Golf Fitness Stretches Broken Down

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.

 

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Golf Swing Help: S-Posture

One of the great things I learned while being trained by the Titleist Performance Institute was how to film a student’s golf swing and look for common golf swing characteristics that may be directly linked to problems with the student’s golf body. TPI calls them “The Big Twelve”, and they include the twelve most common golf swing characteristics. They don’t call them “flaws”, and you shouldn’t either. 

One of the first golf swing characteristics I look for has to do with the student’s posture. I check this from the down-the-line view. A golfer’s posture can either be deemed an “S-Posture” or “C-Posture”. 

S-Posture is a swing characteristic caused by the player creating too much arch in their lower back by sticking their tail bone out too much in the setup position. This excessive curvature in the lower back puts abnormally high stress on the muscles in the lower back and causes the abdominal muscles to relax. The deactivation of the core muscles can cause a loss of posture or reverse spine angle during the backswing. This, in turn, puts the lower body out of position on the downswing and will affect the swing’s kinematic sequence of motion. 

You can actually stick your butt out at setup without arching your back if you just hinge from your hips and keep your spine in a neutral stable posture. This requires good core strength and proper stabilization in the lumbar spine. Golf instructors spent years teaching their students to stick their butts way out during the stance phase of the golf swing. It was a fundamental that was thought to lock the body into place and help maintain good golf posture. There was a major problem with this teaching: a lot of golfers started complaining of back pain. The high stress put on the lower back muscles puts added pressure on the back during the golf swing.

The S-Posture characteristic can also be caused by too much (anterior) pelvic tilt of the hips at address. In non-anatomical terms, this basically means you are sticking your butt out and tilting your pelvis and hips down toward the ground too much and creating a big arch in your lower back. Another cause of S-Posture comes from a misunderstanding of an athletic setup position. This is common in athletes who have played baseball, football, and basketball and were always taught to “break down” and look ready. This isn’t a bad thought, but you can still get into an athletic position by just hinging from the hips and flexing the knees. 

If you feel you are falling victim to the S-Posture, either correct your setup with a correct hip hinge, or try these exercises to gain the proper strength and stability required to make a proper, injury-free golf swing. 

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Golf Fitness For Your Shoulders

Your shoulders deserve a little golf fitness, too!

Golf fitness isn't all about the core. Yes... the core muscles, especially the abs and glutes, are very predominant during the golf swing for speed and stability, but your shoulders need to be able to move properly to keep the club on plane throughout the golf swing. The shoulder is a complex girdle of many moving parts. It's probably the easiest body part to injure, next to the low back.

In particular during the golf swing, your shoulders, especially the right shoulder for right-handed golfers, needs proper external rotation. Place your elbows next to your side and bend the elbow to 90 degrees. Rotate your hand away from your body and you've just externally rotated your shoulders. This move is tight on a lot of golfers. This area can be addressed with some simple golf fitness exercises for your shoulders.

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90/90 Push Ups & Downs: Hold the right arm by the side 90 degrees from the shoulder with a 90 degree bend in the elbow. Place the left hand on top of the right wrist for resistance and try to lift the right arm. Push for three seconds and resist any motion with the left hand. Try this in three hand positions: thumb up, palm down and thumb down. Repeat with the right hand on top of the left hand and try to push down this time in all three hands positions. Repeat on the other side. Repeat 3 times.

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Push-Pulls: Take the dominant hand and hold it in front of the face with the palm facing away. Lift the other hand and lock the fingers together with the dominant hand. With elbows parallel to the ground, try to pull apart the hands as hard as possible, simultaneously trying to squeeze the shoulder blades together. Hold for three seconds then move the arms side to side continuing to pull apart. Then make three big circles forward and three big circles backward with the hands still pulling apart. Try to swim forward three times and backward three times with the elbows. Repeat the same movements while pushing the hand together instead of pulling. Repeat 3 times.

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Saturday Night Fevers: Standing with arms out to the sides, holding light dumbbells in each hand and the feet shoulder width apart, get into a good golf posture. Raise the right hand up and to the side and place the left hand over the right pant pocket. Keeping the elbows bent and the lower body stable, try to switch positions of the arms to the opposite sides. Go back and forth like you were John Travolta on Saturday Night Fever. Perform 2 sets of 12 reps.

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Reverse Crossover Flys: Standing in front of a cable cross machine, holding the left handle with the right hand and the right handle with the left hand and the feet shoulder width apart, get into a good golf posture. Pull apart the cables pinching the muscles between the shoulder blades together. Return to starting position and repeat. (If no cable crossover machine is available, anchor a resistance band and perform the same motion, extending the arms back in a reverse fly motion, pinching the shoulder blades together) Perform 2 sets of 15 reps.

