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Starting Strength in the Real World

Nah, Squatting Won’t Help Your Golf Game

by Sean LeDonne | March 10, 2020

golf swing

Of course it won't. And why would it? Golf is a game of finesse for dainty men of leisure, right? And if golfers are to perform exercises, they should focus on toning their core, correct? Surely there is no place for the barbaric vertebrae-displacing squat, unless you feel like seeing your neurosurgeon in his office and not in his natural habitat, the driving range. 

The key to power in a golf swing is to maximize your shoulder turn while minimizing your hip turn. The noted instructor Jim McLean wrote a landmark article in 1992 in which he coined the phrase the "X factor," which is the difference between your shoulder turn and hip turn. Top pros were turning their shoulders at least 90 degrees from the target line while turning their hips no more than 45, for an X factor of at least 45. He noted that while many amateurs were able to have their shoulders turn 90 degrees, they were far more likely to have their hips turn more than 45. In sum, they weren’t generating as much torque. So his general advice was to try to keep your hips from turning as much as possible. But, from a biomechanics perspective, he included precious few anatomical details about which bones and muscles need to be controlled properly to achieve this dynamic. So what is the "cue" to maximize X factor? 

In order to create a powerful coil in the backswing, you need to resist the sensation of your back leg's thigh turning clockwise. In fact, in their backswing, the best players in the world actually sense their back leg turning counterclockwise while their trunk winds in the opposite direction. This is the magic cue. Your back femur has to stay internally rotated, building tension between your back leg and trunk. If it turns along with your trunk, you are sacrificing torque. So you should just resist with your femur, right? 

You can try. But femurs aren’t predisposed to resist anything – muscles do that. Bones are the levers operated by the muscles, which need to be switched on in order for them to remain stable or to move. The golf swing, like all throwing motions, starts from the ground up. By pushing and turning into the ground at the right times, you create resistance with your lower body as your trunk coils. This is the essence of torque as it relates to golf. And in the downswing, the opposite ratio of shoulder/hip turn occurs: your lower body begins to turn back to the target before your upper body does. And when your hips begin to rotate counterclockwise, it is your adductors and abductors that are really doing the work. These are the switches that control the levers. 

By coiling and uncoiling in proper sequence, the best golfers in the world create tremendous amounts of clubhead speed by generating massive amounts of torque. This rotational force is the result of the trunk unwinding. The faster your trunk turns, the faster the club moves, the more energy transmitted to the ball, and the further the ball goes, assuming you have the talent to find the center of the clubface. And since many trainers have decided the core and the trunk are interchangeable terms, you should definitely find a trainer that will assist in making your core stronger, right? 

No. You need to strengthen your abductors and adductors, along with everything between the club in your hands and the ground. These are the muscles that are used to keep your femur from rotating excessively in the backswing, and the ones that will help rotate your hips towards the target in the downswing. And the fitness industrial complex, clearly sensing the opportunity to help golfers worldwide, has conveniently designed equipment to target these muscles. So you should probably hop on those shiny objects, right? 

You should not. You need to learn how to squat, because it will help you generate power in your golf swing because you’ll strengthen the muscles that squatting trains and golf uses. A golf swing does not simply consist of the abductors and adductors – everything between the club and the ground working as a system comprises the swing. The engagement that is felt when the knees are shoved out while squatting is very similar to the feeling of a backswing where the femur is properly resisting the coiling of the trunk. And nothing trains strength in the adductors, abductors, trunk, legs, hips, and everything else as effectively as squats. 

And if you get your squat strong enough, it could even help you avoid seeing your neurosurgeon. Except on the range.

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