Golf Specific Fitness is the physical conditioning NEEDED to help improve the mobility and/or stability of the the golfer to achieve golf specific movement. Developing this specific form of fitness will help improve the mobility and stability of the joints to allow for proper turn and repetitive movements. A lack of stability and mobility can lead to compensations and swing deficiencies. Increased golf fitness can enhance proper control and balance of the body to maintain postures needed during the swing action. With enough specific fitness a golfer's power and muscular strength will also be improved.
Golf Specific Fitness can help a golfer potentially hit further, increase accuracy, decrease fatigue on the range and course, and help a golfer commit to his or her shots. Golf is a precision sport. If postures and movements are "off" at anytime during a round, numerous stressors can be placed on the body and cause strains/sprains. This, in turn, can lead to less golf played throughout the season!
Two of Rebound's physical therapists, Brad Ott and Jason Grissom, teamed up to help demonstrate how you can test yourself at home and get a baseline of your current asymmetries and Golf Specific Fitness level. If any of your tests results are "positive", we suggest calling us to sign up for a Golf Specific Fitness Consult to address these deficits and improve your golf game.
Remember, your body is your most important piece of golf equipment!
Dive a little deeper into the research behind this fitness with these articles and FACTS:
Golf Posture a Key Performance Factor
80-90% of golf instructors have said that your posture at address dictates the full swing. That’s interesting, given that the swing hasn’t even started yet. So what’s up with the emphasis on address posture?
One important view of golf posture is seen looking “down the target line”, meaning from behind your backswing side. Instructors look to see the shape of your spine, amount of bend in the hips and knees, and whether the appearance is “athletic”. There are three common postures, of which two are less than ideal; C-shape, S-shape, and neutral. These postures mirror postural habits you have in everyday life.
Note the posture of today’s pros on television. They have extremely athletic posture with a straight spine leaning forward comfortably from hips that are hinged. This is the ‘neutral posture’. This position allows a maximum shoulder turn while storing energy in the core and hips that will be utilized during the transition move in to impact.
Golfers with a rounded back are categorized as C-shape, similar to slouching while sitting on a barstool. Spine biomechanics dictate the amount of flexibility to make a shoulder turn, and this rounded posture completely restricts your rotation. Following this golfer to their workplace we would likely see this same slouching pattern throughout the day. Why would they ever address a golf ball any different than what they have habituated all day long?
S-shape golfers have rounded upper backs, but in the lower back have excessive inward curves, thus the “S” shape. This inward arch is called anterior pelvic tilt. They may have previously been a C-shape posture, but someone told them to “stick their bottom out”, inadvertently creating the excess curve. They often have significant low back tension, if not pain. They haven’t even taken the club away and they are in the dreaded “reverse-C” posture.
Golfers serious about improving their game need to have better golf posture, and better posture with daily life. Every person is different but some of the underlying physical causes for the poor posture at address include the following:
C-shape posture: excessive slouching and forward head throughout the day; tight chest muscles in the front and weak upper back and shoulder blade muscles in the back; poor awareness of the hips and core. Associated swing flaws may include swaying, reverse pivoting, rising up out of posture at address, and others.
S-shape posture: tight hip flexors, weak lower abdominals, and weak gluteals allowing the pelvis to tip forward and low back to arch; poor flexibility in the mid-back similar to the C-shaped golfer but has learned to compensate with the lower back.
Neutral-shape posture: these golfers have far fewer postural imbalances they are fighting, and they get to athletic postures with little tension or strain in their bodies. They are able to maintain consistent axes of rotation and recruit the “large muscles”, all leading to consistency.
Have a friend take a photo of your golf posture. You may be surprised at what you see.
Golf and Core Strength
Core strength is a popular topic these days. Certainly it relates to overall fitness and sports performance in a number of ways. So what is the ‘core’ and where does it start and end, and more importantly how does it relate to golf performance?
The concept of the core originates from research that identified the importance of muscles deep in the pelvis, abdomen and midsection that stabilize our body’s center of mass with simple movements for daily life and also for sport activity. If you are thinking that your core is merely your abs you are mistaken. From a biomechanical perspective the core includes not only abdominal muscles but also deep muscles in the pelvis, buttocks/hips, back, and others extending into the ribcage and shoulder blades.
Your core can be thought of as an anchoring system. Think of jumping out of a slowly moving golf cart as you pull up to the green. To land and not fall over your neuromuscular system has to sense where your body’s center of mass is and quickly strategize how to stabilize it. The sequence starts with the core muscles activating, then the muscular effort spreads out to the arms and legs.
Good core strength promotes a solid foundation for an athlete to move the arms and legs efficiently.
We have all seen an example of poor core strength in young kids who are going through major growth spurts with their limbs lengthening. These kids, when trying to run, look like an octopus falling out of a tree with their limbs flailing in all directions. All of this extra movement is a sign of poor core strength and coordination.
When your golf instructor says “hit it with your big muscles” they are talking about the core. Good core strength allows the lower body to be powerful, yet seemingly quiet during the backswing. It also allows the shoulders, arms and hands to be more relaxed, void of extra tension throughout the golf swing. This relates to better tempo and the ultimate bull-whip effect transferring speed to the club head just before impact.
