Tiger Woods and his Swing Coaches
As any undergraduate course on the subject will explain, the purpose of studying sports biomechanics is three-fold:
- To understand the mechanism of injury of sports movements, and then rectify the cause (by either reducing any loads which are beyond the ability of various body-tissue to tolerate, or by improving the endurance of said tissue)
- To maximize efficiency by having greater economy of motion
- To maximize performance by more efficient positioning of body parts
How should a good biomechanical approach be applied to Tiger Woods’ swing, which currently needs to have greater efficiency AND less potential for causing injury?
A general description of what the above three aspects mean with respect to golf is followed by Tiger’s particular problems, below:
Firstly, improving the ‘endurance’ of body-tissue is not enough, especially because some tissues with less blood-supply are less amenable to, and do not benefit from, training. After all, most golf-fitness programs work at trying to reduce the scope for injury and simultaneously to improve performance. They are based on strengthening those body parts (muscles) which produce power-speed and stretching other body parts which need greater flexibility (once again mostly muscle). HOWEVER these programs are all flawed because they are based on the swing-mechanics of the best players in the world – which are themselves flawed.
Fitness programs should be based on an ‘ideal’ golf swing, which should be one devised from ‘first-principles’; working backwards from the laws of physics and biomechanics which govern ‘ideal’ impact (ie. arriving at the ball from an inside, shallow path at maximum speed).
Fitness programs should NOT be based on what is traditionally considered to be a ‘good’ swing, because all traditional ideas have evolved from the SUBJECTIVE, NOT SCIENTIFIC, thinking of leading players and teachers.
Injury mechanism should purely be assessed by looking (from a rear view) at a golfer’s top-of-backswing position and then at his impact, and just-past-impact body positions. When doing this one can count how many of the following joints change their direction of motion from the top of the backswing to the start of the downswing:
Cervical spine, rest-of-the-spine, trail shoulder, trail elbow, trail forearm, trail wrist, lead shoulder, lead hip, lead knee, lead ankle.
If a golfer’s change-of-direction (mainly because the golfer accelerates at maximum speed during the downswing) requires very many of these joints to be repositioned during the LIMITED TIME SPAN of the downswing, the golfer can only be successful as long as his rhythm remains smooth. It is known that in an aroused state (ie. one of anxiety) such as that seen during competition, the fight-or-flight response kicks in, and the hormones secreted as a result make the muscles contract faster and more forcefully, so that with the best will in the world a golfer cannot help but slightly mis-time body-movement sequences, resulting in unreliable results. Similar mis-timing takes place under conditions of fatigue, when the brain cannot handle many complex movement patterns regardless of how often the patterns have been repeated in practice. (For example do you walk or talk as efficiently when exhausted?).
The very same extra-movements-in-a-short-time-span which cause injury also cause inefficiency, and not only under conditions of arousal or fatigue. If two people who can run equally fast were to be in a race, and one of them took a few steps backwards before running towards the finish-line, the other one, leaning forward and running in a straight line towards the finish would surely win. EXTRA movements which require to be undone before the joints are in position for their roles in the downswing, waste time and increase the potential for inefficiency.
For instance, when the right side/trunk (of a right-handed golfer) is lower than the left at both address and at impact (simply because the right hand is placed lower than the left!), what earthly sense does it make for the right shoulder to be higher at the top of the backswing? Contact is never as pure as when the right trunk/side stays lower than the left throughout the backswing. Besides that, the great concept of ‘ground reaction force’ (GRF) which is being made so much of these days, has to be ‘artificially’ increased! This can be seen in the work of some coaches, who encourage their students to squat down then jump up to increase GRF. GRF is optimized when the left arm is able to be fully extended as the radius of the swing. However, many golfers are unable to drop the right side of the body down AND straighten the lead arm, IN TIME FOR impact.
In the full-swing in golf, maximizing performance means hitting the ball as far as possible, in a straight direction, and with ideal trajectory for the club being used. There are only 3 biomechanically proven ways to increase distance – the stretch-shorten cycle (recently proven controversial), ground reaction force, and a sequential summation of forces. Of the three, the latter is also responsible for straight direction, and simply requires the lower body to rotate before the upper, allowing the arms and club to be the last things arriving at the club, so that each successive moving body-part adds to the forces generated by the previous one.
