There is a saying in golf (and in other movements);
The more moving parts you have, the more chance of something going wrong
This has almost become common thinking without anyone questioning it – after all, it makes logical sense. If I fire a gun while jumping up and down on a trampoline, I am likely to be much less accurate than if I am standing on a stable surface.
However, this idea (as the golf industry is prone to doing) is often taken far too literally. In this article, I am going to contest the idea that more movement ALWAYS equals less consistency.
Ever see an advanced carpenter hammering nails? Many of them can knock a nail in with one swish of the hammer. You will also notice that the carpenter looks very free and loose with their movements – lots of movement at the shoulder, wrist, elbow and even torso.
What happens when you give a beginner a hammer and a nail? They lock everything up, don’t use any wrist action, stiffen the shoulder joint and STILL miss the nail. The carpenter used more movement and a greater amount of variables, and yet they hammer the nail more consistently than the amateur.
This can be related to golf quite easily. We can take a high handicap golfer and let them hit chip shots, noting down their strike with the face and see something like this;
Then we look at Bubba Watson (or any pro) with a full swing, with the high hands, the massive amount of head shift down and up and back, the foot coming off the ground in the backswing and leaving the ground completely during impact. And yet, with all this movement, we might see a strike pattern like this;
So what’s going on here? Why can a pro make a swing with much higher degrees of movement and yet have all of those moving parts manifest itself into a consistent contact and result?
The answer lies in coordination. While Bubba might be making more moving parts over a wider range of motion, he is effectively able to coordinate all of those moving parts. For me, this is a huge area of untapped improvement for golfers – improving their ability to coordinate moving parts.
Sometimes there is no correlation between more/less moving parts and consistency.
Take, for example, the research by Phil Cheetham which showed that there was no correlation between handle twist velocity (rate at which the grip is being twisted closed – strongly correlated with clubhead closure rate) and accuracy. It would be easy to hypothesize that the lower the handle twist velocity, the more consistent a player would be, as the clubface wouldn’t be going through a large range of motion through impact. However, we see that this was not the case.
Taken from Cheetham, 2014
It would be important to mention that Tyler Ferrell has found that many amateurs have handle twist velocities which are much higher than what was shown in the study, which could allow us to say that there is some amount of restriction needed. However, the study on professionals shows that there will be a law of diminishing returns.
- creating power
- a desired hand path
- applied forces to the club
- dynamic stability of the body.
This is an area where more moving parts can actually increase performance and create mechanical consistency.
There is a reason why Spieth, Mcilroy, Tiger, Bubba etc move their bodies down and forwards in transition.
All In The Hips
Also, during the 90’s and 00’s, it was common practice to get golfers to restrict the movement of the hips as much as possible while maximizing shoulder turn.
This was based on the misguided assumption that muscles act like rubber bands – just create a massive stretch and unleash the power. However, not only is this likely to completely throw off a good sequence (especially for an amateur with limited mobility), but it is quite likely to fire the stretch-shortening cycle of the muscles too early, leading to a loss in power and a potential over-the-top move.
However, before this practice became commonplace, most of the games greats (and many still do – usually the ones who haven’t been taught during the 90’s and 00’s) have a much freer motion of the hips – allowing the back leg to straighten, have a much bigger hip turn in the backswing and less separation between shoulder and hip turn (allowing that difference to increase more during the transition period of the swing instead).
Some pretty good players in the above picture, all with unrestricted hip turns.
It is also common practice to limit the foot motion of golfers. Well, let’s take a look at one of the best drivers in the game, for both length and accuracy – the guy who leads the strokes-gained stat this year (and won it last year) from tee to green – Bubba Watson.
In fact, we are now seeing that this type of foot action can be linked to improved ground forces, hand paths, clubhead speed and possibly injury prevention. Below is just a snap-shot of some other fancy feet at impact.
Planes and Trains (of thought)
It was also (and still is) very common to believe that the golf swing is one-plane, and that we should try to keep the clubhead moving on the same line in the backswing and downswing.
The idea of staying on this single line throughout the entire swing is….. well…. bullshit.
In fact, there is plenty of scientific evidence to show that players (even the best who have been taught one plane swings) actually create a boatload of varying planes during the swing. Sure, the clubhead might be quite planar through the execution phase, but this is the result of other things (speed, intentions etc.) and NOT the player trying to swing on a line.
In fact, some of the most consistent players in the world (take Furyk, Calvin Peete, Nicklaus) had more planes than British Airways.
