Get Back In The Swing

Spring is in the air and it is time to start thinking

of your summer sports and getting your body ready. You’ve heard the term “pre-training”, right? Well, that doesn’t only apply to team sports and elite athletes. Golf may be considered a laid back sport to some, but the high intensity swing and duration of the game must be taken into account. It is not too early to start strengthening your core, shoulders and legs in order to have an efficient swing, prevent injuries and enjoy your favorite game all summer. Here are a couple commonly asked questions regarding our bodies and the sport of golf.

What muscle groups do people use when playing golf?

The golf swing incorporates almost every muscle and joint in the body! If we break the golf swing down, there are some key muscle groups that are important to consider when stretching and training for the sport of golf. During the backswing: balance, joint mobility and muscle flexibility are paramount. While shoulder, hip, and full trunk rotation are necessary to achieve the optimal backswing technique, other muscles provide stability and balance. The transverse abdominus and oblique muscles work to stabilize the spine and coil up the trunk in preparation for the powerful downswing. The hip (quads and hamstrings) and shoulder muscles (abductors and external rotators) on the trail-side are actively working to prepare our bodies for the next phase. The downswing is a powerful and fast motion that requires much coordination and joint awareness. Our hip, thigh and calf muscles help stabilize the knee, rotate the hips and transfer load onto the lead leg. The shoulder and torso muscles generate power and speed for contacting the ball.

Finally, the follow through phase is mainly a deceleration of the body after impact. Many of the same muscles work eccentrically (controlling movement while they are lengthening) to slow down the body, protect joint range of motion, and maintain balance.

What are the most common injuries with golf?

In the upper body, shoulder injuries are most common. Typically these involve the shoulder rotator cuff muscles: the supraspinatus, infraspinatus, teres minor, and subscapularis. These muscles are the core stability of our shoulder joint. More often on the lead shoulder, these muscles can be over taxed by improper technique, such as excessive shoulder elevation during the back swing. Poor trunk rotation and over swinging can also overuse these muscles and cause injury. Elbow injuries, such as tendonitis issues, can develop due to poor grip technique, frequent repetition, and taking deep divots. Wrist tendonitis, carpal tunnel syndrome, and thumb injuries are mainly due to excessive grip pressure and poor grip mechanics.

In the lower body, knee injuries such as a meniscal tear or ankle tendonitis can occur due to the pivoting motion of the swing, improper weight shifting, and footwear.

The majority of injuries we see in golf, involve the back. 50% of injuries occur during the downswing. This action has the greatest speed and force on our muscles and joints. Typically the lower back, elbows and knees are affected during this phase. The most damaging position for our lumbar discs is at the moment of impact when our spine sideflexes and rotates. It is typically the trail-side that endures the most wear and tear, thus increasing the chance of degenerative changes.

How to avoid them?

Since poor technique is a common theme with injuries, a lesson from a PGA teaching professional would be helpful. Maintaining adequate flexibility in the shoulders, trunk and hips allow the stabilizing muscles to perform more efficiently. Incorporate stretches that target back extension, trunk rotation, hamstring, hip flexors, and outer hips. Stretches that target shoulders, forearms and neck are preventative as well.

Strengthening the shoulder rotators, trunk muscles, and the hip muscles would greatly enhance joint stability, technique and coordination. Performing strengthening exercises such as shoulder external rotation, upright row, and hip abduction utilize these muscles.

Research shows that the limiting factor to how powerful the spine can move, is the strength and function of the deep stabilizing trunk muscles – the transverse abdominus, internal obliques and multifidus muscles. By activating these muscles throughout the golf swing, the trunk will have more power and spinal protection. A good start would be to simply draw in your lower abdomen towards your spine while addressing the ball and throughout your swing. Exercises such as oblique curl ups, front and side planks are great spinal stability exercises for core strengthening. Golf specific exercises are optimal for injury prevention and preparing your body for the powerful and dynamic nature of the golf swing.

I am a certified Level 2 practitioner with the FITforeGOLF seminars. This program for physiotherapists uses “clinically based golf rehabilitation and injury prevention strategies incorporating the latest biomechanical and sport medicine research”. Based on this information, I have created a 4-week conditioning class to teach you golf tips, educate you on injury prevention, and progress you through strengthening, stabilizing and flexibility exercises to get you ready for the upcoming golf season. Each class is one hour long and once a week for 4 weeks. I will provide you with information and handouts so that you can continue to practice and incorporate what you’ve learned independently.

In our gym at the Bragg Creek Physiotherapy clinic, we will perform a circuit style workout with various equipment such as weights, Bosu balls, physio balls, therabands and a golf specific AbTrainer. These Back in the Swing golf training sessions will start in April and May just in time for the snow to melt! If you are interested in an individualized fitness program to meet your goals, we offer that as well. Please call the clinic for further details on personal fitness training programs and our upcoming Back in the Swing golf conditioning classes (403-949-4008). 

Jennifer Gordon (BScPT, AFCI, GIMS, BKin)