Strength and flexibility work together to get the job done well. Maybe you’ve been a part of a team in a corporate setting where the strong people weren’t flexible and the flexible people weren’t strong. It probably took a long, frustrating time to get the job done, did not turn out as well as it could have, and resulted in some hurt feelings and potentially lost relationships.
The joints in our bodies work very much like a team requiring both strength and flexibility to perform successful movement and get the job done. Our joints - shoulders, elbows, wrists, fingers, hips, knees, ankles, toes – move effectively and efficiently only in a coordinated effort of strength and flexibility. Both Pilates and yoga movements incorporate a healthy balance of strength and flexibility. Today, I want to focus on movements that promote flexibility. When training for a sport, strength training seems to take precedence. Yes, increasing our strength is absolutely important, but our joints are only as strong as they are flexible. Therefore, for the purpose of this article, I will focus on movements that promote flexibility.
In order for a joint to move smoothly, the muscles which cross that joint must coordinate precisely, shortening on one side while lengthening the other side. When the balance of muscle groups around a joint is altered (usually short/tight), the movement patterns of the joint are compensated (usually restricted) creating ineffectiveness and the potential for injury. When a muscle is in a state of constant contraction (too strong), the choice of how that joint responds to a specific movement is already predetermined. A muscle wants to be ready for work, not already working. Therefore, a muscle has to have a healthy balance of strength AND flexibility to perform well. It also has to have that balance so its partner(s), the opposing muscle group, can contract and relax when it needs to and not be compromised and over-powered by its partner. This is the environment for an optimally operating joint.
Let’s demonstrate this idea with the golf swing. We will analyze the muscles of the shoulders, spine and hips during a golf swing because common swing faults occur due to tight shoulder, tightness in the hip joint, and inflexible spines.
When shoulder rotation is restricted, the body compensates with excessive spinal rotation. This can result in back injury especially when most people already lack flexibility in the spine.
As a result, golfers will notice that they have difficulties in:
Keeping their eyes on the ball.
Maintaining an optimal swing plane.
This results in fat or thin shots. When the golfer attempts to compensate at the shoulder joint, the chances of a hook or slice increases.
Let’s look at the muscles around the shoulder. Tight internal shoulder rotators restrict a golfers ability to face the target during follow through. Tightness in the external rotator of your trail side shoulder restricts your follow-through. Tightness in the external rotator of your target side shoulder restricts your back swing.
Next, let’s look at the muscles of the spine. Tightness in the rotational muscles of the spine places additional strain on the rotational requirements of the shoulder and limit the rotational mobility required for all phases of the golf swing. Consequently, a golfer will lift up during the back swing and then chop down on the ball resulting in a fat shot.
When the spine can’t fully rotate:
The shoulder is often overused to compensate for restricted spinal rotation.
Coil action is limited.
Swing faults result with regard to swing plane, club face angle, and maintenance of optimal swing axis.
Excessive shift and rotation of the hips during both the back-swing and follow through.
Restricted lateral bending is often coupled with limited spinal rotation: This results in:
Swing faults similar to that of limited spinal rotation.
Excessive shoulder compensation with limited coiling.
Excessive sway during the back-swing and follow-through
Shortened thoracic (middle back) extension limits back swing and follow-through. A golfer will try to compensate with over rotation of the shoulder, which increases the chances of further shoulder injury and possibly hooking the ball.
Finally, let’s look at the hips. Short hip flexors have been recognized as the most common cause of muscle imbalance and are often found in golfers with low back pain. Short hip flexors can limit your ability to achieve a full backswing, and inhibit getting your hips through on the followthrough. This results in :
Limited coil action.
Loss of power
Impedes you from facing your target at finish.
Working in conjunction with the hip flexors for hip mobility are the hamstrings. Short hamstrings affect your address posture, causes excessive forward bending of the lower back, and reduce spinal rotation. Overuse of the arms is common when spinal rotation is limited with tight hamstrings.
Inability to achieve normal hip internal rotation on the right and/or external rotation on the left will limit your follow-through. Hip rotation imbalance is
commonly associated with overuse injuries to the back, shoulder, and elbows in golfers. This is particularly important to senior golfers as tight hips causes lower back pain and power loss.
Please click here to see Dr. Brian Abelson’s more in-depth article.
Life is a sport. We all go through some kind of training to be able to accomplish our goals. As you train, remember to not only think strength, but flexibility. The movements of Pilates and yoga are not just for the class room, they are life skills that help us develop the balance of strength and flexibility required to do well at our sport.
For more information about how Pilates and yoga can help your golf swing, please go to www.sculptpilates.ca