A Good Swing Starts with a Strong Base of Support
A good golf swing starts with a strong base of support (hips, pelvis and lumbar spine). A highly conditioned base of support will provide stability throughout the swing and allow forces to be effectively transferred from the legs through the hips to the upper body to produce optimal power and control. A strong base helps protect the joints and other supporting tissues against the strong compression, shear and torsion forces that occur during the golf swing. Unfortunately, there are a number of factors that predispose the golfer to developing poor postural patterns and muscle imbalance that result in a weak base of support.
For much of our young lives we were stuck sitting in school hunched over our desk. We finish school and begin our careers. Many of us now find ourselves spending excessive time in our cars or sitting in poorly designed chairs hunched in front of a computer. Over time we are conditioned to have tight hip flexors and a lazy posture. Poor posture and muscle imbalance decrease musculoskeletal efficiency and disrupt communication within the neuromuscular system. Short tight muscles display a lower activation threshold, meaning they fire at times when they should be less active or inactive. Over activation of dominant muscles leads to decreased neural control to their opposing muscles. Simply stated, "when one muscle becomes tight and overactive its opposing muscle becomes loose and lazy." Tight dominant hip flexors create weak and lazy hip extensors (gluteals)and set off a chain reaction of dysfunction.
Tight hip flexors pull the pelvis into a forward tilt leading to an excess curvature of the lumbar spine. As a result the muscles of the abdominal wall lengthen and weaken while the muscles of the lumbar spine get short and tight. This pattern also causes disruption in our body's lateral stabilization system. The hip abductors (muscles that move the legs away from the center of the body) along with their opposing adductors (muscles that move the legs toward the center of the body) work to stabilize the pelvis during lateral movement. Inefficiency in this lateral stabilization system inhibits coordination and hinders proper weight shift through the golf swing. So what we are left with are weak hip extensors (gluteal muscles) that can't drive the hips through the swing, dominant hip flexors that won't allow the hips to open to allow a full turn, tight spinal flexors that are forced to do the work of the weak hip extensors, but are to tight to make a full rotation, and a lack of coordination needed to make consistently good ball contact. To make matters worse most golfers spending hours at the driving range reinforcing and strengthening this dysfunctional pattern. Is it any wonder the average golf score hasn't dropped in decades?
To break this pattern of dysfunction and build a strong base of support we must first establish coordinated muscle firing among the deep stabilizing abdominal musculature, the hip flexors and extensors, hip abductors and adductors, and spinal flexors, extensors and rotators. This is accomplished through the activation and strengthening of weak and inhibited muscles, and stretching the tight and dominant muscles. Once these muscles are re-educated and coordinated muscle firing is established we can then work to build optimal strength and power.
The first step in this process is the development of the deep abdominal and pelvic musculature. This is done by mastering the abdominal brace. The abdominal brace differs from the traditional abdominal training that encourages "abdominal hollowing" a.k.a. the "draw in" maneuver. With the "draw in" maneuver we are told to pull or draw our belly buttons towards our spines. Research has shown that drawing in actually lessens abdominal activation and decreases lumbar - pelvic- hip stability. The abdominal brace is an isometric contraction of the abdominal muscles meaning the abs are neither pulled in nor pushed out. This maneuver should be the first step of every exercise as it is the foundation of lumbar, pelvic, and hip stabilization. The following exercise will allow you to master this movement and re-educate the lower abdominal wall and allow the deep pelvic stabilizers to fire efficiently.
? Lay in a supine position (on your back) with knees bent and feet flat on the floor.
? Brace your abdominals by tightening abdominals as if you were going to take a punch in the gut.
? Return to a relaxed position and repeat.
? Control Movement is the key. While performing these exercises pay strict attention to NOT allow the use of the legs (hip flexors and /or gluteals) while contracting the abdominals. The only muscles contracting are the abdominal wall; place your hands on the belly button to feel this isolated contraction
? There should be no tension in your neck or shoulders.
Don't limit the abdominal brace to exercise. Practicing the brace with all activity (sitting, walking, driving, golfing, etc) will help you develop the endurance your abdominals need to maintain a strong base of support as well as a healthy back.
