If you’ve been reading Golf Digest’s Instruction Blog, authored by my colleague Roger Schiffman, then you might have seen his recent item on the X-factor (Read, “Jim McLean’s new X-Factor”). If you recall, Golf Digest Teaching Professional Jim McLean brilliantly came up with the term “X-factor” roughly 15 years ago as a way to describe the differential between the hip and shoulder turns during the swing.
McLean’s findings, in part, showed that most of the biggest hitters on the pro tours also had the biggest X-factors–meaning they had minimal hip turn but loads and loads of shoulder turn. This was true especially at the start of the downswing when the “X-factor stretch” was identified as the hips unwinding well before the shoulders moved. Kudos should still be given to McLean for coming up with something original in golf instruction. It’s hard to argue that the torque created by restricting your hip turn while allowing your shoulders to turn as far as they can will help generate a lot of speed and power in your swing.
However, a question has been raised by many fitness trainers and some teaching pros. Is it wise to torque the body like this–especially for anyone with thoracic spine (mid-back), shoulder, and hip mobility issues? What’s good for elite golfers with great flexibility might not be right for an average Joe with limited flexibility, says Ben Shear, one of the top fitness trainers on the PGA Tour (count Luke Donald and Jason Day as his clients).
“The X-factor does put stress on the body,” he said. “How much depends on a lot of physical factors. Golf even done efficiently is tough on the body. However, if hip and thoracic spine mobility is an issue, you’d be better off swinging like Rocco Mediate and let the hips and shoulders turn back together.”
Adds Craig Davies, a PGA Tour trainer who works with Hunter Mahan, Justin Rose and Sean O’Hair, “The ability to create separation is a good thing for power. But the idea of maximizing one’s “X-factor” can lead to injury. It can be detrimental to performance for many players who have limited, or even average mobility in their shoulders, thoracic spine and hips.”
Whether you are a disciple of Jim’s X-factor or believe the hips and shoulders should turn together, there’s no argument that strong, pliable hip muscles are what all golfers need. For two exercises that will help improve the range of motion in your hips, and make them more functional in the golf swing, click on the video below.
Ron Kaspriske, Golf Digest Fitness Editor
Follow him on Twitter: @RonKaspriske
Golf Digest is the bible for golf information, instruction and well; everything golf. As a golf fitness specialist, I always get excited when I see Golf Digest featuring golf fitness tips or articles on players’ work out regimes. This August, I heard the familiar sound of the latest Golf Digest being slid through my mail slot by my happy neighborhood postal worker. As I unfolded the magazine to see who made this month’s cover I was shocked and excited to see that it was a special “Athletes Issue.” The front page promising to get me long and strong through better balance! This should be the greatest issue to ever grace my doorstep if not for one thing; a picture of my number one, golf fitness pet peeve: Golfers standing or kneeling on a stability ball while swinging a golf club – AAAAaaaaaaahhhhhhhhh! Look up 10 golf fitness websites and I guarantee you that ½ of them will have a picture of this somewhere.
Know What You Are Training:
I have been in the fitness industry for 13 years and I have seen everything. Every exercise, every piece of equipment, every diet, every body shape, every fad, every strength and conditioning journal, every fitness magazine and every infomercial promising a 6 pack stomach in 3 minutes.
The more complex my research and experience has become over the years, my training philosophy has become more simplified. It sounds weird but when I first entered the industry I used to come up with the coolest, most complex exercises that always turned heads in the gym. I would try to incorporate as many different pieces of apparatus as humanly possible in each exercise. Now, 13 years later, my training method requires less equipment, less gadgets and uses more body weight, multi-jointed and multidirectional movement patterns. Another difference between the trainer I was in the past and the coach you see today is results. With athletic performance training, I believe that less is more. When I meet new clients I always tell them that I can teach them the coolest exercises they have ever seen, injure them and have them take 6 weeks off to recover or we can do it the right way and maximize their potential.
Whenever I see a picture of someone swinging a golf club while kneeling on a stability ball or hitting driver while standing on a wobble board I want to run home, throw “Pumping Iron” into my Betamax and return to the simpler times of training. You have to know what you are training. If you want to improve your balance, train for balance; if you want to increase power, train power. Don’t train for power on an unstable surface. If you know anything about my philosophy on creating explosive rotational power you would know that the golf swing starts from the ground up. When you start the downswing you send an impulse into the ground by pushing down and forward with your trail foot and back and down with your lead foot. If you did this while standing on an exercise ball, like Dustin Johnson on the cover of Golf Digest, you will end up on your keester! You see trick shot artists do it all the time in their golf circus acts but I assure you; if Chuck “The Hitman” Hiter qualified for a PGA tour event, he would definitely use his legs to hit the ball. Having your students practice golf on unstable surfaces promotes improper sequencing, messes up muscle recruitment patterning and timing.
Below I have broken down the concepts of balance training and power training for you. After you finish this article, you can decide when it is appropriate and inappropriate to use these two key components of golf performance training.