The full golf swing is perhaps the most over analyzed motion in sports. There are as many opinions and theories of how to swing a golf club as there are professional instructors of the game. Most if not all of the contemporary swing instructional concepts have elements of truth that make them work very well for some people at least for some of the time. On the other hand, many golfers can’t maintain their improved swing performance results very long after their golf lesson and some may temporarily experience worse results following professional instruction.
Consequently, to suggest that there is one, “ideal” golf swing for every golfer, regardless of age, body type, ability and playing experience would be shortsighted. However, there is a definition for the “ideal golf swing” that is accepted by most golf coaches and golfers alike. This more broad yet highly functional definition reads as follows: The “ideal golf swing” is a customized swing that produces both optimal (consistently improving) performance and is least stressful to the golfer’s body.
The experts who operate from within this definition maintain that every golfer requires a different swing and that their individualized swing must evolve over time. Additionally, safety can never be compromised for better performance nor can consistently improving swing performance be compromised to facilitate less stress on the body. Both elements must always be enforced to achieve the ideal golf swing definition. If the preferred and repeatable golf swing is not producing both high level performance results and creating as little stress as possible in a golfer’s body then it must not truly be that golfer’s “ideal” swing.
With this in mind, the purpose of this book is to provide golfers with useful information about the physical relationship to achieving their “ideal” golf swing. This book will begin by defining the five essential performance factors that when fully integrated are necessary to achieve optimal and safe performance. It will then describe the five essential physical elements required to perform great golf while reducing the risk of injury. Then, the golfer will be introduced to three fundamental principles related to human-performance training: 1) the law of structure governs function, 2) sport-specific fitness training, and 3) customized fitness training. Additionally, this book will suggest an effective method for every golfer to identify his/her individual physical performance needs.
After, reading this book, golfers should have a clear understanding that “their body is the most important piece of golf equipment”®. Moreover, the information in this book should motivate golfers to pursue their own golf-specific physical evaluation as quickly as possible. It will be convincingly presented to the golfer that once their physical fitness needs have been clearly defined, a customized, physical fitness-training program should then be designed. Integrating the physical changes from a regular, golf-specific and customized fitness-training program with professional instruction will provide the best possible strategy to help golfers of all ages and abilities to effectively and safely find their “ideal” swing, therefore, giving them the best chance for reaching their individual performance goals for a lifetime.
Five Essential Performance Factors
To begin with, let’s define the five essential performance factors to any golfer achieving the “ideal” swing. As in every sport, optimal and safe performance in golf can only be achieved through the effective integration of five “non-negotiable” factors:
1) Professional instruction and practicing of the learned golf-specific mechanics, techniques and strategies.
2) Golf-specific mental training — particularly the elements of self-confidence, self-control, concentration, the ability to relax, have FUN and to make good decisions.
3) The use of properly fit and technologically advanced equipment.
4) Golf-specific talent.
5) A customized and sport-specific physical training program.
All five ingredients are equally important and must be constantly blended as we strive to play our very best. This process in action is called “integrated performance enhancement” and is mandatory for any golfer to reach their goal of optimal and safe performance.
Nonetheless, far too many golfers and professional instructors of the game have not yet accepted this philosophy. They, instead, continue to believe that simply by taking more golf lessons, playing more frequently and/or purchasing new, technologically advanced equipment is all that will be necessary to improve and play great golf. Moreover, too much of the golf world considers the players on the PGA, LPGA and/or Senior PGA Tours as the ideal physical “standards” or models from which to compare all golfers.
It is well accepted that taking golf lessons from a professional instructor can and will help to improve your golf skills. Likewise, practicing and playing more golf is a critical element toward mastering the skills learned from the lesson environment. Most of us have also spent significant dollars on the latest technological breakthroughs in golf equipment hoping to experience the added distance, accuracy and consistency promised in the national ad campaigns. Furthermore, it is very true that the majority of successful professional golfers, past and present, have never done anything to physically condition their bodies other than pound buckets of balls and play more golf.
But, if we continue to compare ourselves to the majority of the unfit tour players, we may never change our beliefs about the importance of physical fitness for golf. After all, for other than a few players like Gary Player and Bruce Crampton, it wasn’t until the last ten years that players on any of the professional tours have begun to look more seriously at starting fitness-training programs. Additionally, for many of the players who did start exercise programs, their exercise programs were initiated to rehabilitate and prevent an injury, not because they had made a conscious effort to play better golf.
Fortunately, however, the times are rapidly changing. In the last ten years, a fitness revolution has started. It began as a direct result of the PGA Tour, Senior PGA Tour and LPGA Tour mobile fitness centers staffed by trained health and fitness experts. Their purpose was to help not only treat injuries but promote performance enhancement among the best players in the world. The response has been more and more top players have added physical conditioning into their complete performance enhancement programs.
