08 Apr Golf Fitness and Mobility Requirements of the Golf Swing
The phrases “flexibility”, “range of motion”, and “rotation” coincide with execution of the golf swing. In general these terms refer to physical requirements required to perform the athletic actions associated with the golf swing. The amateur player quite often refers to needing to be flexible (or lack thereof when unable to execute the golf swing) to position the body correctly at address, create rotation around a fixed spine angle, make a full shoulder turn, etc.
The reality is the body requires more than what we describe as “flexibility” to execute the golf swing. What the strength and conditioning professional is truly looking to develop is mobility.
Q: Sean, you state mobility rather than flexibility is what you are looking to develop for the golf swing, please explain.
A: Mobility is a combination of both joint range of motion and flexibility. Joint range of motion concerns itself with the actual articular structure of the joint (i.e. skeletal structures), and flexibility has to do with the extensibility of the soft tissues (muscles, tendons, ligaments) surrounding the joint. To better understand the relationship of joint range of motion and flexibility let’s define both.
Flexibility can be defined as the optimal extensibility of all soft tissues surrounding a joint to allow for full range of motion. (Michael Clark, Director: National Academy of Sports Medicine) If certain muscles are “tight” or ligaments become “un-pliable” the ability for a joint to move through multiple ranges of motion may be hindered. For example, the golf swing requires the hip to be mobile in order to execute correctly. If the surrounding soft tissues (ligaments, muscles, tendons) are “tight” the hip will be immobile and unable to operate through the ranges of motion required too execute the golf swing correctly.
In addition to flexibility, range of motion is the second component of mobility. Mobility as stated above is the combination of normal joint range of motion and proper extensibility of the surrounding soft tissues. Range of motion is simply the number of degrees a joint should be able to flex, extend, or rotate. For example, the elbow joint is considered a hinge joint that only flexes and extends. The elbow joint should flex or extend a certain number of degrees. Limitations in the degrees of flexion and extension would be considered a limited range of motion in relation to the elbow joint.
Q: What do you personally see as the most common limitations to mobility in the everyday golfer?
A: The common physical dysfunction relative to mobility for the amateur player typically centers on soft tissue extensibility. The lack of extensibility in the soft tissue results in joint restrictions thus limiting a joint’s intended range of motion. The result of such a situation is limited mobility causing an inability of the golfer to execute the physical requirements of the golf swing in an efficient manner.
Q: When the above situation results, a golfer not having the mobility to perform the golf swing, what typically happens?
A: As we stated above mobility limitations first and foremost impede the golfer in executing the golf swing in an efficient manner, but this is only the tip of the iceberg. Mobility restrictions are a “slippery slope” causing a myriad of dysfunctions.
On the golf swing side of the equation, when the body is unable to execute the athletic actions of the golf swing, compensatory patterns will develop in attempt to overcome these physical dysfunctions. The compensation patterns will lead to less than optimal speed development, less efficient ball striking, a golf swing relying on timing, and overall less consistency.
Over time these compensation patterns will lead to the development of swing faults which we all know cause difficulty in the golf game from tee to green.
Outside of the “on the course” issues, we must also be aware of the physical issues resulting from mobility limitations. Recognize the body is a very smart machine and when asked to perform a movement pattern (golf swing included) it will find a way to complete the movement regardless of limitations within the kinetic chain. The way it finds to complete the movement pattern at hand will be less efficient resulting in the body asking certain joints to perform activities that they are not intended to perform.
Let me explain with a common issue found in the golfing population. The golf swing requires the hips to be mobile and move through their intended range of motion. We will often see golfers with limited hip mobility. That being said, the body will recruit another joint to execute the rotary requirements of the golf swing if the hips are limited. The body will typically turn to the lumbar spine (region of the spine located just above the hips) to perform the rotational movements of the swing when the hips are limited.
The problem with this situation is the lumbar spine is not intended from a physiological perspective to rotate through a large range of motion. Over time if the golfer continues to ask the lumbar spine to rotate it will eventually become injured. A common injury in the sport of golf linked to a lack of mobility.
Q: That all makes sense, and please tell me what joints of the body must be mobile to execute the golf swing?
A: To answer this question we can turn to the Mobility/Stability Pattern of Human Movement Principle. This principle was first noted by physical therapist Gray Cook and strength coach Mike Boyle, and popularized in the sport of golf by Dr. Greg Rose of the Titleist Performance Institute. This principle states efficient movement within the kinetic chain of the human body occurs in an alternating pattern of mobile joints and stable segments. If this pattern of mobile joints and stable segments is altered, dysfunction in movement patterns will occur, and compensations in these movement patterns will be the result.
Let me break out the pattern so we have a model to reference:
- Mobility-Stability Pattern of Human Movement
- Foot Stable
- Ankle Mobile
- Knee Stable
- Hip Mobile
- Pelvis/Sacral/Lumbar Spine Stable
- Thoracic Spine Mobile
- Scapula-Thoracic Stable
- Gleno-Humeral/Shoulder Mobile
- Elbow Stable
- Wrist Mobile
- Cervical Spine Mobile
As you can see from the above table the human body “feet to fingertips” operates in an alternating pattern of a mobile joint followed by a stable joint throughout the entire kinetic chain (i.e. body). It is obvious joints such as the elbow and knee are not rod like pieces of iron that do not flex or extend, but rather these joints are stable in terms of limited degrees of motion. For example, the knee joint does not rotate in 360 degrees of motion as does the hip or shoulder, rather it operates essentially in one plane of motion flexing and extending. As a result this joint is considered a stable joint where as the hip, shoulder, and ankle require large ranges of motion for human movement to occur efficiently.
Relative to the golf swing the mobility/stability pattern of human movement allows for the creation and transfer of energy through the kinetic chain from “feet to fingertips” into the golf
About Performance Coach Sean Cochran: Sean Cochran, one of the most recognized performance coaches in sports today. A career spanning positions with 2 major league baseball organizations, over 10 years on the PGA Tour and work with top professionals including three-time Masters, PGA, and British Open Champion Phil Mickelson, future hall of fame Trevor Hoffman, and Cy Young award winner Jake Peavy provides Sean a proven track record of success. He has been involved in the production of numerous performance videos and authored books including; Performance Golf Fitness, Complete Conditioning for Martial Arts, and Fit to Hit. He has been a presenter of educational seminars for numerous organizations including the world renowned Titleist Performance Institute.