Low Back Pain & The Golf Swing – Part 2 – Modern vs Classic Swing

modern vs classicAnd I’m back!

It’s been about 1.5 weeks since my last post, and I am disappointed in myself. Oh well, live and learn right. I had a visit from a family member during this time, as well as my wonderful wife’s birthday. She is awesome by the way! Now however, I am back on track and want to talk a bit about the modern vs classic golf swing and determine what might be best for you.  I spoke a bit about low back pain and the golf swing already, and this is a bit of a continuation.

Modern vs Classic Swing

Some of you may or may not know that there are basically 2 versions of the golf swing, the classic swing – think Jack Nicklaus, Payne Stewart, Bubba Waston, and this guy (Mike Austin) who has been credited for hitting the longest drive in tournament play (515 yards) when he was in his early 60s – and the modern swing – think Tiger Woods, Adam Scott, and most younger tour players these days.

Ok, so right off the bat I think we need to throw out the idea that the modern swing produces more power, clearly since we have 2 of the longest hitters ever in the game listed under the classic swing, it can produce just as much power as the modern swing depending on the golfer.

So what is the difference you may ask? I would suggest you link to reference number (1) below for a good understanding of it. There are obviously some nuances that are not listed, but this graph taken from (1) provides the gist:

I think this graph is pretty self explanatory, and as you can see, there are different body mechanics being utilized between the 2 swings, most notably the difference in what is called the X factor and the follow through position. The X-factor is the difference between the shoulder and hip turn at the top of the backswing. Basically, in the classic swing, since there is almost equal amounts of shoulder and hip turn, there is less rotational force produced in the lumbar spine, compared to that of the modern swing where we see large shoulder turn and limited hip turn (2). In the follow through position, what is seen in the modern swing is called a reverse C, or hyperextension of the low back; however, in the classic swing no such position is seen, and the lumbar spine remains fairly neutral (2, 3).

Obviously, you can see where I am heading with this; and also, if you have any concept of proper body mechanics and proper maintenance of the spine, you will know that the 2 above listed motions have the potential to play havoc on your low back and hips.


Modern vs Classic Swing & Back Pain

So there wasn’t really much out there in the way of research with regard to what swing is better for your back. The studies listed below are reviews of other studies which seem to be epidemiological (asking golfers if they have or had back pain), EMG studies of activated muscles, and ROM testing in golfers with and without back pain; unfortunately though, there does not seem to be an indication of what type of swing the people were using in these studies. It is therefore hard to tell (with hard data) what swing is best. However, with an understanding of kinesiology and body mechanics, the best guess/hypothesis put forward seems to be that the modern swing puts the back in sub-optimal positions (excessive lumbar rotation and extension) leading to an increased risk of injury (1, 2, 3). In my opinion, this does make some good sense, but in the end deciding what swing to adopt may be a bit more complicated.

Modern vs Classic Swing What is Best?

As with almost everything, this will 100% be an individual thing. There is evidence out there that injury from the modern swing is simply due to the fact that some people just do not have the range of motion in lumbar rotation and extension to deal with the requirements of the modern swing, leading to the production of supra-maximal ranges of motion and thus injury. On the other hand though, if the classic swing is used to begin with, then the risk of supra-maximal ranges of motion is significantly reduced and there are no worries about how flexible, strong, and mobile you may be.

But what are the benefits of each swing with regards to actual performance on the course? Well, apparently the modern swing is more powerful, but as I noted above, I have significant reason to doubt this. There is however the issue of ball flight, for which the argument is that the modern swing produces a higher ball flight with a softer landing. I think this does make sense as your impact position would differ between the 2 styles, and a higher ball flight is more desirable.

At the end of the day, my view is that you should find your own swing and use the one that works for you personally. There is also a proposed hybrid swing (1) what may work to protect the back/hips and still produce a high ball flight. I think that the modern swing requires a bit more in the way of physical preparedness. Meaning that it has a higher demand on the body, and we should be preparing our bodies to deal with that demand (ie. mobility, flexibility, strength, and power training). If you are doing these things and getting results with your modern swing, then go for it. However, if you are totally sedentary and do not stay active and mobile, then you may want to think about using a classic style swing.

In the end though you still must find your own swing and what is comfortable for you and gets the results you want.


The Barefoot Golfer


1.) http://www.sajsm.org.za/index.php/sajsm/article/view/42

2.) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17938007

3.) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2647041/


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