If you’re struggling to put the club in the positions you want due to a lack of mobility or often find yourself limiting practice/ playing time due to niggling injuries you put down to 'playing too much golf’, this time of year is your best opportunity to fix it.
The golf swing is an asymmetrical, high velocity, high load movement - indeed the eccentric load required to decelerate the club is particularly high - the equivalent of an NFL linebacker tackling you at some joints! Golf is also a high skill game requiring many repetitions, in practice and play, to get and stay good.
As a golfer, then, you’ve likely spent much of the past 6-8 months engaging in this movement for 1000’s upon 1000’s of reps. All that one sided motion and exposure to load leads to imbalances in the muscles of the body, reductions in range of motion and even injury.
There is even a scientific formula to explain this concept:
The I stands for insult to tissues, but for our purposes we can get away with substituting this for injury. N is number of repetitions, F is force, A is amplitude or range of motion and R is relaxation or rest between repetitions.
Simply stated, the higher the NxF value and the lower the AxR value, the higher the risk of injury. Minimising the NxF value and maximising the AxR value will reduce the risk of repetitive motion injury.⠀
This can be accomplished in a number of ways:⠀⠀
- Reduce the number of repetitions performed.
- Increase maximal strength, thereby reducing the force of the golf swing relative to our maximal force output and lowering the F value relatively speaking.
- Increase range of motion at relevant joints, thereby lowering the amplitude of the swing relative to the available range of motion and reducing the A value relatively speaking.
- Increase the rest time between repetitions - this can’t really be practically applied in golf play or practice however so we’re hamstrung here and need to focus on the other factors we can control.
In-season, we do our best to manage the variables in this equation. However, the fact that the force behind the negative changes we are trying to change (i.e. the golf swing) is still being performed, and is in actual fact the priority (meaning we can’t control many of the variables), makes improving or making real change to mobility or tissue resilience difficult.
Myth: The idea that you need to just play the play is wrong. You need a sensible plan for technical, physical and mental skill development that takes into account long-term athlete development and keeps you resilient/ healthy. After all nothing will put a stop to progress or skill development quicker than not being able to play because you’re injured.
Even if you are a competitive golfer with the opportunity to go to sunnier climes for winter practice/ play or lucky enough to live somewhere you can play year round it is wise to take a short break from playing or at least radically reduce your volume of swings at some point during the year.
As one of my online coaching clients stated to me recently, "I didn’t realise how much toll the golf swing takes on your body over time, taking a few months off over the off-season has me feeling better than I ever have".
If you read my previous article you’ll know that my golfers are in an anatomical adaptation phase right now. You’ll also know that in my opinion all exercise should be viewed on a continuum from Health to Performance.
The weather or lack of competitive schedule is putting pay to performance most likely anyway, so now is the time to take a step back and focus on health, particularly for those that play the game for a living.
As such, during this training phase we are capitalising on the reduction in the volume of practice/ play that typically happens at the start of the off-season to also affect those other variables in the equation and increase the insult your tissues can bear before you encounter a problem.
Put simply, we are increasing the bodies resilience to injuries/ pain, as a result of the golf swing.
Our aims in this phase are therefore to:
- Allow the body time to recover
- Take advantage of reduced swing volume to deal with any injuries present
- Improve range of motion/ mobility at joints and in patterns relative to the golf swing
- Re-establish strength and control in general movement patterns (particular focus at this time is paid to eccentric strength)
It is important to note these goals are in order of priority - injury prevention and mobility is more important than strength development at this time in order to both allow some recovery from the season just gone and as preparation for the more intense training to come.
Now you have a grasp of what you should be working on in the gym at this time and why, let’s get to the fun stuff and take a look at how.
The bit to skip to anyway if you don’t care about the why and just want to know what to do...
The ability to hip hinge, good core strength, good glute function, adequate t-spine mobility, adequate hip and shoulder mobility, will go along way to making sure you’re moving well in the golf swing and therefore not placing undue stress on the joints.
Additionally, in this training phase we are looking at exercises that promote health and function over fitness. Indeed the first few weeks to month of our off-season program will typically feature a reduced volume of training or may even just include some low level mobility and movement work rather than resistance training in order to allow recovery (this will be very individual based on the goals of the athlete, training history, age, recovery abilities, time available until the start of next season, etc).
Here are my 5 key exercises to get the job done. These form the backbone of my programs at this stage of the year for most.
