It’s golf season, and we all want better scores and no injuries. Following these tips will not only keep you safer on the golf course, it could help improve your score by allowing you to be more consistent with your mechanics.
1. Warm up thoroughly
If you watch any golf tournament, you’ll see all the players at the driving range before their rounds. I’ve been fortunate to have worked with a few professional golfers, and each one says the warm-up is critical. It allows you to feel at ease with your shots, more confident in striking the ball, and limbers you up before your round.
Warming up also prepares your body for work. As we get older, a warm-up becomes more and more important when it comes to avoiding cardiovascular problems.
2. Work on your hip mobility
Like most things in life, a golf swing requires mobility. Rotation through the upper spine, shoulders, and hips is required to accurately reproduce a correct swing.
Golf is frustrating enough when it comes to consistent shots. To reproduce a swing more readily, allow yourself to move more freely. Fighting your own stiffness with every swing makes consistency impossible.
People often assume most of the swinging comes from how well your shoulders move, but a lot of power comes from the hips. I suggest three stretches to improve hip mobility: a hamstring stretch, a piriformis stretch, and a hip flexor stretch.
- For the hamstring, lie in an open doorway. One leg should be flat on the floor through the opening of the door, and the other leg stretching up against the doorframe. Gradually straighten the knee against the door frame. You should feel a stretch in the back of the leg, and, on occasion, into the calf. The closer you move toward the door, the more intense the stretch. Go for a moderate level, repeating 7 to 10 repetitions and holding for 10 to 15 seconds each rep, on each leg.
- For the piriformis, start the stretch by sitting on a couch or chair. Take your left foot and place it across your right knee, so that it’s resting on the outer portion of the right leg. Hug your left knee, and bring it toward your right shoulder. You should feel a stretch in the left buttock, not the left groin. Perform 7 to 10 reps for 10 to 15 seconds each, on each leg.
- For the hip flexor, start the stretch by placing a pillow or pad on the floor for you to kneel on with your right leg. Place the left foot out in front of you so that the foot is about 6 inches ahead of the right knee. Shift your weight forward onto the left leg, while allowing the right hip to extend back behind you. The stretch should be felt in the front of the right leg. If you are feeling it in the back of the left leg, position your foot farther out and make sure you are allowing your right hip to fully relax. Perform 7 to 10 reps for 10 to 15 seconds each on each leg.
These stretches will both help reduce your chance of injury and enhance your game. For example, the hip flexor stretch will allow you to open your swing during the last half, allowing you to really unlock your power and finish toward the target.
3. Perfect your rotation
As mentioned earlier, rotation during your swing comes from your upper back, not the lower back. This is another reason to increase your hip mobility; if the hips are tight, you’ll be forced to rotate in the lower back to accommodate the stiffness in the hips.
To practice rotating from your upper back, perform this drill. Grab a large therapy ball or exercise ball. While holding onto it with both hands, replicate your golf swing, but maintain a tight abdomen. Concentrate on turning just the upper segments of your spine, and during your follow-through, allow your hips to turn rather than your lower back. This will give you the feeling of an appropriate swing. When you feel comfortable, try it with a club.
4. Finish without ‘popping’
I see a lot of people “popping up” at the end of a swing, as they try to generate more power. This “popping up” can be done in a variety of ways—all of which are wrong.
Popping up can be as simple as:
- Straightening your knees just before or after contact
- Coming up onto your toes
- Arching your back (stacking your spine)
I’ll focus on arching of the back. Some golf pros teach a technique called stacking, which essentially is stabilizing your spine, but at the expense of your lower back. Your lower back shouldn’t be used as a stabilizing unit by locking the small facet joints in your spine, which occurs during the stacking technique.
For more in-depth information, see Preventing Low Back Pain from Golf on Spine-health.com.
A better idea is to simply tighten your abdominals. Review the technique above to practice keeping your abdominals tight. As you perform the upper back rotation drill, keep your abdominals tight and engaged, not allowing your low back to rotate. You should feel a slight pull in the abdomen as you reach your true maximum backswing (one without any compensations).
Maintaining a good abdominal contraction, coupled with good flexibility, helps you be more efficient, placing less stress on the body, and leading to more reproducible shots.