Reverse Engineering Swing Speed
The potential benefits of club head speed have become clearly illustrated with modern golf analytics. It is now also extremely easy to measure. Longer drives off the tee and shorter clubs from each approach distance are extremely desirable for all golfers. It seems all levels of player are searching for more. This has lead to a number of different approaches becoming popular, and opinions on what is “the best way” even more popular.
In this recent video I summarized my approach into a 4 part model:
1) Intent – How much of your overall focus is on swinging as fast as you can, compared to other things? This will be an important area of exploration for players of all ability levels as there will almost certainly be a trade off between intent to swing as fast as possible and quality of shot execution.
Why Intent? Part of increasing swing speed is strategy. There must be a conscious decision made to start swinging faster on the course. This is a mental challenge. Whilst there’s no doubt that modern equipment has hugely changed what happens a “mishit”, the vast majority of even tour level players do not swing as fast as they can on the course.
I know this from tracking the swing speeds of the tour players I train on the range when trying to swing as fast as they can, versus their ShotLink Data from within PGA Tour events. I have also talked to many players I do not train, about this gap between range and course. I estimate most tour players average swing speed in tournament play leaves at least 5 mph in the tank, and some are closer to 10mph. Even though modern equipment is great, balls can go extremely far offline at speeds in the 115-125mph range. The coordination and skill to keep a ball in play at 100% maximum speed is still extremely challenging, even for the best players in the world. If it wasn’t they would swing 100% on all their drives, but they don’t.
For amateur golfers whom have a lower skill level, and fear mishits even more, I estimate from my experience that they probably have a 5-15mph gap between their on course speed, and how fast they can actually swing.
Wondering about the potential benefit of swing speed? The most efficient players on tour get approximately 2.5 yards for each mph of swing speed.
The real metric we are trying to change is of course ball speed, as that is very closely correlated with total distance. The three main things affecting ball speed are, swing speed, centeredness of strike, and launch conditions. To assess your centeredness of strike, start spraying the face of your driver with strike spray during practice. To assess your launch conditions, book a lesson with a instructor who has a launch monitor, and knows how to use it.
2) Biomechanics – Advancements in technology are not just limited to clubs and balls. The ability to measure and analyse things like 3D movement of the golfer and the club, ground reaction forces, and muscle activation with wearable EMG provides amazing insight into how speed is being created in the golf swing. When it comes to producing swing speed, it is essential to get physics on your side. In simple terms this means how you move your body and the club. Biomechanics and Physical Capabilities will be closely linked and can’t really be fully separated, as one will influence the other.
Why Biomechanics? A golfer with a high level of Intent, and great Physical Capabilities will not be able to maximise their swing speed without using mechanics that are advantageous.
What are advantageous biomechanics for swing speed? This is a whole science in itself, and where I have been trying to spend a lot of my study time in the last 12 months. Sasho Mackenzie, Steve Furlonger, Lee Cox, and John Novosel are fantastic resources and have been very helpful.
Biomechanics principles to consider for swing speed:
Hand Path Length: Increasing the distance your hands travel in the backswing is very beneficial for increasing swing speed. The reason for this is that it gives us more time to apply force on the downswing. This is because of a scientific term called impulse.
Impulse = Force x Time.
To think about this from a very basic viewpoint, consider how much speed you can generate when your hands come back to the height of your trousers pocket. Now consider how much speed you can create when you bring your hands back to the height of the buttons on your shirt. Much faster. We can apply this same idea to swing speed for full swings. A longer hand path will likely be beneficial as it increases the time element of the impulse equation. Your mobility and technique will have a huge influence on your hand path length. From a mobility standpoint, the hips, thoracic spine, and lead shoulder are extremely important. The GolfFlex Mobility Routine in the Fit For Golf App was designed to target these important areas and how they move in the swing. From a technique standpoint, raising the left heel in the backswing and allowing the hips rotate more will make a huge difference in how far your hands can travel.
Hand Path Force: The average force applied to the grip in the downswing can have a huge impact on swing speed.
Remember the impulse equation.
Impulse = Force x Time.
As explained above we can increase the time element of this equation with a longer hand path, and we can increase the average force applied with better technique and stronger muscles which allow you pull on the grip with more force.
