Blades vs Cavity Back vs Muscle Back Irons – Differences, Pros & Cons

Blades, cavity backs, and muscle backs are the three main golf irons that players can choose from. However, most golfers aren’t sure what the differences are or how each impacts their performance. Keep reading if you are ready to understand what a blade, muscle back, and cavity back are and which one you should play. 

What are blades in golf?

TaylorMade P770 bladed iron

The blade golf iron is a traditional-looking club with a thin top-down look, smaller sweet spot, and impressive feel. Blade irons feel great when they are hit perfectly out of the center but make it quite obvious when the center of the clubface is missed – off-center shots result in poor accuracy and a larger loss in distance.

Blade golf clubs are typically preferred by lower handicap golfers that can consistently hit the center of the clubface. 

What are cavity back irons?

Callaway rogue cavity back iron

As you may guess from the name, cavity back irons feature a hole/cavity in the back. This allows more of the mass to be pushed towards the perimeter and low down in the club head. This design keeps the club head more stable during off-center strikes.

Cavity back irons are forgiving, have a thicker and bulkier sole, and have a more modern look than traditional blade-style golf irons. Golfers that play cavity back irons are typically looking for more of a game improvement style and need the extra forgiveness that these clubs provide. Average golfers that struggle to consistently strike the center of the clubface should opt for cavity back irons. 

For more detailed reviews, check out our main article on the best cavity back irons.

What are muscle back irons?

Mizuno muscle back iron

The muscle back irons are a halfway point between true blades and cavity back irons. They sometimes have a small cutout/hole in the back of the clubhead and/or have more mass placed low down. These two design tweaks offer better forgiveness compared to blades but are less chunky than cavity back irons.

Muscle back irons tend to make an excellent choice for golfers who are good ball strikers, but want some extra forgives over a true bladed iron.

Blades vs cavity back irons

The main difference between blades and cavity back irons is the head design and overall look of the club, with the cavity back irons being larger and having more perimeter weighting. This design results in a lower center of gravity, higher ball flight, and more forgiveness. 

Blades vs muscle back irons

The main difference between blades and muscle backs is the small cutout and/or additional mass lower on muscle back club heads. This extra weight will lower the center of gravity, increase launch and make it easier to get some forgiveness from the muscle back. Muscle back irons are still not as forgiving as cavity back irons. 

Cavity back irons vs muscle back irons

The main difference between cavity back irons and muscle back irons is the size of the cavity and the resulting change in stability and the center of mass. Cavity back irons are more forgiving and will launch the ball higher than muscle back irons. It is more challenging to shape shots (draws/fades) with cavity back irons.

Pros, cons, and differences between cavity back, muscle back, and bladed irons

If you feel strongly enough, you can make a case for the cavity back, muscle back, or bladed irons. There is no perfect golf iron, but in general golfers will shoot lower scores with more forgiving irons.

The cavity back irons are known for impressive forgiveness, long distance, and a higher ball flight. However, they don’t offer as refined shot shaping ability or feel.

Cavity back ironsMuscle back ironsBladed irons
ForgivenessHighMedium/lowLow
DistanceStrongestMediumLow 
FeelAverageAbove AverageBest
Shot shapingLowMediumHigh 
Ball flightHighMediumLow
Player HandicapMid-BeginnerMid to LowLow/Pro 

Muscle back irons have average forgiveness, average distance, great feel, and exceptional workability. When it comes to forgiveness, especially in the longer irons, muscle back irons may lack the performance golfers need. 

Blades are for elite golfers with some of the lowest forgiveness and distance but the best feel and control. These may look good in your back, but they will likely cost you multiple shots a round unless you are a scratch standard or better.

The key is to find a club that matches the needs of your specific game. In addition, it’s important to note that golf manufacturers are constantly blurring the lines between cavity back, muscle back, and blades. With new materials and manufacturing technologies, it’s very possible to get an excellent feeling cavity back iron that even has a bit of workability. 

Should You Play Blades, Muscle Backs, Or Cavity Backs?

Now that you have a bit more of an understanding as to what a blade, muscle back, and cavity back are, it’s best to take a deeper look and determine which is the best for your needs. There are a few key features that all players should be looking for and considering when choosing these clubs. 

However, the key question you should keep coming back to is this – how can I get the ball to finish closer to my target?

To do this you need an iron that optimizes your launch conditions, accounts for variability within your game and allows you to hit the key shots you face every round.

Let’s dig a little deeper.

