Saturday, January 4, 2014

Torso Turn

You know...I've made several faux pas on this blog, and if you read through carefully, you'll no doubt find contradictions and errors (because golf instruction is full of contradictions and disagreements), and I've fallen prey to my fair share of fixes and tips, only to change my mind about them later. Remember, the ultimate purpose of this blog was to document my discoveries and breakthroughs, and some of those, unfortunately, turn out to be dead-ends (though some of them may not be dead-ends for you).

Torso Turn in Backswing
Torso Turn in the Backswing

But here's something I've stated a lot on this blog in numerous posts: "shoulder turn." What's the big deal? They turn, right? Well, yes. But we have to be careful, because each shoulder is capable of independent movement with respect to the torso (the rib cage and abdomen). The hips can also make a good deal of movement. The mid-spine (thoracic) and high-spine (cervical) have a wide range of rotation, while the lower spine (lumbar) is mostly limited to up-down movements. Yes, it's possible for you to FAKE a good turn by moving your arms, hips, and shoulder joints. This fake turn doesn't feature a lot of mid-torso movement, which is what we actually need. In other words, the mid-spine should turn the most, with the hips turning to complete the turn. The shoulders and arms MOSTLY go along for the ride.

Henceforth, when you read this blog and see the phrase "shoulder turn," please understand this is really synonymous--and actually more correctly descriptive--with an upper "torso turn." Is it a big deal? Yes. Because the shoulders will turn PASSIVELY when the chest and abdomen rotate back and through. Those muscles in the ribcage, back, and abdomen are the ones to focus on when conducting the takeaway, backswing, downswing, and finish. The shoulders, arms, wrists, and hands (and thus club) just go along for the ride MOSTLY (see gotchas below); there's no real need to consciously move them.

Actually, with just a torso turn, the arms are automatically brought to chest height during the takeaway. All that's necessary for the full arm motion from that point onward is a lift of the hands and club that amounts to about six inches of vertical movement above their address position! The torso turn provides the in, back, and up motion for the arms (i.e., depth), while a slight lift due to the right elbow bending provides the remaining up (i.e., width); no more is needed because of the posture (left shoulder low, right shoulder high). Yes, the arms lift, actually, very little in the backswing, and they DO NOT pull the body back at all! They merely lift up slightly. The hands should feel very wide and far away from your head and shoulders, but there should be no tension in getting there: Swing the hands away wide using your torso and let your arms stop moving when your torso stops turning!

I love to think of the torso as a large cylinder that juts out at an angle from a bulky bipod (legs). Using that analogy, it's much like a large reflecting telescope, pointing approximately 45-degrees into the sky (i.e., forward flexion or spine angle), sitting on a two-legged stand. Now for the backswing and downswing motion, just think of the telescope cylinder itself rotating IN-PLACE clockwise (back) and counter-clockwise (left) [something a real telescope would never do], while maintaining that 45-degree tilt!

If that’s difficult to envision, imagine a large dowel, rod, or pole that runs through the mid-back and through each latissimus dorsi muscle, about 3 inches below each armpit and extends out from the body about a foot on either side. The focus here is to first point the “lat dowel” at the ball and then “hit” the ball with the other end of the “lat dowel.” On the backswing, point the left side of the dowel down towards or even behind the ball for a big windup. Midway through the downswing, the dowel will be roughly parallel with the ground on both sides. Just after impact, the right side of the dowel will point down towards the ball, indicating that you have used lateral bend. At the finish, the right side of the dowel will point forward and to the right of the target, depending on your flexibility. At all times the imaginary “lat dowel” has rotated around on a tilted plane, which is ironically the visual analogy that is often used for the shoulder line. But remember that each shoulder has a generous range of independent movement in multiple directions, which makes it easy to fake a good torso turn by moving the shoulder joints. Moving the “lat dowel” eliminates the cheating. The "lat dowel” analogy is a very effective swing thought for the short game: chipping, pitching, greenside bunkers, and putting too.

