What do these different actions have in common?
- The Karate Chop – The fine art of harnessing and coalescing all your body’s energy into one impactful moment ?
- The Baseball Home Run – Utilizing a technique known as ‘Torque Hitting’ – which relies on PLANTING the left leg firmly – and rotating the torso powerfully around it – maximizing torque ?
- The Powerful Tennis Forehand – Stepping out (and across) with the left foot – and powerfully rotating the upper body against the planted foot ?
The key to generating power in all these sports is a PLANTED left side – allowing a free and unrestricted rotation of the UPPER BODY around this side.
The Pillar (Wall) that is the left side
Joe Dante, a professional golfer in the 1960s developed a fairly revolutionary golf instruction technique – which focused on FOUR key moves (nicknamed the FOUR MAGIC moves).
For e.g. – one of the magic moves – The Downswing is initiated by a LATERAL shifting of the hips (yes – Lateral – not rotational). Once the lateral shift is complete, the upper body UNCOILS against the weight on the left side. Which leads us to the most important aspect of the FOUR MAGIC moves – One MUST hit against a firm left side!
This post will discuss the importance of a FIRM left side – as well as the associated difficulties in doing so (difficulties peculiar to golf).
Why is it difficult (for golfers) to maintain A FIRM left side?
I would wager that most of us (amateur golfers) DO NOT hit against a firm left side. The reason is twofold:
- The Left Knee often Buckles under the force of impact.
- The Hips slide TOO QUICKLY and FAR TOO MUCH to the right.
The Buckling of the Left Knee: The downswing is such an impactful event, that our LEFT KNEE tends to BUCKLE under the pressure. With the left knee no longer providing support (full support), our right knee assumes part of the responsibility – and we essentially SPIN (fall) backwards (towards the right knee) at impact. How MUCH we fall backwards differs – but if we are not keeping that left side firm, chances are we are all doing it to some degree. If you tend to ‘top’ the ball often – or impact well behind the ball, chances are you are doing something along these lines.
Hips Slide (too much) to the Right: A slight lateral hip shift is good – and even recommended. However, a lot of us have ‘overactive’ hips. This is especially true if you are somewhat athletic!
Only in golf, can athleticism actually work AGAINST you!
Overactive hips CONTINUE to slide past the left knee – and towards the target. While this is not as bad as the KNEE BUCKLING problem, it does tend to cause a loss in power – and a NOTICEABLE loss of direction (you will tend to lose the ball to the right).
If your ball starts out to the right – and stays right – chances are your hips are outracing your arms – and sliding waaaay past where they need to be.
Now that we understand why we have TROUBLE keeping the left side firm, we can discuss some of the benefits of executing this MAGIC move:
BENEFIT 1 (of a firm left side) – More POWER – due to COMPLETE weight transfer
A Firm Left Side promotes FULL Weight Transfer – which, in turn, promotes a COMPLETE uncoiling of the upper body (see image below). In fact, a really good swing thought is to forget about hitting the ball – and focus on hitting against a WALL – a wall which is flush with your left hip. Not only will you hit the ball better, you should end up hitting it straighter.
Which leads us to the second benefit of hitting against a firm left side:
Second Benefit – A FIRM Left Side – straightens the hands at impact
Believe it or not, your hands already know how to square up at impact. While playing a tennis shot, your hands and forearms automatically align during impact – to provide the most power. In golf too, the hands would rather square up than do anything else.
However, the reason this squaring up eludes most golfers is due to the sheer weight of the golf club. At half a kg – a golf club is TWICE as heavy as a tennis racquet – and FIVE times heavier than a table-tennis racquet. Unless the hands are strengthened (as discussed in this post), their attempt at squaring up is in vain.
Hitting against a firm left side DOES, in fact, ROTATE THE FOREARMS – just so that they square up at impact (see Jack in the impact position below). And that leads us to the FINAL benefit of hitting against your left side:
Third Benefit – A FIRM Left Side – allows the ARMS To swing through UNOBSTRUCTED
The idea of OBSTRUCTING your own golf swing is not new – but is rarely discussed by teaching professionals. I had to work with a few different pros before I understood that my own body was getting in the way of my swing!
In fact, unless we take specific steps NOT TO – chances are we will obstruct our swing – either on the way back or the way through.
Two techniques that can help you overcome this obstruction:
- Correct Body Alignment – See this tip on a quick and effective alignment aid in golf
- Setup like Rory McIlroy – In an earlier post, we discussed the concept of BODY CLEARANCE – getting your body out of your own way. This takes a bit of practice – and is more related to your setup (stance and posture). If you can try and emulate Rory McIlroy’s posture at setup (plenty of youtube videos to help you out), you should be closer to attaining the clearance for your arms to swing freely at impact.
If you are having difficulty with achieving this body clearance, fear not. The beauty of the FIRM LEFT side is that it promotes this ‘arms swinging freely through’ impact. As you keep your left side firm, your hips automatically CLEAR out of the way – to let your arms swing through freely.
Now that we understand a few of the benefits of hitting against a FIRM left side, how do we get there?
How does one LEARN to HIT AGAINST a FIRM left side ?
- Start Small – Start with half-swings with an 8 iron – against a PLANTED Left Foot
- Build the LOWER BODY muscles – required to ‘CATCH’ your body weight
Start Small : Start with a few HALF SWINGS with your 8 iron – with just one thought in mind. Hit against a planted left leg. You should be able to do this fairly easily – since the momentum of a half swing with a short iron – is not huge.
Now, slowly build up from here. Move onto a 3/4 swing – and finally a FULL swing with just the same 8 iron. Once you have this mastered, move on to longer clubs.
Build Lower Body Muscles : For those of us NOT BLESSED with a naturally strong lower body, our first step should be to BUILD LOWER BODY STRENGTH. An earlier post discussed a few exercises for developing lower body strength. ( Muscles of the core and the lower body are perhaps the most important muscles in the golf swing ).
If all you have time for is ONE exercise, let it be the KING of lower body exercises – the humble SQUAT.
We are all searching for more power in our golf swing.
In the pursuit of this power, we procure new drivers, new shafts, new and improved balls – and what not. However, the secret to power may be much simpler – and may be right under our eye (under our left eye anyway).
The secret to power in golf is no different from the secret in baseball or karate or tennis.
If you really want to UNLEASH your upper body, you MUST unleash it against a firm left side.
The difficulty in doing this successfully in the golf downswing, is the sheer momentum of the upper body + golf club – as they go through impact. The momentum is enough to dislodge our left knee and send us ‘spinning out’ of the perfect impact position.
With a little practice, we can learn to STEADY our left side – starting with SHORTER swings against a PLANTED left leg – and building up slowly to the FULL SWING. Once we are able to ‘CATCH’ the upper body on a full downswing, we should see a significant gain in both DISTANCE and STRAIGHTNESS (Accuracy).