Get Better At Golf Without Touching a Club!

It's that easy....
This will not lower your handicap…

I hope the title grabbed you. That was the intention. However, I am not going to propose some magic pill, swing aide or formula that will instantaneously improve your golf game.  I am sorry to disappoint.  On the other hand, I can suggest a proven way that has been supported numerous times in research studies. The only problem is that it requires time and a little work.

As we have already learned —> HERE, low handicap golfers are stronger, more flexible, and have better balance than high handicap golfers.  It makes sense that better golfers are better athletes.  But, how do they get that way? Is it genetics? Did they pick the right parents?  Possibly.  However, a golf specific strength and conditioning program has been well documented to elicit improvements in strength, flexibility, balance and ultimately club head speed!

It is no secret that golf performance is multi-factorial, and that other parameters such as swing mechanics, mental preparation, course management and golf equipment are implicated in golfing success [2].  But, there is more than enough rationale for physical conditioning as a modality for improving the physical factors affecting golf performance [1,2].  With that said, lets review some important information presented in question and answer form.

Should I just work out or should I perform some type of “golf specific” training program?

This is a great question.  Without getting too off track, lets get something out of the way.  There is no such thing as “golf specific.”  The only thing that is golf specific is actually playing golf.  However, a “golf relevant” program that takes motor control, specific flexibility demands, and specific strength and power considerations is of utmost importance when training golfers.  With that said, every exercise that is performed does not have to look like the golf swing to be effective for golf.  Let me explain this quickly and easily.  Are the glutes (butt and hip muscles) important in golf?  Of course!  TPI considers the glutes to king and the abdominal muscles to be queen in terms of importance for power in golf.  So, what exercise is great at developing glute strength and power?  How about swinging a weighted club or performing weighted rotations that mimic the golf swing?  This is not a bad idea but one of the best exercises of all time at developing hip strength and power is the deadlift.  But the deadlift does not look like a golf swing?!  Exactly!  And, trust me, it does not have to.  Building hip and glute strength (among other things) by using exercises like the deadlift will pay dividends in the integration of fitness to golf.

Rory performing the deadlift.  I wonder why he would do something crazy like this?! (wink wink).
Rory performing the deadlift. I wonder why he would do something crazy like this?! (wink wink).

What other exercises should I perform?

The answer here is not so simple.  It is not only a matter of which exercises are the best, but also, which exercises are best for you and YOUR body.  The philosophy is competency in movement before capacity.  If Rory (pictured above) was not able to get his body into a position (because of flexibility issues, poor form, core instability, etc.) he would first develop those attributes then start increasing his weight/strength on the deadlift.  The same goes for any other exercise.  So, a medical or fitness professional should be able to progress and regress a program as needed to put their athlete in the right position to succeed.  With that said, the recreational golfers in the studies reviewed performed exercises to strengthen their chest, abdominals, back, shoulders, hips, and legs, as well as improving flexibility in their shoulders, trunk, spine and hips.  These are all important areas in golf, but an evaluation may reveal the need to focus on these areas or others primarily.

seated trunk rotation test

Okay, so I know that strength and flexibility training can help improve the game of pro’s and young/ middle aged amateurs, but what about older adults?

Another great question.  Simply, yes!  A study by Thompson et al. in 2004 revealed that an 8-week multi-modal fitness program improved golf performance in 55-79 year old men.  This may be news to some of you but this study is already over 10 years old and the authors reported that Senior PGA Tour players had been partaking in fitness programs for years prior with the hope that increased physical activity will help maintain their competitiveness and avoid injury [2].

What kind of results can I expect?

Finally! The question and answer (hopefully) we have all been waiting for.  Wait no longer because I have some objective data for you.  As previously stated, numerous studies have found that 8-weeks or more of strength and conditioning including a personalized flexibility program will help improve those parameters.  Furthermore, this increase in strength, flexibility, endurance, and balance all equates to one thing….increased club head speed.  But, how much should you expect?  Well, the average increase in club head speed reported was between 2.7 and 5.0 mph.  The interesting thing is that all of the studies that compared strength training only to a multi-modal approach including strength, balance, and stretching found that the multi-modal approach was superior.  It is also important to know that theoretically an increase in 1.0 mph in club head speed equates to an increase in 2.5 yards of carry.  So, the aforementioned studies found that their subjects increased their distance between 6 and 12 yards!  Who would not want that?!

