July 23, 2013

Physical limitations and the golf swing


---- — Golf has always been a passion of mine, and I have enjoyed playing the game since high school. 

Back in early spring, I had the opportunity to become certified as a golf fitness instructor through the Titleist Performance Institute. Through this education, I learned the most common golf-swing faults, their causes and corrective exercises. These faults are frequently caused by a player’s inability to move properly, which cause inconsistent shots. 

In this article, we will explore three major swing errors and the physical limitations that likely cause them.


Loss of posture can affect all aspects of the golf swing, specifically timing, balance and rhythm. Losing proper spine angle can cause a number of mishits, such as a block to the right and a hook to the left for a right-handed player. Also, fat and thin shots can occur if posture is altered during the golf swing. If the body angles change during the swing, the player must rely on hand action to square the clubface, which frequently equates to inconsistent shots.

There are numerous physical causes of postural loss. One such cause is the inability to separate the upper body from the lower body. This should occur through rotation around the spine without altering original posture. Individuals who cannot rotate properly may suffer from reduced spinal mobility and shortened lat flexibility. Another cause of loss of posture could be weakness in core musculature, namely the thorax and glutes. If these areas are weak and cannot stabilize, it will be difficult to maintain proper forward flexion during the golf swing.


An over-the-top swing is possibly the most common swing characteristic among high-handicap golfers. This tends to occur when the upper body dominates the lower body during the downswing. As a result, the club is thrown to the outside of the intended swing plane and the club approaches the ball in an out-to-in motion. This swing path creates a pull if the clubface is square or a slice of the clubface is open.

A good kinematic sequence is necessary for a person to initiate the lower body first in the downswing and avoid the over-the-top swing fault. The golfer must be able to separate the upper and lower body. This is also known as shoulder-pelvic dissociation, or pelvis-to-thorax separation. Reduced spinal and hip mobility causes limitations in upper- and lower-body separation. Core stability is also crucial in order to maintain posture. Any loss in posture can cause an individual to initiate the downswing with his or her torso and arms, causing an over-the-top swing. Other causes could be attributed to lower-body balance, weak grip at address, lack of understanding of an inside approach and the correct sequence, as well as others.


Reverse spine angle is any excessive upper-body backward bend toward the target during the golf swing. For instance, a right-handed golfer would exhibit an excessive left lateral upper-body bend during the backswing. This swing characteristic makes it difficult to start the downswing in the proper order. This order must start with the lower body first and then transition to the upper body. This swing fault is also a major cause of lower-back pain in golfers. Tension in the lower back is caused when there is forced inhibition of the abdominals during the backswing.

Causes of this swing characteristic vary. Foremost, the ability to separate your upper body from the lower body allows the shoulder to rotate around the spine properly without backward bend occurring. Also, the individual must have proper rotation in the hip joints. A right-handed golfer must be able to internally rotate his or her right hip for full rotation. If there are joint or muscular restrictions, a lateral sway will most likely occur during the backswing. This sway will then force the spine to tilt backward and cause reverse spine angle.

These are just a few of the common swing characteristics that could be holding your golf game back. Proper analysis by a trained professional is necessary in order to determine the exact causes of an inconsistent golf swing. Once these limitations are evaluated, a program of corrective exercises can be initiated by a certified fitness professional. 

John Vasile, NSCA, holds a bachelor’s degree and is a certified personal trainer at the Wellness Center at PARC, located at 295 New York Road (next to ARC) in Plattsburgh. For more information, call him at 324-2024.