The most common golfers’ shoulders injuries experienced, and the anatomy and biomechanics of the shoulder, shoulder girdle, and upper back. We will also look at injury- inducing swing faults, fixes and prevention.
Then we will put the data from this course into action. As a result, you will understand the risks to your shoulders and what you can do to minimize them and prevent injuries. Ultimately this will lead to more consistency, better distance, lower scores, and less pain on and off the course.
The shoulders are an area that can give golfers a great deal of trouble. Shoulder injuries are prevalent in golfers, and there are some simple reasons why this happens. There are several muscles in the shoulder complex that are tied to the posture of the upper body. When imbalances develop in the chest, upper back and shoulder, upper cross syndrome, rotator cuff disorders, tightness in the chest, limited shoulder motion, and shoulder complex asymmetries to name just a few, are likely to occur.
There are many shoulder disorders that can exist for years and not let us know they are there. There are some that we know about right away. You may have a slight rotator cuff tear, or cartilage tear, or a bone spur in your shoulder, but that doesn’t mean that your shoulder will hurt or get in the way of golf. You could have arthritis, but it may not hurt. If we add the motion of the golf swing to poor torso mobility or scapular stability and or a degenerative processes or slight injury or deformity, the shoulder will give out and you will experience pain with your golf motion.
The golf swing requires large amounts of rotation in the shoulder joint. If rotation is limited or lacking, the shoulder will be stressed during the swing.
There are two key principles that we will take up in the biomechanics section of this course. They are the issues of required mobility in the thoracic spine and shoulder blade stability. When thoracic rotation is lacking, there will be excessive mobility in the shoulder blade. This can lead to instability and injury in the shoulder joint. In the coming weeks we are going to dissect the problem of shoulder injuries and pain. We will examine anatomical issues, biomechanical issues, and swing faults.
Here is an interesting fact for you to ponder…if you struggle with deceleration in your swing, you probably have a shoulder problem on your downswing side, whether it hurts or not. We will look closely at this challenge in the next few issues.
It is well documented that core strength is imperative to prevent injury, back pain, and improve the golf swing. When I am evaluating a new golfer I often hear that he or she does “core strengthening” in their current exercise routine. My first question is always, “what do you mean, core strengthening?” Too often the response is, “Oh well you know, crunches, the ab machine where you press your chest down, things like that.” After full evaluation, 9 times out of 10 this individual exhibits weak core musculature, poor posture, flawed movement, and swing faults that will leave them prone to injury and pain. It turns out that they are not doing work to prevent injury and pain, but they are actually doing things to PROMOTE injury and pain.
When picking exercises for core strengthening make sure you pick exercises that will improve function in whatever activity you partake in. Crunches and stationary abdominal machines are highly likely to be the wrong choice for golfers and athletes in general. The crunch and ab machines usually promote upper (thoracic) spine flexion. This rounds the shoulders and puts the back into a humped position. As a golfer, this is not a position you want to be training in. Excessive upper spine flexion and shoulder rounding promotes poor rotation and flaws in the golf swing. In addition, crunches and other ab exercises that require you flex from the shoulders down to the hips can put a lot of stress down the neck and low (lumbar) spine. Let’s keep it simple, if you’re looking to improve your golf swing, avoid this type of core training.
For beginners, abdominal strengthening should focus on holding positions that promote anti-extension (arching) of the low back. One simple yet effective exercise that does this is called the dead-bug exercise (click link to view the exercise and instructions). With this exercise make sure you keep your abs braced and your low back flat and pressed into the floor.
For intermediates, a classic exercise called plank is a great way you can challenge yourself. With the plank make sure you start with your belly on the floor. Position your elbows directly under your shoulders and make sure your toes and feet are flexed and curled up toward the shins. Before you lift into the plank position, contract both your abs and glutes, and make sure your legs are locked out and as long as possible. It is very important that you can maintain contraction of BOTH the abs and glutes throughout the set. If you lose the glute contraction, lower yourself and take a rest before your next set.
For advanced golf fitness enthusiasts, these exercises should be used for warm-up and activation techniques before larger and more dynamic lifts and movements.