This could be you!
This could be you!

Resources

1. Lephart, SM., Smoliga, JM., Myers, JB. An eight-week golf-specific exercise program improves physical characteristics, swing mechanics, and golf performance in recreational golfers. J. Strength Cond. 21(3), 860-869. 2007.

2. Thompson, CJ., Osness, WH. Effects of an 8-week multimodal exercise program on strength, flexibility, and golf performance in 55 to 79 year-old men. J. of Aging and Physical Activity. 11, 144-156. 2004.

 

 

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The Value of the Titleist Performance Institute’s Movement Screen

A hallmark of The Titleist Performance Institute is a concept they refer to as “The Body-Swing Connection.”  Simply, the type of swing that a golfer can perform is dependent on what their body can physically do.  So, the swing is connected to the body’s available strength, balance, flexibility, coordination, etc.  As we already know, proficient golfers score better on physical performance tests than high handicap golfers which should be no surprise because it makes sense that being stronger, more flexible, and having more balance would help improve your mechanics.  Click —> HERE for an article I wrote on this topic.

Does this surprise you?!
Does this surprise you?!

With this understanding, TPI has created a movement screen that is specific to golfers.  The goal of the screen is to identify physical limitations that may hinder golf performance and potentially increase risk of injury.   This should be of interest to any golfer because of the high prevalence of injuries in professional and recreational golfers.  Check out this overview of golf injuries —> HERE.  Furthermore, understanding a relationship between key movement patterns and a golfer’s mechanics can help tailor a training program to maximize golf performance.  To view the TPI movement screen click —> HERE.

Hopefully it is easy to see that physical limitations can hinder the golfer from performing an “optimal” swing, and the movement screen gives us a holistic view of mobility and potential stability deficits in specific areas of the body.  However, do we learn anything about the golf swing by putting someone through the movement screen?  In other words, can we predict swing faults based on the results of an athlete’s movement screen?  The answer is YES!

In a 2014 study by Gulgin et al., the authors set to investigate The TPI movement screen’s relationship to golf swing faults.  Interestingly, the authors were the first to administer formal research on this topic even though TPI has suggested several correlations in the past.  Several finding were the same, but some of the findings did not validate TPI’s previous claims.

Before we dive into the study, check out the list of the body swing connections presented by The Titelist Performance Institute below. This list helps make the connection between the physical screen and the Big Twelve swing characteristics that may result from a failed test.  TPI also is forthcoming with the fact that they call these swing “characteristics” because they report that many successful golfers have these characteristics.  Before reading ahead, click —> HERE for examples of the swing characteristics.

 STANDING TESTS

  • Pelvic Tilt – S-Posture, Early Extension, Reverse Spine Angle
  • Pelvic Rotation – Over the Top, Casting, Scooping, Chicken Winging, Slide, Sway, Hanging Back
  • Torso Rotation – Loss of Posture, Flat Shoulder Plane, Early Extension, Sway, Slide
  • Overhead Deep Squat – Early Extension, Loss of Posture
  • Toe Touch – C-Posture, Too Much Knee Flex, Loss of Posture
  • 90/90 – Loss of Posture, Flying Elbow, Chicken Winging, Early Extension
  • Single Leg Balance – Sway, Slide, Hanging Back, Loss of Posture, Early Extension, Reverse Spine Angle
  • Lat Test / Reach, Roll and Lift – Loss of Posture, Flat Shoulder Plane, Early Extension
  • Lower Quarter Rotation – Sway, Slide, Reverse Spine, Hanging Back, Early Extension
  • Cervical Test – Loss of Posture, Early Extension, Reverse Spine Angle
  • Wrist Patterns – Casting, Over-the-Top, Chicken Winging, Loss of Posture

SEATED TEST

  • Seated Trunk Rotation – Loss of Posture, Flat Shoulder Plane, Reverse Spine Angle, Early Extension, Sway, Slide

SUPINE TEST

  • Bridge w/ Leg Extension – All 12 possible
Loss of Posture as presented by TPI.  It is important to know how to diagnose it, but it is also important to know which physical limitations promote it!
Loss of Posture as presented by TPI. It is important to know how to recognize it during the swing, but it is also important to know which physical limitations contribute to it!