A swath of golfing problems will disappear when you learn to maintain your posture or spine angle and simply turn the upper torso back and through (i.e., use the torso muscles to turn). Many of the aspects of the swing that are taught independently are suddenly addressed, automatically. I've found more power and consistency with increased lag, because the wrists are less likely to flip. I've found that my hips don't move as much in relation to my upper body. Posture or spine angle maintenance is reinforced, such that the shoulders rotate perpendicular to the forward flexion angle. The tension in the left lat muscle--the sign of a good backswing coil--suddenly shows up. Because the arms, wrists, and hands are passive, the angle of the club face stays in the correct position in the takeaway, mimicking the spine angle. I've found the same torso motion is used, more or less, in every golfing stroke, including chipping and putting.

As the shoulders turn in response to the torso turn, forget the "left shoulder to right foot" tenet; focus instead on the right shoulder and ensure that it gets as near as possible to the RIGHT foot (i.e., the sternum should be over the inside of the right foot), which automatically creates the necessary tilt behind the ball and prohibits reverse pivoting while preserving a proper coil. This thought is especially important for the driver, but a more centered pivot might be the ticket for irons, pitch shots, and chips.

The gotchas (at least for me): Ensure the arms are lifting at the same rate your mid-torso is turning to keep your arms in front of you. You should be able to--during rehearsals--look at the club head during the takeaway and notice that it's still well outside the hands and the club face angle matching the spinal posture. If you just let the arms go and focus only on turning the mid-torso, you may suck the club inside early and then lift the arms late; the left arm ends up too far behind you and pinned too much across the chest, when the hands and club should stay in front of the chest. This error can cause some plane shift problems (e.g., laid off) and waywards shots. Also, a subtle bump into the left leg (weight shift) should be sandwiched between the torso turn back and through to help ensure an inside-out swing. Be aware of the tendency for the arms to collapse at the top; the arms should stop moving when the torso turn is complete; the arms should be relatively straight and tension-free; and the hands should be well away from your head, signifying a wide swing arc with no possibility of a collapse.

The turn away and back to and through the ball is accomplished by turning your torso. It is so often referred to by teachers and players as a shoulder turn, that many people believe that is the part of the body that should turn. This is confusing for new players and causes both new and experienced players to make the wrong move.

When you consciously think of making a shoulder turn, instead of rotating your torso, your move will be to force your left shoulder back. When you do that, your left shoulder comes up or flattens in golf terminology.

Quit Calling it the Shoulder Turn!

Mistakes occur when the hands or wrists initiate the first movement. Start to bring the club back using your torso and shoulders, not your wrists and forearms.

3 Keys for a Smooth Takeaway

The arms can be the culprits [of posture loss] if they initiate the swing by pulling the turn of the torso. The torso starts the backswing by rotating to the right, maintaining the address spine angle and the arms following.

Pinewild Country Club of Pinehurst

The first move away from the ball is absolutely essential. The hands, arms, stomach and chest must all turn together, as a unit. If you can't manage that, well, good luck, you've got very little chance to hit a good shot. But if you do manage it, you then have only to hinge the wrists and turn the shoulders to complete a perfect backswing. It's as simple as that. I've eliminated the complexity. I sincerely believe that anyone who masters these three easy backswing steps will have a rock-solid golf swing for life.

The Backswing - Nick Faldo

To turn more, you need to turn your torso during the backswing. As you swing back, try to turn your bellybutton 45 degrees to the right.

Backswing Shoulder Turn: How to Turn More

What is the pivot? The pivot is a blend of weight shift and a circular turning of the body. Or said another way, the pivot is both a lateral and a rotational movement of the hips, and the rotational movement of the torso and shoulders.

The Pivot and a Flat Left Wrist

One of the most confusing terms in golf instruction is "shoulder turn". Instructors that talk about shoulder turn to describe the amount of body turn during the backswing are hurting their students. What this means is if you start your backswing by pulling the club away with your hands, you may be hurting your swing right at the start of the backswing.

Instead of pulling the club away with your hands, push the club away with the turning of your chest. It will maintain the arms/body geometry and increase your chances of an on-center strike.

A Golf Backswing Mistake to Avoid

Early arm lift to line the left arm up with the turn and keep the hands in front of the chest…GOOD!!!!!!

[L] ate arm lift because the left arm is across the chest and the hands and club are way behind the turn…BAD!!!!

The left arm must lift

Getting the right shoulder over the right foot (lefts for lefties) helps you keep tilt behind the ball, gets you into position to have a shallow AoA [angle of attack] and no room for your arms to over run your turn.

Guess what…lag city.