If you have any questions about core strengthening strategies and techniques for golf, please contact me directly by email at [email protected].
Jason Rivkin, ATC, CGFI-FP1 Head Golf Fitness Coach at FitGolf Performance Centers of the Delaware Valley
The smoothest golf swings always appear as one fluid motion. While all golfers have a distinctly unique golf swing, the best ball strikers have the same sequence of movement from start to finish. Research has shown that the most efficient method of putting the golf ball into play is by beginning the downswing with the lower body leading, and the upper body and arms following along for the ride. All of these things occur in a very short amount of time, and in order for the swing sequence to occur this quickly and in a coordinated manner, a player must have proper control of their body.
In the first half of the golf swing, the body needs to separate its upper and lower halves in order to produce the tension our muscles need to “fire”. The greater the separation of these halves, the more likely a player is to create a powerful downswing. However, inhibitions in the core muscles, such as the abdominals and glutes, may prevent a player from rotating and separating correctly. This in turn may throw off their sequencing and most likely create compensations in technique. Along with the potential inability to separate, golfers may become weaker on their right or left sides due to repeated motions to the same side of the body. These dysfunctions may be demonstrated during certain exercise tests, such as rolling patterns. Rolling patterns are developmental exercises utilized to improve muscle activation and contraction sequences of the upper and lower body. They are also as simple as they sound: rolling from your back onto your chest, and rolling from your chest onto your back. These patterns help detect deficiencies in a player’s movement pattern, as well as any asymmetries on one side of the body compared to the other.
These rolling patterns, simple as they may seem, can help determine whether or not there is a lack of strength in the player’s core, joint tightness, or deficiency in motor control. As children, we learn to get from one place to another by any means necessary, and one of the first movements we are able to make is by lifting our head and rolling from side to side. At birth we are innately given the ability to properly separate our upper and lower body, but over time we lose that, possibly due to injury, joint tightness, or muscle weakness. This may make a movement such as rolling much more difficult than it is. Since golf is a rotational sport, a player must have the ability to coordinate movement from one side to another, and it is important to help a player develop the proper muscle control needed for their swing.
There are four different rolling patterns we like to use here at FitGolf: upper body face-up, upper body face-down, and lower body face-up and face-down. Let’s try a lower body roll, facing-up: Lie on your back with legs extended and your shoulders fully extended over your head on the ground. Now try to roll your body to face down position starting with your right leg only. Try not to use your upper body. Repeat on the other side. For an upper body roll in the same position, we want to lie on your back with your legs extended and your shoulders fully extended over your head on the ground. Now try and roll your body to the face down position starting with your right arm only. Try not to use your lower body. Repeat on other side.
Give these exercises a try at home, and try to determine how well you can separate your upper and lower body in both rolling and golf. If you have any questions about rolling patterns or separation in the golf swing, please contact me at [email protected] .
It has been a very exciting time in the golf world lately! The Masters finished up and a new star was born. Jordan Spieth took his first green jacket and the number one spot at the Masters.
It is difficult to think this 21 year old ever had swing faults. But he did, and lots of practice really paid off. Many athletes are born with natural talent however, it is also extremely hard work to make it to the top and then maintain that spot.
Back in 2006 Spieth partnered up with his current trainer, Cameron McCormick. McCormick saw right away that Spieth’s swing was steep and this produced a reverse pivot. Spieth also had a tendency to slide his hips during the back swing instead of rotating.
McCormick accredited these swing faults to immobility and weaknesses within Spieth’s glutes, quads, hamstrings, core, and his lower back. The main muscles that are firing during the swing. After 9 years together, extensive training, and a better mind to muscle connection McCormick has created a Master!
Everyone has to start somewhere. Look at Rory McIlroy, he has been working with his trainer, Steve McGregor since 2010. When McGregor first worked with McIlroy it was very apparent that there were a few issues.
McIlroy has been swinging a club since he was a toddler without a large focus on his own physical fitness. Instead he had been relying on his natural athleticism. This worked for him, for a period of time. McIlroy, you see without the proper physical training he was actually creating a problem for himself. This led to an injured lower back from overuse and an imbalance in strength between his left and right side
McGregor worked on core and back strengthening along with more single arm and single leg exercises. After a short 5 years with his trainer, McIlroy is sitting pretty as a top golfer with an increased club head speed, more distance with his driver and being able to hit the ball harder without losing his balance.
