Flexibility for Golf: Shoulder Turn

It is not all about getting strong in the gym to help your golf swing!

Flexibility for Golf: Shoulder Turn

In modern day golf, due to the increased distances players are hitting the golf ball, there has become this misconception that the most important thing we need to do is to get strong for golf by lifting heavy weights. There is absolutely a place for lifting weights and developing strength to help develop speed in your golf swing. However this probably applies more to elite players that already have good sequencing in their golf swings and a full shoulder turn. On their down swing the hips fire and trail elbow drops into their right side to connect the arms to the lower body creating power in their golf swing.

However, most golfers feel they need to develop strength especially their shoulder muscles through heavy shoulder exercises. The belief is squatting heavy, strong core and strong rotator cuff will produce the power needed. Undoubtable these attributes contribute, but sufficient range of motion and exercise to promote flexibility is just as equally important.

Golf involves all round fitness. Many golfers struggle to turn their upper body sufficiently getting their lead shoulder joint under the chin in their back swing, this creating a full shoulder turn. This does not allow the player to take the golf club into a good position keeping the arms wide as their body rotates. They instead pick the golf club up using their shoulders and arms to do the work. The lack of chest turning into their hips results in poor motion and stretching of the trunk muscles to generate power with a big shoulder turn.

What do we mean by good sequencing in the golf swing?

When we look at elite golfers they all have a common sequencing pattern in their golf swing, it is this that allows them to develop fast club head speeds. Elite players such as Dustin Johnson have greater ability to separate their shoulder rotation from their pelvic rotation, which is referred to as the X-factor. 

The average shoulder turn for a PGA professional is 100 to 110 degrees and pelvic rotation around 40 degrees. This means the X-factor being the separation of upper and lower body is 100 to 110 minus 40 equals around 60 to 70 degrees separation, remember this is the average.

A player such as Rory McIlroy has a shoulder turn of around 135 degrees meaning an X-factor of 135 degrees minus 40  equals around 95 degrees of separation. Therefore, Rory generates much of his extra power through the extra 35 degrees of body torque.

A big shoulder turn also creates a big stretch to the left side especially the shoulder joint in a right hand golfer. By maintaining width in the left arm will also help to create speed in the golf swing.

Professional golfers use golf stretches both of a dynamic nature to warm up and static stretching post play to recover range of motion. Static stretches are passive in nature and tend best to be done in recovery phase of training. Research supports a dynamic warm up with activation exercises. Golf stretches and mobility work are vital for elite players to stay healthy and fit.

Most golfers often lack and find developing a good shoulder turn the most difficult thing to improve in their golf swing. Further, most golfers also have a combination of:

  • Sedentary lifestyle sitting at a desk or driving for work.
  • Perform a lack of daily stretches and mobility exercises to improve their end range mobility
  • Tend to train ineffectively lifting weights in the gym, which tends to compress the body and reduce their capability to achieve a bigger shoulder turn.
  • Many golfers are of age 40-65 years and tend to be generally stiff as a result of their age, which hinders them from developing a fluid golf swing.

In our experience everyday golfers have a shoulder turn between 60 to 90 degrees, this correlates to an X factor separation of around 20 to 50 degrees as opposed to professionals who range from 60 to 95 degrees. 

The greater the X-factor the greater the separation through the trunk and ability to use the big trunk muscles to generate power and speed. Now you see why Professionals hit the ball much further due to this golf sequencing, which requires flexibility throughout the entire body.

Compensations due to lack of shoulder turn

When golfers lack shoulder turn they will attempt to generate power in their swing by compensating motion and will often lose their posture resulting in poor ball striking. We will highlight the three common tendencies and their motion faults as follows:

Poor loading into trail side

When golfers do not turn properly with their trunk into the back swing, this will lead to poor loading into the trail right leg and poor ground reaction forces. When the trail leg is not loaded the golfer will use his arms and upper body only to generate power, losing vital power from the hip muscles.


Often golfers will try to sway to get behind the ball to develop power as they do not turn their chest making a full shoulder turn. This fault leads to poor consistency as the head and spine moves away from the ball making timing difficult. Sway also places shear forces on the body, which is not effective for power and longevity in the golf swing.

Arms disconnecting from body

As the body stops rotating many golfers will continue moving the arms only to get the club to the top of the backswing. As this happens the arms get away from the trunk and the connection between the trunk and arms is lost. The arms tend to take over the swing, leading to an over the top swing with only the arm muscles generating the power.

What are golf specific exercises for shoulder turn?

The following are great dynamic stretching exercises to increase range of motion in the upper back and shoulder flexibility.

Swiss Ball Knee Rolls with Bar:
  • This exercise is great for shoulder mobility and opening up upper body as you roll the ball keeping your shoulder blades on the ground. Continually repeat to the opposite side as you gradually increase range of motion.
Split Stance Band Rotation:
  • Drop into a split stance then rotate band across chest turning shoulders. Repeat to the other side. Feel the upper body rotate against your stable hips.
Band Windmills:
  • Bend over keeping back straight try to feel a hamstring stretch. Then engage external rotation by tensioning the band. Rotate the upper body maintaining tension and feel upper back stretch and dissociate from the hips.
Golf posture single arm 90:
  • Adopt golf stance then rotate arm behind to open chest and improver your shoulder mobility. This is a simple warm up exercise you can do at the golf course. Bend forward and feel you really open your chest in this drill turning into the opposite side.
Foam Roller thread the needle:
  • Place left hand on the foam roller then thread arm under the other arm to create a stretch across the upper back. Switch sides by placing right hand under onto roller then stretch into the right shoulder.
Golf drill to help shoulder turn:
  • Grip the golf club with a split grip making golf swings. As you turn back hinge the wrists early and push the right arm away. This will create a width in the left shoulder creating more of a twist stretch through the upper back.

Static stretches to the golfing muscles are great way to recover after playing, helping to restore muscle balance and prevent injury and fatigue. Stretching for golf is really important to improve your swing and to keep you playing longer.

In Summary

As you can see it is not all about getting strong in the gym to help your golf swing. Ensure you get ELASTIC and develop a good stretching routine for your entire body to improve range, this allows you to get behind the ball, creating more X-Factor helping to develop your club head speed.

Golf stretches will help target key areas like a big shoulder turn, external rotation in the right shoulder and good hip mobility. Stretches should focus on key golfing muscles and stretches used gently to create gradual change. If you are unsure about the correct stretch routine for you, then seek the advice of a fitness or health professional to guide you.