Golf Swing Help: C-Posture

Like I said the other day, one of the great things I learned while being trained by the Titleist Performance Institute was how to film a student’s golf swing and look for common golf swing characteristics that may be directly linked to problems with the student’s golf body. TPI calls them “The Big Twelve”, and they include the twelve most common golf swing characteristics. They don’t call them “flaws”, and you shouldn’t either. 

One of the first golf swing characteristics I look for has to do with the student’s posture. I check this from the down-the-line view. A golfer’s posture can either be deemed an “S-Posture” or “C-Posture”. 

C-Posture occurs when the shoulders are slumped forward at address and there is a definitive roundness to the back from the tailbone to the back of the neck. If you fail to keep the backswing short and wide, you will find it difficult to maintain posture as you swing the club back.

Any excessive rounding of the upper back or thoracic spine in the golf posture is termed  C-Posture. This posture can simply be the result of a poor setup position and can be corrected by physically adjusting the posture to a more neutral spine. Unfortunately, the majority of C-Postures are caused by a series of muscle imbalances and joint restrictions that are developed over many years. 

Weak muscles in the shoulder blades make it very difficult to hold the shoulders back in proper posture. Tightness in the shoulders and chest also aid in the negative effects of rounded shoulders by pulling the shoulder blades apart. Lack of proper instruction, or not understanding the correct setup and posture, can easily lead to this common golf swing characteristic. A lack of pelvic tilt, causing the upper body to bend while addressing the ball and get into this “hunched over position” is also a culprit. 

C-Posture can also stem from using clubs that are too short, standing too far away from the ball, or a grip that is too much in the fingers of both hands. 

If you feel you are falling victim to C-Posture, either correct your setup with a correct hip hinge, or try these exercises to gain the proper strength and stability required to make a proper, injury-free golf swing. 

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Golf Fitness Talk

I just got back from the gym and I wanted to rant about some golf fitness talk. I worked with two clients this morning, and our sessions went well. 

These particular golfers are mid-life players who want to gain and maintain flexibility and the ability to "turn", as they like to call it. One of the clients has been with me before, and I am always thrilled when someone returns for more golf fitness sessions with me, because it means they felt the benefits of golf fitness the first time. The other golfer is new to golf fitness, but I think he's really enjoying our sessions together.

I always remember in my training to become a Titleist Performance Institute Certified Golf Fitness Instructor when they taught us:

"Give a golfer an excuse, and he'll be with you for life."

Or something along those lines, but you get the idea. They have a point, you know. If you're a golf lover, you're probably reading this blog. And if you're still reading, you must really love golf! How many times have you been taught a piece of information or found a club or putter that fits your swing perfectly and been forever grateful to the source for your new-found happiness?

It happens all the time with golfers. We're an interesting bunch. But it's true. If you give us an excuse, or something that makes the game easier, we're going to stick with hit (hopefully). The same should be true for golf fitness. The problem is, too few golfers have discovered golf fitness as their "excuse". If you could only feel firsthand the benefits of added "turn", flexibility, stability, and strength for your golf game, I promise you'd never stop.

Another problem: too few golfers give golf fitness a chance. I'm baffled really. It's easy for me to talk about golf fitness and all its benefits because I'm a golf fitness instructor, and I'm never really been "on the other side". Is it money? The nature of the exercise being viewed as too hard? Is it time?

Feel free to comment, because I truly would like to know. I've yet to find any market research about golf fitness, and maybe I'll conduct some of my own - which I'm sort of doing right now - or dig deeper to find some studies. But like I said, I can talk until I'm blue in the face about the benefits of golf fitness, but it's up to you to make the decision to give it a shot. Even if you think you're in the greatest shape in the world, you could have muscle imbalances holding you back and not even know it.

Golf is hard enough, and anything in our bodies holding us back has got to be eliminated. This is why golf fitness is so important. We all want to make great, repeatable swings, and the only thing standing in our way is lots of practice and our own bodies.

So what's holding you back? I'd love to hear from you.

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Back Flexibility

During the backswing portion of your golf swing, your back goes through a lot. The golf swing causes a myriad of muscles to work in a somewhat stressful way. With proper muscle balance and flexibility, no golfer’s back should hurt after playing golf or hitting golf balls. That being said, it’s important to note that I’m talking mainly about the muscles of the back. Of course, disks and vertebrae can deteriorate over time with age, but the muscles of the body support the skeletal system so when they are properly strengthened and flexible, don’t you think you stand a better chance of having a back that remains in tact as you age? Don’t get to retirement and finally have chances to play a lot of golf only to find that your body can’t handle the stress of a simple golf swing! 

