Building Muscle Memory For Golf
Today, it is extremely rare to hear or read about a professional golfer who did not start his or her game in their teens or earlier. Ben Hogan writes about how, as a youngster, he would hit balls each day while walking several miles to and from school. Jack Nicklaus was first taught by his father and began taking lessons from a pro at age 10. Gary Player would play hooky from school in order to practice his bunker play. Arnold Palmer grew up on a golf course and learned from his father at a very early age.Tiger Woods was on national television at age three, displaying a swing that already was quite grooved. The point here is that most great or even good golfers developed the necessary muscle memory for their swings at early ages in their lives.
The Pro-Head 2 Golf Swing Trainer allows golfers to develop proper muscle memory.
Arnold the “King” and his army were shown on TV in the early 1950′s. He was captivating, to say the least. And he demonstrated a sport that could be played and enjoyed by anyone and particularly, by his Army, many of whom had never before played the game. And so the game of golf was introduced to followers of “Arnie”, and millions of others. Today it is said that there are almost 30 million golfers in the US alone and at least that many throughout the rest of the world. And most of these players did not start at an early age. Are they able to develop the muscle memory required for excellent golf?
Yes they can!
Unlike many sports, golf does not require athleticism. In particular, there is no need for the player to react, no instantaneous time requirement to respond to events outside his/her control. All the golfer has to do is learn to make a good swing and repeat it on demand. This is possible with practice of the right kind. There is no inherent need for great athletic ability. Good hand-eye coordination may reduce the practice requirements, but is not essential for developing a good swing.
The golf swing is a learned motion. Learning a motion is the same as developing muscle memory. Most who have done research in muscle memory (for instance, for bowling or the martial arts — or golf) say that it takes between 1000 and 30,000 repetitions of the motion for it to become your “natural” way of doing it — that is, for the training of muscle memory. A happy medium may be about 10,000 repetitions.
This brings up several challenges for the golf student:
That is a lot of practice. It requires commitment from the golfer, including the likelihood of getting worse before getting better. It demands patience and persistence.
The golf swing is an unnatural and complex motion. The full motion is made up of many elements, such as the grip, the takeaway, the backswing, the swing plane, the downswing, follow through and still others, depending on the instructor. So on what elements of the swing should the golfer focus for muscle memory?
Practice does not make perfect. Practice makes permanent. In order for practice to make perfect, you must practice a perfect swing. So you have to have some sort of feedback to assure yourself that you are not practicing an error. Practicing a wrong swing is worse than no practice at all.
The first issue, the extent of practice, is something the golfer can schedule based on the estimate of 10,000 repetitions. But they have to be correct repetitions. Incorrect practice does not count against the 10,000 correct swings. In fact, it may even damage the muscle memory — cancel out some of those correct swings. You figure it out. You will need a substantial commitment to practice. But other golfers make the commitment and succeed, and you can too.
The second issue, what to focus on, we cover in a companion article. Briefly summarized, there are two things that are common to all good golfers, even with as diverse swings otherwise as Tiger Woods, Jim Furyk, and Lorena Ochoa:
A flat left wrist at impact for the right handed golfer, right wrist for the left handed golfer. Most poor or inconsistent golfers have a cupped wrist at impact.
Keeping their heads down and behind the ball, at and through impact. They are able to see the ball at impact. Most poor and high handicap golfers do not see the ball at impact. Their heads are already searching for the ball in flight.
The third issue, feedback to assure perfect practice, we address below. For the rest of this article, we discusshow to develop muscle memory for the golf swing.
There are lots of ways to acquire feedback for your practice. One is a skilled instructor watching you and telling you what you are doing right and wrong. Another is a video system; if you have learned what to look for, you can see for yourself what you are doing. Perhaps the most economical and efficient feedback method, if you are working on a particular aspect of the swing, is a golf training aid designed to inform you what you are doing.
For instance, a flat wrist at impact is extremely difficult to master because the downswing occurs in hundredths of a second, and the vicinity of impact is only a few milliseconds. It is virtually impossible for any conscious effort to control this element. It takes years of practice for the golfers to gain consistency and feel with this aspect. Golf Professional Rick Smith has developed his SwingGlove to help the golfer learn the muscle memory for a flat wrist at impact. The glove is for practice only, as it is against USGA rules to use such a device in competitive play.
The Medicus is another golf training aid that is aimed at helping the golfer maintain a flat wrist at impact. The Medicus also helps the golfer with other elements of the swing such as the takeaway, the backswing, the downswing and the follow through. Because each golfer has his or her own unique swing characteristics, it is difficult for a single training aid to help with several characteristics of the swing. Jim Furyk, one of the top ten players in the world in 2008, for example would probably not be a good example for the Medicus because of his unorthodox swing planes.
The Swing Jacket is another training aid designed to build muscle memory for the golfer’s swing. It claims to automatically train your body to repeat a perfect swing.
Another interesting training aid is the Explanar, invented by PGA Master Professional Luther Blacklock. This device is designed to change “swing thoughts into swing feelings.” The Explanar focuses on the golfer’s swing plane. It requires repeated swings in a confined plane that translate to feelings. Such repeated and confined swings lead to the development of the proper muscle memory for a grooved and consistent swing.
Whereas all the above mentioned products can help the golfer develop the muscle memory for their designed purposes, none of them are aimed at the critical skill of keeping the head down and back. This is just as amenable to muscle memory training as other aspects of the swing. It has been written that young Nicklaus instructor grabbed him by a lock of his golden blonde hair, held it firmly, and had Jack hit golf balls for hours on end. Jack was forced to keep his head back and behind the ball. Jack learned to see the ball at impact through this muscle memory technique. This same feeling and muscle memory development can be achieved with the PRO- HEAD™ trainer, a full swing training device that keeps the golfer’s head in place throughout the swing. The golfer can swing in slow motion to memorize the feel and motion. The golfer can take full swings and hit real balls to gain the consistency required. With patience and dedicated perfect practice and the use of the PRO-HEAD™ trainer, any golfer of any age can acquire the muscle memory required to see the ball at impact.
Let us leave the subject of training muscle memory with a few warnings, some examples of how to do it wrong.
Too many people try to practice acquiring a particular feeling. For instance, you can try to feel a flat wrist at impact, or the exaggeration of a bowed wrist at impact. (“Bowed” is the opposite of “cupped”, the mistake most golfers make.) There are only a few aspects of the golf swing where this works. For most things that need practice, you need independent feedback. Maybe later in the training you can practice to duplicate a feeling — but only after you have discovered what the feeling really needs to be, using feedback from an instructor or a training aid.
Even more golfers try to correct their faults while watching their ball flight. Human beings are very adaptive, and will make compensations remarkably quickly to correct perceived problems in the ball flight. Do too much of that and you will end up with a golf swing that is just a collection of compensations. You want your muscle memory to reflect a sound swing. So don’t use ball flight as feedback until you are well along in your muscle memory training.
Finally, mere ownership of a training aid will never improve your golf swing. You actually have to practice with it. This should go without saying, of course. But go to yard sales and you’ll meet entirely too many people who bought exercise equipment of one form or another, simply let it sit in the corner, and are now selling it because “it didn’t work for me”.
With commitment, patience, and focused practice with the right training aids, you can and will learn the muscle memory to improve your golf swing.
Pro-Head 2 Golf Swing trainer demonstration.