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Power Essentials Part 2: X Factor Golf Swing – Not So Fast


In the continuation of the Power Essentials Series, we delve into the enigma of the X-Factor within the golf swing. Unveiling the secrets behind maximizing power and efficiency in your X factor golf swing, this article explores the crucial role of the X-Factor.

To get the bad joke out of the way immediately….No I’m not going to write about the X-Factor TV show.

What is “X-Factor”?

X-Factor (XF) is a much-talked-about and debated measure in the golf instruction world and even though you may have never heard of the term, you already know what it is. XF is simply the difference between torso rotation and pelvis rotation at the top of the back swing. Some people may refer to it as the difference between shoulder turn and hip turn.

The term “X-Factor” was popularised by the famous golf instructor Jim McClean in a 1992 edition of Golf Magazine.

X-Factor in Detail

The rationale for the X-Factor is explained by something called the “stretch-shortening cycle” (SSC). The SSC explains the type of muscular contractions that are taking place, and how muscles can use elastic energy to improve force production. It is well known that muscles can produce more force if they are pre-loaded with stretch before a contraction.  The vertical jump is a perfect example of this. We can jump higher if we squat down and rapidly change direction before jumping compared to if squatt down – pause for a number of seconds – then jump. Rapidly stretching muscles that are about to be used, loads them (and the tendons) with elastic energy that can be expressed as we jump.

Javelin using elastic energy to generate power

Javelin throwers know all about elastic energy. Big stretch of the trunk and torso muscles before ripping it forward.The golf swing works in a similar fashion. During the backswing some of the muscles of the the thighs, hips, trunk, torso, and shoulders are stretched or pre-loaded, which enables a more powerful contraction in the downswing. This “loading” is something that higher handicap players / short hitters don’t tend to do very well. The good news is that it is trainable. There is a great mobility drill in the video below if if you struggle with this.

Is XF Necessary?

The importance of the X-Factor is STRONGLY disputed in the golf instruction world, and many teachers believe the more XF at the top of the back swing, the more stress there is on the lower back. The biggest area of debate is whether the lower body should resist rotation in the back swing, or if it should freely rotate.

I’m not a golf instructor and won’t pretend to be one, but this is as much about biomechanics, and athletic movement as it is the golf swing. For maximising club head speed I am definitely not in favour of a resisting lower body. For the vast majority of people this will lead to way too little hip and shoulder turn in the back swing making it very difficult to produce maximum power in the downswing. It will also put more stress on the lower back. I also like the left heel raising in the back swing, as it makes this much easier. 

This doesn’t mean we don’t or shouldn’t create XF in the back swing. If we didn’t create XF, and our hips and shoulders turned the same amount we would just be spinning. This also doesn’t make any sense. Think of throwing a pitch, punching something, hitting a tennis forehand. We need a differential between our shoulders and hips to stretch the muscles of our torso. More might not equal better once we have a certain amount however, and maximising this differential shouldn’t be our focus. We can allow both our upper and lower bodies to rotate and still create XF. This will allow us create a big backswing turn, which gives plenty of time for speed to be produced in the downswing. This is a really important point: The more time we have to produce speed in the downswing, the easier it is to produce speed. Bigger turns and longer back swings give us more time to produce force on the downswing. This can obviously be taken too far and lead to issues which affect speed. 

When we dive deeper into the available golf research, it clearly shows us that the X-factor golf swing is not the main determining factor for generating high levels of club head speed, but it does play a part. As mentioned earlier, the “X-factor Stretch,” which talks about the increase in shoulder and hip separation in the the transition from the backswing to the downswing, will be discussed in the next post. This is when things get really interesting.

Thoracic Rotation To Improve Mobility

For now though, here is an exercise you can practice to improve your ability to turn. Regardless of your swing beliefs – thoracic rotation aka shoulder turn is not something you want to be limited in.

The seated position in this exercise stops you from turning your hips, isolating your thoracic spine and rib cage. I recommend about 5 reps each side, and it can be done as often as desired. To see improvements I recommend doing it at least every other day.

If you are really interested in taking your golf, fitness, and health to the next level, you might be interested in the
Fit For Golf App. Over 8000 golfers have gone through programs on the app. The workouts can be done from home or at the gym.

Common results are:

  • 5-10mph increases in club head speed
  • 10-30 yard increases in driving distance
  • More mobility, strength, and power
  • Decrease in nagging aches and pains
  • Leaner with less body fat
  • Reductions in handicap