Swing Speed

It’s often assumed that the highest swing speed players will benefit from the blades. However, this is not always the case with modern shaft technology and club fitting. There are some very new players to the game of golf that have fast swing speeds with no consistency; these players benefit from cavity back irons. 

Swing speed can be an indication as to which golf iron is a better choice, but it certainly shouldn’t be the only consideration. Generally, speaking, blades are unforgiving and traditionally lofted, meaning you will need some extra speed to get the distances you are used to. 

Slower swing speed players will often find they generate a higher launch and more distance with cavity back irons. Higher swing speed players, who don’t need extra distance have more choice in which club head will best suit them.

Forgiveness 

Few golfers understand how much even a small off-center strike affects accuracy and distance. The twisting caused can be off-set if there is more mass placed towards the toe and heel. For this reason cavity back irons will often get your ball closer to your desired target and help you shoot lower scores.

You can find mixed sets with muscle back in the wedges and cavity backs in the long irons. This is a good option to get the best of both worlds in your golf bag. 

Ball Flight 

Cavity back irons launch the ball higher due to their low center of gravity and perimeter-weighted design. Whereas muscle backs and blades launch the ball lower – if all else stays the same.

If you want the forgiveness of a cavity back, but want a lower launch, we have great news for you. An experienced club fitter can offset nearly all of the higher launch by finding you a suitable shaft to reduce the launch and spin.

Varying your ball flight is traditionally easier when swinging a muscle back or blade-style iron, but this is a minor point compared to forgiveness and distance gains you’ll find with cavity back irons. 

Distance 

This is a tricky point – if all else stays even (club loft, shaft, impact factors) cavity back irons will hit the ball further, as they tend to have thinner faces and generate higher ball speeds.

Cavity backs also launch the ball higher with slightly less backspin – this reduces the drag and results in greater distance.

However, we much caveat this by saying all golfers have an ‘optimum launch window’ so in some cases there won’t be such a large difference.

Also, the loft of a golf club greatly impacts distance and manufacturers often change the standard lofts between blades and cavity backs. For instance, the loft of a Titleist pitching wedge in the 620 MB (muscle back) blades is 47 degrees. However, in the T300, a cavity back game improvement iron, the loft is 43 degrees. For this reason, it is difficult to say exactly how much distance you’ll gain purely from the cavity back irons.

If you are a player struggling to get distance cavity backs will hit it further, just be away of the club loft differences between models when testing irons.

Shot shaping 

The highest level of shot shaping comes from blade irons. However, to get this control, you must consistently strike the ball in the center of the clubface. Golfers need to consider how much shot-shaping ability they want and how much forgiveness they are willing to sacrifice. 

Frequency Of Play 

The more often you play, the better you will hopefully get at hitting the middle of the club face. Players who practice and play often will get great feedback from the blade-style irons and may be able to play them. 

Occasional golfers often come out to the course and struggle for a bit, and the cavity back irons make the learning curve just a little bit easier. 

What are some examples of good blades, cavity back, and muscle back irons?

Most golf manufacturers will make at least one player’s iron, one mid handicapper iron, and one game improvement iron. Some companies will refer to their player’s iron as an MB or muscle back, even if it takes on a bit more of a blade shape. Here are some prime examples for you to see the difference between cavity back, blade, and muscle back. 

Will-wasn’t sure what you needed here with the clubs/examples if you wanted small reviews or just the club names to give people an idea of what they are looking for. Let me know if you need more. 

TaylorMade

Cavity Back: TaylorMade Stealth Irons

Mizuno

Muscle Back: Mizuno Pro 221 

Callaway

Blade: Apex 2021 

Titleist

Cavity Back: T300

Blade: 620 MB 

Cobra

Blade: Cobra King Forged MB

Cavity Back: Cobra LTDx

Summary

Hopefully, the differences between blades, muscle backs, and cavity back irons are clearer. When making your choice always consider what will help you get the ball closer to your target – forgiveness and distance are the two main factors, hence why we push most golfers towards cavity back irons if they truly want to shoot lower scores.

Also, consider the concept of a mixed set with a combination of muscle back and cavity back or muscle back and blade if you want the best of both worlds.

Happy golfing. 

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Britt Olizarowicz is a former teaching and Class A PGA professional with more than 25 years spent with a golf club in her hand. Britt is a small business owner, author, and freelance golf expert that knows this game inside and out. She lives in Savannah, GA, with her husband and two young children.

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