It's often said that you shouldn't have any tension in your swing. This isn't true. You need tension, the thing you don't need is strength. There's a big difference between the two, and if you can't distinguish between them, it may be stopping you from reaching your potential.
To get the feeling of both tension and strength, simply stand up and hang your arms at your side. To feel tension, extend your arms downward to the ground as far as they go. As you do this, you will feel tension in your arms because they are stretched to their longest point. Now to feel strength, make two fists and squeeze as hard as you can. These are two totally different feelings that have two totally different affects on your swing.
This feeling of strength is what most inexperienced players feel when they hit the ball and they mistake it for tension. They get this feeling because they're trying to hit the ball so hard that their arm muscles lock up. This feeling of strength is deceiving though because it also gives the person the feeling of power. If this feeling of strength is removed, the inexperienced player then thinks that they are not going hit the ball as far so, they immediately they tighten up again.
This feeling of strength in your arms will do two things to destroy your swing:
1. It will narrow your swing arc because the feeling of strength makes your arm muscles contract or buckle through and past impact. The narrower your swing arc, the slower the club will swing.
2. It will inhibit the hinging and re-hinging of your wrists also resulting in a slower clubhead speed. The harder you hit, the tighter your wrists will which will also slow the club down.
So how is the clubhead speed increased if you feel tension?
1. To achieve the tension I am talking about, you must allow the arms to be stretched out to their fullest through and past impact. To stretch them out means your muscles cannot be turned on. You have to keep them loose. To understand the increase in arc width, imagine that your golf swing is like picking up a weight and swinging it in a circle on a piece of string. The weight represents your club, the string is your arms, and your body is your hand that is twirling it. As the weight swings, the piece of string will get tense. This is because the weight is stretching it to its longest point. This maximizes its arc. It's this wide arc that allows the weight to swing its fastest. Remember, feeling strength in your arms pulls the clubhead closer to you because it contracts your arm muscles. If your arm muscles contract, it would be like the piece of string getting shorter as you spin the weight not longer. The shorter the piece of string, the slower it will swing.
2. Loosening up the arms, and keeping the muscles turn off, will also loosen up your wrists. To understand how the wrist hinge will help to create clubhead speed, imagine opening a door with rusty hinges and one with well oiled hinges. Obviously, the well oiled hinges will allow the door swing open and closed faster. If your wrists were "well oiled" it would result in more clubhead speed as well. To get the feeling of wrists that are too tight (rusty hinges), try clenching your fists again. This time pay attention to your wrists and how locked up they become when you feel strength in your arms. So allowing the arms to stretch out through and past impact not only maximizes the arc width, but it also loosens your wrists.
Now that you know how detrimental strength is to your swing as opposed to tension, take a look at a few areas where you are likely to feel it:
1. The first area is your grip. Your grip pressure at set up should be 2 out of 10 where 10 is the tightest.
2. In your set up you should feel like your arms are just hanging and there is no strength in them. If you don't start with them stretched out how are they going to stretch out through and past impact?
3. The takeaway is the next area to check. If you take the club away fast, you are turning on your arm muscles. You should take the club away slow and smooth to avoid this arm strength. To feel this, just flip the club upside down so you are gripping the club where the clubhead is (flipping the club this way makes it really light). Now as you take a few practice swings, you can immediately tell if your arms are tightening. Make sure you take the club back slow enough that you don't feel your arms turn on then apply this same feeling to your actual takeaway (once you flip the club around to the correct position).
4. The next area is just as you are going to start your downswing. Remember, human nature is telling you to hit the ball hard. If you follow you instincts, you are guaranteed to feel strength in your arms. So from now on, don't think about hitting anything. A great way to achieve this is to imagine you have a magic marker taped to your clubhead and there's a huge piece of paper you are swinging against. Your objective is to draw the widest circle you can on the piece of paper as you swing down and through past impact. If you can think of this image you will definitely increase the width of your arc and feel the tension in your arms from the club pulling them out.
5. The final area is just before contact. People feel they have to give the shot just that little extra help to get it in the air. In doing so, they also turn on their arms. Remember to keep the image of the weight swinging on a piece of string in your mind as you swing your club. The weight swings freely around an axis pulling the string to its longest point. Your club should be allowed to swing freely around your body so it too, is allowed to swing to its widest point. You don't have to help the ball get in the air.
The next time you go to the practice range, try to get this new feeling of tension that I have described. If you're doing it properly, you can tell because you will probably hit the ground behind the ball a few times. Don't avoid these fat shots. If you try to avoid them, you will do so by tightening your arms again. Just keep hitting shots (even if the club hits the ground behind the ball). Within 20 balls, you'll get used to your new, wider swing arc and start to hit some of the most solid shots of your life!
Until next time,