Tag Archives: Mobility

5 reasons why ‘golfish’ exercises don’t work

I’m not a fan of golfers using exercises that mimic the golf swing for ‘fitness’ benefits at all. There are much more effective methods to develop the raw materials of mobility, strength, speed and power we need in the golf swing, but more than that these exercises aren’t really that ‘specific’ in the first place. The law of speciality states that training should be specific to the sporting activity in terms of joint movement, direction of force, load and velocity.

Quote- New post design

1.Not appropriate when generally weak

To put it another way ‘golf-specific’ strengthening exercises are not appropriate or necessary when generally weak. It’s much more valuable to become strong overall, and only then pursue golf-specific strength. Staying injury free should be the goal of any training program first and foremost. The ability to absorb the forces generated in the golf swing, for instance, is important in staying injury free and generally associated with eccentric strength.

2.Competing motor demands

Mobility drills standing in golf posture for example – assuming appropriate stability has been developed these can be a great way to develop dynamic and functional mobility in the golf swing. As golf posture is being mimic the conditions and loads in which the body will be required to produce mobility are also replicated.

However if stability is an issue and the golfer doesn’t possess the ability to maintain these positions and joint loads while trying to demonstrate mobility then mobility will not be displayed nor will these exercises improve it. They could even do more harm than good as the athlete could attempt to generate more ROM and in doing so obtain it in a less than ideal manner (typically in this case by gaining ROM from the lower back and not the thoracic spine), potentially affecting motor control of the golf swing, applying faulty movement mechanics and even leading to injury.

This is where regressions moving away from the specific and allowing the introduction of more stability are vital.

3. Soley focusing on golf like motions leads to a lack of context and poor skill acquisition

It goes without saying that some athletes pick up new movements faster than others. Usually, this occurs because they have context from which to draw.

As an example, an athlete might have a great hip hinge because they’ve done it previously whilst playing sports that utilise the athletic base position. Having that hip hinge proficiency helps the individual to efficiently learn a deadlift pattern (among many other athletic movements).

Establishing context is just one of many reasons that children should be exposed to a wide variety of free play and athletic endeavours. The more movement variability we have at younger ages, the broader the foundation we build. The wider the base, the more we can stack specific skills on top of it once the time is right.

An athlete who is soley engaging in golf like movements and oftentimes cannot or has lost the ability to perform basic movement patterns, they therefore have also lost those wide foundations to build their sports specific skill upon.

The golfer who establishes wider context has a wider array of movement perspective and greater kinaesthetic awareness, they are therefore more likely to quickly grasp new coaching cues or swing changes. In short, they are more coachable. This is also my major argument against early sports specialisation for kids.

4.Direction of force

We talked earlier about the importance of direction of force as it pertains to specificity, citing the work of Mel Siff. One of the problems with many ‘golfish’ exercises using bands or cables is that the actually fail to apply direction of force specific to the golf swing. Take this cable backswing here:

Whilst the movement looks similar to the golf swing the direction of force is completely altered. In the case of the cable backswing, the weight of the cable stack is pulling you down and forward towards it, you must therefore activate the muscles to resist this, this doesn’t happen in the swing normally. The golf swing requires almost every muscle your body to be utilised in a specific sequence, in specific ranges of motion, and in correct tension relationships to all the other muscles. Altering the direction of force, causes your body to change the entire sequence and balance of the movement in order to achieve a similar outward appearance.

 5.Time constraint and intensity specific

Let us also consider speed and intensity for a moment as I believe this to be one the biggest failings in the weighted swings, cable machine or dumbbell swings and bosu/stability ball swings that might traditionally be considered golf-specific. The golf swing is a high speed movement, it therefore stands to reason we should train with the goal of developing speed. Additionally adding resistance (particularly via a cable which ensures smooth movement and equal resistance throughout) to the movement alters the velocity of the movement, research has shown in almost all speed based sports that swinging weighted implements decreases speed.

