The Right Way to Make a Powerful Golf Backswing
It’s estimated that it takes low handicap golfers or pros only around 1/5th of a second to move their club from the top of the backswing to impact. The true elite of long hitters will do so even more quickly.
This means that for a golf backswing to be effective it must position the arms, body, clubhead, and clubface in exactly the right position at the top.
There simply isn’t time on the downswing for the brain and muscles to consciously compensate for any errors - certainly not consistently.
Fortunately, though, the execution of a technically correct and powerful backswing is not nearly as difficult as is often suggested - always provided that a few fundamental principles are followed.
The Golf Backswing Sequence
Assuming a solid setup, posture, and takeaway, the rest of the backswing should really be quite simple and consists in essence of a horizontal turn of the body around the spinal axis, combined with a simultaneous vertical upward swing of the arms.
This combination should set the club perfectly on plane without any conscious effort to do so. Indeed, one of the few ways to really mess up your backswing is to try to consciously manipulate the plane by swinging the arms deliberately inside the vertical.
The Golf Backswing Takeaway
Usually, this is a response to the often-heard instruction that the downswing should bring the club from inside to out, and is thought to be a way of avoiding the dreaded slice that plagues so many handicap players.
But given proper posture, the club will just naturally move inside the line with the turn of the body. It can’t do anything else unless consciously manipulated in some way.
Making Use of the Natural Backswing in Golf
The Bending of the Trail Arm
Likewise, if you keep the lead arm (the left for a right-hander) straight, as you have during the takeaway, the trail (usually right) arm will just naturally bend and tuck into your side as your hands travel upwards.
Exactly when this happens will depend on your flexibility and general physical condition, but happen it will unless you deliberately try to keep it straight throughout.
Try this at home without club or ball, and you’ll quickly realize what an uncomfortable and inefficient way to swing this would be. In fact, the bending of the right arm is an important part of the power loading that occurs during the backswing - this power being released into the clubhead and ball as the arm straightens during the downswing.
The Cock of the Wrists
In the same way, your wrists should bend (cock) naturally as the momentum of the club builds during the back or upswing.
Again there is no need to consciously cock the wrists. It will happen when it happens, according to your physique and swing type, and the only way of preventing it – supposing you wanted to - is to consciously fight it in a way that is both uncomfortable and unproductive.
Of course, there’s more (but not much more) than this to creating a really strong golf backswing - notably the way in which the lower body should respond to the upper body’s rotation.
What is the correct backswing in golf?
With the back swing, what we're really focused on is the REF, an acronym that I created, rotation elevation flexion. We're going to rotate our body. We're going to elevate our arms at our shoulders and flex the right arm, and this one's going to rotate a little bit, and this is the whole movement during the back swing while turning and shifting our weight. That's it. The movements can't get any simpler than that.
How do you do a proper backswing?
Stand straight up, elevation, flexion, get into your posture, rotation. Stand straight up, elevation, flexion, get into your posture, rotation. Notice that my elbow is still in front of my shoulder. I didn't do anything with my arms when I added rotation. I just transported them as a unit with my torso rotation.
How far back should golf backswing be?
Your arms need to stay in front of your body, and to do that, they only move vertically. If your arms are moving side to side, your arms will always end up buried, flat, and deep behind you.
How do I practice the perfect backswing?
RotarySwing instructors teach the entire backswing by focusing their students' attention on these three little letters: REF.
Rotation is for the rotating body and the rotating forearms during the backswing. Both are ALWAYS rotating throughout the entire swing until impact when the body slows down and the golf club fully releases.
Elevation refers to the way the arms work vertically up and down in front of the rotating rib cage during the backswing.
Flexion refers to the very late bending of the right arm in the backswing.
If you're like most amateur golfers out there, learning the golf backswing is like learning a foreign language. How do pro golfers make it look so easy and yet no matter how hard you practice, you still look like you're wrestling an alligator! I'm going to break learning the golf backswing into 3 simple keys so you can look like the pros at the top and start becoming a more consistent ball striker.
It Starts with the Golf Takeaway
A great backswing in golf starts with a perfect takeaway because the backswing is just a continuation of the same movements you initiated the takeaway with. What are those? I'm glad you asked!