Greg Norman, Tom Kite, Jack Nicklaus, Ray Floyd, Hale Irwin, Jim Colbert, Nancy Lopez and Patty Sheehan are just a few of the successful players who have been strong supporters of fitness training for golf. Their success has led to a growing number of other professionals on both the men’s and ladies’ tours to take advantage of the tremendous performance-enhancing and injury-reducing benefits of integrating physical training with equipment changes and practice routines. And now, with the arrival of the new breed of golfer like Tiger Woods, David Duval and Ernie Els, who are known to have their own fitness specialists and spend a minimum of 1-2 hours a day on golf-specific physical training programs, the rest of the golf world, amateurs and professionals alike, are beginning to take notice of how valuable conditioning your body for golf really is.
The principles and modern training techniques that are contained within the “integrated performance enhancement” philosophy, when precisely defined, understood, effectively promoted by the majority of professional golf instructors and then practiced by the majority of golfers around the world, will contribute to the next major breakthrough in golf performance. The combined effects will be lower scores, reduced numbers of injuries and improved enjoyment for millions of golfers for a lifetime.
Can you imagine the difference this will be from the current performance scene? In the past 15 years that statistics have been kept, the PGA Tour scoring averages, average driving distance, percentages of fairways and greens in regulation have not significantly changed despite improvements in instruction, equipment and course conditions. Likewise, national scoring for amateurs has not improved in the past twenty-five years. Only 1/10 of 1% of male golfers and only 0.06% female golfers shoot par golf! Perhaps, in the not too distant future, we will be watching professional golfers scoring consistently in the 50’s and many more avid, amateur golfers will be consistently shooting par!
Three Fundamental Principles
Now that the elements of “integrated performance enhancement” have been defined, we can next explore three fundamental principles specific to the development of a physical fitness-training program for optimal and safe golf performance:
1) Structure governs performance.
2) Physical training influences structure.
3) Exercise programs must be customized and sport-specific.
Let’s examine each concept separately.
1) Structure Governs Performance
Imagine, pulling your driver out of the bag on the first tee and realizing that the shaft was bent. Would you ever consider using it? Certainly not, because you know that the bent shaft would significantly alter the performance of the club or you could even get hurt trying. This graphic analogy simply and accurately describes the first and most important fundamental principle of structure governs performance. Put simply, a golfer’s physical structure correlates directly with their swing mechanics. The many individual ways golfers grip their club, achieve postures at address and perform the remainder of the full swing motion is governed by their natural physical structure. It is this most basic fundamental principle of biomechanics that allows us to better realize how every swing flaw has a physical, structural influence.
In order for any golfer to perform optimally as a golfer, they need to be structured to perform as a golfer. To consistently perform and remain injury-free when you play golf you must consistently, shot after shot, achieve proper posture at address, have the necessary balance, flexibility, strength and conditioning to achieve the ideal club position throughout the swing while generating the necessary club head speed and control to deliver the desired shot. This golf-specific performance is a direct response to the ideal physical structure required to achieve the essential components of the golf swing. Just what the golf-specific structural components are and how each golfer can evaluate their individual physical needs will be discussed later in the chapter.
2) Physical Training Improves Structure
If golfers structures do influence their ability to effectively and safely swing a golf club then how can golfers improve their structure to play better and safer golf? The solution comes by way of a complete understanding of how the body is really structured. Knowing a little something about our body’s anatomy and physiology greatly magnifies the importance of fitness training for golf.
To begin with, let’s introduce one of the most important systems of the body called the fascial/connective tissue system. The specific material that makes up the connective tissue system is called fascia. Fascia is the tough connective tissue made up of various proteins. It surrounds and permeates every structure of our body including nerves, blood vessels, muscles and bones. It spreads like a three-dimensional web throughout the entire body from the top of our head to the bottom of our toes. Simply put, fascia is the immediate environment around every cell in our body. Our body’s fascial/connective tissue system influences and/or is responsible for our flexibility, mobility, posture and function.
Fascia’s other main function is to retain our body’s normal shape providing protective resiliency to various stresses. Scientific measurements have been taken to identify the
elastic properties of fascia. The research found that fascia withstands up to 2000 pounds per square inch of tensile and/or compressive force. In other words, it is extremely tough, resilient material. Subsequently, when restrictions develop within the fascial system, they are not easily released. Therefore, in order for golfers to effectively change their body structure to help improve their ability to play better golf, they benefit most by following a specific sequence of physical training called “release, reeducate and rebuild”.
First, they must release their connective tissue restrictions. Specially designed flexibility exercises help reduce tension in the inelastic portions of the fascial system that are resistant to lengthening. These stretching exercises must be performed at low intensity and prolonged duration. Many people with significant fascial tightness need to sustain a single flexibility exercise for a minimum of 3-5 minutes before the multiple layers of fascia begin to relax. A gentle, sustained stretching technique is far more effective than a short-duration, intense stretch because it provides a more effective and more permanent lengthening effect within the tough connective tissue of our body.