Exercise #1 - Hip hinge
When people think hip hinge they typically think deadlift. And in turn they think of heavy loads, strength development and that old back problem they developed from they’re sh**ty form (as Dan John, once said deadlifts don’t hurt your back, what your doing hurts your back)
However, whilst all deadlifts are hip hinges, not all hip hinges are deadlifts and by taking a step back and re-patterning the movement so you execute it well, you’ll be able to handle heavier loads more safely and thus train more effectively when it comes time to really focus on strength and power development. Not only that - and possibly more importantly considering the title of this article - you’ll bulletproof your lower back from injury, improve your golf posture and your ability to dissociate the hips from the upper body.
One of my favourite drills to teach or re-teach the hip hinge is the sternum hip hinge - I’ll often program this in warm-ups whilst loading up eccentric hip bridge variations in the main workouts to develop some tissue resilience.
Exercise #2 - Quadruped rib grab rotation
The ability to rotate the thorax/ thoracic spine has been linked to reducing back pain and good health across all populations and a lack of thoracic motion in a rotational sporting movement like the golf swing often leads to compensatory movement at the lower back. Indeed, research shows that a golfer who’s shoulder turn in the backswing exceeds their ability to rotate their thoracic spine i.e. they are compensating/ gaining more range of motion by rotating the lower back are more likely to suffer back pain.
Work by Dr. Greg Rose at TPI has shown that the general population should have about 60 degrees of rotation in the exercise shown below, whilst golfers and rotational athletes should strive for nearer 90. Give it and go and see how you stack up. If you’re short of the 90 degree mark - and especially if your short of that 60 degree mark - include the drill in your warm-ups and daily movement work.
Exercise #3 - Dead-bug pos. KB screwdriver
The shoulders go through a large range of motion with each and every golf swing we make and as such a strong and stable shoulder is a must if we are to stay healthy.
Further we can’t underestimate the effect of our more sedentary lifestyles on shoulder health - recently a study cited the shoulder has overtaken the lower back as the most common area for a person to experience pain or injury.
Most shoulder pain is the result of the humeral head (ball of the shoulder joint) travelling anteriorly and superiorly (forward and upward) in the shoulder socket, and pinching on nervous etc as it runs into to other structures, and a scapular that is either positioned in posterior (downward) tilt or doesn’t protract, anteriorly (upwardly) tilt and upwardly rotate to bias/ allow this . Shoulder health, in short then, is all about keeping the ball in the socket.
Kettlebell screwdriver drills are a great way to activate the serratus anterior and lower trap muscles that are so often underactive, and therefore improve scapular position/ function, as well as teaching the athlete to create stability and centration of that ball in the socket. The addition of the dead-bug position up the activation of the core musculature and creates even more stability.
Exercise #4 - Push-up
The push-up is a much underrated exercise giving many of the same benefits to shoulder health as mentioned for the screwdriver above - it’s a great serratus activation exercise is you really push through your hands and reach the upper back to the ceiling at the top of the movement. Done properly, focusing on squeezing everything from head to toe to create tension and pulling the belt buckle o the belly button, it also challenges core strength and the ability to maintain proper pelvis position.
If you think push-ups are too easy progess by elevating the feet, then add a plate for added resistance and a bosu ball for an unstable surface to press from and even more shoulder stability.
Exercise #5 - Goblet split-squat
Thanks to Newton’s third law power in the golf swing comes from the ground up. Lower body strength is therefore vital for a powerful golf swing. When talking about longevity in golf, this is made doubly important by the fact that strength and power decline as we age, in process called sarcopenia.
In short, if you want to play your best golf for as long as you can you need to be actively doing something to maintain strength
The split-squat position also reduces load on the lumbar vertebrae, potentially useful for lower back health and also challenges hip mobility, pelvic control and core strength.
The exercises presented here form the backbone of most of my programs for golfers at this time of year and I have tried to select exercises for this list that can be combined to form a pretty reasonable work out for most - just do a warm-up including some foam rolling, mobility work, etc and add a pull or row variation and you’re doing pretty well.
However, obviously this is no substitute for having your individual needs assessed/ identified and a program written specifically for those needs.
If you want to know more about your particular needs and how specialised mobility work, exercise progressions and regressions, etc can be added to the bones of this workout, you can join our online coaching program to undergo an assessment process and get an individualised program from just £29/ month.