Getting In the Swing of It! – Corrective Exercise for Golf

November 27, 2013

By David McGill BSc (Hons)Golf-pic-1

• Looking to improve the power and efficiency of your golf swing?

• Are you one of many golfers who experiences preventable lower back pain during or after playing?

• Looking for a golf-specific, corrective exercise therapy approach to strength & flexibility training to effectively prepare and condition your body?

Many golfers often ask the question: ‘Why do I need to condition myself for a relaxed, passive, recreational activity which I only play once or twice each week?’

Well…let’s start by putting this mindset into perspective. Recent statistics show that 53% of male and 45% of female golfers suffer from lower back pain, whereas 30% of professional golfers play injured (American Journal & Clinical Journal of Sports Medicine)

When swinging a golf club, your body moves rapidly and three dimensionally using many groups of muscles in the upper and lower body to help generate the power needed to strike the ball. In addition, your muscles have other responsibilities, including keeping you balanced, aligned and finely altering your body position to ensure technical accuracy during the shot.

Every golf swing is performed either at maximum, or close to maximum velocity, starting, ending and often exceeding the very limits of the player’s full spinal rotation. In elite golfers, the golf swing can generate club head speeds of over 120mph. Considering how many shots, holes and rounds are played in a game of golf, this high velocity movement will be performed many times. Lower back problems often occur as a result of the powerful rotation and spinal extension/straightening motion in the golf swing, combined with a failure to suitably condition and prepare the body to cope with such demands.

By repetitively using one side of your body to play golf (whether right or left-handed), tightness will accumulate disproportionately in certain muscles. Muscles are designed to work reciprocally in pairs or groups with equal length, strength and tension. So, if one tightens, the other muscle will lengthen, weaken and be prohibited from functioning correctly, becoming dormant, inactive, and inefficient. This will reduce a golfer’s ability to generate power when hitting the ball. Regardless of the practice they put in, their performance on the fairway will be affected. Neglecting this problem inevitably leads to postural misalignment, discomfort, injury and sheer frustration!

To add to this problem, many recreational golfers, whether working or retired, tend to sit endlessly at their desk, in their car, or on their sofa, in front of the TV with hips and knees bent and upper body slouched. By doing so daily, certain muscles will increasingly tighten, prohibiting the correct activation and functioning of other important muscles with which they are designed to work reciprocally, in synergistic unison. Muscles most commonly affected are the stomach and bottom which are crucial to a safe and effective golf swing. Unable to assist in hip and spinal stabilisation, these weakened muscles force the brain to compensate, recruit and over-activate other muscles, like the hamstrings and lower back, not only to maintain posture, but also generate the high velocity movement required for the golf swing.

Whether recreational or professional, every golfer wants to improve their game. Some will spend a small fortune on expensive clubs and others may pay for private lessons to try and address and perfect the biomechanics of their swing. Despite countless verbal and visual cues to try and correct their posture and technique on the fairway, performance and progression will simply be hindered if flexibility is limited and other, overactive, tightened, fatigued muscles continue to bear the compensatory load during this high velocity movement rather than those which should be correctly activating and functioning. Faulty movement patterns will therefore remain ingrained in a player’s swing and injury will inevitably occur.

For those golfers who seek the guidance of personal trainers to exercise and improve their game, many often end up improving their strength in exercises such as squats, bench presses, kettlebell lifts and sit-ups. Some trainers may still encourage the use of seated, fixed resistance exercises which only work a few muscles in isolation through limited ranges of movement, failing to activate other key muscles essential for correct alignment and body functioning.

If golf and many other daily activities we do involve a standing body position requiring three dimensional movement and simultaneous, functioning of groups of muscles, why are people still encouraged to do seated, isolative strength exercises? Despite their effort (and their increased isolative muscular strength), these exercises aren’t specific to golf and won’t contribute significantly to their improved athletic ability or performance on the fairway. Unbeknown to many who do them, such exercises can have an adverse effect. Take for example excessive abdominal sit-ups/crunches which can actually cause the oblique abdominal muscles to deactivate and become passive (Sahrmann 2002). The oblique muscles are essential for the safe and effective upper body rotational movements required during a golf swing. If these muscles fail to activate, the lower back muscles will ultimately bear the load, not only having to generate, but also decelerate the high velocity, momentum and torque of the upper body during the golf swing, adding to the muscle fatigue, tension and discomfort felt in this area.