Earlier in the article I wrote that there is always overlap between biomechanics and physical characteristics. This is a good example. The average force applied will come down to technique and physical strength. If you have great technique but low strength levels you won’t be applying a high average force. Conversely, if you are very strong, but have terrible technique, you won’t do a good job of applying your high force potential to the club in the right direction, or at the right time.
While reading some of this biomechanics stuff you might be thinking “how the heck am I supposed to think of this stuff while I swing”? That is a very fair point. The idea is not to swing with all of these thoughts cluttered in your head. Understanding the science behind what generates swing speed just allows you to confirm or question whether what you are working on with your technique and physical training is on the right track. That’s really what all this science is going to boil down in a practical sense anyway. Improve technique and improve physical capabilities. The underpinning science is essential for working on things that may help. All too often people put a lot of time and effort into things that can’t possibly yield big returns.
3) Physical Capabilities – The only thing in the human body that can produce force is muscle. The “signal” or message that is sent to the muscle to produce force is controlled by the Central Nervous System (CNS). As a result it goes without saying that methods of training which enhance the CNS’s and muscles ability to produce force and produce it quickly are absolutely critical in the quest for improving swing speed. As a “physical trainer” this is where the vast majority of my education and experience is.
Of course, the structure of our skeleton also needs to be included in this section (and will also affect biomechanics). Things like height, limb length, limb proportions, hand size, and a whole host of other things can have a very important role in our ability to produce club head speed. These are untrainable however, which is why the focus is on force development with the structure we have.
Why Physical Capabilities? A golfer with a high level of Intent and excellent Biomechanics will be limited in how much club head speed they can create by their ability to produce force. LPGA Tour Players & Champions Tour Players don’t swing as fast as PGA Tour players (for the most part). Why is this? Is it technique? Is it intent? I think the answer is quite clearly physical capabilities. Pushing this further, what physical capabilities have the biggest impact? The answer is a mix between mobility and power. In general, LPGA Tour players will be more flexible than PGA Tour players, yet there is a 20mph difference between the average swing speed of the two tours. Why is this? Some of it will be due to the differences in height, but this is not coming close to making up the 20mph difference. Players from both tours are exceptionally skilled, and have great technique, so I don’t think that’s the main reason. How about muscle mass, muscle strength, and muscle power? This is where the big difference lies.
What about if we compare the Champions Tour to the LPGA Tour? There is a 10mph difference between the average swing speed, with the Champions Tour players being 10mph faster on average. I can assure you that the mobility on the LPGA Tour is better than the Champions Tour, so again, mobility isn’t the answer.
Mobility is very important, but only to a certain point, and only if you use it to enhance to mechanics of your swing. This will primarily mean by either increasing the length of your hand path, or improving your sequencing in the transition and downswing. If your mobility work does not do this, it probably won’t do anything for your swing speed. On the contrary, continual increases in muscular strength and power, especially in the correct muscles and movements, will keep transferring to increased hand path force to a much greater extent.
*The above info is by no means a knock on LPGA tour players. I am just trying to provide some real world examples that may be easy to understand for illustration purposes*
4) Equipment: Finding the right equipment for you can play an important role in your ability to produce swing speed (and ball speed). I am definitely not an expert in this, but factors like grip thickness, shaft length, shaft weight, shaft flex, the overall weight of the club, and how this weight is distributed can all play a role in how much swing speed you can create. I am sure there are more I am leaving out too. Contact an expert club fitter!!!
Why Equipment? If you gave a golfer with high levels of Intent, superb Biomechanics, and extremely impressive Physical Capabilities, but they have inappropriate equipment their swing speed and certainly ball speed will not be maximised.
Improving The 4 Elements
- Intent is something that you need to experiment with. The vast majority of people do not swing at 100% maximum effort when playing on the course. The reason for this is simple. Even though it might maximise club head speed, it can cause issues with control and coordination. This can lead to mistrikes which can end up with a slower ball speed and distance than a slower swing with better contact, and also huge, punishing misses.
An important point to consider however is that there is no guarantee that by trying to swing faster you will hit the ball less solidly or further offline. The attempt to “hold back” or “guide” the ball can also lead to issues. You will need to experiment. (Check out my podcast episode with John Novosel of TOUR TEMPO where he discusses this).