Now lets get back to the study.

The authors looked at thirty-six subjects who were instructed on how to perform each of the tests in the TPI movement screen.  After, they were instructed to hit several golf balls with their 5-iron while being recorded.  The video recording was performed on a commercial software program that had the ability to pause their swing at any point which allowed the authors to identify swing faults.  The results are as follows:

  • The most frequent physical test limitations were overhead deep squat, toe touch, single leg balance, and bridge with leg extension.
  • The most common golf swing faults associated with those physical tests were early hip extension, loss of posture, and slide in the downswing.
  • A golfer who was unable to perform an overhead deep squat is 2x more likely to early hip extend in the golf swing, and 54% of golfers who failed the deep squat demonstrated a loss of posture.  A golfer who was unable to perform a toe touch is 6x more likely to hip extend.  A golfer who is unable to balance on their left leg is 3x more likely to early extend, lose posture, and slide during the swing.  A golfer who is unable to bride on their right side is 5x more likely to early hip extend, 6x more likely to lose posture, and 2x more likely to slide on the downswing.

The authors went on to discuss some incite into why they feel this is important for the golf swing.

  • Early hip extension does not allow the golfer to drop the arms into the proper slot during the downswing, and thus may shots may get “blocked” or hooked.  Furthermore, early hip extension may affect one’s ability to properly rotate their hips during the swing which may cause a slide during the downswing.
  • Loss of posture is an indicator of an inefficient golf swing because this makes the golfer’s ability to return the club on plane less likely.
  • A Slide makes it difficult to stabilize the lower body during the down swing which takes away power from the upper body or transfer of momentum.  This lateral shift or slide generates a feeling up the club being behind the golfer and makes it difficult to square the face in relation to the swing path.

The authors concluded that the physical limitations that relate to swing characteristics should be addressed by the fitness and/or medical professional to prevent the golfer from swinging with improper mechanics.

Regardless of how the findings of the study compare to TPI’s previous list, it is important to know that the study used a small sample size (36 subjects), so further investigation is warranted to be able to generalize findings and validate Gulgin et. al’s work.

However, there is a take home message!  Both the study and TPI agree that there is a clear connection between physical limitations including flexibility, strength, and balance and the ability to perform proper golf swing mechanics.  This illustrates yet again a huge reason why a full evaluation of each golfer (including a movement screen) is of utmost importance to optimize performance and injury prevention.

 

References

Gulgin, HR, Schulte, BC, Crawley, AA. Correlation of Titleist Performance Institute (TPI) Level 1 Movement Screen and Golf Swing Faults. J Strength Cond Res 28(2): 534-539, 2014.

Failed Seated Trunk Rotation Test? Now What?

Before we get started, let’s review the Seated Trunk Rotation Test (STRT).  To view the test on TPI’s website click —> HERE.

1) Assume a seated position with knees and feet together 2) Place golf club on chest 3) While keeping the club parallel to the ground, rotate as far as possible 4) Repeated with club on back
1) Assume a seated position with knees and feet together 2) Place golf club on chest 3) While keeping the club parallel to the ground, rotate (both directions) as far as possible 4) Repeat all with club on back

As per TPI, the test is designed to “identify how much rotational mobility is present in the thoraco-lumbar spine.” This is very important to understand because most would assume a failed test is caused by the thoracic spine alone.  Though this is most often the case, it is incorrect to assume because the lumbar spine does contribute to approximately 10-15 degrees of axial rotation which is most limited by the sagittal orientation of the facet joints. Each joint/segment only allow 2-3 degrees of rotation [1].  Contributing the most to rotation of the trunk is the t-spine which should rotate 45-50 degrees [1].  Therefore, we need to have the ability to dissociate thoracic mobility deficits from lumbar mobility deficits to identify the specific area that is limiting motion.  More on this later.

Architecturally incompetent for rotation compared to the T-spine and Hips!
Architecturally incompetent for rotation compared to the T-spine and Hips!

