Posing and Shaping to Learn  the Swing

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There are three basic reasons to practice mechanical skills:  initial learning or to extinguish bad fundamentals, improving functional skills and maintenance of good skills.  How you practice is radically different depending upon what stage of learning you are in.  Beginners and fundamentally unsound players need to use drills.  Intermediate and advanced skilled players should switch to a shaping and chaining practice strategy.  Advanced skill players have mastered the ability to control the flight of their ball.  As they develop additional shotmaking skill, they will also reenter the intermediate stage of learning.

How you practice generically relates to your skill level as a beginner/poorly skilled, intermediate or skilled player.  This page provides information about shaping.  Shaping is a technique for correcting specific swing flaws.  How do you know if you have the left the beginning stage and have entered into the intermediate stage of learning?  There are three basic indicators your skill has progressed to the point of being ready for a new learning strategy.  These indicators must be seen during play on the course, not just during practice.  The indicators are ... hit the ball and make reasonably solid contact on every swing (no extreme toe/heel shots);  get the ball airborne on every swing (no sky balls or laying the sod over the ball); send the ball in the general direction of the target (ball starts within the width of the fairway or green and ... no shanks, banana slices or duck hooks);  control the amount of curve to about 1/2 the width of the target (fairway or green).  When these errors have been minimized, you are ready to systematically improve specific points of performance in your swing motion.  The length of time you have been playing or average score are not accurate indicators.


Posing is a learning technique for intermediate players who are improving the technical points of performance.  The technique is simple.  Move to the position to be learned/improved, adjust the position for the correct checkpoints for the position and pose or hold the position.  Once all the checkpoints are accomplished, you will hold the position for 10-15 seconds while mentally reviewing the checkpoints of performance.  At the end of the 1st pose, close your eyes and feel each of checkpoints as a 2nd step.  To further enhance the technique, you can begin the drill at the immediate previous swing position, move to the pose position, execute the technique and then finish by moving to the next following position. 

Here are the positions of the swing:  Backswing 1. Address  2. Takeaway (Reach ... 1/4 back)  3. Back (Backswing ... 2/4 back)  4. Up (Upswing ... 3/4 back)  Transition   5. Top (Cock ... 4/4 back)  6. Transition (Bump ... 5/4 weight transfer)  7. Down (Drop ... 6/4 elbow drops, hips open)    Forward Swing  8. Hold to Release (Release/Pre-Impact/Impact ... 7/4  hips open)  9. Thru (Early Followthru ... 8/4)  10. Target (Mid Followthru 9/4)  11. Shoulder (Late Followthru 10/4)  12. Finish (Top 2 ... 11/4)

All drills and shaping exercises are performed from a correct posture or the correct swing position … drills are powerful learning tools.  Done wrong, they are still powerful learning tools that will ingrain wrong techniques.

Shaping & Chaining

Shaping and chaining are two learning techniques which are more appropriate for intermediate skilled players.  Shaping generally refers to part skill improvement while chaining refers to linking the parts (back into a whole motion).  These techniques focus on improving specific positional checkpoints of performance whereas drills are for improving the whole swing movement.  The term shaping implies a systematic progression through the important part by part positions of the swing ... reach (takeaway), back, up, cock (top), down (transition), hold (release point), impact, early followthru, middle followthru and late followthru.  Chaining is a technique which prevents point by point positional practice from turning you into a robotic

Using a shaping strategy requires a plan.  In it's practical use in golf, shaping has been limited to little more than just breaking the swing down into parts.  The key to shaping is it is systematic empirically justified and uses successive approximations of the final skill.  Shaping involves the general features of operant conditioning.  Golf is considered a discrete (you choose when to swing at a fixed object), short duration, but still a serial skill.  Kinesthetic feedback is of NO value to performance of one swing.  It is critical and mandatory for learning.  Improvement involves the superimposition of an improved skill onto an existing skill. 

A shaping plan includes:

  1. Definition of the terminal topography ... high level language for the checkpoints of correct performance for the finish position.  The general idea is you can't get to a correct finish position without having passed through previous, intermediate, correct checkpoints of correct performance.  The idea of correct performance introduces the concept of the existence of a standard model.  Golf is notorious for it's "individualism".  This flawed thinking ranges from an acknowledgement that while the majority of pros seem to swing in a similar way, particularily in the impact area, there is no accepted standard model to the idea there is a standard model, but it is secondary to individual needs.  The illogical stupidity of this argument is not worth wasting valuable time.  If a standard model does not exist, then what is everybody trying to do when practicing?  Individual differences certainly exist and there is more than one way to hit a golf ball.  This does not preclude the existence of a standard model.  The role of individual differences is to allow for the ability of each player, not a wholesale repudiation of a standard model.  The idea is to get as close to the model as possible.  Any deviation from the model represents an open ticket to inconsistency.  Individualism in golf needs to be viewed from the point of view of an acceptable range rather than escaping the demands of biomechanical efficiency.  The point impact between the club and ball is the moment of truth.  It's real simple, violate the physics and the ball no go straight or far and you won't have a clue where to look for it.