Move over, Furyk
And while people could argue that modern players tend to be more one-plane, this is a mis-understanding of correlation and causation. Most modern players have been TAUGHT TO BE one plane – they may have been just as good without this idea. In fact, the counter argument could be that we never got to see the players who were ruined by chasing the single-plane idea.
Nicklaus, Garcia, Furyk showing varying planes (backswing yellow, downswing red).
Not bad bank accounts either!
Nesbit (2005), demonstrated that hand plane (path the hands take) and clubhead plane (path the clubhead takes) are not only constantly changing throughout the swing, but they are different to each other by 9-12 degrees!
Kwon and Como (2012) looked at the motion planes (shoulders, arms, clubhead etc) and found the following;
The shoulder/arm points moved on vastly different Motion Planes and exhibited large deviations from the clubhead plane
To top it off, Mackenzie (2012) found that having the clubhead and hands on the same plane coming down would cause considerable disadvantage when it came to clubhead squaring, speed creation, and even some pretty complex and cool mechanics through impact which relate to consistency.
So this is an example of less moving parts being potentially harmful!
Golf researcher and biomechanist Sasho Mackenzie was also quoted as saying;
“I see no reason why a golfer should take it back the same as how they come down”
There has also been (for as long as golf instruction has been about) a fascination with limiting wrist movement through impact. This has been based on still pictures of professional golfers at impact with lots of shaft lean – or even post impact and still maintaining that relationship.
However, simply copying the movements or positions of the pros doesn’t really emulate the forces that a pro is applying which creates these positions. Without getting too in detail (it could fill a whole article itself), a pro may not be actively trying to produce those positions as much as the positions being a result of other forces (unseen).
I have seen enough amateurs trying to consciously limit their wrist movement through impact in order to solve a ‘flip/scoop’. However, in my opinion, this can cause more harm than good.
In fact, there is 3D biomechanical research showing that the wrists go through extension through impact (releasing) – even if the wrists arrive at impact in a slightly flexed position. Just as a car going at 60mph could be in the process of speeding up or slowing down, taking a snapshot of the wrists at a given time shows nothing about whether they are in the process of extending or flexing. And even then, looking at the positions doesn’t tell us about the unseen forces which are creating those positions.
Lead wrist extension velocity at impact, while not being significantly different between groups was found to be positive in both groups, meaning that the lead wrist is extending at impact (Cheetham, 2014)
Needless to say, I don’t teach people to limit their wrist motion like this. I teach other things which get the desired results.
How could more moving parts potentially help us?
Think about robots in the 80’s. They had very few moving parts, so less could go wrong.
What have recent robot creators done? Well, contrary to logic, they have actually added more degrees of freedom (moving parts) in order to create a robot which is more functional and more adaptable to its environment. Take a look – this is 100% real.
That’s right – Boston Dynamics have created robots with more moving parts, and there is an important lesson for golfers here.
Rather than restrict the motion, they have opted to create robots with more moving parts – and those moving parts coordinate together to produce a robot which is more functional and more adaptable.
Restrict or Co-ordinate?
The same philosophy can apply to humans. Rather than restrict our motion, we could work to make all of the moving parts co-ordinate better. This would allow us to be much more adaptable.
The Atlas robot is able to walk over jagged rocks because of this ability to use all of the degrees of freedom (think moving parts) to its advantage. Likewise, a golfer with great coordination can be adaptable to the course conditions (different lies, clubs etc).
So, how to we improve coordination?
Coordination tends to improve over time with practice. However, the brain likes to coordinate towards a global goal. Take a look at the hummingbird.
The global goal for the hummingbird is to stabilize the beak so that it can feed. In order to do this, its entire body is constantly jostling its positions, but the beak remains stable. The brain of the hummingbird is able to harmoniously coordinate all of the moving parts to match the desired result.
The biggest problem I see for a golfer is that they;
- Don’t know what the goal is (they often don’t understand impact, or what creates their good/bad shots),
- Don’t get/create specific feedback on what has happened.
In other words, the golfer doesn’t know what they are trying to do, and they don’t know whether they have done it, and therefore they are like a blindfolded hummingbird. This is where good quality coaching comes in.
Natural versus Man-Made Restriction
Don’t get me wrong, this is not to say I never create restriction in a golfer. If I see someone flailing around like Zorro in a sword-fight, I might see value in making the motion simpler.
Ok, maybe you took me too literally!