As the fascial restrictions are being effectively reduced, golfers then need to reeducate their structures through specialized exercises aimed at improving posture, balance, stability and control. The reeducation exercises help golfers capitalize from their improved flexibility by teaching them how to feel the positions in which their body is most functional. The goal for each golfer is to develop a new postural identity that produces a posture at address and swing mechanics that are safe, efficient, reproducible and highly effective.
Lastly, golfers are taught a program of rebuilding exercises. Rebuilding exercises are strengthening exercises designed to solidify and then reinforce a golfer’s physical structure and dynamic swing motion. They can also improve the golfer’s swing speed for added distance as well as improving muscular endurance for better swing control and performance toward the end of a round and/or longer practice sessions.
The “release, reeducate and rebuild” sequence of exercising works perfectly for golfers and can effectively change their body structure. When their structure is enhanced then their golf swing performance potential is also enhanced — as long as they are integrating their new physical conditioning with professional instruction and properly fit equipment.
- 3. Exercise Programs Must be Customized and Golf–Specific
The goal for every golfer should be to achieve their “ideal” golf swing. Remember that the definition of the “ideal” swing is the swing that provides optimal performance and places least strain on the body. Unfortunately, most golfers are only concerned with improving their swing to playing better golf. Only after they may begin feeling pain in their low back, neck, shoulder, elbow or wrist do they take notice of their bodies at all.
Consequently, in order for golfers to achieve the “ideal” golf swing then all five performance factors (physical training, mental training, skills training, custom fit equipment and talent) must be specifically addressed individually and then integrated. With this understood, the third fundamental principle stating that exercise programs necessarily need to be customized to the individual needs of the golfer as well as golf-specific in order to achieve optimal and safe performance.
Unfortunately, even the golfers who have recognized the importance of fitness have not been informed of the essential elements of sport-specific exercises and customization of fitness programs. Most exercise programs performed by golfers are not golf-specific. They are geared to the general-public’s conception of fitness-training programs customary to other sports. It is in other sports like football, basketball, track and field and even tennis that people are more familiar with when it comes to training and conditioning as an integral part of playing the sport. People assume that fitness is fitness and if a conditioning program helps an athlete get fit for one sport then it should help a golfer get fit as well.
This belief couldn’t be farther from the truth. Fitness programs for other sports are not designed around research identifying the specific muscles, movement patterns and physical performance factors ideally supporting the golf swing. There are golf-specific postures, areas of needed flexibility, strength and conditioning that are necessary to perform optimally and safely that are very different from the performance demands of other sports.
Let’s examine just one example of how golfers need to condition themselves differently than athletes in other sports. Every golfer knows how important rotation flexibility is to completing a full turn during the backswing and/or completing a full follow-through motion. Golfers need to have a fitness-training program that develops and maintains a sufficient degree of rotation flexibility in their middle (thoracic) spine and in their hips. In contrast, rotation flexibility is less important for a middle linebacker in football. A linebacker needs his fitness-training program to develop strength, power and quickness with the goal of keeping the offensive player in front of him where he has the best power advantage to control the ball carrier and make the tackle.
Of equal importance to golf-specific training is the concept of customized fitness training. If golfers start exercise programs that are not designed around their personal physical weaknesses, are not tailored to the special demands of golf and are not aimed to accomplish the personal performance goals of each golfer then the chances of their exercise program really helping are slim to none. In fact, more often than not, a golfer following a generic program will become injured and/or their golf performance will suffer from a fitness-training program that was not properly designed specifically around their individual needs.
How can a golfer get a customized, golf-specific program? The only way for golfers to be certain that their fitness programs are both customized and golf-specific is by going to a health and fitness professional who has the training and experience to completely evaluate golfer’s physical needs and is fully aware of the performance requirements unique to golf. To be helpful, fitness experts don’t necessarily have to be great golfers themselves but they do need to fully understand the sport. They should, nonetheless, be able to communicate in golf-specific terminology the golf-specific demands of the sport to best serve your needs and help you reach your performance goals.
If you are interested in beginning a fitness program to help improve your golf performance potential then starting a fitness program off on the right foot is essential. Receiving help from a trained professional can mean the difference from safely and efficiently reaching all of your performance goals or not. Therefore, do some research and contact a licensed physical therapist, physician and/or personal trainer in your area. You should inquire about whether the health and fitness expert has attended one or more of the golf-specific, fitness-training seminars now offered nationally. Find out whether they have dedicated themselves to becoming golf fitness and performance enhancement specialists.