  2. The sequencing of each step must closely mirror what you would do on the course.  The size of each step matters.  If the progression is too large, then errors will be introduced in the same manner as whole swing practice.  Different players learn and perform at different rates.  This means the size of each progressive step can vary from player to player.  The parts of the golf swing are commonly known and generally accepted with only minor disagreement.  In an overall view, it is the opinion of this author that the common view of the golf swing as consisting of only a backswing and foreswing is lacking.  A three part, backswing, transition and foreswing concept has more advantages.  Under the umbrella of a three part swing, each part can be logically divided into smaller components.  Shaping is more suited for intermediate learners who are improving on the technical points of their generally good whole swing motion.  This said, a shaping plan can isolate a particular swing position and make part swing improvements.  The key is to include movement.  Part swing instruction is more than just static positions.  The procedure outlined here includes both the posing and "skip one" techniques.

  3. Each step in the relearning process must be "primed" to prepare the learner for the process.  Priming in skill improvement acts to more closely focus the learners attention to the appropriate stimuli (intrinsic feedback ... feel) as well as the technical, correct checkpoints of performance.  Methods of instruction include all modalities ... physical, visual and verbal guidance.  This is where a coach or instructor who knows what s/he is doing comes in very handy.  A coach can physically "lay on hands" to guide a learner into the correct position and through the correct movement.  Visual information can be presented in the form of pictures with annotations and graphics.  The annotations provide cognitive points of performance.  The graphics provide a point of focus on technical details.  It may seem silly to have pictures on the practice tee, but if they are well organized and contain important information, their presence can serve as motivation, focus and reinforcement.  If you are coaching yourself, very careful attention must be paid to doing things right.  The more feedback and knowledge of the results, the better the quality of the learning experience will be.

  4. The principles of operant conditioning should be fully present on the golf lesson tee.  This includes reward and reinforcement.  Golf is intrinsically rewarding when things go well.  There is nothing quite like seeing a ball fly straight and true.  The problem with trial and error learning is the errors.  This author strongly believes in the value of errors as guidance for subsequent trial.  This said, nothing succeeds like success.  Success is the more useful tool and serves as automatic reinforcement.  The problem with golf is the correct execution/learning of a small technical detail may not immediately show up in improved performance.  Patience and discipline are required.  When a coach is involved, the type and frequency of reinforcement comes into play.  If reinforcement and reward are not present, previously learned skill can be negatively affected.  Due to the intrinsic nature of reinforcement, a schedule of reinforcement is more difficult to create.  With a coach, the general concept of providing a lot information and reward early and then reducing the frequency on a variable basis is the ticket.

  5. After the skill is improved, create and apply a terminal skill practice plan.

These are the general steps of designing a shaping plan:

  1. Determine the terminal skill ... typically the finish position, but for part skill improvement any of the other positions can be the starting point

  2. Create significant reinforcers and rewards to supplement intrinsic rewards

  3. Break the skill to be improved into component parts ... specific positional improvement is acceptable; working on a complete, whole swing motion is not required

  4. Prime the part skill

  5. Apply a terminal schedule (final practice)

Quick Review of Some Important Things to Know About Learning

All drills and shaping exercises are performed from a correct posture or the correct swing position … drills are powerful learning tools.  Done wrong, they are still powerful learning tools that will ingrain wrong techniques.

E.I.C. (eliminate, isolate and concentrate)

Eliminate the fear of failure by removing the target and the ball

Isolate your focus on specific checkpoints of correct performance

Concentrate on the correct execution of the shaping technique

3 X 3 X 3 Movements/Mechanics

The major swing positions have specific checkpoints of correct performance and feel/execution checkpoints.

The backswing is divided into three groups of movements … backswing, transition and forward swing

Each of these swing movements has specific, named smaller movements.  The backswing consists of reach, back and up.  Reaching is the takeaway movement, back is the backswing and up is the upswing to the ¾ position.  You can think of the total backswing as being divided into 4 quarters.  In practice the backswing is considered complete at the ¾, upswing position with the cocking of the left thumb being the 4/4 movement to the top of the traditional backswing.

