By: Jeff Roux, BPE, CSCS, TSCC – Gold
“Golf is deceptively simple; and endlessly complicated.”– Arnold Palmer –
What we do in the Spring, reveals itself in the Summer.
Now is the time to build the foundations so that you can perform from the tee to the green this summer.
Few people think of golf as exercise and most underestimate the physical requirements and the demands on the body. Don’t let the casual clothes, golf carts and the 19th hole fool you.
Whether you are a single digit handicap or play winter rules until August, a properly designed golf conditioning program can be essential to bringing down your score and keeping you healthy. Despite the seemingly easy physical requirements of the game overall, the explosive power and rotational forces of the golf swing can put tremendous strain on the spine, knees, shoulders, elbows and wrists.
Elite athletes are able to adjust and react so quickly under dynamic conditions that they demonstrate the impression of complete fluidity and control even when the movement is dynamic and explosive. Think about the best current golfers and the best swings of all time, they move with such a seamless grace and ease that appears smooth and easy, and yet was violent, explosive and beautiful at the same time. Balance, stability and mobility allow them to utilize all of their strength, speed, power, and skill and help them to maximize their true athletic potential.
Building the Golf Swing Foundation from the Inside Out
“Golf is an awkward set of bodily contortions designed to produce a graceful result.” – Tommy Armour –
The Golf swing is an athletic, explosive full body movement requiring dynamic mobility, explosive power, stability and postural control. The swing involves the entire kinetic chain of movement from the feet and ankles up into the legs, through the power centre of the hips and Core, up into the upper back, shoulders and neck and out through the arms and hands. Since golf is dominated by movements that are predominantly in one direction, it is crucial that a golf conditioning program works to develop balance in opposing muscle groups and movement patterns in order to keep the body balanced and prevent injury.
Martial arts and boxing coaches have often used the adage, “you can’t fire a cannon from a canoe” to describe the importance of a strong, stable core to provide the stability and leverage for their athletes. Although this adage holds true for most sports, it is essential for golfers.
We all know the golf swing is unforgiving at the best of
times and any breakdown in the mechanics of the process can have a detrimental effect on performance and you will spend more time off the fairway than on it. Before you can worry about explosive rotation, golfers need to develop a strong stable core to provide the leverage to move fluidly and explosively.
The Golf swing happens in many planes, not in simple flexion and extension. Stabilizing the joints involved in the golf swing so that the parts that need to move, can move properly and the parts that should not move, remain stable, is a key element of success. Forget about crunches and back extensions, golfers need to focus on core bracing over 360 degrees of stability, postural control, shoulder girdle integrity, hip stability and pelvic control set the stage for the explosive rotary forces of the golf swing.
Golfers spend a lot of time learning, practicing, and perfecting their ability to hit the long ball. It always feels great to connect on that perfect drive, and men certainly want to be sure to at least get it past the red tees to avoid the traditional repercussions. True golf success is a unique mixture of biomechanics, swing efficiency, skill, fine motor control and overall athleticism. As we see more and more on tour these days, golfers who are better athletes are better golfers.
Stability must be developed in conjunction with Mobility in order to give the golfer the best opportunity for success on the golf course. Where Flexibility focuses on the range of motion of specific isolated muscle groups, mobility is all about efficient, smooth, biomechanically correct athleticism in motion for optimal performance.
The golf swing is a highly coordinated, 3-D movement pattern that requires a fluid range of motion, explosive triple extension from the rear foot ankle, knees and hips along with powerful trunk and hip rotation. Any restrictions in mobility will result in restricted, inefficient movement and the stress of the swing being directed to ligaments and joints rather than allowing the golfer’s muscles handle all of the force production and force absorption.
Developing proper movement patterns are essential for all athletic movements and strength training exercises; the golf swing is no exception. Anytime you load or increase velocity of a dysfunctional movement pattern, there is an increased risk of injury. A chain is only as strong as the weakest link and in the golfer’s case, the weakest link is usually the lower back (lumbar spine), shoulder girdle (rotator cuff) and elbow (golfer’s elbow – medial epicondylitis). Movement efficiency should always take priority over added intensity and load.
Strength: The Force Awakens
Building strength and muscle mass is not just about looking god in the latest Golf shirt but about improving force production, resilience and performance. Once we have developed the stability and mobility of the golfer under control inside the canoe, it is time to build the cannon!
When it comes to force production, deadlifts, front and back Squats, lunging patterns and multi-joint pushing and pulling movements are key to the development of the foundational strength for the primary muscle groups. However, golf is 3-dimensional, rotational sport, executing movements in more diagonal and rotational patterns in also essential to strength development.
Although strength and power go hand in hand, traditional strength training can actually be detrimental to power production. This is why many golfers avoid strength training as they are worried their muscles will get in the way. A proper strength foundation built on a stable, mobile athletic base and then progressed to maximize power production is the ultimate option for the golfer.
You Must Learn the Ways of the Force
Yoda’s advice also applies to golf. When it comes to injury prevention and movement control, we must also consider force control. This starts with the postural muscles of the upper back to control the arms and trunk rotation and extends down though the entire posterior chain of the back through the hips, hamstrings and calves. Without these braking muscles, golfers would fall on their face after a big rip. Depending on the day and how many times the beer cart has come by, some do anyway.
Power production involves producing the greatest amount of force in the shortest amount of time. For athletes, it also means controlling that force and for golfers, in means keeping everything else technically perfect at the same time. When movements become faster and more explosive they also become more complex and coordinated from a nervous system perspective and that makes them more difficult to execute efficiently.
Power development in the golf swing equates to increased swing speed, ball speed, and more carry on your shots. Power efficiency is affected by the mechanics of the swing and by the physiological ability of the golfer to produce force fluidly and explosively. Better golf swing mechanics means a more powerful golf swing and a stronger more powerful body means you can produce more strength and power, specifically in this case Rotary Power.
Power development involves increasing the speed outputs of the entire body as the golf swing is a total body athletic action. It is more than just mimicking the golf swing. Power development involves a higher level of technical execution and understanding in order to maximize success and minimize injury. Progressive Plyometric training for the legs, core and upper body, implementing progressive tempo changes within the training program and even progressing to Olympic lifts when appropriate can all lead to improved power production.
Spring golf conditioning will help each golfer uncover weak links in the kinetic chain and progress to build the balance, dynamic mobility, linked strength and rotary power to hit the ball further, score better and, most importantly, stay healthy for the long golf season ahead.
Building an athletic foundation and training athletically will allow golfers to develop all of the components necessary to safely enhance swing efficiency. Putting in the time on the course, perfecting the technical aspects of the swing and getting the ball in the hole is up to you.