Many sports while keeping us fit and active also cause imbalance in our body. In many of the clients I see it appears none more so than golf. Maybe it’s that the typical golfer tends to be a little obsessive with the game or is it simply that the golf swing requires every muscle in the body to work together to achieve the power and accuracy of driving that little ball down the fairway? I call to mind what a physio said to me at the age of 13 with my first golf back injury – ‘The golf swing is the most unnatural swing you will ever do, so it’s no wonder people get injured.’. I am not sure how natural any swing is… was hitting a tennis ball ever part of evolutions plan?
With 53% of male golfers and 45% of female golfers experiencing back pain it is something that most of us golf enthusiasts are going to experience, but it’s certainly not something we have to live with. By understanding the impact of golf on our body we can train to improve our performance while at the same time preventing injuring. Step 1 – let’s understand what happens when we hit the golf ball.
For simplicity I will break this down into three key positions or movements and describe at a high level the primary muscles involved in each to help give you an understanding on the impact on your body.
Although not a power player, golfers spend more time in this position than they do hitting the ball. Think of all the times you stand over the ball thinking about the swing. Yet the swing is over in a blink of an eye. Hips Flexed, Knees Flexed, Neck Flexed. Shoulders flexed and Adducted, everything bringing your limbs in towards the body. This curling effect lasts long after the game of golf resulting in an anterior tilted pelvis and ‘forward head’ posture. Jandas Upper and Lower Cross Syndrome is a good explanation of what is happening to your body here. Glutes no longer firing, Abs that no longer need to be engaged, stiffness in the lower back, taut hamstrings, chronically tight hip flexors, neck pain and even headaches can be attributed to this.
I am afraid it doesn’t end there as it is the layering of the muscle imbalances caused by the swing itself that can make golfers posture more complicated and requiring more specific action to address.
Slow, controlled, the winding of a spring. The greater torque created in this movement the more power that can be produced on the downswing as the coil is released. There are two factors to consider here, one – the muscles involved in this action, but secondly the muscles that are hindering this movement. The opposing muscles, where if short and tight prevent you from getting enough rotation in the backswing and therefore enough power into the downswing.
This rotation of the upper body is actually made up of a 40 degree side bend to the left (in a right handed player), a 40 degree hip extension in the left side of the pelvis and 90 degrees of torso rotation to the right. This rotation is made up of 20 degrees lumbar rotation, 50 degrees or thoracic rotation with the final element coming from the shoulders. So not quite a straight forward turn and a lot of places where restriction in a muscle can cause you a problem! Everything from the Hamstrings to the pecs need to be flexible to allow this motion to happen.
At a simple level we can consider this action the complete opposite of the backswing. Once at the top of the swing we need to return to neutral and then mirror the movement up into the finishing posture by swinging through the ball mirroring the backswing but in the opposite direction. Let’s consider this, if indeed it was a case of simply being the opposite movement we would in theory think that golf is the perfectly balanced game working each side of the body equally but the BIG differentiator here is power! Although the backswing winds up the coil, the downswing is an explosive powerful contraction to unwind the coil. What this results in is a set of muscles that are stronger and perhaps shorter than their opposite number. Imbalance.
What we end up with a golfer is a blend of Upper and Lower Cross Syndrome issues coupled with rotational & spiral restrictions and imbalances running through their entire body. It is not uncommon for me to see golfers who stand in ‘neutral’ looking twisted back and forth between ankles, knees, hips, shoulders and head.
This can lead to knee problems, back pain, neck pain, shoulder stiffness and of course elbow issues when the arms end up doing the work the shoulders should be doing, but are simply too tight to do it themselves. In addition, even if you remain injury and pain free postural imbalances can weaken your golf swing and could be the reason why you are not getting the distances you crave.
The Action Plan
To ensure a balanced body and to get the most of out your golf game there are three core areas you need to work on when off the golf course.
Get in the Gym! You need to put some time in to build strength in a balanced away across your body. Strength will give you more power but more importantly if you have an awareness of your personal imbalances you can also do specific exercises to offset any biomechanical issues present in your body. It is worth having a biomechanical assessment to see what is going on with you. Not everyone swings the golf club by the book so it’s more than likely that you will have your own personal set of issues to work through.
So you have the power sorted but if you do not have the flexibility in your body to be able to get full range of motion on the backswing you will be seriously dwindling your power. In addition it is key that you work on releasing the pent up power movers of your downswing so that they do not start to cause you postural issues, injury and pain. Soft tissue therapy is a must, releasing all your tension and getting your body aligned but you also need to find a routine that you can perform when training to ensure that you are not relying solely on your massage therapist to achieve your goals.
Yoga is phenomenal when it comes to flexibility! It progressively addresses and stretches each part of the body to get you back in alignment with ease. How often do you spend an hour stretching? If you struggle to focus on a stretch routine it is worth considering other ways to achieve this flexibility. My local Golf Pro is now the biggest advocate for Bikram Yoga, coming from a place where he had no intention of ever being a Yogi.
You are now flexible and strong but can you keep your performance up over a tough, windy and possibly very wet round of golf? On bad days it can take over 4 hours to get round the course so it is important that you have the endurance to do so. Working on your cardio fitness is key and not to be forgotten when working on a well rounded training plan.
Testament to a reduction in pain, muscles stiffness and at the same time increased golf performance is Andy Traynor, PGA Fellow Professional:
‘Just a quick note to say that since you “balanced” my body no more pain – can side bend so much easier and have added 15 yards to my iron distance. As a PGA Professional I will be putting all my students with body alignment issues in touch with you.’
Why don’t you get in touch today and start making a difference to your game.