The Fundamentals of Rotational Power in Golf: Everything You Need to Know

May 09, 2023
The muscles used on a golf backswing

One of the most sought after attributes in golf is good rotational power. Having the capacity to generate maximal force in your swing is a major contributor to the length of your drive. Training the muscles responsible for rotation not only allows you to bomb balls down the fairway, but it also helps you develop the control to gauge subtle, and more difficult, shots at varying distances.

With all the excitement of a monster swing, however, comes monster increases in the likelihood of injury. Golf is such a unique sport in that many members of the general populace who play it do zero explosive activity or strength training outside of it. Not exactly the best way to prepare for ripping one off at your Saturday morning tee time. Without warming up, of course.

Well today we’re going to teach you a little bit about what creates optimal rotational power in the golfer, and how training it properly can help to avoid common injuries that are likely to occur otherwise.
Rotational power in golf is a full body movement that requires tremendous strength, mobility, flexibility, and coordination. (Image credit: Adobe Stock)

What Is Rotational Power?

Rotational power in golf refers to the ability of a golfer to generate speed and power through the golf swing. It involves the coordinated and sequential rotation of the hips, torso, and shoulders, which enables a golfer to transfer energy from the ground up and create an efficient and powerful swing. 

Rotational power is essential for generating clubhead speed and distance, as well as accuracy and consistency when striking the ball. It is one of the most important aspects of golf performance, and is developed through specific training and conditioning exercises combined with proper technique and form.

Anatomy Slings & Rotational Power

Two of the sling systems in the body are worth mentioning here. They are called the Posterior Oblique System and the Anterior Oblique System. Both are important for contralateral rotation, and golf is a contralateral rotation sport (i.e. the upper body twists one way while the lower body resists and rotates the other way).

Posterior Oblique System (POS)

POS is a relationship between one of your gluteus maximus (GM/butt) muscles and the opposing latissimus dorsi (LD/mid-back under armpit) muscle. They work together through a large section of fascia (connective tissue) in your low back called the thoracolumbar fascia. 

Left gluteus maximus (butt) and right latissimus dorsi connected through the thoracolumbar fascia (white, diamond shaped tissue in lower back). (Image credit: Adobe Stock)

When you walk, one leg goes forward (stretching the GM) with the opposite arm (stretching the opposing LD). The energy stored in this stretch is released when you take your next step, switching the arm and leg that are going forward. This helps to make walking and running more efficient.

The posterior oblique sling helps to stabilize the pelvis and trunk during the golf swing. The stability created by the posterior oblique sling allows for efficient transfer of power from the lower body to the upper body. It also gets significantly stretched during the backswing, and powerfully recoils on the downswing to assist with rotation.

 

Posterior oblique system consists of one gluteus maximus muscle (golfer’s left buttock, pictured) and the opposing latissimus dorsi. They communicate through the thoracolumbar fascia (which would be approx. center of the arrow). This system stabilizes the hips and trunk throughout the swing. (Image credit: Adobe Stock)

Anterior Oblique System (AOS)

If your left foot is stepping forward, AOS is working as follows:

  • Right external/internal obliques (side abdominal muscles)
  • Left internal oblique 
  • Left leg adductor (groin) muscles

Note on the oblique muscles: The internal oblique is an ipsilateral/same side rotator and the external oblique is a contralateral/opposite side rotator when the lower body is fixed (as in standing/walking). That’s why when your torso rotates left (as in the walking example we’re using where the left foot steps forward), your right external/internal obliques contract (because they both twist left), as well as the left internal oblique (also twists left).

Right oblique muscles work together with the opposing (in this picture, left) groin, or adductor, muscles to rotate the torso and stabilize the hips. (Image credit: Adobe Stock)

These muscles form the sling, and communicate through a band of connective tissue called the linea alba, which divides your abdominal (“six pack”) muscles down the middle. The AOS is largely responsible for producing the rotational movements of the torso. 

For example, let’s say the golfer is right handed. During the backswing, the golfer rotates the torso away (right) from the target, which involves activation of left obliques, right internal oblique, and right adductors. During the downswing and on follow through, the AOS is activated again in reverse to rotate toward the target; right obliques, left internal oblique, left adductors.

 

Here we can see AOS in action; the golfer’s right obliques, left internal oblique, and left adductors are all firing to powerfully rotate the torso and stabilize the pelvis. (Image credit: Adobe Stock) 

 

(Image credit: Adobe Stock)

Summary

Both POS and AOS are major players throughout the rotational movement seen in a golf swing. For a right-handed golfer (such as the two golf pictures above), it looks something like this: 

1. AOS contracts in the way of a golfer’s backswing as weight shifts onto the back foot and the torso rotates towards it.