The transition consists of cock, bump and drop.

Develop and Use a Master Pre-swing Routine

Reduce the Frequency and size of in-swing errors at each critical swing position

Develop Your Natural Shot Shape; Discover and develop the ability to swing to your best finish position

Apply Ball Flight Analysis and Fundamental Relationship Knowledge to detect and correct common swing errors

Establish the ability to make a rhythmic, free flowing swing

Key Concepts/Principles of Performance & Attentional Focus

Swingpath is determined by address posture, body alignment and elbow position, not the manipulation of the swing direction (deliberate attempt to swing on any certain line)

Power is the by-product an effective top of the backswing position and a smooth transition into the through swing, not brute force


Drills For Beginners And Players Overhauling their Swings

Cognitive Phase for the Whole Swing Motion Using Drills

Learning Goal(s)


Success Measure

Center the swing motion

Make a full shoulder turn

Transfer weight to back foot

Control the swing path


Blue on blue

Consistent ability to look at the ball until the arms pass your nose

Control the face direction through impact

Coordinate the movement of the body and arms

Eliminate active  use of the hands on the forward swing

Staggered release

Small swings

Swish drill

Elbow drill

Keep the handle in the triangle

Keep the thumbs on top of the shaft during the forward swing

Develop an extended takeaway

Develop a free-flowing release



Trading hands

One armed man

Both hands move the handle away from the ball

No rolling, under cupping or early wrist cock

Timing the swing motion

Eliminate incorrect use of the hands during the initial phase of the backswing

Blind swings

Swish 2

Slo-mo swings

Shoulder to shoulder drill

Body and arms flow in a synchronized, coordinated motion where both the extended handle and the shaft stay in the triangle


Shaping Strategy for Intermediate Players ... Associative Phase of Learning

Learning Goal(s)

Shaping Technique

Success Measure

Center the swing motion

Make a full shoulder turn

Transfer the weight

Control the swing path


Blue on blue

Consistent ability to look at the ball until the arms pass your nose

Control the position of the elbows

Control the position of the thumbs


Shaping the  Backswing

Forward shaping should feel more comfortable because it models a normal swing motion.  Notice how each movement “skips” over an intermediate position.  The intermediate position is the learning objective, not the ends of the movement.  These are feel drills.  You can do them with your eyes closed

Symbol     Start Position

Learning Objective
Position to Move Thru

Symbol     Finish Position




Thumbs up, toe up, right elbow folding, weight back









Shaping the Transition … Cock, Bump and Drop

The starting position is the ¾ upswing position.  Move into the position and stop.  Verify all checkpoints of correct performance … weight back on the back foot, shoulder well behind the ball, right elbow folded, right forearm as vertical as possible and left wrist flat.  As the left thumbs cocks the club, the hands move upward and FORWARD initiating a gentle, unhurried weight shift.  The bump is caused by the forward movement of the hands AND the outward and forward rotation of the RIGHT thigh.





The stopping position is the ¼ down position.  Move thru the bump part of cock, bump and drop.  Evaluate your position for correct checkpoints off performance …weight on the flat of your front foot, nose on the ball, head behind the ball, hips square to the target line, left shoulder moved forward and beginning to open, at least a 90° angle between left forearm and shaft and right elbow points straight down.


Initiate the transition by cocking the LEFT thumb (radial flexion) so the shaft begins to fall across the shoulders. 

Think Army swing … left, right, left.  From the ¾ upswing position, the cocking of the left thumb not only sets the club at the top (or just short of parallel w/ a flat left wrist) BUT, even more importantly, it AUTOMATICALLY initiates a very slight forward movement before the top of the backswing is accomplished (the hands are now moving forward after first moving backwards and then upwards).  The automatic nature of this is only achieved if you have extended your backswing and moved onto your back foot.  Because it is automatic, you generally do NOT have to learn to do it right or try to do it right.  A simple late cocking of the left thumb CAUSES multiple good things to happen. 

Shaping, unlike drilling is a single movement from a specific position to another position.  Drilling is continuous, back and forth movement.  Shaping is a single movement, recovery and 2nd repetition beginning after a return to the starting position.  Begin the shaping technique in ultra slow motion.  First focus on the major movements by feeling the critical keys … cock = left thumb, bump = right hip/thigh, drop = left arm/right elbow.  Shaping the transition is primarily about learning the bump movement.





Cock to the Top

The length of your backswing is an important INDIVIDUAL fundamental.  It is based on your body build and flexibility.  The general rule is ... it is far better to be short and correct than to be long and wrong!




Shaping the Forward Swing








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