So how do you keep the muscles in your back strong and flexible you can play as you age? Strength is one thing, but flexibility is something entirely different. Back on Sunday I wrote about Your Daily Golf Fitness Back Routine. If you haven’t read it yet, go back and give it a quick read and use those exercises. I want to add a couple new ones today to focus mainly on the flexibility of the back. When you stretch your back, it helps you gain the ability for all the strengthening exercises to get their full effect. What I mean is that for a muscle to really be worked, it has to go through a full range of motion. When I train people I talk about how they need to “lengthen then strengthen” their muscles. When a muscle is lengthened and stretched, it more fully able to reach the maximum potential of strength. 

Try these back flexibility exercises for golf to lengthen the muscles, protect the vertebrae, and get the most out of your golf swing:

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Half-Kneeling Long Turns: Get into a half-kneeling position with the down knee on a comfortable cushion. Grab each end of a golf club, hold it overhead and keep the posture as tall as possible. Without moving the lower body, rotate the torso as far as possible to the right. Hold for 2 seconds, then repeat to the left. Switch down legs and repeat to each side. Perform 6 reps on each leg, each direction. 

Reverse Toe Touch: Stand with feet about 6 inches apart. Go into a squat position and grab both feet. Lift the butt trying to extend the knees. Repeat back and forth 10 times.

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Open Books Rib Cage: Lie down sideways and bend both knees. Take the downside hand and place it on of the top knee - use the hand to keep the knee from rotating. Now take the top hand and reach under the downside ribcage and grab the ribs. Slowly rotate the torso toward the sky using the top     to help and the bottom hand to help resist lower body rotation. Hold for 10-20 seconds and repeat in both directions.

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Lumbar Rotation Stretch: Lie flat on your back with arms extended out to the side. Draw the right knee up toward your chest and rotate to the left, trying to keep your right shoulder on the ground. Use your left hand on top of your right knee to gently pull and assist the stretch. Hold for 30 seconds, switch legs and repeat. You can vary the height of your knee to reach different muscles of the back. For instance, if you bring your knee as high as possible, you will stretch muscles in the mid-thoracic. If you leave your knee lower (like by your hips), you will stretch more of the lower back.

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Your Daily Golf Fitness Back Routine

As a golf fitness instructor working out of a physical therapy clinic, you can believe I've see a lot of low back stiffness and pain. Not everyone who experiences common back pain is a golfer, so chances are you’ve had to deal with some low back pain at some point in your life whether you play golf or not. It’s been my experience that the majority of low back pain can be cured with proper muscle alignment and strength in the right areas. I’ve dealt with my own back pain before, and it wasn’t until I started doing Yoga and plyometrics that I got over it. I’ll get to that in a minute, but it should be noted that I’m not referring to the person who is experiencing disk issues. There are certain stretches and exercises that someone with bulging or herniated disks shouldn’t try. Nothing I am going to show you would harm someone with these issues, but keep in mind that if you are experiencing problems like these, this daily back routine won’t necessarily be the final cure. 

That being said, I do whole-heartedly believe that a lot of chronic back issues could have been prevented with the proper attention paid to the lower back. I’ve seen way too many chronic sufferers go through numerous surgeries and never get back to 100%. But this is where your daily golf fitness back routine can come in handy. The earlier you start, the better chance you will have of preventing chronic back pain from rearing it’s ugly and annoying head into your life and threatening your golf game or daily life. 

In golfers especially, most of the low back pain I see comes from what is known as the “lower crossed syndrome”. In layman's terms this means you have tight hip flexors, weak abs, a tight lower back, and weak glutes. This causes the back to take the blunt of the force as you make a golf swing. Do this repeatedly, and you’ve got a recipe for back pain. You’ve got to get the hip flexors and low back stretched as well as strengthen the abs and glutes for the proper support in the golf swing. 

Here’s your daily low back routine:

Quadruped Pelvic Tilts (Cats & Dogs): Start on all fours with the thighs and arms perpendicular to the floor. Without bending the elbows, lower the spine (swayback) creating the dog position and then lift (arch) the spine creating the cat position. Repeat this back and forth and then find the middle or neutral position. Hold this neutral position with an abdominal brace for two breaths. Repeat 10 times each way for a total of 20.

Basic Glute Bridge: Lie on your back with knees bent, pelvis in a neutral tilt position and feet flat on the ground. Place arms out to side and lift the pelvis off the ground. The contractions should be felt in the glutes and abs. Try to minimize hamstring contractions, then lower. Repeat the movement with the arms extended straight up, palms together to minimize support. Perform 2 sets of 15 reps. 

Plank: Lie flat on the floor, face down. Prop up on your elbows and toes, keeping a neutral spine and pelvis. Hold for 10-20 seconds. Repeat 3 times.

Side Plank: Lie sideways on the floor and bridge up onto your elbow and feet, keeping a neutral spine. The elbow should be directly below the shoulder and a straight line from should be formed from the feet to the shoulder. Do not let the hips rotate forward. Hold for 10-20 seconds. Repeat 3 times. 