 2. At the same time, potential energy is being stored in the POS through the stretched latissimus dorsi under the lead (left) arm and opposing (right) buttock muscle.

 3. As downswing commences, AOS forcefully contracts in the opposite direction (towards the ball)

 4. POS releases its stretch in response and assists in rotation and pelvic/torso stability during the downswing

Common Problems With Rotation in Golf

Many golfers aren’t coming to the game from a physically active lifestyle. In fact, people who golf actually tend to be less physically active overall compared to the general population, which can lead to many problems. Here are some common reasons why a golfer’s rotational power might be limited or lacking.

Poor Mobility

Every joint and muscle in the body is involved in a golf swing. We need to be able to control and move ourselves appropriately if we are to hit the ball in the first place, let alone try to fire it hundreds of yards away. If we can’t move our joints through their functional ranges of motion, our body will have to compensate in numerous ways to make up for it.

For example, it is common for golfers to have restricted shoulder range of motion (i.e. not being able to lift their arms fully overhead). If this is the case, the body will try to make up for it by excessively rotating the spine. But because golfers also often lack rotational flexibility in the spine, the risk of overloading stiff tissues and consequent back injury becomes very high.

If you have inadequate internal or external rotation of the hips, the body will again try to compensate in the spine, and even further up the chain into the shoulders. Shoulder and back injuries are two of the most common golf injuries one can sustain, and with the state many of us are in heading out onto the green, it’s no mystery as to why.

During a golf swing, our shoulders will try to compensate for lack of mobility in the scapulothoracic joint (where the shoulder blade meets the rib cage), spine, and hips. If the shoulders are also restricted, golfers tend to overuse their wrists, a major source of wrist injury in golfers. (Image credit: Adobe Stock)

Lack of Coordination

Swinging a golf club is a complex movement pattern that involves the correct timing and coordination of virtually all the muscles in your body. You’ve probably noticed that many beginner golfers have an awkward swing, and it’s because they haven’t yet learned how to combine the many movements involved into one fluid motion.

Unfortunately, faulty exercise habits in the gym further discourage the type of full-body integration we need to effectively (and powerfully) perform a golf swing. If you refer back to the section on Anatomy Slings, you’ll get a sense of how connected the body is. We have to train the body to use all of these muscles together for it to transfer accordingly onto the golf course.

Many people, when they exercise, tend to isolate joints and muscle groups so that they’re only working one thing at a time. This is the exact opposite of real-life, functional performance in any activity, especially golf. Compound, multi-joint, full-body movements should be emphasized, as they are the most likely to carry over to the activity you’re training to be better at.

Faulty Training Methods

This point is heavily related to the one just mentioned, lack of coordination. What many fail to realize is that training the body is teaching the body how you want it to work; how to move and produce force in different movements. You have to be sure you’re teaching it the right lesson, otherwise you are going to fail come test day.

Here’s an example. Refer to the picture below of a machine commonly seen in commercial gyms, the machine trunk rotation. On this machine, the upper body is fixed, while the lower body rotates back and forth. This is exactly 180° out of turn with a golf swing, where the lower body is fixed, and the upper body is rotating. 

(Image credit: bodybuilding-wizard)

A much more suitable exercise would be the ones pictured below, the wood chop and reverse wood chop. Both of these exercises train the anterior/posterior oblique systems correctly, and the strength you build by doing them will directly transfer to the rotational power you produce on the golf course.

The wood chop (left) and reverse wood chop (right) can be done with a cable setup or a free weight such as a medicine ball or dumbbell. They both effectively train the mentioned sling systems and teach your body to rotate as an integrated unit. By performing them in both directions, you also help to mitigate the asymmetrical strength imbalances developed through golfing. (Image credit: Adobe Stock)

Increase Your Rotational Power With Dynamic Golfers!

Developing good rotational power is essential for any golfer looking to improve their game. It requires coordination, mobility, flexibility, and strength throughout the entire body. Training the muscles responsible for rotation can help you avoid injury and generate maximal force in your swing, allowing you to hit longer and more accurate shots. 

Dynamic Golfers was designed to help golfers around the world enjoy the game pain-free. In just 20 minutes a day you can become more flexible, mobile, and stronger with our follow-along, interactive routines that have been designed specifically for you! Give us a try free by signing up for a 7-day trial!

Written by Eric Lister – Certified Personal Trainer & Corrective Exercise Specialist

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