- All his recent coaches have supposedly worked on reducing his distance to control his direction, yet made his swing more violent! They have reduced his distance yet not improved his directional control – how ironic!
- The latest coach has erroneously reduced the length of his backswing and made it more compact. When the backswing is reduced too much, so that the club and hands are not even at around 10 o’clock (in THIS BLOG 10 o’clock means without any wrist-bend) – their position of maximum gravitational potential energy, the body has to exert force to start the downswing, rather than it beginning with the force of gravity alone. This force throws off the correct sequence of the downswing
- The swing coaches have also made his swing increasingly more compact (as seen by an increasingly more flexed/bent trail elbow and excessively flexed lead hip, knee and ankle), which means all the OTHER joints which have made movements surplus-to-requirement now have to unbend and untwist within a very narrow space. A ‘wide’ trail elbow creates a longer lever for more power, and also has to straighten out less when arriving at the ball!
- According to a former coach, Hank Haney, Tiger himself has always believed that the squat-jump gives him greater power-speed. Yet, common sense tells us that to jump up and down in an essentially back-and-through movement is absurd. Do baseball pitchers jump up and down on the mound in order to throw the ball forwards faster? In slightly more technical terms, if one intends to put ‘x’ amount of force into an object, then makes a glancing blow – instead of a full-on one – at the object, one only puts a portion of intended force into the object, and the rest into the ground or the air around the ball!
- He has been overloaded with ideas of across-the-line, laid-off, swing plane, palm-vs-finger grip etc. etc. ALL club movements are merely the result of body-joint movements – after all, the club does not move itself! THEREFORE the entire concept of swing-plane is redundant. The ONLY requirement is for the club to arrive at the ball from a slightly inside path (to connect the right-inside quadrant of the ball), and this becomes a non-issue if the lead upper-arm maintains a similar, slightly-inside path, during both back- and through-swings
- Those of his former coaches who believed ‘rotation’ to be an important element of power-creation gave him a ‘lateral flexion’ instead! A TRUE body-rotation during the downswing can only come from a similar movement during the backswing, which in turn requires not only trunk, BUT ALSO HIP, rotation.
- His fitness coaches have bulked up his upper-arms and chest (some sports chiropractors term this ‘mattressing’!). This prevents his arms from swinging freely during the backswing and prevents his having an ‘ectomorph’ body type, ideal for golfers as it provides long, slim, wiry-strong limbs, which have better leverage and less ‘inertia’.
The MINIMALIST GOLF SWING is able to:
- Reduce injury potential by placing all joints – at the top of the backswing – IN POSITION for their role in the downswing, so that no re-routing is required before target-ward motion can begin
- Maximize swing efficiency by minimizing the numbers of joints moved, and minimizing their directions (planes) of movement
- Maximize swing performance (maximum distance, straight direction and ideal trajectory) by ensuring a without-volition downswing summation-of-forces
IT ACHIEVES these ends by
- Being the only swing in the world which creates TRUE rotation of the spine AND hips for more power
- Separating the roles of the body and arms, as the former requires to move in a merry-go-round or horizontal plane and the latter in a more ferris-wheel or frontal plane, and when combined result in less efficiency
- Cutting out all extra movement so that contact with the ball is much purer and no effort is wasted in connecting with the ground or air around the ball
- Always positioning the club so that it arrives at the ball – WITHOUT VOLITION – from the inside, at a shallow angle and with maximum speed
In CONCLUSION, a 21st Century golf coach MUST have academic-based, in-depth knowledge of anatomy, rehabilitation and biomechanics (preferably also exercise physiology and exercise testing-and-prescription) in order to coach top athletes. The causation – or at least exacerbation – of several of Tiger Woods’ injuries can be linked to specific unscientific-in-anatomy movements he has been taught over the years.
See the ‘about’ section of this blog to understand the type of credentials required.