The reason they do

In a word, posture! When you train in the same posture as your goal activity, the forces (namely gravity) acting on your joints and muscles will be replicated. This can obviously be advantageous for sports specific training, the problem is that most of these exercises will contravene one, two, three or more of the rules above. One area I have found this idea to be usable is t-spine mobility drills – once you have gone through an appropriate progression i.e. from lying to kneeling positions before moving into standing – drills like the one below serve to develop the ability to utilise t-spine mobility in a position similar to the golf swing.

A Closing thought

if you are using a drill like this to improve a specific part of your technique/ motor pattern with your swing coach or something then absolutely all for it. RNT band drills for example can be really helpful in teaching correct shoulder/hip turn  or kinematic sequence in the golf swing. However, if your using drills like these in the gym in the hope it will improve your mobility, strength, power, you won’t have much success and when it comes things like rotational mechanics and lower back pain it may even be detrimental.

 

Sort your neck for more shoulder turn

What golfers call shoulder turn is actually thoracic (a.k.a. upper back) rotation, however as the head remains still whilst the upper back turns our cervical spine (a.k.a. the neck) must be able to rotate too if you are going to achieve full shoulder turn in your backswing.

The neck also plays a vital role in how well the rest of your body functions.  As Dean Somerset says, along with the feet and the core, the neck is one of the major stability centres in the body. To generate power, you need mobility. To have mobility, you need stability. Proximal stability feeds distal mobility. Instability signals the brain and nervous system to put the brakes on power output because it feels threatened. A lack of stability is a threat to your nervous system.

If the deep core stabilizing system of your body (of which the deep neck flexors are a part) is unstable, your nervous system will simply recruit more superficial muscles to take over. Neck position, therefore, can play a HUGE role in not only arm movement but also hip mobility, in other words we talk a lot about fixing alignment from the bottom up (i.e. at the feet up) but fixing from the top down is also an important strategy.

In the case of the shoulder, every muscle that holds the shoulder to the body and keeps it from falling down, is held up by the neck. If the neck is in a forward head posture, muscles like the sternocleidomastoid, scalanes, levator scapulae, and upper traps will be all jacked up, which will alter the ability to move the arms around. One of the most common relationships is inhibition (weakness) of the deep neck flexors to facilitation (tightness) in the hamstrings. Lack of stability in the neck causes a reflex compensation in the hamstrings to take over the job of the neck flexors. Neck alignment/ head position will also play a role in hip mobility due to the anatomical link to the spinal chord.

The deep neck flexors flex, side bend, and rotate the head as well as being a big part of the stability system we discussed. They do a ton of stuff. Assessing them is critical.

So, how can you determine if the deep neck flexors aren’t up to par?

The first test we like to utilise is a standing cervical rotation. Standing upright in good posture with the feet together turn the head to the left as far as you can and tilt it down, you should be able to touch your collar bone with your chin, then repeat on the other side.

picture1467823276

Take a close look and you’ll see in the first picture I’m quite able to touch as high on my collar bone and also my shoulder has shrugged up slightly in order to help me get my chin and collar bone too touch. These are the sort of things you need to look for and suggest your neck rotation may not be up to scratch.

Next up we use a supine neck flexion to test the activation of our deep neck flexors. Lying on your back place the base of your thumb at the top of your sternum and point your thumb. Pull your neck down to touch your thumb and hold for 20 seconds.

DSC_0107

Do you feel fatigue, soreness, discomfort, shaking, or the need to hold your breath during this exercise? If so that indicates the muscle may be inhibited and needs activation/strengthening.

So what can you do about it?

The key is to activate the neck flexors after releasing areas of your neck such as the sternocleidomastoid, scalanes, levator scapulae, and upper traps that have been prone to tightness and stiffness.

Sternocleidomastoid hands on SMR

Supine lacrosse ball deep neck flexor activation

The video is an abbreviated version just to give you an idea. The full exercise involves; holding ball under chin for 20 seconds. Next side bend right and left four times keeping control of the ball. Then rotate right and left four times maintaining control of the ball. Lastly do not hold your breath or clench your jaw.

So, If you’re in need of more shoulder turn check your neck function. If you find a weakness or lack of mobility put these exercises into action and I bet you’ll see an improvement.