After you have found a specialist to work with, find out what sort of initial physical performance evaluation will be performed. The initial physical performance evaluation is the basis from which a customized fitness-training program is designed. The elements of the evaluation should minimally include the following:
- Health history of past medical problems, pain problems, injuries related to golf, etc.
- Tests to identify postural, structural or biomechanical imbalances that may interfere with your ability to swing.
- Balance assessment.
- Muscle and joint flexibility testing.
- Muscle strength, endurance and control testing.
- Golf swing biomechanical video analysis.
- Golf skills evaluation (measurement of current swing and scoring performance potential including elements of the swing like club head speed and swing path as well as, driving distance, greens and fairways in regulation, handicap, etc.).
- Goals assessment (evaluation of individual performance goals, purpose for playing golf and deadlines for reaching your goals).
Five Essential Physical Performance Factors
There are five essential physical performance factors necessary to achieve the golf-specific structure and function to play safely and effectively. They include the following:
If golfers are lacking in one or more of these areas, they will automatically be forced to compensate for their physical deficit(s) with adjustments in swing mechanics, increased mental concentration, technique and/or equipment in an attempt to maintain a consistent level of play. Making adjustments in function without first correcting the structural imbalances in the body promote temporary, “quick fix”, compensations and will place additional stress on the body that can cause injuries.
When specifically evaluated, golfers commonly have combinations of structural imbalances located throughout their bodies. They often are lacking in or have unequal amounts of flexibility and strength in the paired muscles of both sides of the body that reduces their golf balance, joint stability, coordination and control. Also, these typical physical weaknesses drastically effect posture such that many golfers have one shoulder higher or lower than the other, their pelvis may be twisted contributing to an apparent leg length discrepancy, their spinal curves may be exaggerated and their arms and/or legs may be turned too far in or out compared to the other. A golfer with these structural problems resembles the analogy of the driver with the bent shaft mentioned previously.
You might appropriately ask, “If this is how the majority of golfers are structured, then aren’t these structural imbalances to be considered normal?” The answer is a resounding, “No!” As typical as structural irregularities are, it doesn’t mean, when considering “ideal” and “safe” golf performance that these imbalances should go unnoticed and, even worse, untreated! After all, although most golfers, let alone, most people, are regularly found to have visibly crooked or unbalanced bodies, we have previously established that structure governs function and if a golfer’s structure is not improved, his/her function as a golfer cannot safely and effectively improve either.
The structural imbalances, also known as “asymmetries”, can be caused in several ways. Typical factors include congenitally inherited factors, the natural aging process or they can develop slowly over time due to the variety of micro and macro-traumas experienced by our bodies in life; including the repetitive, asymmetrical movement patterns of thousands of golf swings.
Regardless of the one or more causes for structural imbalances, however, the fascial/connective tissue system can develop restrictions that may compress and/or pull on muscles, tendons, ligaments, nerves, organs and bones with varying degrees of force and direction. Ultimately, without correction, these unbalanced forces contribute to changes in our physical structure and compromise performance potential.
Specifically, the physical changes that result from fascial restrictions commonly prevent ideal movement patterns. These deviations from ideal movement and function are called compensation patterns. Golfers with compensation patterns are unable to accomplish their “ideal” swing. Their ability to perform optimally and safely is significantly altered. Because most golfers have never been physically evaluated to identify their structural weaknesses, they experience poor and/or inconsistent performance or they eventually succumb to an injury.
Golfers bodies are very much like the cars they drive; they require frequent check-ups in order to maintain the physical performance factors necessary to play consistent golf and to stay well. Without expert evaluation, golfers are completely unaware of which, one or more, physical performance factors are deficient. Unless obvious physical symptoms develop — physical pain and/or poor performance results — we continue practicing and playing as long as possible. Even then, when frustrations mount to significantly high levels, golfers blame their performance problems and physical symptoms on the lack of knowledge of proper swing mechanics, poor mental focus, bad equipment or the lack of practice and playing time.
The good news, however, is that every golfer can significantly improve their physical structure to positively influence their physical performance factors and their ultimate function and safety of swinging a golf club. Once they are properly evaluated by a health and performance expert specifically trained to work with golfers, a customized fitness- training program can be designed so that their structure is improved. The result is improved function, better performance potential, reduced injuries and a happier golfer!
To summarize, there is a physical ingredient to achieving the “ideal” golf swing. After reading this book, golfers should now be fully aware that their “most important piece of golf equipment is their body!”® A golf-specific and customized fitness-training program to address the essential physical performance factors is really the “missing ingredient” that golfers have been looking for to help safely and efficiently achieve their “ideal” golf swing; i.e. optimal performance and safety.