Provided your trainer or instructor can identify any muscle imbalances or faulty activation, certain ‘corrective’, isolative exercises can help to strengthen a “weak link” that your body may have, allowing you to restore proper muscle balance and function. However, our brain, which controls muscular movement, actually thinks in terms of whole body motions, not the contraction of individual muscles. So, isolative floor-based or fixed-resistance exercises are actually training the muscles, not the movements which your brain needs to know for your body to function correctly! Continuing to strengthen your muscles in isolation can actually inhibit the simultaneous functioning of certain muscle groups, in turn causing them to contract out of sequence. This can place your body, particularly your spine and pelvis, at risk of injury when swinging a club.

Every sensible golfer now realises that that the only way to truly improve their game and prevent the recurrence of injury, is through intelligent, specific and effective physical conditioning.

a) The Anterior Oblique System

Golf-pic-2

b) The Posterior Oblique System

Golf-pic-3

During every shot you play, your body relies upon the combined contraction of muscles in your anterior and posterior oblique system. Progressive, golf-specific exercises should therefore be used, suited to the ability and physical condition of the individual, which simultaneously work all of the muscles within these systems.

If a combination of muscular strength & flexibility is required in golf, opting solely for strength workouts or just flexibility classes would be insufficient and ineffective for performance. As well as strength & speed, the power you can generate during a golf swing also depends upon your flexibility and range of movement. So, over-working already tight muscles will further decrease flexibility, in turn reducing your ability to generate power and distance in your golf swing.

People often differ in postural alignment and areas of muscle tightness. Many exercise classes encourage general strengthening of muscles which can actually overwork some peoples’ tight postural muscles, further worsening their misalignment. This explains why some people feel and see the benefits from exercises they perform, whilst other people experience pain and discomfort in areas like the neck, shoulders and lower back. Strengthening exercises aren’t the sole culprit though! Many flexibility classes encourage general stretching of muscles, failing to identify elongated, inactive muscles. By stretching them further, these will be increasingly weakened and prohibited from functioning correctly in their essential role. Muscular stretching and strengthening should therefore be selective and progressive, suited to the pathomechanical and postural condition of the individual.

Many of the ‘core strength’ exercises often prescribed to people have good intentions. When suitable for the individual, they can indeed be very beneficial. Though some people may succeed in improving their ‘core strength’, ‘core stability’ won’t be achieved if their spine and hips remain misaligned and other important essential muscles, such as the bottom, designed to work in unison with the stomach, aren’t simultaneously strengthened.

The term ‘functional training’ is often loosely referred to these days by many in the fitness industry. Unfortunately it is subject to misinterpretation. Many trainers or instructors are quick to prescribe complex, ‘functional’ exercises such as TRX rows, lunges, VIPR rotational twists or cable wood-chops. Such exercises are exciting, visually appealing to onlookers and have the potential to be effective, when appropriate. All too often though, these ‘functional’ exercises exceed the physiological capability of the beginner, average exerciser and recreational golfer. Failing to precede such exercises with selective stretching and adequate, progressive corrective exercises leads to over-activation of already tightened, dominant muscles. This will ultimately encourage incorrect body movement, faulty muscle activation and postural misalignment, leading to discomfort and injury.

At Bodyrefine, we precede exercise prescription with a biomechanical, postural and kinetic chain assessment. As to identify postural misalignments and faulty muscle activation, this also allows us to establish a safe starting point for you using selective, corrective strength and flexibility exercises. Our primary objective is to ensure your muscles function properly with correct postural alignment, lessening the risk of further injury or physical complication. We’ll then introduce your body to progressive, integrative strength and flexibility exercises suited to your physical condition and highly beneficial for safe, efficient and effective golfing performance.

 

For corrective exercise, golf-specific training and sport/remedial massage, David can be contacted by phone on 07748 778515 or by email at: david.mcgill@bodyrefine.co.uk

 

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