2" Shoulder Blade Glide
One of your primary goals during the takeaway is to start making a centered turn. In other words, you don't want your head swaying off the ball as you begin to rotate your chest away from the ball. This is where most golfers make their biggest mistake.
You have two options for how you create this movement, you can push or you can pull in the takeaway. That makes it simple enough, doesn't it?
A push "moves away from center" while a pull "moves toward center". Knowing that you don't want your head to move very far off the ball during this phase of the takeaway, you now know that you want to PULL during the takeaway.
This pulling motion is what keeps your head centered during the entire backswing and it happens automatically so use physics to your advantage! Keeping your head centered is critical for becoming a consistent ball striker - golf is hard enough without your head moving all over the place! The golf ball might as well be rolling while you try to hit it if your head is severely moving off the ball like it does in most golfer's backswings.
So, how do we pull? With your shoulder blade!
Yep, for right handed golfers, to initiate the perfect golf takeaway, all you need to do is pull your right shoulder behind your head. Get up and try it now!
If you watch yourself in a mirror (which is how you should ALWAYS practice your golf swing!) you'll be AMAZED at how your head stays perfectly centered during the entire backswing when you focus on just pulling your right shoulder back.
Now, try and push your left shoulder under you chin like you hear the TV pundits say all the time and watch what happens. Remember - a push ALWAYS moves AWAY from center and your job in the golf swing is to REMAIN CENTERED!
As they say, don't take my word for it, the proof is in the pudding and I always say the mirror never lies!!
So, you can now see for yourself the magic of the RotarySwing golf swing method because we leverage the power of physics to make your golf swing simple!
Now that you can start to see how simple the perfect golf takeaway really can be, how do we get to the top of the backswing?
Finishing the Golf Backswing
Once you complete the takeaway with your pulling motion, don't stop! You simply continue pulling your right shoulder blade behind your head until you make a full shoulder turn! And yes, YOU can make a full shoulder turn in the backswing no matter how inflexible you think you are!
I can't tell you how many golfers I've had come to me complaining that they can't make a full shoulder turn because they lack flexibility. I've even had more than 20 students who have spent over $10,000 to go to the Titleist Performance Institute only to be sent home with a stretching routine to help them make a full shoulder turn.
Guess what, the stretching routine did NOTHING for them, yet I was able to get every single one of these golfers to make a full 90* shoulder turn in less than 60 seconds for FREE! Well, ok they had to pay me $500 buck an hour for the golf lesson, but I still saved them $9500 over TPI and actually fixed their problem!
Watch this video to see how you can make a full shoulder turn and save yourself $9500 and a trip to California!
You see, if you're not making a full shoulder turn, it's because you're not prioritizing turning your rib cage.
Instead, you're focused on moving the club with your arms, hands and shoulders. And when this happens you inevitably start pushing from the left side. This stretches the muscles in the left shoulder girdle and creates tremendous tension.
And guess what your body wants to do with tension?? You guessed it! Your brain starts screaming "release the cracken" or I'm going to get injured!
So, you've created enough tension that you feel fully loaded up and powerful but the only muscles you've really loaded are those in your left shoulder!
You need 32 pounds of muscle mass to generate enough horsepower to swing the golf club over 100 mph - I can assure you that you don't have that kind of muscle mass in your left shoulder girdle alone, so you end up making a weak, over the top move and no matter how hard some golf instructor tells you to try and swing more from the inside, finish your turn, etc. you can't overcome your brain's instinct to protect you from injury and you spend your entire life slapping the ball all over the place.
Stop the insanity!
Just pull your right shoulder blade back behind your head and make that your priority rather than moving that damn golf club and see what happens in the mirror!
So, to make an awesome golf backswing, all you need to do is keep pulling that right shoulder behind your head as this moves your torso and loads up the big muscles in your core where we can recruit enough muscle fiber to get you hitting the ball from the back tees with the big boys!
But, if you want to keep moving up a set of tees each year as you get older and eventually play from the ladies tees, then by all means, keep shoving that left arm across your chest!
But, if you want virtually unlimited power in your golf swing, then loading up the big muscles in your golf backswing is the name of the game.
What About the Arms in the Backswing?