It is also important to understand how a failed Seated Trunk Rotation Test is interpreted. The STRT is part of the TPI Screen which is used to screen golfers.  This screen is a series of tests that can be used by any member of The Team, and as we know from the Functional Movement Systems principles, only evaluates risk.  It is not a medical evaluation or performance test.  In other words, do not get caught up on trying to diagnose the cause of the dysfunction from this quick screen, or to determine the skill of the athlete.  Just understand the findings, and put that athlete in the hands of someone who can further assess the impairment.

This leads us to the first member of The Team – the golf instructor.  For more information on the team approach click —> HERE.  Just as it is not appropriate for a medical or fitness professional to give swing advice, it is not appropriate for the golf professional to give medical or fitness advice (unless they are licensed or certified).  With that said, if the golf instructor determines that the athlete has failed this test they should consult the medical professional.  It is my opinion that the medical professional should be consulted before the fitness professional because Low Back Pain is the #1 injury in golf and thoracic spine pain is the top injury related to lost practice time [2].  So, we want to make sure that a mobility deficit is all that needs to be addressed.  Together, the medical and golf pro can determine whether this deficit is causing a swing fault, and if movement optimization would improve their swing.

Further Evaluation of the STRT (a.k.a. The Breakout)

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…”a clinical assessment system designed to identify musculoskeletal dysfunction by evaluation of fundamental movements for limitations or symptom provocation.” In other words, use it to find the cause of the problem.

Once the golfer is referred to a medical professional, he or she will systematically evaluate (breakout) the movement pattern by using a standardized evaluation process.  In my opinion, the most sophisticated is the Selective Functional Movement Assessment. However, other tests should be used especially if there is pain associated with this movement.  It should be understood that the STRT is part of the breakout of one of the top-tier tests in the SFMA.  However, it is not the purpose of this post to elaborate on this, but only to educate the reader on how to determine if the mobility deficit is thoracic or lumbar (or both) in nature from a failed STRT.  The medical professional will evaluate all movement patters of the athlete, but in terms of spinal rotation they will use an algorithm that uses to primary tests: 1) Lumbar Locked T-Spine Rotation Extension and 2) Prone on Elbow Unilateral Rotation/Extension.

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1A) Lumbar Locked T-Spine Ext/Rot ER….Functional = 50 degrees.

 

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1B) Lumbar Locked T-Spine Ext/Rot IR…..Functional = 50 degrees.

 

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2) Prone on Elbows Ext/Rot…..Functional = 30 degrees.

Starting with the Lumbar Locked position which isolates the thoracic spine, the athlete will assume a hands on head (ER) position shown in the picture 1A above.  A video demonstration can be seen by clicking —> HERE.  If this is found to be functional the t-spine is clear and the prone on elbows test will be conducted to assess the lumbar spine.  However, if the lumbar locked ER test is dysfunctional (<50 degrees) the lumbar locked IR position will be performed as shown in 1B.  This helps to isolate the t-spine and rule out the shoulder girdle’s relationship a rotation limitation.  If both are found to be dysfunctional, then the t-spine is in fact the culprit.  If 1A (ER) is dysfunctional but 1B (IR) is functional the shoulder girdle should be evaluated further (broken out), as well as the lumbar spine.

To further evaluate the thoracic spine, all planes of motion should be performed and overpressure can be used to increase the sensitivity of the test.  In other words, have the patient flex, extend, and rotate in isolated planes and add overpressure to understand full active and passive motion in addition to the above tests.  If the clinician determines that further isolation is necessary, local joint play testing can be used to determine segmental mobility.

Once a conclusion is drawn to the area of the spine that is limiting spinal rotation, the golf pro and medical professional should consult and devise a plan that is individualized.  Once this plan is created, the golfer should be educated on the findings of the test and evaluation, its implications to the golf swing, and how interventions relating to improving spinal mobility will improve their swing/ durability/ performance/ etc.

 

References

1. Pearcy MJ, Tibrewal SB. Axial rotation and lateral bending in the normal lumbar spine measured by three-dimensional radiography. Spine. 1984;9(6):582–587.

2. Cabri J, Sousa JP, Kots M, Barreiros J.  Golf-related injuries: A systematic review.  European Journal of Sport Science. 2009; 9(6):353-366.