Golf Fitness: A Balancing Act

by Evan Bett, SwingFit

Flexibility, an ongoing balancing act. Golf flexibility is the amount of movement, uninhibited by restrictions to mobility, that a golfer needs to achieve their full potential. For some, flexibility comes naturally and when it doesn’t, it becomes a crucial component to proper golf conditioning Any golfer would admit that learning how to hit a ball effectively, and consistently is incredibly difficult. If you’re a beginner golfer then your frustrations with the game likely stem from a lack of technical knowledge and skill. Even for those who play rather frequently, most would equate common swing faults to poor mechanics or technical issues. The fact of the matter is that something as simple as poor flexibility and muscle imbalances are enough to create inconsistencies and prevent golfers from achieving optimal mechanics. Let’s look at the science behind why. 

First and foremost, keep in mind the human body moves in three different planes; frontal, sagittal and transverse. It’s important for a golfer to understand the relationship of each plane to the body considering that an effective swing depends on the ability of a golfer’s joints to move through the necessary planes of motion. In other words, optimal range of motion is a biomechanical prerequisite of an efficient golf swing. 

Frontal Plane Example: Movement of the arms during the swing & hip slide

Sagittal Plane Example: Bend of the body forward when addressing the ball

Transverse Plane Example: Rotation of the hips/spine/shoulders/knee during the swing

The tissues that impact a golfer’s mechanics are the muscles, tendons (known as the musculotendinous unit), ligaments and joint capsules that surround each of the joints involved in the swing. All of these tissues (with exception of ligaments) have the ability to become short and tight from a variety of sources such as participation in other sports, lingering injuries or even from the demands of everyday life. For golfers, when musculotendinous units or joint capsules shorten the generic biomechanics of the body become altered, disrupting swing mechanics as a result. This happens because muscles attach to both sides of a joint and act synergistically. When the synergy, or balance, of these muscles are altered, the mechanics or movement pathways of the joint will also change in negative ways. 

To better understand the relationship between the mind, muscles and activation of the nervous system, a brief overview of the phenomena known as faulty loading needs to be addressed. Faulty loading refers to any form of overuse, under-use or trauma to a musculotendinous unit or related joint complex. When a unit or complex is out of balance, some muscles respond to stimuli by becoming short and tight whereas others become long and weak. The problem with this scenario is that our body’s natural tendency is to do the work for the weakened muscles by placing excess demands on the opposing musculotendinous units. As this occurs and our muscles make habit of compensating for opposing units, the nerves supplying the working muscles tend to rob the information being sent to other areas which causes all sorts of biomechanical faults and inconsistencies. 

As faulty loading of the muscles persists throughout the duration of a round, golfers tend to modify their stance, grip, alignment or some other component of their swing pattern to prevent such an event from happening again. While this may be effective for a few consecutive swings, the next time the golfer tries the same modification they may get a completely different result.

Think about this relationship much like a cell phone, cellular service and Wi-Fi. You’ve probably experienced moments when you’re driving or spending time in remote areas and all the sudden your phone has no service. The nearest cell tower responsible for providing you with service is only equipped with enough bandwidth to serve a designated area or population. You hold your phone in the air and get that one bar of service for a brief moment of time only to lose it seconds later. Yet, the moment you receive access to Wi-Fi, the cellular service is no longer a factor and you can use majority of your phone’s features without any restrictions. Now compare this scenario with the mind-muscle relationship. As the mind (cell phone) calls for specific actions, it can only work within the parameters it’s given. When the muscles (cellular service) are out of balance or restricted, the body is forced to compensate and will function at sub-optimal levels. You tend to make conscious adjustments that provide temporary relief but ultimately never last (search for service). Once the muscles are balanced however (access to Wi-Fi), mobility becomes optimized and proper function can be properly restored. 

Understanding the impact of muscle imbalances and poor flexibility is only half the battle. To truly make a difference in your game, you as a golfer must realize that the degree of balance within the muscles is constantly changing. Muscle balance is affected by things such as mood, body temperature, level of arousal, stress, hormonal balance and even stimulants such as caffeine, sugar or alcohol. To effectively balance your swing, golfers must determine their particular pattern of muscle imbalances. Each individual’s pattern is completely unique and influenced by factors such as past trauma, work environment or repetitive exposure to sport specific stresses or posture. Seek out the help of a professional and learn how to balance your body to level out your game. 

Swing healthy folks!

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