Incidentally, this article came about from  question posted on twitter so if you want your questions answered pop over to twitter (follow us if you aren’t already!) and tweet it to us.

Stretching is a waste of time

I spend most of my time working with clients who want more mobility, be it the ability to get a greater shoulder turn in the backswing or to turn more to ‘load the hips’ in the downswing. The flip side of this is that I spend most of my time working with golfers who spend far to long sitting, either at a desk 8-10 hours a day or on a plane/train/car traveling to the next tournament 2-3 days a week. Unsurprisingly, a fair few of them arrive on my client roster with the mobility of a clam, meaning even basic human movement patterns, such as the squat or hinge are challenging endeavours.

Seeing that part of my job is centred on optimising movement patterns and mobility, these clients expect me to help them improve in this area. However, what isn’t expected, indeed even resisted by some, is when I break down my ‘mobility’ methods, It’s often not what people expect. For most clients, there is very little to no static stretching whatsoever.

The response is pretty predictable – “how am I going to improve my mobility/flexibility if I don’t stretch?” Or “But I’m stretching everyday at the moment; surely I need to do more if I’m going to get better?” My response is to ask whether there religious stretching routine to date has actually improved their mobility. The answer is always No.

images

No matter how much time a client spends stretching, they typically see only transient improvements in flexibility and negligible improvement in motor control when performing any movement using that new range of motion. Static stretching alone is not the answer. In fact, it barely provides any benefit at all.

As a result, I’ve dropped almost all static stretching from my programs in favour of some more advanced mobility methods I’ll discuss here.

Why stretching doesn’t work?

Well first off, muscles can’t actually be lengthened – There are various research studies that have looked at this exact topic. Secondly a single 20 second static stretch has been shown to noticeably reduce force output – hardly ideal if your about to go and do a strength training session or complete a high power output activity such as golf.

Most importantly however, tightness in the muscle is often just a symptom not the cause of the problem and therefore stretching is just a band aid for the symptoms and will not fix the cause in the long term. A muscle is tight because it’s protecting a perceived instability, compensating for another area, or is guarding against a perceived threat. So if your tight first you need to ask why said muscle is tight?

For most of us with tightness one or all of the factors above are also at play in limiting range of motion.  Stretching doesn’t address the cause of the muscle being tense in the first place. If the muscle is actually ‘tight’, static stretching should allow the muscle to become less tight, and those gains should be permanent if they are appropriate to the restriction. However, particularly in an area like the hips, that are designed to have a large range of motion before actual end range due to a bony block or capsular ending, the muscles are most likely hanging on to give stability to some other part of the body. Static stretching won’t fix the issue on a permanent basis, as you’ll simply return to being tight as a drum again to give you the stability to move.

You need to fix the stability issue, which is the cause. Not attack the tight muscle, which is just the symptom with static stretching.

As a quick aside: The hip joint can get to 170 degrees of flexion, and in some angles outside of the sagittal plane it can get to more than 200 degrees flexion. It can also extend to between 40-60 degrees, which adds up to way more than the necessary 180 degrees to do a split. This leaves soft tissue restrictions as the reason most people can’t hit the splits. Sure, some have structural issues with the shape of their hip joints, but that can’t be something that could account for the entire population.

42

Bodybuilder, Flex Wheeler, used to hit the splits on stage, carb depleted and dehydrated while packing more muscle than 95% of the population, proving the concept of “muscle bound” reducing flexibility to be completely and utterly false.

Let’s look at the hip flexors as a specific example, a tight hip flexor is often the result of femur sliding forward (anterior glide), resulting in the glutes becoming stretched and weak (this is what’s meant by a capsular issue). Additionally, if a segment is unstable, so other areas become tense to try to provide the stability needed to move. In the case of the hip flexors, they attach to the spine, so If you core musculature responsible for stabilising the spine is weak, your hip flexors will try to stabilise your spine and they’ll stay tight to give stability.

There is huge interplay between the core and the hip. It’s not enough just to look at the hip in addressing your poor mobility. To echo the message of smart people such as Gray Cook, Charlie Weingroff , and Mike Robertson who have really made this stuff mainstream, we need proximal stability to have distal mobility. In other words, we need relative stability through the trunk to make full use of the range of motion available in joints such as the hips and shoulders.

