notice how far your shoulders have turned. (Figure 1) Now add a rotation of the hips and notice how much further your shoulders have turned. Quite a bit, isn’t it? (Figure 2) That’s because for every linear inch the hips/lower back rotate, the shoulders (thoracic spine) rotate approximately 2.5 inches. Moving these body parts in sync enables you to have good sequencing in your golf swing, which enables you to hit the ball straighter and farther.

What the X Factor measured, and what its results show, is that the greater separation you have between the shoulder rotation and hip/lower back rotation, the greater distance you could hit the ball. The problem arises from perception of the results and what you, the golfer, perceive to be the way to achieve this. Many of you attempt to do this by limiting the rotation of the hips and lower back and attempting to increase the turn of your shoulders and upper back. However, without flexibility in the thoracic (middle) back, you are unable to achieve the separation needed to hit the ball the way you would like. In fact, most of you would benefit from increasing your hip rotation to gain more total rotation in the swing.

The separation of shoulder turn (thoracic back) and lower back/hip turn (lumbar spine), so often sought after, comes from an increased range of motion in both the hips and, more importantly, the thoracic back, i.e. flexibility. Without this flexibility and increased range of motion, you are forced to compensate your swing by over-rotating the hips and lower back. For example, if you have limited thoracic mobility, you will attempt to turn your hips/lumbar spine to a greater degree, which usually results in overuse of the lower back and leads to swelling and pain. The solution to hitting the ball straighter and farther without causing your body undue stress is to increase flexibility in both the hips and thoracic back.

The rotation of the entire body is a must throughout the golf swing. Each section of the body has its rotational limits. But to limit the rotation of one section while attempting to make up for it in another is not the answer. Having a slight rotation in the lower back and hips aids the rotation of the upper back and shoulders. It is the way the body works, and to swing against the way your body was designed only leads to pain and suffering.

In next month’s issue, we’ll follow up with tips on how to increase your flexibility, decrease your pain and discomfort and hit the ball straighter and farther. 

If you have questions about the game of golf, contact us at (843) 338-6737, pete@golfacademyhiltonhead, or on Facebook at Golf Performance Academy-Hilton Head.

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