Are Your Shoulders Holding You Back?

Are Your Shoulders Holding You Back-

Bad Shoulders, Bad Golf Swing

Everyone is constantly chasing that perfect swing – those fluid moves that you see each week on tour.  What you need to keep in mind is each one of those player’s swings works due to how their body functions.  Golf fitness is about improving limitations that are holding you back and hurting your game.

In this lesson, we are going to take a look at how the shoulder externally rotates to get into a strong position at the top of the swing.

Shoulder Flexibility1

Test Your Range of Motion

Let’s start by checking the range of motion in each shoulder.  Stand tall and lift one arm so the bicep and tricep are parallel to the ground and the forearm is sticking straight up.  From there, rotate the forearm back as far as possible without arching your back.  Hopefully on the dominant side you are past spine angle and at least even on the non-dominant side.

Now check both sides while in golf posture.  Again, you want the dominant side to be past spine angle and the non-dominant side to be at least equal to the spine angle.  If you struggled with either of these, than you are limited with external shoulder rotation.

Shoulder Flexibility4

Why is limited external shoulder rotation a problem?  Simply put, you need the dominant arm to be able to rotate to keep the club on path while getting to the top.  If you are the player that has a high, “flying” elbow you are definitely struggling.  Additionally, on the way down, the elbow needs to come in to allow space for the club while maintaining spine angle.  This motion is created with more external rotation of the shoulder.  Without external shoulder rotation, the club (or your body) will be forced out of position.

Shoulder Flexibility3

Improving External Shoulder Rotation

Let’s now address what you can do to improve the shoulders so you can really improve the swing.  If you have shoulder issues, rotator cuff problems, etc, this probably isn’t for you.  If you are simply tight and unable to work through the range of motion, then it’s time to dive in.

Grab the grip end of a driver.  Flip the club over the hand and run it down the forearm.  Position the arm just like when we were testing it so the bicep is parallel to the ground.  Using the other hand, grab the driver head and slowly pull the forearm back.  Maintain posture, and keep a steady pull on the club.  Your shoulder should allow you to go well beyond the active range you achieved earlier, and there should be a stretch in the rear part of your shoulder.  Simply hold for two to three seconds, then let off the stretch and do it again for 10 reps.  This move stretches the shoulder to add range of motion.

Shoulder Flexibility2

Now that we have achieved additional range, we need to build up the active strength so it is usable in your swing.  Hold a very light dumbbell – two or three pounds – in your dominant hand.  Drop down into your golf posture.  Start a one handed swing and concentrate on getting the shoulder externally rotated at the top.  The thought I give my players is that they are holding a pizza box at the top of the swing.  The forearm must be straight up or further back, and the palm should be flat.  Come back to the starting position and repeat for a set of 10 reps.  Repeat this on the other side which will be harder.  Using this active motion to lift the weight while maintaining posture will help you carry the movement into the swing.

If you have been in search of that thing which is holding you back, you may have just found it.  For most of us, there are many other pieces that we need to work on and sync together so we can build that beautiful, fluid, and repeatable swings and play better golf with less effort!

Tyler Parsons
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  1. Is JB Holmes supposed to be an example of ‘bad shoulders’?

    • No, not at all. While JB doesn’t get his body into the same conventional position at the top, he actually external rotates down from the top and pitches his elbow in front. There are multiple ways to successfully hit a golf ball. Just showing how their body functions differently.

      • Thanks Tyler for the reply,

        One other question then, and I haven’t bothered reading about this kind of stuff for a while, so I may get the terms wrong.

        At the top of the backswing, is the trail arm not in the saggital plane? Why would one be concerned with their level of external shoulder rotation in the frontal plane?

        Appears to me that 99% of people will have sufficient external rotation in this plane and that trying to increase this would be pointless to potentially damaging.

        The people I see that think they need additional external rotation of the trail shoulder are actually mobile enough, they just haven’t been taught how to bring the club back properly.

        Love to hear your thoughts on this.

        • If you went to the top of the backswing without external rotation you would have a flying elbow. Not the end of the world depending on the rest of the mechanics of the swing. Their are obviously a lot of different pieces that must work together in the swing, this is simple one that the majority of golfers struggle to get into a “good” position.

          • I understand that there must be external rotation.

            The point I’m trying to communicate:

            With the elbow bent at 90* at the upper arm directly in front of the body and parallel to the ground, most everyone has more than sufficient mobility to get their forearm perpendicularl to the ground.

            It only gets tough to do this ‘test’ when the upper arm is to the side of the body, like you show in the article.

            My point is that this level of external shoulder rotation does not appear to be required in a golf swing, regardless of who’s swing you look at….

            Are there any golf examples that you can point to that utilize/require this level of mobility?

            Thanks again,

  2. I am a right handed golfer with limited external rotation in my right shoulder due to multiple shoulder surgeries for a dislocating shoulder when I was younger. Do you have any advice as to what compensations I might make to keep my club on plane on the downswing? I’m still able to maintain a 0 handicap, but feel like I should be able to generate more club head speed, particularly with my driver.

    • I would be very cautious about doing anything to change your swing. If you are already scratch, I would will honk you already have a consistent and repeatable swing on a good path. If you would like more power in your swing, feel free to email a couple of your driver swings and I will check them out to see what you may be able to change.

  3. I have read multiple articles about trail external shoulder rotation. But, I struggle with very limited lead shoulder ext rotation. How would this litigation affect the golf swing?

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