Stretch More, Swing More
How flexibility will improve your swing and keep you golfing longer
Karen Kershaw LPGA Teaching Pro, TPI/CGFI Rio Verde, Arizona
- A proper pre-round warm up reduces the risk of injury
- An ongoing stretching program improves flexibility and range of motion
- Core strengthening develops the strength, stability, and mobility needed for a powerful, fully functioning golf swing
Athletes often fall victim to the bad habit of going out too hard too fast. And golfers are no exception. A golfer who has spent all day at his office job sitting at his desk rushes from his car straight to the tee box, excited to be relieved of the tedium of his job. After a cursory practice swing or two, he takes a mighty swipe at his tee shot. If the ball gets airborne at all, it likely flies deep into the woods on the right or pops up into the lake on the left. The golfer rubs his lower back, mutters something derogatory about the aging process, and reaches into his golf bag for a handful of Advil (ibuprofen). This first-tee fiasco could have been averted if that same golfer had made time for a pre-round stretching and warm-up session. Just 15 minutes of effort would have warmed up his muscles for a fuller, more flexible and fluid swing, resulting in better contact with the ball, less pressure on the lower back, and reduced potential for injury.
Stretch Before You Swing
A properly executed golf swing recruits nearly every muscle group and joint in the body, turning the body in a rotary motion that is unlike most of our daily movements. Cold, stiff muscles are unable to stretch to their fullest extent and are prime candidates for minute tears, strains or “pulls.” A gradual warm-up of the muscles involved in the swing increases the blood flow to these muscles. This enhanced blood flow helps to eliminate stiffness and allows the muscles to contract and relax more effectively for improved performance. A good warm-up also increases the range of motion around each joint, providing the mobility needed for a good golf swing Generalized stiffness will alter good set-up posture and force players to change their spinal position throughout the golf swing. Loss of posture affects timing, balance and rhythm, causing missed hits such as blocks to the right or hooks to the left. Stiffness can also result in an abnormal motion in the lumbar spine, one of the primary causes of lower back injuries. Adequate flexibility, especially in the hips, shoulders and upper back, allows golfers to get the club into key positions without altering spine angle. Besides increasing mobility and eliminating stiffness, preparing your body before the golf round for the movements required for the golf swing eliminates the need to spend the first few holes trying to develop rhythm, timing, and feel. A brisk walk from your car to the range will begin to warm up your muscles, so that you can stretch safely and effectively. Once you begin stretching, concentrate on your upper, lower, and middle back, shoulders and chest, trunk, hips and thighs, then hamstrings and calves. Stretching these areas will increase the muscles’ ability to contract and extend during the swing. Be sure to include stretches that focus on rotational flexibility, since the swing is a rotary action.
Regular Stretching to Prevent Injuries
Giving yourself time to warm up on days when you hit the green is good, but engaging in a daily, ongoing stretching routine is even better and can increase overall flexibility, enhance performance, and reduce the risk of injury. Flexibility, which is the range of motion around a particular joint, can be constrained by tight or restricted muscles. Increasing mobility by stretching protects joints and muscles from strains and tears. A strong, flexible joint can move properly and protect itself from injury. Better joint flexibility allows golfers to swing more fluidly. A stretching program should directly address all of the muscles and joints that are utilized in the golf swing. This means that an overall body stretching routine aimed at creating strong, pliable muscles is paramount in creating a body that can withstand the stresses of the golf swing and help perform a solid, consistent swing. Stretching increases the golfer’s ability to rotate, and more rotation means more power. Any tightness in the hip flexors, gluteals, groin area or oblique muscles in the sides of the torso limits rotation of the upper body during the backswing and follow-through. Limited range of motion in the hips is one of the main causes of lower back pain. Restrictions in hip mobility will create movement in the lumbar spine and put excessive tension and stress on the lower back. Flexibility in the hamstrings helps fire the core muscles properly during the swing and helps maintain posture and balance throughout the swing. In many cases, tight hamstrings are linked to lower back pain.
Supplementing Flexibility with Core Strength
Along with flexibility, golfers need strength to withstand the stresses put on the body by the physical forces and repetitive movements required in golf. While stretching routines increase the body’s mobility in the swing, core stability and strength are required in order to create a stable foundation for the swing, maintain spine angle and transfer power between segments of the body and into the golf club. If the stability/mobility combination is compromised by lack of core strength or conditioning, compensations will occur in the body. These compensations reduce the efficiency of the motion and result in inconsistent ball striking, loss of power and accuracy, and more importantly, increase the possibility of physical injury occurring in the body. Power in the golf swing is generated by the “core” section of the body—your abdomen, hips, buttocks and lower back. These muscles support the spine, hips and shoulders and add stability to the swing, allowing energy to build and then release for a powerful transfer of energy. Strength in the core allows golfers to maintain balance and posture (or spine angle) during the swing. By concentrating strength and flexibility in the core, golfers can protect the lower back, hips, and shoulders from injury. As with any exercise program, it is important for golfers to consult with a doctor, physical therapist or certified athletic trainer in order to understand the program and how to implement it effectively.
Protecting Your Swing with Cool-Down and Icing
After subjecting the body to a series of powerful stresses and physical exertion for 18 holes, most golfers can’t wait to get to the “19th hole” where they can relax with a cold drink. A few moments of cooling down the muscles with some gentle stretching will help muscles recover from any minute traumas that might have occurred. If there is any stiffness, gentle icing with light compression on the affected muscles will reduce the possible side effects of inflammation and likely prevent residual soreness in the days to come.
A long day on the golf course places a lot of demands on the body. Introducing warm-up and cool-down regimens into your practice can help you have a safer and more effective round of golf. Further incorporating daily stretching and core strengthening activities can help stabilize your muscles, improve your overall swing, and reduce the risk of injury. With these injury-prevention efforts, it will be easier to come out swinging and keep your overall score way under par.