Another value of core strength in golf is dynamic balance and stability. During the downswing there is a major transfer of linear energy (toward the target line), however at impact position this powerful motion must be stopped and turned into rotational energy as the hips clear and the pelvis rotates. Core strength, again including the hips, is a key component to this sequence and it assists in finishing the golf swing in a nice, balanced pose on the left side.
The core also plays a major role in injury prevention. One of the most common complaints with golfers is low back pain and many of these individuals lack the core strength to protect their spine against the significant torque involved in repetitive golf swings.
Take a close look at current professional players. You won’t see bulging shoulder and arm muscles for the most part, but you will see much more athletic bodies than 10 and 15 years ago. It is well documented that most of the top players on both tours spend hours weekly on their core strength and integrating it into their golf swings for both performance and injury prevention.
Is Your Golf Swing Hip?
Golf is all about rotation. Keeping your axis of rotation consistent allows for a repeatable swing and improved performance. In our body’s design there is one joint that is fantastic to rotate through, yet many of us struggle with. That joint would be your hip.
As a ball and socket joint the hip is designed to handle rotation, much more so than your spinal joints and certainly more than the knees which are hinge joints. Two key qualities that our hips need for golf are mobility (flexibility) and stability (strength). Watching current professional golfers from the waist down you will see that during their backswing there is very little motion in their lower body. This “quiet” lower body indicates very good rotational flexibility and strength in the hips.
In a biomechanical study comparing the physical differences between professional players and amateurs the number one physical characteristic difference was hip strength. The pro’s averaged 30% stronger in the hip muscles as compared to amateurs. So how does this relate to potential golf swing flaws?
In the backswing (right handed golfers) a lack of rotational flexibility or strength can result in a lateral slide of the hips or a lower body reverse pivot. Ideally in the backswing there is storage of power occurring in the right hip, similar to a baseball pitcher winding up before driving off the mound. Since the lower body and pelvis are to lead the swing into impact position a lack of strength in the hips may delay that motion and cause the arms and upper body to take over the transition move, resulting in casting the club or an over the top move.
Moving in to the impact position (again for right handers) it becomes critical that the left hip have both rotational flexibility and strength. From the backswing to impact there is a large linear transition of forces down the target line, however it is important that just before impact that the left leg “post up”. Having a firm left side just before impact is analogous to using a bull-whip and stopping the butt-end of the bull-whip to transmit forces to the tip of the whip, which is your club head. This requires good left hip mobility and strength.
Signs of potential left hip limitations include sliding through the impact position with the left knee diving toward the target or a delayed rotation, or clearing, of the pelvis around to the left. In both situations there is a loss of power and the swing becomes more arms dominant and less effective.
Limitations in hip flexibility and strength can also relate to injuries and pain such as lower back pain. When a golfer lacks hip rotational flexibility they may compensate and pass that motion to the lower spine, an area not designed for excessive rotation. This may result in an acute pain episode or simply chronic low back pain, a very common complaint in golfers.
Golf-specific Fitness – A New Age
This golf season let’s all commit to getting better. Your recipe for golf performance enhancement should include 5 performance factors: properly fit equipment, mental skills, professional instruction, physical fitness, and natural talent. The first four are things you can change; the last is the one you can’t buy in the pro shop.
Professional golfers are now recognized as true athletes, something that wasn’t considered much before the arrival of Tiger Woods. I was able to experience firsthand the new age of golf fitness at the 2007 US Open at Oakmont where I walked a practice round with former CSU golfer Martin Laird, and Masters champion Zach Johnson. After the 5 ½ hour practice round you’d expect most to retire for the day, but there we were heading to the hotel gym for a workout. I was impressed to see more than 15 professionals entered in the tournament working out AFTER the long day on the course.
Physical fitness factors that relate to improved golf performance include: posture, flexibility, balance, core strength, and movement efficiency. Ideally a workout program addressing these factors would not only be golf-specific but also customized to the individual. Although the golf swing is not a symmetrical motion another key to performance and injury prevention is having equal range of motion and flexibility in the large rotational joints including the hips and shoulders.
Golfers who know the language of the sport will recognize how these physical attributes relate to performance by the following correlations: posture = alignment, flexibility = swing width, balance = stability, core strength = power, movement efficiency = swing consistency.
Anyone interested in hitting it further? Spending some recent time with the Titleist Performance Institute (TPI) there was an interesting but simple quote made: “To increase force through the golf ball you have to be able to increase force through the body”. Somehow I don’t think sitting at a desk all day and then working the t.v. remote in the evening with a thumb is going to accomplish that.
“Use it or lose it”. Another nice quote that hits home when it relates to our golfing bodies, general fitness, and overall quality of life. Does that mean we need to spend an hour a day attacking those five golf-specific physical factors to see improvement? Absolutely not, and many golfers can make huge strides in their fitness for golf with 15-30 minute workouts if they are targeted properly.
