We have all heard the phrase “it’s all in the hips” when people talk about having a good swing and there is a ton of truth to it. In order to generate power and reduce the amount of pressure on the lower back, it is imperative to have mobile hips to allow for maximum internal and external rotation. These motions are made by each hip when loading into the back swing and following through. A large amount of power is made from these movements and without them not only will there be a lack of distance in the golf shot but tight muscles and eventual pain in the lower back will soon follow.
Let’s talk about the hips. The hip joints are very mobile ball and socket joints that are supported by the “king of the swing” muscles known as the glutes (buttocks). The gluteus maximus and medius are an essential part of the golf swing because they have a large amount of internal rotation forces placed on them and help to keep the hips table. Without their strength, the hips do not have the proper support for a movement as ballistic as the golf swing then all is lost. Any decreased hip rotation will not only be detrimental to the swing tempo but will also have a negative impact on the lower back over time.
How can a person determine good hip rotation?
According to the TPI (Titleist Performance Institute), the Lower Quarter Rotation Test is used to find any deficiencies in hip rotation. The test is performed with the feet together and hands on the hips. The tester then moves to a staggered stance with the back heel off the ground and all weight placed on the lead foot. From this position, the tester then attempts to rotate as far as possible to the left and to the right. The test is performed again after switching the lead and back foot. A passing test is when the tester can move at or more than 45 degrees in more in both internal and external rotation with both hips. Rotation is also performed to a lesser extent on the tibia (shin bone) and foot. A failed test is when the motion is less than 45 degrees in any direction with the hips. The average player on the professional tour can rotate the hips more than 45 degrees and most are well over 60 degrees.
What can happen as a result of having lack of hip rotation?
The more common swing faults that occur due to reduced hip rotation is the slide and the sway. The slide occurs when the back swing is made and the player attempt to load the back hip. Since internal rotation is difficult to perform, a slide movement is made to help mimic the loading motion. The lead knee will straighten and the the back knee bends excessively as a result. From here, the player will make start the downswing and begin transitioning internal forces to the front hip shortly before impact. The slide motion then takes place to help replace the loss of internal rotation in the lead hip.
This leaning or lunging forward motion causes loss of power in the lower half of the body and increases the chances of hitting too far behind the ball. The worst part of both of these motions is the shear forces placed on the lower back to help make up for lack of bilateral hip rotation. Rotation of the lumbar spine is usually no more than 30 degrees in both directions so if hip rotation of more than 45 degrees is needed to help with the back swing or follow through then a common overuse injury will occur.
How can hip rotation be fixed to not allow lower back compensation?
One of the most effective forms of exercise to help with hip tightness is yoga. The majority of people who play the game of golf are those who are relatively sedentary throughout the week at their jobs. This leads to increased hip flexor, hamstring and glute tightness from being in a constant sitting position. As these muscles become tighter the hip joint becomes less and less mobile. Yoga allows for an all around benefit for the hips and lower back by applying static stretch holds for longer periods of time.
This will cause the muscle around the hip joints to release and result in more mobility. Foam rolling can be done for the glutes, quadriceps, hip flexors and hamstrings as well to help break up scar tissue and knots that have formed on the muscles over time which hinders mobility. Strengthening exercises for the glutes should be added to help stabilize the hip joints and for a greater generator of power in the golf swing. Goblet squats are easy to perform for any golfer to help with glute strength. To perform the movement a dumbbell or kettlebell is needed. A good weight to start with is 25 pounds.
The exercise is done with the feet about shoulder width apart and the toes turned out slightly. Grasp the dumbbell or kettlebell with both hands, set the shoulders and tighten the stomach. From here, drop into the squat position by flexing at the hips and the knees at the same time. The key is to transition the weight from the middle of the foot to the heel during the descent. Be sure to go just below 90 degrees with the thighs to help emphasize the glutes. Push up through the heel and be sure to keep the pelvis tucked under to avoid incorporating the lower back. This exercise is to be performed with 3 sets of 15 repetitions or 4 sets of 10 repetitions daily. If there is difficulty performing the movement then remove the weight or if pain is caused then stop immediately.
The golf swing always needs a sturdy foundation in order to be fluid and powerful. If any area is lacking in its proper movement pattern then it is important to fix it before it bad things start to happen. Because nothing is worse than compensation when it comes to the golf swing. The only sure results are bad scores and back lower backs.