However, I rarely create restriction by asking a player to restrict (E.g. turn your hips less). Instead, I usually use;
- Changes in concept
- Coordination improvements
- Environmental constraints
Through using the above, movement restriction can automatically occur (self-organize) in a more natural way (not consciously controlled), while the player still has their attention on the task – this is vital.
Back to our example – the beginner hammering a nail will automatically self-organize a more restricted movement (compared to the advanced carpenter), without being asked to restrict their motions. On top of this – degrees of freedom will automatically unlock as an when a player is ready, based on their unique mix of variables (physical, mental, coordination etc).
Locus of Attention
In the motor learning research, there is also a lot of information regarding where we place our attention and how our body coordinates itself.
Typically, focuses are split into internal and external, where
- Internal is thinking about what our body is doing/thinking about the moving parts
- External is thinking about the goal of the movement
For example, throwing a ball into a bucket could be done by focusing on the bucket (external), or by focusing on the movement of the arm, shoulder and wrist (internal).
Are you thinking about the arm movement (internal) or basket and trajectory of ball (external)?
While both ways could get the job done, it tends to be that the internal focus disrupts coordination of the whole, whereas an external focus tends to increase coordination of the whole. Just like the hummingbird is coordinating all of the moving parts by an external goal (get the beak in the flower).
If the hummingbird were to suddenly think about limiting its neck movement (try to entertain that idea momentarily), the beak would now move all over the place because the hummingbird has had its attention taken off the global goal. This is similar to a golfer who tops a ball and starts thinking of keeping their head down – they might succeed in keeping their head down, but the internal focus will throw off coordination.
And by the way, keeping your head down is a pretty shitty goal in itself.
This is not to say that an internal/movement specific focus is not valuable, but that it has the potential to disrupt coordination, and should be periodized appropriately during the season and tested to see its effects on performance.
Also, the way that most golfers practice – endless blocking of one singular movement in the hopes to ingrain something repeatable – may not be the quickest/most effective way to improve coordination.
Throwing in a bit more variation, via differential and variability practice, may help to increase the speed of coordination improvements (as the science shows). It also helps to make you more adaptable, so you are are better able to deal with the realities of the varying environment of the golf course.
If you want to learn more about ways to improve coordination and skills for golf, I outline this in great detail in The Practice Manual – The Ultimate Guide For Golfers. The book is an International bestseller, having topped the charts in the USA, UK, Canada, Germany and France, as well as being featured on The Golf Channel. Click the image below for more details.
Also, in my video series (The Strike Plan), I show you drills which can take all of the moving parts in your swing and help you coordinate them into a functional swing. Take a look by clicking the link below for more information.
More moving parts coordinated harmoniously is better than less moving parts with no coordination.
- The idea that more moving parts makes things more inconsistent has only an element of truth, and can easily be overstated (abides by the law of diminishing returns).
- In some cases, more moving parts can increase mechanical consistency, and improve performance via other routes (such as ground force creation,
- More moving parts may also be able to spread the stress load on the body, thus minimizing injury. Or, in the case of the jumping feet of Bubba Watson and many other pros, limit torque at the knee.
- More degrees of freedom (moving parts) can offer potential for increased good variability – for example, the atlas robot and hummingbird. However, these movements must be coordinated to the global goal
- While many people are trying to achieve consistency through locking down variables and creating less movement, I believe there is another way – improvements in coordination.
- It’s not that more moving parts create inconsistency, it’s that the lack of coordination between moving parts, and ‘poor’ movement patterns can create inconsistency. For example, head movement is not a problem, but poor head movement is.
Cheetham P. (2014) The relationship of club handle twist velocity to selected biomechanical characteristics of the golf drive. Doctoral dissertation. https://gradworks.umi.com/36/32/3632464.htmlKwon YH1, Como CS, Singhal K, Lee S, Han KH. (2012). Assessment of planarity of the golf swing based on the functional swing plane of the
Kwon YH1, Como CS, Singhal K, Lee S, Han KH. (2012). Assessment of planarity of the golf swing based on the functional swing plane of the clubhead and motion planes of the body points. Sports Biomech.;11(2):127-48.
Mackenzie, Sasho. J. (2012). Club position relative to the golfer’s swing plane meaningfully affects swing dynamics. Sports Biomechanics 2012, iFirst article, 1–16
Steven M. Nesbit (2005). A THREE DIMENSIONAL KINEMATIC AND KINETIC STUDY OF THE GOLF SWING. Journal of Sports Science and Medicine 4, 499-51.