Frame the Body for a More Efficient Golf Swing

Max Alexander writes in a construction magazine, “A frame is the skeleton of a house. If the frame is strong, it provides the necessary support for everything that follows. But if it’s weak, no amount of expensive finishes will hide the flaws.” This is also a great description of the role posture plays at address and throughout the swing in golf. When trying to conquer a skill with as many moving parts as a golf swing, one of the best ways to achieve better, more consistent results is to get the body well “framed up” at address and then only let the posture change as much as needed to produce solid, powerful, and accurate shots.

The first part of this process is to develop a strong, athletic posture at address. Generally a beginner will set up with the spine too vertical and with knees that vary between too stiff, or too bent and squatty. Standing up with an almost vertical spine not only looks un-athletic compared to advanced players, but it usually gets the hands too close to the body (when the knees are squatty) or too far from the body at address (when both the knees and arms are rigid). Poor spine angles at setup not only get the hands out of position, but they set the stage for swing planes that are likely to lead to an array of unsavory golf shots (possibly followed by some unsavory language).

There’s a reason that the martial arts place so much importance on stances and body positions, and most golfers would do well to give more attention to these fundamentals. The setup prepares the body’s center of gravity to deal with the forces of the swing and posture is the first step in determining whether a golfer ends up looking more like a Jedi or Jar Jar Binks when he goes into motion.

Woodson PostureFor those who do not deal with prohibitive physical issues (like really tight hamstrings or a lower back that objects more than the attorneys on “Law & Order”), a solid address posture generally includes a forward flex of the spine from the hips to the point where the sternum is slightly farther forward than the knees. This gets the weight slightly forward of center, toward the balls of the feet, and allows the arms to hang down so that the hands have some room (maybe a fist-width or a little more) from the legs. The straighter the spine remains when it flexes forward (as opposed to slumping or bending), the better the body is prepared to make a full, powerful shoulder turn.

I also like to see a “secondary angle” of the spine for most golfers – this means a slight tilt of the spine away from the target at address, and it makes sense since the lead hand is higher on the grip making it natural for the lead shoulder to rise a little higher than the trailing shoulder. Also, when the lead leg straightens during the downswing, it tends to make the spine tilt away from the target, a change that can alter the swing path and clubface unless the golfer has already “framed” the body with a slight tilt from the beginning.

There’s not much talk about this tip, but many golfers benefit from this secondary angle applying to the hips andSlinky Posture pelvis too – keeping the front knee and hip slightly taller at address than the trailing knee and hip.  This keeps the spine in harmony with the lower body, and really can be helpful to the many golfers who tend to fight a reverse tilt, which is when they lean the spine toward the target at the top of the swing. I have one client who found this postural tip so helpful, he started signing his emails to me as “Secondary Angle”.

Once a golfer has achieved an athletic posture at address, the key is to keep the body as “framed up” as possible during the swing. Granted, houses are designed to prevent movement whereas the address position for golf is designed to prepare for movement, but the trick is to have as few movements as possible while generating powerful and accurate golf shots. A 2,000-piece puzzle is hard to put together, and hard to keep together.

One way to stay more framed up in the backswing is to relax. A lot of golfers over-activate the muscles of the upper arms and upper back while taking the club away, as if the club were made of lead. These muscles work against the frame, often making the spine drop, lean toward the ball, or start tilting toward the target. Sometimes I’ll remind clients that we want the tree to swing its limbs, not the opposite; and if they largely allow the turn of the body to swing the arms and club away, they do a better job of maintaining their posture during the backswing.

A lot of golfers benefit from learning to avoid the “lawn mower move” which is when they pull the club away with the (usually dominant) trail arm like pulling the cord on an old lawn mower. The tension in the arms and shoulder blades puts pressure on the spine and makes the frame suffer. Relaxed arms tend to swing more quickly too.

Another way golfers commonly lose their frame during the backswing is by drastically dropping the front knee and hip. People with more lower-body movement than Elvis generally benefit from the secondary angle I mentioned above – if they raise the lead hip higher at address and learn to keep it pretty well pinned in that “tall” position during the backswing, they will be more stable throughout the swing. It’s fine for the hip to rotate back as needed, and fine for the lead knee to move toward the trail knee, but minimizing any “sag” of the lead side of the body toward the ground makes it a lot easier to return the club on a good path make a solid strike.

Many of the other posture changes golfers make during the transition and downswing are instinctive adjustments they implement as corrections for poor balance and troublesome swing planes. For instance, a player who gets too much on his toes, or too steep with his swing will likely “come up” out of posture just before impact as a last-ditch effort to avoid digging a ditch.  On the other hand, a player who gets too flat with his planes might drop his trail shoulder and bend his spine on the way through impact in an effort to generate better contact than his planes otherwise would.

It’s too much to cover in depth in this article, but a player who learns effective weight movement and swing planes will also find it easier to keep his body framed up throughout the swing. And the opposite is also true.  When the frame of the swing moves, so must the planes, and when the planes shift, so must the frame, or else contact and ball-flight will suffer. But solid planes and a solid frame pair up like a good wine and cheese, as can be seen in the fluid, seemingly effortless, and clearly efficient swings of most great players.

There are definitely some movements that are either desirable and/or unavoidable when making an athletic and powerful swing (it would take a real Jedi to smash the ball simply by taking a good stance). Obviously we have rotation as a primary power source during the swing; we also have the arms and club moving at a rate of speed that creates counter-forces on the body that are hard to resist. Most advanced players will show some head-drop during the swing, and will have a lateral shift of the body toward the target before impact. Even the feet, our connection to the earth, will likely move some. The trick is to balance athleticism with efficiency.

I know a golfer who used to mark a mirror with a bar of soap, making a line that represents his spine and then he would practice making swings while minimizing his spine movement as seen in the mirror. This kind of practice gave him some great feedback about what it felt like to make a stable turn during the swing.

Each golfer’s level of strength and flexibility has a lot to do with determining his ability to stay framed up too. A golfer with large arms but weak legs and core will have a much harder time maintaining stability throughout the swing than someone with smaller arms and a powerful leg/core combo. Likewise, a player with a lot of mobility/flexibility issues (a stubborn neck, shoulders, wrists, hips, etc.) will struggle to generate length and speed in the swing without first losing stability. This is why proper fitness training is practically mandatory if a golfer wants to play at an elite level these days.

In a perfect world any player who is serious about improving would invest significant time on the fitness side of their game as well as the mechanical side; but for those of us who spend more time thinking about working out than actually working out, if we can at least get on the range and learn to frame up the body with an athletic address posture and then minimize the excess spine and body movements during the swing, the effort will bear fruit.  So, good luck getting framed up and playing better golf!

Comments


  1. January says:

    You’ve maanged a first class post

  2. Chris Brill says:

    John, I just have found your blog about a year after the last posting.. lol. But, I have read a lot from people attempting to write about the game over the past couple years… Those who are good at the game, but fail with the language because of certain ego dispositions that cause them to lose their curiosity which really is the love for the game. Now that I’ve read you. I hope you continue with entries. You are one of the best writers on a multitude of golf subject which are very important to the game.. Thanks!

    • John Rogers says:

      Chris, thanks very much. I try to take care in the craft of writing just as I do in the world of golf. I really appreciate your kind words. I would like to find more time for the writing (sometimes a challenge with full-time professional duties and part-time college coaching on top of it) because I really enjoy it. There is a tendency in golf circles these days to use a lot of fancy and sometimes scientific language, but my goal has always been to make my articles accessible and enjoyable to as many people as possible. Best wishes to you!

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