A study presented by researchers at the American College of Sports Medicine's 51st annual meeting showed that golfers who possess strong hip muscles have lower handicaps and longer driving distances than those with weak hip muscles. This makes sense since muscles of the hip and pelvis play a major role in stabilizing the trunk and transferring forces from the lower body through the upper body and arms during the golf swing. The ability of the hip extensors (gluteals and hamstrings) and lumbar extensors to fire in concert also allows the body to react to and counteract the rapid rotational forces of the golf swing. The problem here, as we have already discussed, is many golfers have inhibited hip extensors and tight and dominant lumbar flexors. Under the best of circumstances our spines were not designed to swing a golf club. Now we compound the issue repeatedly forcing our spinal muscles to do the job of our hip extensors to power through the swing. Spinal extensor muscles don't have the size or strength to do this, hence the tremendous incidence of over use injury and lower back pain among golfers. So, what we need to do is quite down our lumbar extensors to allow the hip extensors to do their job.
The Bird Dog exercise progression effectively helps develop stabilization, coordination and strength of the spine. The key to this type of exercise is learning and then maintaining "neutral" spine. Neutral does not mean straight, it means allowing the natural curves to be present. This is imperative to allow the spine to function properly and movement to occur in a stress free manner. The golf club placed the length of the spine is an excellent cue that allows the golfer to feel the proper spinal positions and make necessary corrections. The club shaft should be in contact with only three points; the base of the head, the center of the back and the middle of the pelvis. Concave spaces should be seen at the neck and lower back.
? Position yourelf on your hands and knees with a golf club placed along your spine; make sure the rod contacts 3 points only (head-middle back-pelvis).
? Brace your abdominals and slowly raise one hand and the opposite knee just off the floor ( no more than 1/4 inch). Hold for five to ten seconds.
? Return to the start position and alternate sides.
? The club must remain in contact with all 3 contact points (head, mid back, pelvis).
Once you have mastered the Dog 1 then you can move to the next progression. Dog 2 adds the components of hip extension and shoulder flexion. This exercise is extremely effective in re-establishing efficiency in extensor chain (hip, lumbar, and cervical extensors).
Dog II ? Position yourelf on your hands and knees with a golf club placed along your spine; make sure the rod contacts 3 points only (head-middle back-pelvis).
? Brace your abdominals, slowly extend one arm (thumb up) straight out in front of you and the opposite leg behind you.
? Hold for five to ten seconds and repeat with opposite side.
? The club must remain in contact with all 3 contact points (head, mid back, pelvis).
? Do not allow your hips to rotate.
The key with Dog 2 is not to allow the lumbar extensors to fire during this movement. After mastering Dog 2 you can then further challenge the hip extensors by adding the bridge exercise. The bridge adds the resistance of body weight to the hip extension movement and further challenges (and strengthens) the deep stabilizers or the lumbar-pelvic-hip complex.
? Lay on your back with your arms placed at your side.? Brace your abdominals and squeeze your gluteals (buttocks) then raise your hips into a bridge position. Pause and return to starting position.
? Your feet should remain flat.
? This movement is initiated with the hips not the spinal extensor muscle; no pressure should be felt in the lower back.
? Maintain abdominal and gluteals muscles contraction throughout the full movement.
It is important to implement a good stretching program to lengthen tight muscles as you strengthen your base of support. Aside from the already mentioned hip flexors and lumbar extensors other areas commonly tight among golfers include the muscles of the hamstrings, neck, scapular elevators (upper trapezius and levator scapulae) and shoulder internal rotators. A qualified strength and conditioning or golf fitness professional can provide you with a postural and biomechanical analysis that can provide a more detailed picture of your specific areas of need. Improving your base of support will add distance and control to your game and help prevent, reduce, and possibly eliminate golf related pain and injury.
Bill Scibetta, RN, NSCA-CPT
Bill is the founder and President of Precision Fitness ? Personal Training Centers in the Charlotte, NC area and co-author of the book Play Better Longer! ? Peak Performance and Injury Prevention for Golf. Bill is a licensed Registered Nurse as well as a National Strength and Conditioning Association ? Certified Personal Trainer. After spending years practicing in the specialty of Orthopedics and Sports Medicine, Bill has dedicated his career to helping individuals identify and overcome obstacles that stand in the way of optimal wellness and peak physical performance.
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