Monte Scheinblum's Blog

So, summing up, for the production of power, a golfer should have a neutral (comfortably straight) spine at address. During the backswing, the thorax should rotate a lot relative to the hips; and the shoulders should rotate perpendicular to the spine angle which was set up at address. During the downswing, the spine should remain in its forward flexion, at least until impact, and the left hip should rise at that stage.

Anatomy of the Golf Swing – The Trunk/Torso

"While the arms do swing up and down and the wrists hinge and set, these motions are secondary to torso rotation," Parees said. "That is what creates the majority of speed in the swing."

PGA Golf Instructors | Golf Tips To Improve Your Golf Game

From a physics standpoint, a longer coil has more power, so in the back swing you might try to turn back from the mid-section to lengthen your torso coil rather than thinking of turning with only the shoulders.

Hip Sway in Golf - How to Add Club Head Speed

The term "shoulder turn" is misleading. You can easily make what looks like a full turn by pushing your left shoulder under your chin and lifting your right shoulder behind your head. That’s a full shoulder turn, isn’t it? Maybe, but it’s far from what you need to make a great golf swing.

What you really need to do is to make a full chest turn, turning your whole upper torso a full 90 degrees so that your back faces the target, and your sternum faces directly away from the target. When done correctly, this will create a high degree of separation (the "X-factor") between your hips and your shoulders, stretching the large, powerful muscles of your core, generating lag and putting you in the correct position to execute a fantastic transition and downswing sequence.

Drill 302. Backswing: Making a Full Shoulder Turn

Core Rotation: A big part of Sam’s [Snead] power comes from the core rotation of his body and flows through his arms and hands, down the shaft and into the clubhead. Shoulder turn? Yes, it’s important. However, without core rotation you’ve only got about 50 – 60 percent of your normal power. Imagine throwing a baseball without turning your core. Not much power there. Look at how far Sam turns his core especially in his hips.

5 Swing Keys to Consider in Sam Snead’s Swing – and Yours!

One of the more frequent mistakes I see golfers make is to stand up or lose their body angles through impact – the "stand and deliver" move! The loss of body angles or posture causes the body to stop rotating and as a result the hands now assume the responsibility of squaring the clubface. Remember – if the body does not rotate to clubface square, then the hands will help out. This move is very difficult to time, especially under pressure, and often leads to the hands overworking or flipping through impact. If the hands rotate the clubface too early the shot misses left and if they’re a touch late, then the shot misses right.

Hands Flipping

As you stand to the ball with the wrists slightly up, there is a straight line practically from the club head up the shaft and along your arm to the left shoulder, and as your hands are already waist high it needs only the inclining of the shoulders as we turn (on the pivot) to bring them shoulder high, without having altered their relative positions at all.

They [the arms] have not been lifted. They have gone up in response to the shoulder movement. This accounts for the curtailment and the control of the modern swing.

The Controlled Golf Swing

Finishing the backswing with a turn of the body, instead of a lifting of the arms, makes it easier to match up the timing and peak speed sequence of the arm swing and body rotation throughout the downswing to impact.

Golf Swing Synchronization

If the elbows bend, we shorten our radius and are not consistent with the position and length of our arms/club. Makes it much more difficult to return back to impact in the same position that we started (the goal). Also, elbow bending lends to "arm lifting". Having the arms take over and lift on their own, is the worst move for the golf swing. No power or repeatability. Lifting is a very weak move and the shoulders will stop rotating.

Move Less … Get Good!


  1. Shane,

    I've been a student of the golf swing for 30 years and have never come across this information before. On a whim, I began to swing this way about a week ago to great success, then did a web search afterwards for torso turn controlled by lats, etc., and found your site. You've hit the nail on the head and what you've described is exactly what I've experienced. What's amazing is how quickly I've been able to transition from an "arm swinger" to a "torso turner." My plane is better and the shape of my divots is much better.

    I'm seeing truer, more powerful shots, and my fades/slices have turned into draws and straight shots overnight. I thought this swing might cause some spasms or back pain, but I've experienced no pain or discomfort whatsoever. The torso leads and the arms follow.

    This method is great for chips and putts as well. It's much easier to regulate the backswing length with the torso rather than the arms.

    Thank You!

    1. R, great! I'm so happy it helped you. I'm working on ground reaction forces right now.