Golfers should now also understand that the structure of their body governs its function. If people want to function as golfers they must be structured as golfers. To accomplish the “ideal” golf swing, all golfers need to have their present physical condition professionally evaluated. A fitness expert knowledgeable about the physical performance factors for golf should be contacted to perform the initial, comprehensive physical performance evaluation. The results of the evaluation will then help the fitness expert to develop a customized and golf-specific fitness-training program. Finally, while golfers’ physical ability to play golf improves, they must “integrate” their newly conditioned bodies into the remaining four essential performance factors — the mental game, professional instruction, properly fit equipment and talent.
If more golfers begin to follow this prescription for peak performance then the golf world will see a tremendous improvement in levels of play, reduced injury potential and dramatically increased enjoyment of the game among golfers of all ages and ability.
Sample Physical Tests and Corrective Exercises
The following are samples of some simple to perform physical tests. Taking the time to perform these tests can help provide golfers with some immediate insight about their current physical condition regarding golf-specific posture, balance, flexibility and strength. If any of these sample tests seem to identify areas of physical inflexibility, imbalance and/or weakness, some examples of recommended golf-specific exercises aimed to improve golfers’ physical ability to play golf have also been included.
Test #1: “Club Behind the Spine” Test
The “Club Behind the Spine” test is a very helpful evaluation tool because it can identify several important areas of physical weakness and/or imbalance in one simple test. First, we all know that having adequate rotation flexibility in the spine is one of the most essential physical requirements to perform a good golf swing. The area of the spine where rotation should mostly come from is the middle section known as the thoracic spine. To have maximal flexibility to turn during the swing, however, a golfer’s posture at address must also have the physical potential to achieve a straighter thoracic spine (See Picture #1). In contrast, a bent thoracic spine at address blocks a golfer’s ability to turn (See Picture #2).
Therefore, one important purpose of this test is to determine your physical ability to achieve and maintain the ideal, straighter thoracic spine angle at address through adequate chest and middle spine flexibility. In addition, this test measures, to a degree, your lower abdominal, hip, thigh, middle and upper back and shoulder blade muscle strength — all essential muscle groups for first achieving and then maintaining a proper golf posture at address. Furthermore, this test can identify tightness in your lower back muscles, thigh and hip flexor muscles as well as in the muscles located in the back of your legs called your “hamstrings”. Therefore, as you can see, this can be a very effective test to functionally test many physical areas of your body at the same time.
Perform the “Club Behind the Spine” test as follows:
- Begin by, standing upright while holding a club behind your back.
- In one hand, place the head of the club flat against your tailbone and in your other hand, hold the handle of the club against the back of your head (See Picture #3).
- Then, slightly bend your hips and knees (10-15°) and contract your lower abdominal muscles, as needed, to press the small of your back into the shaft of the club.
- Next, while maintaining complete contact of your lower back to the club shaft, straighten and vertically elongate the middle and upper portions of your spine and neck. The goal is to make as much complete contact of the entire length of your spine and back of your head with the club shaft as possible (See Picture #4).
- Once you have done your best to achieve this position, attempt to bend forward from your hips and proportionately from your knees while maintaining complete club contact with your spine and head. While maintaining proper balance, continue to bend forward from the hips until you are able to comfortably see a spot on the ground in front of you where the golf ball would normally be positioned at address (See Picture #5).
- A final step for this drill is to then remove the club from your back and grip it with both hands in your normal address position while attempting to maintain all the spine, hip and knee angles previously created. (See Picture #6).
If properly achieved, the “Club Behind the Spine” test should position you so that you feel comfortably balanced over the ball with muscle activity appropriately felt in your lower abdominals, thighs, hips, upper back and shoulder blades. You will have achieved a straighter, more efficient, thoracic spine angle and a neutral, more powerful, pelvic position for the golf address position with proper degrees of athletic hip and knee bend. In other words, you will have achieved a posture at address with the greatest potential for producing a safe and highly effective golf swing.
However, if you are unable to achieve the positions of this test easily and/or comfortably, you may find the next two simple exercises very helpful. Nevertheless, please consult your physician before attempting to perform these and/or any of the additional exercises suggested in this chapter. Although these exercises are generally safe for most individuals, if you notice any discomfort while performing these exercises, discontinue and consult with your physician immediately before continuing.
Exercise #1: The “Recumbent Chest and Spine Stretch”
The “Recumbent Chest and Spine Stretch” can be an excellent exercise for golfers to help perform a very important function within the initial phase of any proper exercise progression called the releasing phase. This exercise specifically releases the tightness in your chest, in the front of your shoulders and in your lower back. After you have mastered this exercise, you will have a much better flexibility to achieve the “Club Behind the Spine” test and, therefore, a much better posture potential at address.
Perform this releasing exercise as follows:
- Lie on a flat, firm surface with your hips and knees bent to a 90° angle while comfortably resting your legs on a chair, couch or bed (See Picture #7). Depending upon the degree of tightness in your chest, spine and shoulders, you may need to begin this exercise on a softer surface (exercise mat, blankets on the floor or on your bed) as well as placing a small pillow or towel roll under your head and neck to comfortably support your head and neck in a neutral position. You may also need to place a small towel roll under the small of your back to support the arch of your lower back.