There is a lot of scientific evidence out there that suggests strong and physically fit people have a higher level of self confidence, self worth, and physiological well being. Knowing what your personal weaknesses are can go along way to making you into the strongest and most confident individual you can be!
Contact your local FitGolf Performance Center to find out what your fitness handicap is and how you can get started on your most powerful swing!
In my previous post “Tune up Your Body for Spring Golf” I discussed how a long winter can negatively affect flexibility and the way you perform at the beginning of the golf season. While it is true that starting a flexibility program in the final winter days will help your scores at the beginning of the season (see “Stretching for the Upcoming Golf Season” parts 1-3), muscle strengthening and reeducation is just as important in order to stay injury-free and score well this spring. Waking up the “core” muscles after a sedentary winter will be an integral pre-season goal.
Core strength is a common topic in golf fitness, but what exactly is the core? Health and fitness professionals have characterized the core in many different ways including muscle groups such as the abdominals, glute muscles, and spinal erectors. Over the course of the winter the core muscles become inactive due to increased periods of sitting and inactivity. If you enter the golf season with a weak core it will not only affect the quality of your swing, but it will also increase your risk of injury. The core muscles provide stability to your pelvis and low back which is integral for a biomechanically sound swing. Without stability to these areas you will be predisposed to certain swing flaws such as poor sequencing and rotation.
To avoid injury and to improve your golf game, start a core strengthening program in addition to your flexibility program. Exercises such as bridges, clam shells, and planks are all great exercises that you can do at home or at the gym to really help kick start your game this spring.
If you have any questions about core training in golf, email me directly at [email protected]
It has been well documented that flexibility is essential for a full, solid golf swing. As a golfer, how do you maintain and gain flexibility? Sometimes stretching alone isn’t enough. Many flexibility and range of motion issues stem from the superficial fascia located between your skin and the muscle. Fascia is soft connective tissue that surrounds muscles, blood vessels, and nerves. It is essentially is the structure that holds everything together. Due to various reasons, the fascia can become “stuck” to the muscle is surrounds. This is called a myofascial adhesion and adhesions can restrict muscle extensibility which in turn will affect range of motion and muscle function.
Stretching alone will not suffice in breaking up myofascial adhesions. Here at FitGolf Performance Centers many of our golfers go through multiple hours of myofascial release and soft tissue mobilization before moving onto more dynamic “golf-specific” exercises. It is critical that this first step is taken because without fascial mobility it is very difficult if not impossible to gain permanent mobility at a given joint.
Even if you don’t have a clinician by your side, there are self-myofascial release techniques you can try out at home or at the gym to help your flexibility. One technique that has gained a ton of popularity the last couple of years is foam rolling. If you haven’t seen or heard of a foam roller, it is essentially a foam cylinder that comes in all different densities and sizes. The higher the density, the firmer the foam roller will be. The foam roller is essentially dental floss for the muscles. Just as you floss to remove plaque from the teeth, you want to roll your muscles to remove myofascial adhesions. As you roll the targeted muscle, you should be feeling for the adhesions. You will know you’re on one because the area will feel tenderer than other areas. Roll SLOWLY across these areas until a release is felt or it no longer feels tender with pressure.
Before starting any type of foam rolling program make sure you consult a qualified clinician or trainer on proper form and technique. Personally, I am a fan and promoter of foam rolling due to success for both myself and clients using the foam roller. However, evidence based research on the self-myofascial release technique of foam rolling is still limited and gives conclusions of mixed results. Hence, use the foam roller as an additional tool to other methods to assist you in achieving greater flexibility for your golf swing.
If you have any questions about the foam roller and myofascial release techniques please contact me, Jason Rivkin, directly at [email protected].
It is not uncommon for individuals to suffer from what is commonly known as overtraining now that most of us are back in our New Year training routines, not to mention the weather. And with everything going on, it can be overwhelming for some this time of year. Overtraining is typically caused by a collection of physical, behavioral, and/or emotional conditions that occur when the volume and intensity of an individual’s exerciseexceeds their capacity to recover.