If the body is moving correctly, then and only then do we ever worry about what the arms are doing in the golf swing. You see, most golfers have it completely backwards, the only thing they care about is what the golf club is doing, but that's the just the tail wagging the dog!
The BODY IS THE ENGINE OF THE GOLF SWING!
Your trunk is the only place you have enough muscle mass to swing the golf club with any real speed so your focus had better be on moving your torso correctly during the backswing and the downswing.
But assuming your body is working correctly, I have a very simple way to get your arms to a perfect position at the top of the backswing, all you have to do is learn my little achronym REF.
Rotation is your body rotating like we've just been talking about, but not just your body. Your arms, and thus your club face is ALWAYS rotating throughout the entire golf swing! Always!
No matter what Johnny Miller says, NO ONE holds the club face square to the target through the hitting area unless they want to hit a big ol' slice. EVERYONE RELEASES the club face through the strike. On average, tour pros rotate the club face around 250 degrees per second through impact, while most amateurs are rotating around 1200 degrees per second!
Why are the pros releasing the club face so must slower than the average amateur? Great question, I like the way you're thinking!
Think about it for a second, what is the most common swing fault in all of amateur golf?
The dreaded over the top pull slice. When you swing the golf club over the top, it is being swung on a steep swing plane that in many cases is near vertical.
It's almost as if the golfer is swinging an axe, hence the golf slang "chopping wood"!
When you swing an axe on a vertical plane, how much does the head of the axe want to rotate?
Hopefully, not at all or that axe is going to bounce off the wood and straight back at you!
However, swing that very same axe on a horizontal plane and watch what happens! It wants to rotate during the entire swing and it would feel very unnatural to try and prevent this natural tendency to rotate during the swing.
The golf club is being swung on an inclined plane which is a blend of the two, hence the club face is always rotating during the golf swing.
So, to make a long story short, when you try to swing the golf club like an axe and "chop wood", the club face will start down from the top of the backswing on a vertical plane with a wide open face that doesn't want to close.
The golfer senses the face is open and in a futile last second act of desperation, tries to flip the face square with the hands.
Of course, this is impossible to time consistently and is the simple reason explained with physics why most golfers suck at golf!
The pro golfer, on the other hand, swings the golf club down on plane and begins to square the club face early in the downswing so there is far less rotation necessary to square the club face at the moment of impact.
Now, let's get back to my REF achronym and get you looking like a tour pro at the top of your golf backswing.
Most. golfers completely botch this move in the golf swing by swinging their arms across their chest instead of raising them in a vertical plane. This is the secret to how pros keep their arms in front of their body during the backswing instead of burying them deep behind them at the top.
The challenge with this move is it's a lot like rubbing your belly and patting your head at the same time.
Your body is rotating back which creates momentum that your arms, hands and club want to follow. Your job is to not "help" them swing deep - they already WANT to do that!
Instead, you focus on elevating your arms straight up and down while your body rotates them back in to the perfect position at the top. This sequence of moves is covered in great detail in my video - 5 Minutes to the Perfect Golf Backswing, so I won't cover it any more here.
Finally, we have Flexion.
Flexion is simply the folding of the right arm at the elbow. Hands down, the number one mistake I see nearly all amateur golfers make in my golf lessons is folding the right arm way too much and way too soon in the backswing. In fact, most golfers start to fold it during the takeaway and this is a grave mistake.
Why is not folding the right arm too early the backswing so critical? Because when you bend your right arm the club keeps moving, but the body tends to stop turning.
This is due to the fact that when you fold your right elbow, it also pulls your left arm across your chest which, in turn, stretches that left shoulder girdle I was talking about earlier.
Let's take a look at this with one of my students during a golf lesson.
The image on the left is how he started his golf swing at the beginning of the golf lesson. You can see how his right arm is already bent and broken down and just how weak and collapsed he looks during his takeaway. Even his left knee has started to kick in which destabilizes the pelvis and the lower body and robs you of power and consistency.
However, when you look at him 10 minutes later on the right, this 25 handicapper looks as good as any tour pro on the planet!
How can he look so different in only 600 seconds? Simple! I did the exact same thing with him I'm teaching you here!
The first thing you'll notice is that his right arm is straight and this has kept his arms in front of the center of his chest, where they belong. Because of this, notice how much his upper torso has rotated during the takeaway compared to before - the difference is huge!