- Next, bend your elbows to approximately 90° and position your arms approximately 60-80° away from the sides of your body so that you begin to feel a comfortable stretch in the front of your chest and shoulders (See Picture #8). If you feel any uncomfortable pinching pain in your shoulder joints, try elevating your arms and rest them on a stack of towels or small pillow so that your elbows are positioned relatively higher from the floor than your shoulders.
- Once properly positioned, relax into this comfortable stretch position for at least 3-5 minutes or until you experience a complete release of the tightness in your chest, front of your shoulders and in your low back. The eventual result that you are looking to gain is a completely flat back, spine and shoulders to the floor. Repeat this exercise daily for 5-10 days until you can perform the exercise easily feeling no lingering tightness in your body while performing the exercise.
- Then, you may want to try increasing the degree of stretch in your body by removing any support or padding under your body and/or arms — or even adding a small towel roll under the middle portion of your spine (shoulder blade level) in a position horizontal to the direction of your spine (See Picture #9). Remember to always keep the degree of stretch comfortable and support your head, neck, spine and arms so you are not putting excessive stress on those structures while you are performing this exercise.
Exercise #2: The “Recumbent Abdominal and Shoulder Blade Squeeze”
The “Recumbent Abdominal and Shoulder Blade Squeeze” exercise is designed to help reeducate your golf posture and begin rebuilding two key areas of muscle strength necessary for great posture at address namely your lower abdominals and your shoulder blade muscles.
Perform this reeducation and rebuilding exercise as follows:
- Assume the same starting position as for Exercise #1: The “Recumbent Chest and Spine Stretch” (See Picture #8).
- Then, contract the muscles of your lower abdominal, middle and lower shoulder blade regions so that you can feel the entire length of your spine, neck and shoulders flattening firmly into the floor. If you are performing this exercise properly, you should feel a comfortable degree of muscle contraction enabling your spine, neck and shoulders to be pressed firmly into the floor while you are able to maintain a normal, relaxed breathing pattern (See Picture #10).
- Hold this contraction for 3-5 breaths, relax and then repeat the exercise. Perform this exercise at least once, every other day for the next 2-3 weeks starting with one set of 10 repetitions and building up gradually to one set of 50 repetitions as needed.
Exercise #3: The “Prone Torso Lift”
To advance the “Recumbent Abdominal and Shoulder Blade Squeeze” exercise, you can challenge your abdominal, spine and shoulder blade muscles to a higher degree by trying the “Prone Torso Lift”. This exercise provides the same golf-specific posture and structural reeducation and rebuilding benefits of the previous exercise but to a more advanced degree.
Perform this exercise as follows:
- Begin by turning over on your stomach, place several large pillows under your body and place your arms in the double “tray position” with your forehead rested on a towel roll (See Picture #11).
- Then, perform a neutral “pelvic tilt” by squeezing your lower abdominal muscles and rotate your pelvis forward to a neutral position.
- Next, place your arms in the double “tray position”, keep your neck long and chin tucked and then lift just your upper torso comfortably up off the pillows until you have achieved a straight spine (See Picture #12). Be certain to keep your neck tucked in neutral and lower back flat by contracting your lower abdominal muscles. Also remember to continue to breathe comfortably throughout the exercise. If performed properly, you should be able to achieve a lift position such that someone could place a golf club flat along your spine and have virtually no space between your spine and the club shaft.
- Hold the lift for 3-5 breaths, then slowly relax and repeat the exercise at least once, every other day for 1-2 sets of 8-12 repetitions over the next 2-3 weeks or until the exercise becomes very easy.
Test #2: “Standing Balance Sway” Test
After posture, the next most important physical characteristic required for optimal and consistent golf swing performance potential is balance. The “Club Behind the Spine” test and the three exercises that followed were included to help you first assess and then achieve a proper, more efficient and safe posture at address. The next test is called the “Standing Balance Sway” Test. Its purpose is to help you identify muscle and connective tissue tightness that may be pulling you out of ideal standing posture and balance thus interfering with your posture and balance at address and during your full swing.
Perform the “Standing Balance Sway” test as follows:
- First, remove your shoes and stand on a level surface with your arms hanging relaxed by your sides (If you have been prescribed customized orthotics (arch supports) for your shoes, please repeat this test with your orthotics in place and your shoes on.).
- Then, close your eyes and gently relax your body so you can attempt to feel which direction your body naturally tends to drift, tip or sway if you would let it.
- After 5-10 seconds, open your eyes and identify the predominant direction of sway.
- Repeat the test several times to determine if you have a consistent direction of sway.