Know when you have gone too far.
The symptoms of overtraining can show many types such as persistent muscles soreness, fatigue, risk to injury, illness and sometimes depression in worst cases. Typically, the combination of physical stress along with psychological stresses will determine the level that one is experiencing. The best way to avoid experiencing overtraining is to plan recovery periods within your training program. Add one week of recovery every 6 to 8 weeks of your program. During this recovery period, simply replace the time spent doing cardiovascular and/or weight training with flexibility and stability work. This can include stretching, palates, yoga, or some basic body weight training.
Many people find this recovery period to be difficult to do due to the lack to intensity. By allowing proper time to rest, you will do your body a favor by allowing it to recovery from the combined stresses of workouts and life. In doing this, you will achieve higher gains and be able to train for longer periods of time. Not to mention to be able address those body imbalances that can reduce risk of injury. So with this in mind, know that it is okay to take some time away from the weights, and downshift for a week.
Ryan McLean is a Golf Fitness Coach at FitGolf Performance Centers of Philadelphia, PA. To reach him with questions, email [email protected] or call 610-940-3835.
By now I hope you are seeing a trend…that there are only a few problems responsible for most of the shoulder injuries and swing faults golfers experience. It is very simple: Improve thoracic mobility, scapular stability, shoulder joint strength and mobility, and fix the alignment. Simple, right? Here is the process.
Improve Thoracic Mobility – This process can be easy. You will need to improve forward and backward bending, and rotation to improve flexion and extension, lengthen the muscles and tissues on the chest, and strengthen the spinal muscles in the upper back. The stretching is easy. There are a variety of chest stretches from over the ball, to over a foam roller, to just a static back position…see the pictures below. When doing these stretches you must be careful to not cause pain in the shoulder joint. The spinal muscles in the upper back are easy to get to. You can do rolling activities, or prone extension. Again see the pictures below.
When your flexion and extension improve, it is safe to begin working on rotation. If we work on rotation before we improve flexion and extension, there is a good possibility that the rotational movements will cause lower back pain. This is because a thoracic spine stuck in flexion cannot rotate efficiently or effectively and, as a result, will put pressure on the lower back. To improve rotation in the thoracic spine try the side lying trunk rotation. Once again you must be careful to not irritate the shoulder joint. Once you have stretched, try seated rotation without resistance.
Now strengthen the shoulder and shoulder blade muscles. To do this try the reach roll and lift as in the picture below. You can also try the shoulder rotation exercises called external rotation, first sitting then standing. After mastering these move onto more advanced shoulder exercises like I’s, Y’s and T’s. Do all of these exercises in sets of 8 to10 repetitions.
Try the exercises noted above to see what happens. The bottom line is that if you do not improve within a week to ten days doing these on your own, you probably will need help from a golf fitness professional who has the knowledge of the areas noted in the previous paragraph. If you want to have us look at this, email us pictures of you: standing with your back against the wall and arms overhead and straight, touching the wall, and with arms in a 90/90 position as shown in the picture below. Once we see these we might be able to guide you to a solution.
if you have any questions, please feel free to email them to me at [email protected].
Ok, you have the basics of anatomy, biomechanics, swing faults that cause injuries, and fixes. Now what? How do you take what you have learned and turn it into a result that will actually achieve the outcomes you want: no back pain and better golf. There are several approaches. I compare this to home projects. There are do it yourselfers, those who fix the problem themselves, and then there are those who hire a professional and ask them to fix the problem. The same is true in golf fitness.
Many try with varying degrees of success (or failure) to resolve their problems by reading books, listening to friends, or researching on the internet. Then they implement a smattering of fixes that may or may not help them. This works sometimes. Maybe it’s luck, maybe it’s skill, but it can work. The key to the fix is knowing the issue and then applying the correct fix for the problem. If you have bursitis and lift weights, you will hurt more. If you have shoulder impingement and apply the lat fix you will hurt more. The only way to really fix the problem is to fully understand it.
