Flexibility, an ongoing balancing act. Golf flexibility can be defined as the amount of movement, unaffected 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 efficiently and consistently is incredibly difficult, even pros make mistakes! 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 is enough to create inconsistencies and prevent golfers from achieving optimal mechanics and performance. 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, and each plane relates to specific muscles that allow relative movements. 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 three 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, ligaments and capsules that surround each of the joints involved in the swing. All of these tissues have the ability to shorten and tighten from a variety of sources such as participation in other sports, lingering injuries or even stressors of everyday life. For golfers, when muscle units or joint capsules shorten, the general biomechanics of the body become altered which by default will prevent the golfer from achieving optimal swing mechanics. This happens because the muscles that attach to both sides of a joint will act synergistically. When the synergy or balance of these muscles are off the mechanics or movement pathways of the joint will be negatively impacted.
The problem for golfers in 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 units. As our muscles make habit of compensating for the opposition, 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 improper use and recruitment 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 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 imbalances and execute a stretching routine tailored to their needs. Stretching without any purpose or knowledge of what needs to be stretched can actually do more harm. Consult a professional to identify your needs and customize a program to balance out your game.
Swing healthy folks!
PGA of Canada Associate Professional
TPI Golf Fitness Specialist
CHEK Golf Performance Specialist
CHEK Holistic Lifestyle Coach
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