With the LPGA’s US Open happening in town this weekend (Houston, Tx), it is a perfect time to talk about how we can apply some fitness knowledge to the greatest game ever made: golf.
There are many issues that golfers try to fix in their game. These issues range from shaping shots to being able to make putts consistently. Today we are gonna focus on the most popular area of the game people try to work on, whacking the crap out of the ball.
The mechanics of a golf swing:
A golf swing is a quick and powerful movement that focuses on the fast twitch muscle strength of an athlete as well as their mobility. In a golf swing, force is generated primarily from the muscles of the hips and shoulders, while the distance that force can be applied is up to thoracic (the middle area of your torso) and hip mobility. To put it differently, how far back the club goes is up to your mobility and how quickly you can accelerate that club head is your strength.
How do we improve this?
Well, we can either get stronger or increase our mobility.
Getting stronger (long term focus on improvement):
Training in the gym is immediately where the mind goes for this one. Ya gotta lift weight and just get yoked. Tiger Woods had the pound for pound records at Stanford’s weight room for the 3 major power lifts (bench, squat, and deadlift), therefor hit the weights and become an absolute animal in the gym to guarantee those all important 300+/240+ Yard Drives.
While being just an absolute weight room champion is one way to become stronger for golf, it isn’t the most efficient. It’s kinda like using a Swiss Army knife as a screw driver, sure it makes life more convenient but the job can be done better by just a standard screw driver. Why train bench when all it does is change the angle of your swing? Why not switch it out for a more powerful movement that focuses on stability and power, like a lunge?
The training that pros like Rory McIlroy go through is quite sports specific by comparison and makes him more efficient as a golfer. The muscles Rory trains, for the most part, are all involved in his golf swing in some way. Things like: Weighted Glute Bridges, Rotational Med Ball Slams, and Reverse DB Flys are all much more focused on a golfer’s swing.
To get the right training and workout blend to have the results today’s tour players get, an athlete would most likely need a trainer that is dedicated to working on golf specific strength. Something that I offer at Vegvisir CrossFit as a certified Golf Fitness Specialist. Gains here do take time but build a foundation for a lifetime. But, what if you are just a weekend warrior looking to just reduce the shots it takes to get to the hole or you don’t need to work on your overall strength?
Increase that x-factor!
Hitting Longer (mobility for X-Factor):
The other half of your golf swing’s power we can look at is derived from the distance the club has to accelerate before hitting the ball. While we can’t improve this by getting longer arms, we can improve it by getting a larger x-factor.
The x-factor is the angle of difference between an athlete’s shoulders and hips. For example: if you turn your hips 40 degrees and your shoulders 90 degrees, then you have an x-factor of 50 degrees. The thing that stops an athlete from going beyond their current x-factor is what is known as X-Factor Stretch (this is when an athlete feels all their muscles tighten up and almost for the athlete to bounce back through the rotation of the swing).
With the body feeling limited by the stretch, how do we increase the x-factor?
We move back the area of stretch reflex with Mobility!
If we break down what makes an x-factor, we know we can work on two things. Increase the angle of shoulder rotation and decrease the angle of hip rotation.
In order to increase the shoulder rotation angle, the thoracic spine (mid-back) and pectoral muscles need to be mobilized. We can start by not hitting the bench press before any meaningful golf rounds, but also by incorporating some routines before playing to help open these areas up.
A routine for opening up your shoulders on the golf course could look like:
2 Sets w/ a Driver and placing a towel under your knees when necessary (i.e. wearing nice pants):
5 Quadruped Thoracic Rotations each side.
10 Bird Dogs each side
:30 Bench Stretch (Pushing your chest toward the ground)
10 Overhead Squats as low as possible with driver overhead.
You can develop any routine you wish, as long as you get your chest opened up more and you feel more blood flow in your mid back.
Now that your shoulders are warmed up, you should be able to rotate more up top. But, you may notice that your hips are still being dragged back with the shoulders. This is supposed to happen, but, let’s see if we can’t reduce that tug shall we?
We can give the hips more freedom from the shoulders by loosening up our lumbar spine, hips, and hamstrings.
A routine for hip mobility might look something like this:
2-3 Sets placing a towel on ground when necessary:
10 Side to Side Leg Swings each side (hold on to post or golf cart)
:30 Ostrich Walk
10 Side Lunges each side
The most important thing with these routines is that you are golfing after you do these. This teaches the body to use the adaption you are creating for the task you want it to do. The human body is not great at understanding it has to keep a stretch, rather it is better at being taught we it needs to relax certain muscles to create more room (stretching for the sake of stretching is for pain relief and recovery, reducing stiffness in movement requires application).
You will need to be persistent, but all the work done here is free. If you are a golfer on a budget, learning how to develop warm up routines that promote mobility in your golf game can yield amazing results in relation to not only your shot distance, but the consistency of you shots as well. I mean, nothing says you’re a tight athlete like hooking it off the tee.
Incorporate and practice:
At the end of the day, to improve at something, you have to do it a lot. Not only do you have to do it a lot, you have to do it correctly.
Notice that none of these routines involve what is known as static stretching. When you’re doing any sort of warm-up routine, do not perform static stretches. Studies have shown that while both dynamic and static stretching improve range of motion, static stretching can harm the stretch reflexes we have as well as force production in the muscles stretched. In short, static stretch before swinging and you are actually more likely to get injured.
Incorporate dynamic stretching instead to warm up the joints, improve range of motion, and reduce stiffness while still being able to keep the power you know your body is able to produce. View dynamic stretches as being measured in repetitions and just easing your body into the range of motion each step. If you have to hold it, it isn’t dynamic.
Use these routines or others and just be consistent. Make sure it takes about 5-10 minutes and you do it within 10 minutes of taking your first swing. Take note of how those first swings feel after a proper warm up and then note over time how much easier it is to open up that swing and really start cranking out some yardage. Happy hunting and may this help you become the golfer who always hits their second shot last.
Current Concepts in Muscle Stretching for Exercise and Rehabilitation (Phil Page): https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3273886/
Improvements in Hip Flexibility Do Not Transfer to Mobility (Moreside, Janice M; McGill, Stuart M): https://journals.lww.com/nsca-jscr/Fulltext/2013/10000/Improvements_in_Hip_Flexibility_Do_Not_Transfer_to.1.aspx
What is X-Factor and How to Train It (Mike Carroll): https://www.mytpi.com/articles/fitness/x-factor_essentials_what_it_is_and_how_to_train_it