There are some golf fitness providers who are not trained in neurology, anatomy, biomechanics, or the golf swing. They know how to whip you into shape, and they are good at that. However, they do not know how to fix upper cross, or deal with thoracic mobility issues. If you don’t have these issues, this type of professional might be able to help you get into great cardio shape and build fantastic strength. Will it be functional strength that you can use in the golf swing and to prevent shoulder injuries?
In many cases assessing and fixing these problems does not take fancy tests (MRI’s, x-rays, CAT scans, myleograms, etc). It takes a simple biomechanical and functional assessment. The behavior of your body in this type of exam will generally tell you what the issue really is. There is a time and a place to see your healthcare provider. If you have pain at night or during sleep, tingling or numbness in the upper extremities, experiencing focal weakness in the upper extremity, you should seek medical attention immediately. If your pain is in your shoulder, neck, upper back, it does not radiate into the forearm or hand, and golf seems to aggravate the problem, a well trained golf fitness professional can help you.
The bottom line, however, is that any activity is better than no activity, and the right activity is better than any activity where shoulder pain and the golf swing are concerned. We have included several links to exercises that you might want to look at if you have back pain. Try these. If your symptoms increase, STOP and immediately and seek help from a golf fitness professional. If they get better, you are moving in the right direction. You might still want a golf fitness assessment to help you with the host of issues in your body.
I believe that there is great controversy about stretching and strengthening. There are many theories on both. Stretching theories include brief intense, long gentle, and somewhere in between. On strengthening there is large volume of light weight, low volume of heavy weight or somewhere in between. The facts are they are all right. Now what? Well the issue is to decide on the goal. Are you stretching to increase range of motion, or to warm up? Are your trying to build large strong muscles or strong long muscles? It is up to you. If you want more motion, then do long duration low load stretch. By the way, long duration means up to five minutes or more, and low load means a barely perceptible stretch. If you want long and strong, more reps with less weight is the generally accepted standard. If you want explosive strength, then six to eight fast repetitions with more weight will do that. You see, it completely depends on the goal at hand. Before you begin, you need to know your goal. The goal to which I refer is long and strong vs. short and strong, warm up vs. increased motion, etc. Once you know this, you know how to exercise. These goals do not dictate what to exercise, just how to exercise. The “what” is answered by understanding the physical issues.
When do I do this? There is no good answer. Some people prefer 4:00 in the morning, some prefer dinner time, and some prefer mid-day. The best time to do this is the time of day that you will actually do it, when ever that is. You do not need to spend hours a day on this project. Usually 20 to 30 minutes a day is more than enough. In some cases that is too much time. The amount of time completely depends on the issues and the goals.
How do I know if I need help from the Golf Fitness ExpertsTM at Body Balance for Performance or some other well qualified golf fitness professional? Do you know what needs to be done? Do you know the goals? Do you understand how to apply the fixes for the faults? If so, then you probably do not need anyone for this project. If you are uncertain about any of this, you should consult with you local golf fitness professional or your local golf instructor. The golf instructor may know who in your community is an expert on this. If not, let me know and I will try to direct you to someone.
Biomechanics-the study of motion in living organisms-is the topic of this lesson. Biomechanics is a broad field. Thousands of people are performing research on how the human body moves and why it moves the way it does. At Body Balance for Performance we have taken on this study as it relates to motions of the golf swing. Let’s take a look at the biomechanics of the shoulder and shoulder girdle. To do this we need to apply here what we learned earlier about shoulder anatomy.
Every shoulder is has four joints, the sternoclavicular joint, (SCJ), the Scapulothoracic joint (STJ), the acromioclavicular joint(ACJ), and the glenohumeral joint(GHJ).
The SCJ is the joint between the collar bone and the breast bone. There is a small cartilage disc in this joint. It acts as a cushion. There are ligaments around the joint and muscles that cross it and control motion of the collar bone. Basically the collar bone rotates. If you unhooked a metal clothes hanger and then unbent it, you would have the approximate shape of the collar bone. Now, hold either end of the hanger and rotate one end…the other end rotates in a larger motion. This is how the collar bone works. It functions as a fulcrum for the movements of the shoulder blade. It also keeps the shoulder on the side of the body. if we did not have a collar bone, our shoulders would point forward like the shoulder of a cat or a dog.