Much like a tent’s center pole leaning toward a support guide wire that has been staked into the ground too tightly in one direction, the direction you consistently feel is the first and/or strongest direction of sway is probably being caused by connective tissue and muscle tightness pulling your body in that direction. If left uncorrected, this tightness will also be pulling you out of posture and balance in your address position as well as during your swing motion. Any attempts at correcting your swing motion without first reducing the physical causes of your posture and balance dysfunction can lead to inconsistent performance and/or injury.
Exercise #4: “Single Leg Balance” Drill
There are many excellent exercises to improve your standing balance as a golfer. One simple balance reeducation exercise is called the “Single Leg Balance” drill.
Perform this balance reeducation exercise as follows:
- Begin by standing on a flat, firm surface in your bare or stocking feet (Once again, if you have been prescribed customized orthotics (arch supports) for your shoes, please repeat this exercise with your orthotics in place and your shoes on.).
- Next, place a club behind your spine as though you were attempting to perform the “Club Behind the Spine” test (See Picture #4).
- Then, with your eyes open, attempt to stand and balance on your right leg only by lifting your left knee to approximately 90° so your left thigh is parallel to the floor (See Picture #13). In this position, do your best to maintain your balance for up to 10-15 seconds.
- Repeat the exercise with your left leg down and lifting your right knee to 90°.
- Repeat the exercise 10-20 times with each leg at least, once time each day for the next 2-3 weeks or until you can easily perform this exercise without losing your balance on one foot in under 15 seconds.
- To increase the difficulty of this exercise and improve your golf balance even more, try the same exercise with your eyes closed!
You can imagine how much more balanced you will feel over the ball at address and during your full swing when you can master this exercise with your eyes open and then with your eyes closed.
Test #3: “Seated Trunk Rotation” Test
Adequate rotation flexibility in the spine and in the hips are two more of the essential physical performance requirements for optimal and safe golf. Without proper rotation flexibility in your hips and spine you will be unable to make a complete, well-balanced backswing and follow-through. Furthermore, movement compensations that you will most certainly make as a result of lacking proper rotation flexibility in these body areas will force typical biomechanical swing flaws like reverse pivots, lateral sways, coming over-the-top and casting. Moreover, compensations from the lack of spine and hip rotation flexibility will create stress in other body areas that are not naturally designed or intended to rotate. If left uncorrected, this physical limitation will eventually spell disaster by causing an injury.
Consequently, the next two tests will specifically help you evaluate your rotation flexibility in these two body areas. The first test is called the “Seated Trunk Rotation” test.
Perform the “Seated Trunk Rotation” test as follows:
- First, sit forward in a chair so your spine is not resting against the back of the chair.
- Then, place a golf club across the front of your chest and shoulders (at the collar bone level) and hold the club securely to your chest and shoulders by crossing both hands in front of you (See Picture #14).
- Next, sit as tall as possible in the chair, keep your feet flat on the floor, both knees pointing straight ahead and attempt to rotate (turn) your upper torso as far as comfortably possible to the right (See Picture #15).
- When you have turned completely, look over your right shoulder and see where the end of the club is pointing behind you. Mentally mark the spot on the wall and estimate the approximate amount of degrees of rotation you have turned to the right.
- Slowly return to a neutral, starting position and now repeat the trunk rotation test to the left.
- Continue to repeat the test in both directions for 3-5 times to get a good estimate of the amount of trunk rotation in each direction and which direction you can rotate farther and/or easier.
Exercise #5: “Supine Trunk Rotation Stretch”
The “Supine Trunk Rotation Stretch” is a very good releasing exercise to help improve your ability to complete a complete, stress-free backswing and follow-through. If the “Seated Trunk Rotation Flexibility” test identified limitations in one or both directions of rotation, then this exercise can help you gain the needed flexibility in the proper region of your spine to then enable a better turn.
Perform this releasing exercise as follows:
- Begin by lying on your back with your hips and knees bent so that your feet are flat on the floor and your arms are rested comfortably away from your sides in the double “tray position” (See Picture #16).
- Next, begin the stretch by gently squeezing your shoulder blades and flattening your neck to the floor while you slowly and gently rotate your legs to the left.
- Continue to slowly twist your body keeping your right shoulder blade and forearm flat to the floor until you begin to feel a comfortable feeling of stretch in your spine and possibly in your right hip and the front of your right shoulder (See Picture #17).
- Hold this stretch position for 3-5 minutes or until you feel a complete release of the gentle stretch feeling in your body. You may enhance the stretch in this position by bringing your left hand down from the “tray position” and gently press down on the top of your right thigh.
- When the stretch is complete, slowly return to the neutral, starting position and attempt to stretch with your legs now rotating to the right.
