In the golf fitness world, misconceptions run rampant in regards to flexibility and stretching. Most golfers may have a general understanding of stretching and flexibility training due to their coach or trainer’s instruction before or after practices or matches. Fewer weekend golfers have as much, if any, exposure to flexibility training. Common misconceptions include differing opinions about whether or not to stretch before, during, or after a workout. Most people who workout or try golf fitness will fail to ever stretch a single muscle. Some who do stretch may be over-stretching or simply stretching completely wrong.
There are two major focuses every golfer or individual working out should keep in mind:
1. Flexibility is essential in every golf fitness routine and for proper activities of daily living.
2. Don’t stretch cold muscles.
So how can you engage in proper flexibility training for golf fitness? Begin by defining flexibility.
Flexibility is the ability to move joints through their normal ranges of motion. The key word in that definition is “normal”. It is very possible to over-stretch. Without going too deep into the physiology of flexibility training, it may help to briefly explain the principles of tissue elasticity, tissue plasticity, and tissue viscoelasticity.
Tissue elasticity refers to the ability of a muscle to return to it’s original form after an external force is removed. Our body is highly intricate, and this ability of our tissues is essential in preparation for activity. When our muscles are stretched to the point of their elastic limit, also referred to as the “yield point”, they are able to improve their extensibility. This is how regular stretching increases flexibility. Over-stretching, or taking a muscle tissue past it’s yield point, is called permanent set, permanent deformation, and more well-known as a strain. A simple way to avoid this would be to stretch to the point, or just before the point, of pain.
Tissue plasticity is the result of a muscle tissue deforming when loaded past a yield point. Continually doing this causes repetitive microtrauma to the muscle. Your tissue will be less efficient in their movements, less stable, and your range of motion will be decreased.
Tissue viscosity is what allows a muscle to resist load. Tissue viscoelasticity is a combination of both elasticity and plasticity, in regards to their behavior. For example, if you stretched a muscle with a low load, or simple pressure, it is going to react with an elastic behavior. Conversely, if you subject the same muscle to intense pressure, or a higher load, a plastic response will occur. The principle of viscoelasticity reacts to temperature. For this reason, it is vital to warm up the body’s fluids and muscle tissues before stretching. This reduces viscosity and allows for proper flexibility and extensibility. If you’re going to work the legs muscles, ride a bike for 5-10 minutes and then stretch.
These principles of muscle tissue help explain the importance of flexibility training due to the added benefits of preventing muscle deformation, chronic microtrauma, and gradual tissue failure. Flexibility training is also important because it reduces the risk of musculoskeletal injuries. If your muscles are flexible and trained for the movements you put them through during exercise or sport, your chances of injury will diminish significantly. Stretching is important, and equally important is stretching properly.
As mentioned previously, your muscles should not be stretched past the point of discomfort. When stretching, you have various options to reach your flexibility training goals.
Static stretching can be done alone. No partner is required, but proper technique is key. An active static stretch occurs when the individual applies extra force to increase the intensity of the targeted muscle. For instance, performing a hamstring stretch while lying on the floor, grasping the thigh with both hands just below the knee and pulling toward the chest while straightening the knee is an example of an active static stretch. This stretch, pulled to just before discomfort, would be held for 10-30 seconds and repeated.
Passive static stretching occurs when an outside force applies the pressure, such as stretching the hamstring against a doorframe or table.
A hold-relax stretch can be done with a partner, preferably a trained individual. The individual will passively stretch your hamstring, while you relax on the floor. You will hold the stretch for 6-8 seconds and then relax for 30 seconds while the stretcher passively stretches you again. A contract-relax stretch is very similar. Instead of holding the stretch for 6-8 seconds, you will push against the force for the same amount of time and then relax as the stretcher performs another 30 second stretch.
Dynamic stretching is a great way to warm up. This type of stretching mimics a movement about to be performed in an upcoming sporting event or fitness workout.
Active isolated stretching refers to a stretch that never lasts more than two seconds. Instead of holding a static stretch, as with the hamstring, you may pull your thigh toward your chest, and slowly straighten your leg, hold for two seconds, relax and then repeat. This type of flexibility training allows the muscle to gradually increase it’s range of motion during a pre-exercise bout. Pick a set number of reps, and perform each while going a little further with the stretch each time. Again, only stretch the muscle to the point of slight discomfort, not to a painful point.
Whichever stretching technique you choose, remember to pick one that either mimics movements you will soon engage in or one that feels the most comfortable. Warm up your muscles very well, and stretch gently. With each added session, your flexibility will increase and your range of motion will improve. Stretch after a warm-up, before your exercise routine or sporting event, and stretch again afterwards to allow the muscles to return to their normal position.