At the other end of the collar bone is the ACJ. This joint is the one injured when someone “separates” their shoulder. This is a common football injury. There is a small cartilage in this joint, too. This is a fairly rigid joint. Its main purpose is to meld the collar bone and the scapular together into one semi-rigid structure. As with the sutures in the skull, there is not much movement in this joint. This, together with the rib cage, and upper spine, is called the shoulder girdle.
The next joint to look at is the STJ. This is the articulation of the shoulder blade on the ribs. This is a joint that allows sliding motion. The shoulder blade slides and rotates along the ribs to allow upward rotation of the glenoid fossa. This moves the acromion to out of the way to allow a great deal of arm motion without impinging the humerus on the acromion.
Finally we have the GHJ. This is the shoulder joint. It is a ball and socket joint. It is the most mobile joint in the human body. Ranges of motion of the shoulder are 180 degrees for forward flexion and sideways abduction, 90 degrees of inward and outward rotation, and 45 to 80 degrees of across the body during adduction and backward extension. There are three degrees of freedom in the GHJ. That means that the joint moves in all planes of motion. The knee has two degrees of freedom. The hip has three degrees of freedom. It also has a much deeper socket and a rigid pelvis that it attaches to so it is only about 50 percent as mobile as the shoulder joint.
Let’s look at the motion of the shoulder complex in the golf swing. On the backswing, the trailside shoulder moves through GHJ abduction and external rotation, the scapula must move down and across the back and rotate slightly upwards, and the collar bone must undergo posterior rotation. The lead-side shoulder adducts, and internally rotates. The lead side scapula moves up and forward. To do this, there needs to be coordinated motion between the shoulder blade muscles, chest muscles, rotator cuff, and the upper arm muscles. That’s it. Simple right? It is if the shoulder girdle and GHJ are stable with balanced muscle function and normal mobility.
[insert shoulder abduction adduction.mpg here]
Here is how the shoulder can break down. If the muscles that support the shoulder blade or collar bone are not balanced correctly we end up with poor scapular motion and limited arm motion in the backswing. For example, if the chest muscles are tight and the upper back muscles are weak, the shoulder blade will migrate laterally and up, with a forward tipping. You will know this is a problem because the lower corner of the shoulder blade will stick out a bit and the shoulders will look rounded. The problem with this imbalance (named lower cross syndrome) is that it limits shoulder motion in the golf swing and makes the shoulder more susceptible to injury. It can also lead to many golf maladies, such as “over the top” and “flying elbow” to name a few.
If the ligaments and capsule of the shoulder are tight, as in a “frozen shoulder,” the humeral head will drive up into the acromion process and you will experience rotator cuff irritation at the top of the swing. On the back swing this can cause shoulder pain. It can also lead to “flying elbows,” “over the top,” limited back swing rotation,” “reverse spine angle,” and many other issues.
If there is limited motion in the shoulder complex on the downswing side, you might need ice, not hot sauce, for your “chicken wing.” You will probably decelerate early as there is not enough room to accelerate fully, and this could lead to a shoulder injury.
Short swing on the back swing or downswing sides are signs of shoulder dysfunction. Limited width of the swing is also a sign of a shoulder dysfunction.
Golfer, this is important to you. If you have an imbalance in the shoulder complex, you will develop degenerative conditions and injuries in your shoulder. You will see compensatory motions, and you will struggle to make meaningful change to your swing motion, even if you practice for hours and really understand what you are trying to accomplish. Our experience has told us that if we resolve these imbalances, most shoulder pain can be prevented or at least resolved. Finally, improving shoulder girdle muscle balance will improve the efficiency of your golf motion.
The anatomy of the shoulder complex helps us understand how the region should move and gives us a road map to restore normal motion; that is, normal biomechanics of the area. Once we have an assessment of the biomechanical situation in the region, we can design and implement an exercise or training program to restore normal biomechanics and therefore normal motion. This is how we eliminate shoulder pain and improve the results of the golf swing. Biomechanics are a key, maybe the key, to understanding and fixing the shoulder complex.