I have an awesome golf swing drill I used with him to learn to activate the muscles in his core (specifically, his obliques) to learn how to rotate during the backswing like the pros and recruit more muscle fiber. It's a drill you can literally do right now while reading this golf blog so check out this golf swing rotation drill here!
Anyway, back to this golf student. If you drew a line from his sternum (think the buttons on his shirt - or under shirt in this case, we're in Colorado and it's cold!) to his hands, that line should form roughly a 90* angle from his chest and he's done that beautifully here.
Another important thing to note here is that his hands are MUCH further away from his body in the proper takeaway. This creates width in the golf swing and width is free club head speed - think Davis Love III. Davis is one of the longest hitters on the tour and he's in his 50's!
The last thing you should observe here is that in bad takeaway, his head has also started to move off the ball. That's because he's pushing his left arm hard across his body which is easy to see and was the actual cause of his right arm folding.
In the golf takeaway on the right he's simply pulling his right shoulder behind his head, which prevents his head from moving and helps keep his lower body rock solid.
So, just by focusing on a few simple keys, you to can build the perfect takeaway in golf, now let's take a closer look at the top of the backswing.
First, take a look at this image on the left. In it is my golf swing next to Tiger Woods back in his hey day before he got ruined by.....
Anyway, note that when you chop the arms off, the body movements for most all professional golfers look very similar, and often times, identical.
The arm movements are what we refer to at RotarySwing University as "variables" in the golf swing, they are not fundamentals like the body movements are.
How on earth are the arms not a fundamental of a golf swing? Great question! Take a look at this golf instruction video to learn what the fundamentals of the golf swing really are.
So, the fundamentals of the golf swing are the things that "originate" the movement, whereas the position of the arms and even the swing plane are dependent on how the body moves.
Therefore, the fundamentals that you should focus on are the body movements, and then worry about the arms.
The great thing is you've already learned what the arms are supposed to do in the golf backswing and that is Rotation, Elevation, and Flexion. That's it!
If you put those three moves together, you'll look just like Adam Scott, Tiger Woods, Trevor Immelman and many other great ball strikers at the top of the backswing!
Let's take a look at Jason Day's position at the top of his backswing in golf so we can understand this further.
One thing you'll notice when comparing Jason Day's position at the top of his backswing vs. mine or Tiger's is that they're quite high.
In other words, he has a LOT of elevation in his backswing. But remember, elevation is a variable in the backswing, so fundamentally, he's in a perfectly sound backswing position and following the RotarySwing fundamentals.
Note how wide his right elbow flexion is at the top. In other words, he hasn't collapsed his right arm and bent it too much at the top, so this helps him maintain width and keep his hands more in line with his right shoulder at the top.
We call this "staying in front" of the body at the top.
He has a flat left wrist at the top whereas so many amateur golfers have a cupped left wrist at the top and it destroys their ability to play the game we all love. That's because it opens the clubface and as you've learned already, most golfers already have the club face open coming down, so this just makes matters worse!
From this position, all systems are go for Jason. He can be aggressive with his body during the transition, although, with that amount elevation he does have to wait a little to give the arms time to fall back down on plane.
If you're not very patient from the top of the backswing and have a hard time overcoming your "hit instinct", then having a little less elevation in your backswing is a good idea.
In general, I prefer the base of the elbow to be a little below the base of the pectoral muscle at the top of the golf backswing to avoid having to "wait" during the golf transition.
Golf Backswing Simplified
You see, the golf backswing isn't that hard, it's just that you've been trying to do it the wrong way all these years! You can't sling your arms across your body, have a cupped left wrist and move your head off the ball and EVER expect to consistently play good golf!
It's just NOT going to happen.
You're introducing way too many variables into the backswing that you have to figure out how to "unwind" in the downswing which happens in only a 1/4 of a second! There's not enough time.
So, instead, your goal should be to build a simple repeatable golf backswing utilizing the golf swing fundamentals I've outlined here and make this the year you play your best golf ever!
If you're serious about improving your swing, consider enrolling at RotarySwing University and taking advantage of our lifetime money back guarantee that simply states - your swing will improve or we will give you every penny back!