Everybody wants more consistency on the golf course.
But, is this possible?
Is it possible to be consistent?
For today's article, I want to dive into a topic that I am fairly passionate about and seeks to answer the question... How consistent is your golf swing?
I am currently getting my Masters of Science degree in Kinesiology.
One central focus of my research work is: How much do our mechanics change when we add complexity to a motor task?
When creating this topic, I never realized how applicable it would be to the sport of golf.
Let's talk about what I've learned, what research currently says, and how I think it can help YOU and your game!
EXTERNAL VS. INTERNAL FOCUS OF ATTENTION
Our biomechanics and the function of those biomechanics changes drastically when we shift our focus from an internal to an external state.
An internal focus of attention would be thinking "I need to tuck my right elbow" while swinging the club.
An external focus of attention would be thinking "I need to hit my target."
An internal focus of attention looks into the body trying to change a specific joint or bodily segment's pattern.
An external focus of attention looks at our environment, our interaction with it, or the function of our movement - not the movement in itself.
While some research points towards an external focus of attention being "better" that's not necessarily the point I want to make because this could be fairly individual dependent - certain cues work better for certain athletes.
However, one thing appears to be 100%: When changing from an internal to an external focus of attention (or vice versa) your mechanics change drastically (Ford 2005, Almonroeder 2018).
The golf swing you utilize to hit the golf ball changes when you shift from one lens of focus to the other. Most of this change is subconscious and you don't recognize the 5 degree difference in elbow position at impact or the 7 extra degrees of wrist flexion at the top, but difference is present nonetheless.
So, next time you are on the range be aware of where you are placing your attentional focus as well as how often it's changing. It's nearly impossible to repeat a consistent golf swing with a constantly shifting attentional focus.
Reaction or nah?
When you add an element of reaction to a motor task, the mechanics an athlete utilizes will change greatly (Weir 2019, Almonroeder 2017, Weinhandl 2013, Besier 2001, Mache 2012, Almonroeder 2018).
And while this may appear to be unrelated to golf as there is "no reaction" I would argue otherwise.
The ball isn't moving, but that doesn't mean there are no reactive, instinctual movements taking place.
Have you ever had water left and then put your biggest anti-left swing on the ball... this is, at least in part, reactive.
You are reacting to the information that the environment is giving you - both consciously and subconsciously.
Sure it may not be as reactive as hitting a baseball being delivered by a pitcher or trying to tackle a running back... but reaction exists within all movement that we execute. We are constantly perceiving information from our environment, and utilizing it to create precise and functional movement.
Subtle changes in the upper body effect the lower body (and vice versa)
Research has shown that when we add a constraint to the upper body during a cutting task, our lower body mechanics change significantly (Chaudhari 2005, Almonroeder 2017).
For example, if you complete a cutting task without a football in your hand, and then try to recreate it while carrying a football, the mechanics and joint coordination strategy you utilize will differ.
Now let's think about this in terms of the sport of golf.
While you are always holding a golf club in your hand and the function stays relatively similar (ie: hit the golf ball), the context surrounding this task changes drastically.
The lengths of each club changes. The type of shot you are executing changes. You may position your feet to be wider or narrower than usual (subconsciously or consciously). You may turn your feet to be more or less rotated on one swing compared to the next (subconsciously or consciously). You may align yourself away from trouble. You may be standing on a hill, or have a poor lie. You may be hitting out of a bunker or fescue (hopefully the fairway).
The list goes on and on.
All of these subtle differences in the context surrounding the golf swing, will create significant changes in the golf swing you create - just like the subtle constraint of carrying a football changes our cutting mechanics.
OKAY, WHAT IS THE POINT?
Here is what I BELIEVE to be the take home point of all this research...
Our movement is extremely variable.
We aren't consistent creatures when it comes to the movement patterns we execute.
From one swing to the next, you are using very different motor strategies to hit the golf ball.
We need to make sure our practice and training reflect this idea.
Our practice should be variable.
We aren't seeking to create a consistent pattern every rep or tapping into muscle memory - which isn't really a thing.
We should be allowing our body to be variable and self-organize into patterns that best reflect the function we are trying to achieve.
On the range we should be actively changing our target, minorly adjusting our stance, changing clubs after every shot - creating a variable environment that more reflects what we experience on the course.
In physical training we should be exploring variation.
We should be exposing our body to many different patterns of force production. Squatting, jumping, pressing, hopping, skipping, and rowing in continuously novel ways.
Building a body that is resilient, robust, and adaptable.
Capable of succeeding within many different movement patterns.
Is consistency possible?
Not when it comes to the movement patterns we execute.
But the pros swings are very consistent!
Or do they utilize functional (positive) levels of variability better than every other athlete playing the sport?
Variability isn't a bad thing.
In our ever changing world... it's necessary.
So, instead of seeking consistency, I believe we should lean into variation and thrive within it.
Explore variation. Let your body self-organize. Become the best athlete your can be.
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Founder and Head Coach - SCRATCHGolfTraining.com
Carter is a strength and conditioning coach out of the Milwaukee area working with athletes, in-person and virtually. Having helped hundreds of athletes, ranging from the middle school to the professional level and beyond, Carter brings a breadth of experience and knowledge to every athlete he works with. He launched SCRATCHGolfTraining.com in the summer of 2021 to help empower golfers to greater performance and longevity.
Carter believes ALL golfers are athletes, and they should be training accordingly.
Become a SCRATCH Athlete today, and start training like the ATHLETE you are!