Are Your Shoulders On Plane?
The shoulder plane is overlooked by a lot of players. Everyone gets caught up in how to manipulate the hands and club face to try to get a consistent swing. The club face and path are certainly important, but what if you could work on something relatively simple that would control both of these pieces and undo all the harm of slouched posture, sitting at a desk, and not activating your back correctly? I think most people would be interested in that, so let’s take a deeper look at what the shoulder plane is and why you need to get it right.
A Simple Concept
A golf swing, in its simplest form, calls for a slight bend from the waist allowing the hip hinge to keep the spine straight. From there, you are attempting to rotate around a fixed axis, both back and through, while maintaining the posture. Simple, right?
Of course, it isn’t that simple, but a lot of times players over complicate it. Let’s make golf as simple as it can be. The shoulder plane needs to be consistent for each player. There is not “perfect swing” since everyone has a different body type and limitations.
You could be the person who has lower traps that work, but does not know the proper technique for the swing. The first problem is that this player typically flattens the shoulders so they are pointed well outside of the ball. This will cause the hands to lift and become “disconnected” from the body. Repeatability goes out the window because they have lost their posture. They will then try to drop the shoulders back down into the starting position. While doing this, they are also trying to bring the hands back down, or over, and have lost all control of the club face. If we can make the body work correctly to rotate the shoulders down toward the ball, you stay on plane much more easily.
The lower trapezius muscle is located under the shoulder blades. It functions to upwardly rotate the shoulder blades when the arms are lifted above the head. It also aids in retraction and adduction of the shoulder blade. Think of making a back swing and having your hands at the top of the swing. If the trap can’t perform correctly, how on earth are you suppose to get into this position without compensation?
To test the function of your lower trap, watch the video.
Assessing Your Shoulders
Let’s break down your findings, as you will fall into one of three categories. You have inhibited lower traps if when you attempted to lift your straight arm, you could not or you bent from the elbow while the elbow stayed on the ground. This means your trap muscle is shut down. We need to wake it up and make it work for us again. You have a weak muscle if you lifted your arm, but it didn’t go very high – the bicep did not pass your ear. This can be good news: your trap is working, it just needs more attention. The last category is when the trap is strong and active – the arm lifts above the ear. However, passing the test does not mean you have a good shoulder plane. Please read on.
Exercises to Improve Your Shoulders
Reach, Roll, Lift – This is the easiest of the exercises. You will notice it is very similar to our test, but I have you in an inclined position to make sure you can succeed on the movement and start working the trap without compensations. For this exercise, focus on driving the hand as high as possible and feeling the muscle work at the bottom of the shoulder blade.
I’s, Y’s, T’s – This set is more advanced and, while it looks simple, get ready to break a sweat. Lay on a stability ball on your chest. Reach out with both hands and with the thumbs up towards the air, lift as high as you can while making the letter I with your body. Work through a set of 10, then shift the arms out to a 45 degree angle and repeat the same motion. This time you should be making a Y. Last but not least, put both arms straight out to your sides and raise them straight up squeezing the shoulder blades together making a letter T. Each one of these letters works the trap slightly different and strengthens the movement.
Superman Variation – This exercise will work the lower erector muscles of the back while also improving the trap. This will help you stabilize and stay in posture while trying to work around the intended plane of motion. Lay on your stomach with both arms straight up over your head. Lift your hands, arms, and chest up off the ground. You should feel everything working from the waist up.
Office Stretch – This is a great one for you to do multiple times through out the day to help the thoracic spine and traps. Sitting tall, bend your arms and interlock your fingers together behind your head. Try to push your elbows behind your body while you look up as high as you can. You should feel a big stretch and muscle activation between the should blades.
Once you have made progress on these exercises, you should notice the back working and feeling differently. Remember, just because we fix an issue in the gym does not mean it corrects itself in the swing. Use your newfound function to ingrain a better swing and play better golf!