The golf swing is fueled by both rotation and anti-rotation, although these two items directly oppose one another. A successful golf swing has both, to many differing degrees. In the end, an interdependence needs to be built between the two, in order to produce your most successful swing possible.
What is rotation?
The definition of rotation is, “the action of rotating around an axis or center.” Understanding this and applying it to the human body we will notice that nearly all joints work via rotation. Flexing the forearm via the bicep initiates rotation around the elbow (the axis point). The same goes for the hamstring and quadricep muscles with axis points of the knee and hip. Rotation is everywhere within our body.
Now take a step back and let’s look at rotation in a holistic manner. If we wish to build high levels of holistic rotation, we need to obtain the ability to dissociate (separate) our hips and shoulders.
Try this once: Stand up, pretend your feet are screwed into the floor. Try rotating as far as you can clockwise with your hips and shoulders staying in line with (stacked on top of) one another. Now, try again but let your shoulders separate from your hips, further rotating our upper half clockwise.
How much further could you get when you separated your hips and shoulders?
Hopefully a lot.
This is holistic rotation and it represents one of the major fuel sources of the golf swing.
At the top of the backswing, the most effective golfers create what is called the X-Factor (and the subsequent X-Factor Stretch). The X-Factor represents the amount of hip and shoulder separation we achieve at the top of the golf swing. The more separation we can obtain, the greater the loading mechanism of our swing.
Think of it like snapping a rubber band. If you limit the magnitude of pull on the rubber band, the snap won’t be nearly as aggressive as compared to if you max-out the pullback.
Load to explode!
And research agrees. Studies have shown that driving distance is correlated with the amount of hip and shoulder separation golfers can achieve (1).
Check out the image below showcasing Rory’s holistic rotation (5):
There are 3 potential explanations as to why the larger loading mechanism creates a more powerful subsequent downswing:
1.) The greater load we place on muscles, when rapid enough, the greater stretch shortening cycle (SSC) we can elicit. The SSC is the human body’s way of creating massive amounts of power. When we load a muscle in a rapid manner, elastic energy is stored in the musculotendinous unit and our stretch reflex is activated. As we unload, both of these items lead to enhanced power output of the contracting muscle. Therefore, if we load the proper muscles during the backswing, and do so in a manner large enough and rapid enough, we can elicit higher levels of SSC activity and create a more powerful downswing (2).
2.) By creating a larger hip and shoulder separation, we can potentially achieve higher levels of muscle cross-bridge formation (3). Within the muscle, small filaments are responsible for linking together and pulling on one another to elicit contractions. The more linkages created, based on the muscle’s length : tension relationship, the more forceful the contraction will be. By creating a bigger separation, we may be capable of forming more links, and therefore a more forceful downswing.
3.) A bigger separation means more time spent during the downswing – even if it is milliseconds. The summation of speed principle states that as we move through the downswing, the kinetic chain passes on forces in a manner that leads to compounding angular velocities. Essentially, the golf club is accelerating during the downswing, and therefore if we can make it a split-second longer, via greater rotation, we will achieve greater angular velocity as that acceleration window is expanded (2).
The impact each of these three mechanisms has on rotational power development is unclear and research has shown potential for all of them to be a leading differentiator, however, what is clear is that they all stem from the same underlying factor – rotation.
What is anti-rotation?
Anti-rotation is the ability to resist rotation.
From a bodily perspective, anti-rotation represents the ability to limit core rotation when an external force is applied that would normally elicit rotation. For example, let’s look at a kneeling pallof press, pictured below:
As I extend my arms in front of me, the band creates a larger amount of torque (force * lever arm). If I were to lose tension in my core and let the force of the band win, my upper half would rotate counterclockwise. The band would pull me into rotation. However, by eliciting an anti-rotational contraction in my core, I can resist the rotational force.
Anti-rotation removes or limits hip and shoulder separation – the exact thing we were trying to achieve above.
Let’s look at the golf swing…
As discussed above, the transition and the downswing is initiated via rotational power (separation). However, after it has been initiated and accelerated, there needs to be segmental deceleration (anti-rotation) in more proximal bodily segments in order to develop tension and pass force through the kinetic chain.
Essentially, during the downswing, inertia becomes the external rotational force that our body attempts to halt via anti-rotational forces and tension.
Breaking the body up into segments, the hips and lower body initiate the downswing, the torso, shoulders, arms and club then follows. The summation of speed principle tells us that each bodily segment, moving from proximal to distal, will utilize the angular velocity and rotational force created at the previous segment, and compound upon it in order to develop a higher angular velocity. This then gets passed to the next segment, and so on, until it is maximized at the clubhead. In order for force and velocity to be passed to the next bodily segment, there needs to be a degree of deceleration, often created by the development of tension, and here’s why…
Pretend you are trying to pull a tire. You have 3 pulling mechanisms: A rubber band, a rope and a metal rod.
The rubber band requires you to remove all elasticity in order to develop tension, and then the tire will begin to move.
The rope, although there is no elasticity, still requires you to make it taut prior to tension being developed and pulling the tire.
The metal rod already has tension built into the system and you can begin pulling the tire immediately. The metal rod has the highest levels of tension and therefore transfers force best of the three.
Our body isn’t very different. In order to transfer force through our kinetic chain, we need to build muscular tension. In terms of the golf swing, proximal tension is developed via anti-rotational forces.
