Are Your Swing Issues Caused by Shoulder Limitations? Use the 90-90 Test to Investigate

Having limited shoulder mobility affects how you set the club at the top of the backswing most commonly resulting in a “flying elbow” that changes the plane of the swing resulting in you cutting across the ball and slicing it down the fairway.

The effects of limited shoulder mobility don’t end at the top of the backswing, it can also affect the follow-through causing a swing characteristic called chicken winging.

This swing characteristics, besides from limiting your ability to create power and swing speed can lead to a common ailment called tennis elbow.

Now flying elbow and chicken winging are only characteristics and shouldn’t be considered faults.

After all, Johnny Miller and Jack Nicklaus exhibit flying elbows and I’ve seen Rickie Fowler and Jordan Spieth throw in a chicken wing once in a while.

The difference being that Johnny and Jack rotated their hips through the ball, dragging the club from inside out and eliminating the slice. Rickie and Jordan don’t exhibit a chicken wing on all shots, only when they exaggerate their swing when they’re forcing the clubhead to stay down the line to create a particular shot.

Most of us don’t have the control of our swing to manipulate the club to do our bidding like Johnny, Jack, Rickie or Jordan.

So for us amateur golfers, the resulting shots are blocked swings, weak slices with little power that cause sore elbows.

Besides Swing Characteristics

Swing characteristics aside, limited shoulder mobility changes our spine angle during the swing, causing us to lose posture that leads to a bunch of possible deleterious outcomes.

Rotating your body around the spine in a golf stance presents other difficulties as well.

Many people have good shoulder mobility when they’re standing upright, but once they change their spine angle, as in a golf stance, the scapula can’t be held stable enough to allow the shoulder to rotate through its range of motion. Reduce range of motion will cause all of the problems mentioned above.

Because having limited shoulder mobility and scapular stability causes so many swing issues it’s a good idea to test yourself to see if you have any of these shoulder issues that could be holding back your golf game.

The 90-90 Test will evaluate your shoulder mobility and scapular stability and rank how much of a problem those limitations are to your golf game.

Twelveth in a Series

The 90-90 test is the twelveth post in a series of mobility screen articles for golfers.

Further down in this article there is also a free Mobility Screening Sheet that you can download and track your results as you go through the whole mobility screening process.

The links to the other mobility screens are listed below.

Objective of the 90-90 Test

The 90-90 test evaluates shoulder mobility and scapular stability specifically the amount of external rotation in the shoulders and if you have the scapular stability to externally rotate your shoulder while in golf stance. 

Many, if not most, golfers lose shoulder mobility in their golf stance when compared to standing upright. This is because the shoulder blade raises up changing the orientation of the shoulder joint reducing the amount of outward rotation. 

Not to fear, there are exercises that can address shoulder mobility and stability imbalances if you have these issues.

Let’s see if you have any of these issues.

How to Perform the 90-90 Test

The 90-90 test is a two-part mobility screen. First, in an upright standing position, followed by repeating the mobility screen while in golf posture. 

You need no equipment to do the test, but it is helpful if you have a person see how far you rotate your arms and to make sure you’re following the steps correctly. 

The Steps

Part 1
  • Stand tall and hold your right arm out to your side so your upper arm is level with your shoulder.
  • Bend your elbow so it is 90-degrees to your upper arm, palm down, and parallel to the floor. 
  • Without bending your torso, or arching your back excessively, rotate your upper arm backward, so it raises your hand towards vertical.
  • Keep that 90-degree relationship between your upper arm and forearm.  
  • Stop if you feel pain, and don’t pull back so far that you start to lean to the opposite side or arch your back.
  • At the maximum range of movement, your forearm and upper arm are at 90-degrees, your spine is straight, your lower back is not excessively arched, and your upper arm is still at shoulder height and your elbow is not in front of or behind your side.
  • Take note of where your forearm position is, there are 3 possibilities. Your forearm angle is less than your spine angle, equal to your spine angle, or greater than your spine angle.
  • Less than spine angle your forearm is not vertical.
  • Your forearm is equal to your spine angle if it is vertical.
  • Greater than your spine angle if your forearm is behind your shoulder.
  • Repeat the steps with the left arm.
Part 2
  • Get into your 5-iron posture, pretend you’re taking your stance with a 5-iron.
  • Repeat the steps of part 1.
  • So at the beginning, your forearm is 90-degrees to your upper arm, but it is not parallel to the floor, it is tilted downward. Start with the forearm not only 90-degrees to your upper arm but 90-degrees to your spine angle as well. 
  • When you rotate your shoulder, compare your forearm angle to your spine angle, not the horizon. 
  • Again, take note if the arm angle is less than, equal to, or greater than your spine angle.
  • Repeat the screen with the other arm.

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TMF Mobility Screening Sheet

You can download a copy of the TMF Mobility Screening Sheet by pressing the button below and entering your name and e-mail and I’ll deliver it to your inbox.

Click to Download the PDF

Near the end of the video below, I discuss how you should mark the results of the test on your mobility screening sheet.

Marking the Mobility Screening Sheet

Note: If you’re doing the tests in order, I’ve skipped the 12th screen, Torso Rotation, so you’ll mark the results under the 13th screen.

Marking the mobility screening sheet is straight forward. 

Circle “Yes” for which of the three possible results is true for each arm in the two stances. 

What Do the Results Mean?

Ideally, you should be able to rotate your shoulder so your forearm is at an angle greater than your spine angle for both the upright and golf posture.

Don’t be surprised if you can’t especially in golf stance. It’s very common for people to lack scapular stability. 

If you can’t rotate your arm greater than your spine angle you have shoulder mobility limitations. 

In golf posture, not being able to rotate your arm greater than your spine angle means you need to work on shoulder and scapular stability. 

If you can rotate your shoulder, both upright and in golf posture, equal to your spine angle, you have some work to do, but if you have other mobility issues, address those first. 

If you’re in the less than spine angle for both stances, I’d start working on your shoulders. I’d place this limitation second important behind hip hinge

Corrections for 90-90 Test Limitations

Theraband Shoulder External Rotation

Do the exercise with both arms.

More External Rotation Exercises

I like Nick’s video because he outlines why some exercises, though they may help, aren’t great to do because you can’t tell if you’re in full range of motion, as well as, how they can be done wrong.

Shoulder Mobility & Stability Exercises

Dumbbell – Chest to Bent Arm T’s

Works both external rotation and stability.

Stability Exercises

This video has some simple but effective exercises to help with shoulder mobility and scapular stability.

Mobility Screenings

The 90-90 Test evaluates the external rotation of your shoulders as well as scapular stability. Use this test as a baseline before doing a golf conditioning program to see if you need to improve shoulder mobility or work on shoulder and scapular stability.

If shoulder mobility and stability are limited it can lead to swing posture issues, lack of distance and power, change the plane of swing, cause your elbow to fly in the backswing or chicken wing during the follow-through, which can lead to pain and injury of your elbow and shoulder.

Knowing possible issues will allow you to improve your swing, add distance, and reduce the chance of injury.

This is the twelveth of sixteen mobility screens.

You can read more about why mobility screens are a vital part of any golf conditioning program in Put the Horse in Front of the Cart and Get With the Fitness Program.

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