By Tim Ainslie, MPT
Snowflakes may be flying as I write this but, it’s not too early to start thinking of golf. A program to promote flexibility, strength and balance can improve your primary piece of golf equipment—your body. Although golf is less a game of strength and more a test of timing and coordination, there are some exercises that will enhance your ability to get into the correct position to swing. There can be no doubt that the professionals playing this game have made training to play an important part of their year-round routine.
The three key regions of the body that require flexibility for golf swings are the hips, thoracic spine, and the shoulders. Stretching exercises to improve flexibility of the hip flexors, hamstrings and hip rotators should be part of your dynamic warm-up and stretching routine. Mobility of the hips and thoracic spine help to take the pressure off the lumbar spine, which is one of the most common areas that golfers will injure. Shoulder mobility allows the arms to move relative to the trunk, consequently, increasing the arc of your swing.
Static stretching (where we hold a position to induce a stretch) may have a place in your exercise routine to lengthen shortened tissues, but dynamic stretching should be part of your golf warm-up. Dynamic stretching is movement-based stretching involving control through an active range of motion. In this case, the movement is your golf swing. By crossing your arms across your chest and replicating the rest of your golf swing,you will simultaneously stretch your shoulders, back, and hips. An article in the European Journal of Applied Physiology is referenced below if you want a more thorough review static versus dynamic stretching.1 This YouTube link can give you some ideas on how to incorporate dynamic stretches and prime your body to perform. Fortunately, dynamic stretching can include some principles of stability and balance as well, giving you more bang for your exercise buck.
Strengthening exercises as related to golf can be targeted in the trunk and hip musculature, i.e. your core. Stability through the lumbar spine will allow the hips and thoracic spine to rotate on a stable base or core. Many of the exercises for core stability use multiple muscle groups in the lower extremity and trunk without isolating, or targeting a specific group—much like how we function and move naturally. There are a wide variety of strengthening exercises that can be done using body weight (like a push-up or bridge) and resistance bands or a physioball can increase the challenge at home. If you prefer using a gym, there are routines that can incorporate weights and gym equipment. This YouTube video gives you 6 exercises that will start you on a path of building a solid core to support your swing. Core strength may also help to decrease that nagging backache that you have had for years. This article from the Cleveland Clinic provides some insights into how improving your core strength can stabilize your spine and decrease your pain.
Balance combines the workings of your inner ear, vision and feedback from your musculoskeletal system. If you have trouble with the vestibular system (inner ear), or the vision component of balance then you need to see a medical practitioner who deals with those system. The musculoskeletal component is well within the scope of Physical Therapy and the fitness industry. Indeed, the two previous YouTube videos provide some exercises that will challenge your balance as balance relies on both strength and flexibility. Standing on one foot while you brush your teeth or wash the dishes (maybe not the sharp knives) are easy balance activities that can be part of your daily routine.
Don’t wait for the grass to turn green to start to prepare for the upcoming golf season. Putting in some time now, maybe as part of an exercise routine you are already doing anyway, can pay dividends when you do play your first round. Doing a routine 2-3 times per week would be ideal. You will likely be less sore after playing and you will decrease your chance of injury. And, maybe, just maybe, you will make more solid and consistent contact, hit the ball further, and lower your scores. Unfortunately, I can’t promise the latter. You still have to make the putt…
Before starting any exercise program it is always prudent to check with your physician to ensure that it is safe for you to exercise. Any exercises that you do should not cause undue muscle soreness or pain. If you do start having pain, consult with a medical or fitness professional with training related to musculoskeletal injuries and golf. And if you have questions about anything you have read in this article please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you would like to schedule an appointment to create an exercise program specifically tailored for your individual needs, contact our office at 206-547-7445.