Investing in your body, without question, will allow you to get more out of your lessons and practice sessions. Imagine being physically able to get to ideal swing positions that your pro is instructing with less stress on your body, more consistency, and of course using it all to take money off your playing partners. And, an additional benefit is creating a body that is more resistant to injuries.
Spring Golf – Is Your Body Ready?
Golf courses around Northern Colorado are showing signs of spring, and Master’s week will surely fuel the desire to jump into the 2013 season. There’s only one problem. Our golfing bodies have been in hibernation and the risk for injury looms for players of all abilities.
Golf is often perceived as a low risk sport, however it is actually quite physically demanding and injuries are more common than you might think. Several research studies have shown that 60% of professional golfers and 40% of amateurs suffer either a traumatic or overuse injury due to golfing each year. Of these injuries, 80% are related to “overuse”, a term which means chronic, repetitive stress to muscles, tendons and joints. In amateur golfers, the most common complaint is low back pain. Another common condition is tendinitis, often in the elbows, shoulders or wrists.
On average, each injury causes golfers to lose 5 weeks of playing time, not to mention the potential need for medical attention or therapy to recover. Golfers new to the game are often hurt because of poor swing mechanics, but avid golfers with years of experience frequently suffer overuse injuries. This season’s first piece of advice would be to take a lesson from a local PGA pro to learn or reinforce sound swing fundamentals. No amount of physical conditioning can prevent an overuse injury if your swing mechanics are habitually poor.
Besides the fact that most golfers in Colorado have had 4 or more months off from golf, many people have jobs that are sedentary. Picture slouched posture with forward shoulders and a protruded head. This desk or computer work rarely offers the opportunity to do the most critical motion in the golf swing; rotation through multiple joints in the body. Because of this, all golfers would benefit from active rotational stretches for the hips, trunk, and shoulders. Immediately after these basic exercises, grab a 7 iron and take 20-25 swings in your yard or garage being sure to take a full backswing and then hold the finish position for 3 seconds. This will help activate key golf muscles while taking multiple joints through golf-specific range of motions. Tell your body there’s a new sheriff in town and it’s time to prepare for golf season.
Start your golf season slowly. Coming out of winter your body is likely not conditioned for the strain of lengthy practice sessions. Work up to your desired level of practice and play and consider increased time on short game and a little less on full swing practice sessions. Prior to each round or range session, take the time to warm up. In line with the “start slow” theory is a warning about excessive practice on the synthetic golf mats, which unfortunately are a must in the early season before there is steady grass growth. Studies consistently show increased vibrational and jarring forces on mats as compared to grass, and these forces are often the source of tendinitis and muscle strains in the wrists, elbows and shoulders.
Back Pain and Golf
Is a sore back interfering with your golf game? 80% of the adult population (non-golfers too) will suffer low back pain at some time, and with golfers it often becomes chronic. Low back pain is the number one injury complaint among amateurs.
Most acute episodes of back pain are transient, however statistics show it is highly likely to return, and without a prevention strategy the subsequent episodes tend to be more severe and take longer to recover from.
Not all back pain is the same. Sources for the pain can be muscular, spinal disks, spinal facet joints, nerve impingement, and pelvic mal-alignment just to name a few. Unfortunately, most adults are more inclined to go to the medicine cabinet for a “magic pill” than take control of the problem by working with a medical professional. Kind of like buying that fancy new $500 driver as opposed to correcting your actual swing flaw.
The key to fixing a bad back is to uncover the root causes. Just like a criminal, each bad back has different behavior patterns that need to be clearly identified. One golfer may need flexibility while others may need to address alignment or strength issues. Once detected, a customized home exercise routine should empower you to “treat your own back” and stay in control.
Analyzing the golf swing biomechanically there are a number of potential pitfalls that may be ruining your lower back. Rotational forces in the golf swing are significant, yet our low backs are not built for rotation. Having good hip range of motion and strength is key to minimizing torque into the lower back, as is good core strength to provide protection.
Poor swing mechanics may also be at fault. Even super fit golfers who make a bad move in their swing cannot survive the repetitive strain. These individuals often do not have acute pain but instead a chronically sore back after a round or the next day. Golfers in this category likely need lessons with a PGA instructor as much if not more than they need a medical specialist.
How about a simple strategy? Warm up. Most amateurs rush off from work, where they have been sitting all day with lousy posture, arriving minutes before their tee time, and then fail to properly warm up. That’s right big boy; rush over to the first tee, pull out the driver and let er’ rip! How’s that working for your game, and your back? A proper warm-up can take as little as five minutes but if done right can save your back.
Want an extra bonus? Most golfers who finally address the physical imbalances that are causing their pain find their swings are more consistent. Those working with a swing instructor tell us they are now able to pull off correct swing mechanics that they’ve struggled with for years, and without pain!
The off season is a great time to invest in your body and finally take some control over your back pain. It’s not as difficult or time intensive as you may think.
Brad Ott MSPT cert MDT, is a physical therapist and president of Rebound Sports & Physical Therapy. He is also a consultant to CSU Men’s Golf. Contact him at [email protected] .