Check out the swing sequences below from a 2008 study by Cheetham et al (4):
Notice the following:
First, the hips (pelvis) have the lowest max angular velocity of all the bodily segments, as it is the most proximal. The thorax (you can think about this as the torso) has the next lowest. Then the lead arm, and eventually angular velocity is maximized at the club. As we move from proximal to distal bodily segments, the angular velocity compounds and grows at a greater rate.
Second, I want you to notice how the next bodily segment does not maximize its angular velocity until the prior segment begins the process of deceleration. Oftentimes, deceleration is synonymous with tension development. For example, our thorax can’t develop it’s max angular velocity until our pelvis begins to decelerate (create tension). The lead arm isn’t maximized until our thorax begins to develop tension, etc. A professional (far left graph) will do this very effectively, leading to high clubhead speeds. Amateurs (middle and far right graph) struggle with this timing which may lead to a more inefficient swing – notice how their lead arm tends to maximize before their thorax.
Lastly, notice the extremely large jump the professional’s angular velocity takes from the lead arm to the club. This is due to a more effective kinetic chain, passing force and velocity from one segment to the next in an efficient manner, which allows the compounding effect to be greater. Less force gets dissipated in the swing. The amateur’s bodily angular velocities (pelvis, thorax and lead arm) aren’t much different than the pros, in terms of magnitude, but the jump from lead arm to club angular velocity is much lower due to inefficiency.
So, how does this all apply to anti-rotation?
Force and velocity get passed from one segment to the next, in part, via anti-rotational forces. Even though our body is rotating and accelerating into the downswing, a level of anti-rotational forces are created in order to pass force and maximize angular velocity at the clubhead.
Navigating the Grey Area
The big question we need to answer is how do we find the balance between these two very opposing subjects?
How can we maximize both?
First and foremost, as I tell everybody, the best way to train the golf swing is to play golf – seems obvious right? If you find you have an inefficient golf swing (cough, cough – guilty), step 1 is to practice. Go to the range, go play 18, or find a golf coach that understands the intricacies of the golf swing.
Then, once we have an efficient golf swing, we can look at physical training as a mechanism to compound upon our swing and create a faster, healthier, and more powerful athlete.
***Now, obviously we can improve both our golf swing and our physical abilities at the same time. However, in terms of priorities, perfecting the golf swing is #1.***
From a training perspective, the balancing act of rotation and anti-rotation will differ tremendously based on the context of your swing and golf game.
For an athlete with proper rotational abilities, we can begin to emphasize tension development and anti-rotation amongst rotational movement.
For an athlete without proper rotational abilities, the first step is to help them reach greater levels of rotation. Power in the golf swing begins with rotation, and it ends with anti-rotation. While both are necessary, anti-rotation is useless without proper rotational abilities first.
The interdependence built between rotation and anti-rotation will differ for every golfer. Some swings will place a higher emphasis on one over the other, however both will always be present. It is about finding the ideal interdependence that fits your athletic profile, your swing, your game, and your context.
Moral of the story:
Let’s go low.
About Carter Schmitz
I graduated from the University of St. Thomas in 2019 with a business degree and a minor in exercise science. While there, I played football (as long as we consider being a kicker, playing football) and found two of the deepest passions in life - learning and human performance. Since then, I have become a certified strength coach, TPI Specialist and have had the opportunity to train hundreds of athletes ranging from the middle school to the professional level.
I believe in building humans first, athletes second.
I believe that everybody has extraordinarily high amounts of value to offer.
I believe that the pursuit of improvement will lead to growth, no matter the outcomes.
With my writing, I strive to break down and apply complex ideas in order to boost understanding, draw comparisons from seemingly separated and opposing topics, and empower growth in my readers. Knowledge and understanding are power, and they create the foundation of improvement. Moving forward, I plan on continuing to seek the betterment of my athletes, myself and my community, empowering growth along the way.
Be sure to check out my Instagram and YouTube channel for more content:
Instagram - https://www.instagram.com/coach_carter_schmitz/
YouTube - https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCQ7DxYHKGuZIykzVIaxp3XQ
- Cheetham, P.J., Martin, P.E., Mottram, R.E., and St Laurent, B.F. The importance of stretching the “XFactor” in the downswing of golf: The “X-Factor Stretch.” In P.R. Thomas (Ed.), Optimising performance in golf (pp. 192-199). Brisbane, Australia: Australian Academic Press. ISBN 1 875378 37 5. 2001.
- Hume, Patria & Keogh, Justin & Reid, Duncan. (2005). The Role of Biomechanics in Maximising Distance and Accuracy of Golf Shots. Sports medicine (Auckland, N.Z.). 35. 429-49. 10.2165/00007256-200535050-00005.
- Read, Paul J.1; Lloyd, Rhodri S.2; De Ste Croix, Mark1; Oliver, Jon L.2 Relationships Between Field-Based Measures of Strength and Power and Golf Club Head Speed, Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research: October 2013 – Volume 27 – Issue 10 – p 2708-2713. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0b013e318280ca00
- Cheetham, P. J., Rose, G. A., Hinrichs, R. N., Neal, R. J., Mottram, R. E., Hurrion, P. D. and Vint, P. F. 2008. “Comparison of kinematic sequence parameters between amateur and professional golfers”. In Science and Golf V: Proceedings of the World Scientific Congress of Golf, Edited by: Crews, D. and Lutz, R. 30–36. Mesa, AZ: Energy in Motion.