The ability to swing closer to 100% of your maximum speed while simultaneously improving strike and accuracy can be improved through deliberate practice. If you are used to swinging at 90% of your maximum speed, and start trying to swing at 100% speed, it is completely normal and to be expected that strike and accuracy may suffer at first. The key is that you don’t throw in the towel after 5 shots and say “what’s the point of swinging at this speed, I can’t control it”? These types of skills take lots of effort, repetition, and patience to significantly improve.
An often forgotten benefit of training at 100% maximum speed is that as your maximum speed goes up it makes your 90% and 95% speeds go up too. This is hugely beneficial for when you decide (if you do) to dial back down to “playing speed”. This is the called the “speed reserve”.
At the end of the day swing speed governs your distance potential. It also declines with age if you do not work on it proactively. If you are over the age of 30 and not working on your speed, you’re gradually getting slower. Fortunately, speed can be increased at any age.
If you don’t strike the ball reasonably solidly, your lowest hanging fruit is improving your contact. If you do strike the ball solidly and you have good launch conditions, but your “optimised shots” don’t go as far as you’d like, you must increase swing speed. Most people can benefit from a mix of both launch conditions and speed!
2. Biomechanics improve through practice. Most players see automatic changes to biomechanics that aid swing speed as soon as they start training to swing faster. A good coach can really expedite this process however. Do your research and find a coach who specialises in helping players with increasing swing speed if this is something you really want to do.
Here are some simple ideas you can experiment with right away, and see how they impact your speed.
(You need a radar for speed training)
-Increase takeaway and backswing speed
-Increase length of hand path in the backswing. Allow your lead heel raise and your lower body rotate more to assist this.
-Try to swing your arms faster on the downswing.
-Explode off your lead foot in the downswing near impact.
Some of these pointers crossover with Intent but that’s always going to be the case. Try them out, and see what works for you.
PS – I am not a golf instructor – this not advice. Just info you can experiment with if you want to. I think it has good rationale.
Below is drill #1 from “Speed Series” on the Fit For Golf App
3. Physical Capabilities desirable for the ability to create high swing speed are not complicated. We want enough mobility to make as long a backswing as we’d like and enable good sequencing, and we want as much muscle power as possible. As a result, our training should be largely made up of things that can improve these two things.
We should be:
-Striving to improve mobility in the hips, spine, and shoulders.
-Working on increasing muscle size and strength with progressively overloaded strength training. Bigger muscles are stronger muscles and can produce more force. This is hugely under appreciated in the “golf fitness world”.
-Doing some light weight explosive movements like jumping and medicine ball throwing & slamming. These help bridge the gap between strength training and swing speed training. They develop the ability to produce force at faster rates. They also allow us train movement patterns that are much more similar to the golf swing, which is great for learning how to apply high levels of force in full body rotational movements, similar to the golf swing. If you can combine bigger and stronger muscles and the ability to produce force at faster rates, you are on track to huge club head speed gains.
-Practicing swinging golf clubs / speed training tools as fast as possible. This is how you make your strength and power gains “golf specific”. You learn how to tap into them when making a golf swing. There are also very beneficial specific muscular and nervous system adaptations that come from high speed training. It is very different to heavy strength training. We must train for them to achieve best results. You need to be measuring and tracking your swing speeds in these sessions.
Strength training examples: If you can progressively increase your 5 rep maximum in each of the movements below over the course of a couple of years, you will be in a fantastic position in terms of strength and power for golf. Your mobility will likely improve too. Start with a weight that you can easily perform 5 reps with. Gradually add weight until 5 reps becomes challenging. This will be your starting weight for each exercise. Try to add 5 lbs to the bar each time you workout. 3 sets of 5 reps is a good amount of sets and reps to use. If you don’t like barbells or free weights, you can choose similar machine exercises.
This is where the plug for the Fit For Golf App comes in. Your first month is just $6 with the code FFGTRIAL. You get access to ALL of my programs and speed training protocols. If you don’t like it or don’t want to keep going, just cancel. It’s a $6 investment. You will probably gain 5mph in the first month if you follow the program and speed training protocols.
4. Equipment – See a club fitter and get some lessons on a launch monitor. This article is not the place for that discussion, and I am not qualified to speak on it!.
Conclusion: I hope you enjoyed this article and you have learned some information you can apply to your overall golf development plan. If you have any questions you can send an email via the contact form, or leave a comment below. I’d love to help.
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