- Practice this releasing exercise at least once each day for the next 2-3 weeks until you can stretch equally well in both directions. However, if you evaluated your spine to be more stiff or limited in rotation when turning to your right during the “Seated Trunk Rotation” test, then initially spend more time stretching with your legs rotated to the left. Likewise, if you evaluated your trunk rotation flexibility to more limited when turning to your left, then initially practice this exercise with your legs rotated to your right. Nevertheless, your ultimate goal remember is balanced rotation in both directions.
Test #4: “Seated Hip Rotation” Test
The “Seated Hip Rotation” test is designed to measure the relative degree of rotation flexibility in your hips. This test can easily identify whether you might have significant tightness in one or both of your hips that might be interfering with your ability rotate your hips during your golf swing. Poor hip rotation is one of the major causes to low back pain for golfers as well as poor full swing performance and consistency.
Perform the “Seated Hip Rotation” test as follows:
- Begin by sitting forward in a chair so your spine is not resting against the back of the chair.
- Next, sit as tall as possible with your spine straight and attempt to cross your right leg over your left knee so the outer portion of your right ankle is resting on the top of your left knee (See Picture #18).
- Then, without losing your sitting posture, take both hands and gently apply downward pressure to the top of your right knee until you can not comfortably move your shin any closer to a parallel position with the floor (See Picture #19).
- When you have reached the end limit of the test stretch position for your right hip, observe your relative difficulty for achieving this position, the specific location and degree of body tightness and the relative angle of your right shin compared to parallel with the floor.
- Once fully measured, slowly release the test position of your right hip and repeat the test with your left hip.
- Compare the results of testing both hips and determine whether one or both hips have rotation flexibility limitations.
Exercise #6: “Supine Hip Rotation Stretch”
The “Supine Hip Rotation Stretch” is a very safe and effective exercise to help you reduce your hip rotation tightness and, therefore, improve your ability to make a full turn around your hips during the full golf swing.
Perform this releasing exercise as follows:
- Begin by lying on your back close to a wall and place both feet on the wall so your hips and knees are bent approximately 90° (See Picture #20).
- Next, cross your right foot over the left knee and rest both hands on the top of your right knee.
- Then, gently apply pressure with your hands on your right knee in a direction that is down and away from your right shoulder (See Picture #21) until you feel a light, comfortable stretch in the outer portion of your right hip and/or in the groin.
- Hold this light, comfortable stretch for approximately 3-5 minutes or until you feel a complete softening release of the original stretch feeling in your right hip.
- After the stretch is complete, slowly release the downward pressure from your hands on your right knee and repeat the stretch on your left hip.
- Practice this releasing exercise at least once each day for the next 2-3 weeks until you can stretch equally well in both hips. However, if you evaluated one hip to be tighter than the other during the “Seated Hip Rotation” test then initially spend more time stretching the tighter hip. Similar to the previous “Trunk Rotation Stretch” your ultimate goal is balanced rotation for both hips. Only by achieving complete and balanced hip rotation flexibility will you accomplish a full backswing and follow-through with each and every swing.
- Once balanced, you may advance this stretch by simply moving your body closer to the wall during your starting position for this exercise. This will enable your hips and knees to be bent at a starting angle greater than 90° and enable a greater degree of stretch in your hips during the exercise.
In conclusion, please remember that if you are unable to easily and comfortably perform any one or more portions of these simple tests and/or recommended corrective exercises, then it is very likely that you have physical restrictions of posture, flexibility, strength and/or balance. These few self-assessment tests are by no means a complete and fully objective measurement of your potential physical limitations, weaknesses and imbalances that may be interfering with your golf-specific performance and safety. Nor are the few corrective exercises presented here the complete, golf-specific and customized fitness-training program you will ever need to reach all of your optimal and safe performance goals. Nevertheless, by performing the tests and exercises provided to you in this book, you should gain a better appreciation for how your body’s structure can govern your golf swing performance potential. Moreover, you will hopefully gain an elevated feeling of urgency to pursue a more complete physical performance evaluation conducted by a golf-specific fitness specialist and then have a customized fitness-training program designed around your physical and performance needs.
The information in this book should has provided you with the basic awareness that continuing to play golf with physical restrictions in any one or more body areas will block your natural ability to play golf safely and effectively regardless of your talent, experience or performance goals. Golfers who continue to ignore these basic, fundamental performance principles will have no other option than to continue making adjustments in their swings to compensate for their lack of ideal physical posture, balance, flexibility, strength and control. Therefore, every attempted golf swing with compensations performed by these golfers with unresolved physical imbalances will place excess stress in their bodies lending to potential injury, poor or inconsistent performance and less enjoyment of the game for a lifetime.
If you would like more information about this subject, have other questions related to golf health and fitness training or are interested in locating an official Body Balance for Performance® center near you, please call Body Balance for Performanceat: 1-888-FIT-GOLF (348- 4653) or refer to our web page at www.fitgolf.com .