Free Level 1 Preview: Analyzing the New "Hiking" Swing Characteristic

The following video is part of our updated Level 1 course. It outlines a new swing characteristic we introduce called Hiking. 

For those who are unfamiliar with the TPI philosophy, we teach golf, fitness and medical professionals how to identify mechanical inefficiencies in the swing (we call them characteristics) and to physically screen golfers so they can evaluate whether or not movement limitations might be responsible for how they swing.  We refer to them as characteristics and not faults because a golfer can play great golf with them, but their technique tends to inhibit efficiency.

If you’re active Certified, you can find this chapter in your online course along with related Body-Swing Connection concepts.  If you’ve taken already taken Level 1, but are no longer Certified, you can learn more about the course and renew your Certification here.

As stated in our Level 1 course, Hiking describes the movement of the golfer’s trail hip during transition and into the beginning of the downswing. Normally, there is a lateral weight shift towards the target combined with a big push from the lead foot at the start of the downswing causing the pelvis to lateral tilt right (left side goes higher in a right-handed golfer) and move back away from the ball. 

Hiking is when the trail hip remains high too long or even goes higher (more tilt left) and the entire pelvis moves forward during transition and the start of the downswing. This can cause the space between the golfer and the ball to reduce, thus making it very difficult to find proper contact on the face of the club.  

You can almost think of Hiking as a cousin of Early Extension.  Early Extension refers to a horizontal movement of the pelvis, Hiking refers to a vertical move.

How Hiking Can Negatively Impact a Player

Though a tilt of the pelvis is normal in high-level players, excessive tilt can introduce potential issues, from limited power production to increased risk of injury.

With a driver for a right-handed player, the right hip is on average 10° higher than the left hip at the top of the backswing.  The pelvis is not level.  However, when a player is “hiking” the right hip is often 30° (or more) higher than the left side.

The loss of power potential occurs as Hikers begin to start their downswing.

In transition, most players will soften their knees and lower their pelvis as they laterally weight shift in preparation to push aggressively against the ground through impact.  On a force plate, we will usually see an unweighting or decrease in total vertical force (less than <100% total bodyweight).  

Hikers tend to not have a significant lateral weight shift at the start of the downswing - instead launching their hip up and towards the target line rather than dropping it down and back - we can actually see their total vertical force actually INCREASE in transition.  

Here’s Dr. Rose at a Power Level 3 seminar comparing force plate data from World Long Drive champ Justin James and a “hiker” on the PGA TOUR.


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As a Long Drive competitor, Justin is an extreme example, but his pattern is instructive for how we can maximize lower body power contribution in the swing.  He unweights dramatically in transition (47% bodyweight vertical force) before generating an enormous 612 lbs of total vertical force in the downswing. 

As Dr. Rose remarks, this pattern on the force plate is very similar to a countermovement jump.

Hikers can often be the exact opposite.  Not only do they NOT unweight in transition, they sometimes increase vertical force because in order to drive their trail hip higher, they have to push against the ground.  

This is an incredibly inefficient strategy for creating power from the lower body.  After all, you’d never try to jump high without squatting down first.

As with many swing characteristics, Hiking can only inhibit efficiency, but also heighten the risk of injury.  By lifting the trail hip, golfers can end up creating excessive side bend which can cause additional stress on the spine.  Bodies are generally quite resilient, but because of the repetitive, high-velocity nature of the golf swing, we want to take as much stress off areas such as the lower back.  

What to Look for in the Screen

As with every swing characteristic, we physically screen the golfer to determine if the body could be a contributing factor.  If we aren’t assessing your golfer’s physical capabilities, you’re making an assumption that they can do what you’re asking them to do.

Here's a clip from the Body-Swing Connection chapter of Hiking:

First and foremost, the ability to load into the trail hip is critical for avoiding Hiking.  Therefore, golfers who fail the lower quarter internal rotation test may be more likely to hike their trail hip rather than load (internally rotate) into their trail hip.

Additionally, golfers who struggle with core control might be more likely to Hike.  Golfers who fail disassociation tests (Torso Rotation or Pelvic Rotation) often sway laterally, resulting in Hiking of the trail hip.

If a golfer cannot posteriorly pelvic tilt, they may present with S-Posture.  S-Posture in itself is not “bad,” but golfers with excessive S-Posture tend to have more difficulty internally rotating and Hiking can be a compensation (in addition to other characteristics such as Reverse Spine).

As with any swing characteristic, Hiking does not preclude a player from playing great golf.  After all, in this article we referenced a very successful PGA TOUR player who Hikes!

Our goal in identifying swing characteristics such as Hiking is always to evaluate whether or not the issue is technical or if it could be connected to a physical limitation.  Is there a Body-Swing Connection? 

If a player has the physical capabilities to avoid Hiking, drills might be a great solution (we outline a number of our favorites in the course).  If it is likely the product of what their body can do (e.g. limited hip IR), the same drills will probably result in a pretty frustrating lesson. 

This assessment process is what we teach through our various courses.  If interested in assessing how your movement capabilities might relate to your swing mechanics, you can find one of our 30,000 TPI Certifieds on our Find an Expert map.

If you're interested in learning more about our assessment process, check out the updated Level 1 course on our site.

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