Low Back Stretch: Lie flat on your back with knees bent. Grab behind both of your knees and pull your knees toward your chest. Hold for 20 seconds. 

Hip Flexor Stretch: Get into a half-kneeling position with one knee on the ground and the opposite knee bent with the foot about 12 inches in front of the down knee. Place your hands on your hip and slowly lean forward until a good stretch is felt in the hip flexor. Hold for 20 seconds and repeat on the other side. 

Try this daily golf fitness back routine to gain more flexibility and strength in the core muscles so you can make a safe, injury-free golf swing.

 

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Can Golf Fitness Be Fun?

Golf fitness is a big deal these days, and it's time you start taking it seriously for your game. Quick flexibility routines like the one I'm about to share can be done every day, and they'll make your Saturday golf rounds much more fun. 

"How can golf fitness be fun?" you might ask. Golf fitness can be fun, because you know you're getting stronger and more flexible for golf (you know… the game you love?). This in turn makes your rounds more fun. Some weekend warriors believe that stretching a little before a round is all they need to do to stay flexible. Nice try, guys. It's not that easy. I'm not saying you have to turn into Rory McIlroy or Dustin Johnson to get all the benefits of golf fitness. I'm talking about 30-minute workouts and golf fitness flexibility routines that can do more for your golf game than simply stretching a few minutes before a round. What you do during the week will do more for your flexibility than anything you can do pre-round.

And if you play multiple times a week, a great golf fitness flexibility routine like this one can keep your golf muscles lengthened to not only help you get warmed up quicker and hit the ball better, but also prevent injury.

So let's start with a little test. One of the movement screens I learned from the Titleist Performance Institute was a simple test to see if you can touch your toes. So hop up and stand tall. Put your feet together and keep your knees straight. Slowly bend at the waist and try to touch your toes.

How'd you do?

Belly get in the way? Tight hamstrings? Back pain? All the above?

Hopefully, none of the above plagued you and you can touch your toes. If not, we've got some work to do. I already know what you're thinking: what does touching my toes have to do with the golf swing? It's called flexibility. The ability to touch your toes isn't just linked to your hamstrings. In the human body we have this stuff called fascia that links separate muscle groups together and actually makes them work as one. So on the posterior, or back, side of our bodies, we have this fascia that makes our upper, middle, and lower back all work together with our glutes, hamstrings, calves, and feet.

When one area is tight, the others are affected. This is when injury happens. One area is taking over and compensating for the rest. So yeah, being able to touch your toes has a lot to do with the golf swing. All these posterior muscles need to be strong and flexible to make a good golf swing.

The inability to touch your toes is a sign of a lack of flexibility. This is directly related to your ability to get into the proper golf posture and maintain that posture throughout the entire golf swing.

Try these golf fitness exercises and see if you can get closer to touching your toes:

Quadruped Pelvic Tilts (Cats & Dogs): Start on all fours with the thighs and arms perpendicular to the floor. Without bending the elbows, lower the spine (swayback) creating the dog position and then lift (arch) the spine creating the cat position. Repeat this back and forth and then find the middle or neutral position. Hold this neutral position with an abdominal brace for two breaths. Repeat 10 times each way for a total of 20.

Half-Kneeling Calf Stretch: This exercise helps develop better flexibility (dorsiflexion) in the ankle and calf. Get into a half-kneeling position with the left knee down and the right foot forward. Holding onto the head of a golf club, place the handle just inside the right big toe and hold the club vertically. Keeping the spine stable and heel on the ground, lunge forward trying to get the knee out as far as possible past the toe and outside the club. Hold for 20-30 seconds. Switch legs, repeat.

Toe Touch (Heels Up): Start by elevating the heels on a foam roller, small phone book, or something similar. Place a rolled towel between the knees. Raise the arms straight overhead and slowly bend at the hips and try to touch the fingers to the ground. Squeeze the knees together during the movement to assist in the stretch. Repeat slowly 10 times. 

Toe Touch (Toes Up): Start by elevating the toes on a foam roller, small phone book, or something similar. Place a rolled towel between the knees. Raise the arms straight overhead and slowly bend at the hips and try to touch the fingers to the ground. Squeeze the knees together during the movement to assist in the stretch. Repeat slowly 10 times. 

Reverse Toe Touch: Stand with feet about 6 inches apart. Go into a squat position and grab both feet. Lift the butt slowly, trying to extend the knees. Repeat back and forth 10 times.

Hip Hinge Drill: Place a golf club behind the back with the clubhead on, or near, your head and the handle against the lower spine. Without modifying the spinal posture or allowing space between your back and the club, flex forward from the hips as if performing a dead lift. It is OK to flex the knees slightly, but not the spine. Repeat 10 times. 

Hopefully these golf fitness exercises will help you gain some much-needed flexibility. Some golfers even report being able to touch their toes immediately after doing these exercises.

What about you?