Another example would be tight hamstrings – many people have hamstrings that feel permanently tight and couldn’t touch their toes if their life depends on it. Many of these golfers still cling to the idea that static stretching of the hamstrings is the answer, down this road lies nothing but frustration and wasted time!

These individuals typically display a pelvis that is anteriorly tilted, placing the hamstrings in a stretched position to start with, coupled with an inability to posteriorly shift weight back into the hips. If we can improve the lumbo-pelvic position and alignment, both statically and dynamically, we’ll improve that feeling of hamstring ‘tightness’.

If not stretching, then what should I do?

As I said earlier muscle, or any soft tissue for that matter, doesn’t have the physiological properties to permanently deform and lengthen. That leaves us with optimising adjacent players in gross movement patterns to improve the pattern itself, and create an illusion of muscles gaining length or suppleness. True mobility, therefore, is dependent on an athlete’s ability to create proper movement strategies.

Below is the plan of attack we use with our clients to get their mobility restrictions in the right direction:

Screen Shot 2016-05-11 at 23.15.39

While many people think foam rolling or other SMR techniques are a method of stretching, they’re not. The muscle isn’t undergoing any kind of length change, but rather a neural down-regulation that reduces resting tone in prime movers, meaning you can move more easily and with a better chance of having balanced tension around the joint. It’s a testament to how resetting the neural tone of a tissue can help increase range of motion faster than simply stretching. Picking up that tight hamstrings example again, foam rolling/ SMR techniques hitting the glute, glute med, and adductors are often useful to reduce tension in these muscles and allow a more posterior pelvic tilt. Here’s a tact and floss SMR technique that I’ve found particularly effective:

But again, un-gluing a chronically tight area without restoring stability to the tissues it’s trying to help stabilise will only result in it getting tight again.

Dynamic mobilisation comes into play with the newly unlocked joints and tissues. The role of active mobility is to train the body to use the range of motion in the most effective way possible so that the likelihood of maintaining this new range is higher.

When doing any active mobility, focus on keeping the spine tense and the core active while sinking deep into the stretches, hold each for a single breath per rep, and continue on to the next one. Continuing our hamstring tightness example, modified quadruped rock backs, kneeling adductor mobilisations or kneeling posterior hip/glue mobilisations work well.

Lastly, we need to ensure this new range of motion sticks and is usable within functional movement patterns. This is where motor control and movement pattern correctives come into play.

For the those with tight hip flexors this is where exercises teaching core control and separation of hip extension from lumbar extension are really useful. For those with tight hamstrings we will now utilise toe touch correctives, to address the poor pattern. As shown in the video below elevating the toes and squeezing an airex pad placed between the legs is a good option as it encourages posterior weight shift and engages the glutes to encourage posterior pelvic tilt respectively. As with dynamic mobility be sure to keep the core tense and focus on breathing.

Closing thoughts

If you happen to be the individual with tight hamstrings and a poor toe touch pattern, used as an example here, you’re in luck as all you need to do is follow along with the exercises in these videos and let me know how much better your hamstrings feel and your toe touch is after a month or so. However, the point of this article really was to highlight the limitations of static stretching and show the system we use in our programs to develop mobility instead of stretching. For any mobility restriction you have targeted foam rolling/SMR, followed by dynamic mobilisation work and finally pattern correctives will do much more for you than mindlessly static stretching ever did.

If you would like to see more articles like this, covering how to deal with other specific mobility restrictions such as tight hip flexors, t-spine or shoulder mobility, let me know in the comments and if enough people ask for it we’ll get it written.

5 tips for in-season training

In-season training for golf seems to be a pretty confused area for most golfers with opinions and attitudes ranging from; “I just play during the season,” to fully periodised in-season programs, altering exercise selection, load,volume, etc, to just carrying on with normal training regardless.

In this article I aim to give you some actionable tips, but also explain why this first option isn’t a good idea, why the other two both have merit, and which may best apply to you, your schedule and your on course performance.

Tip 1: Still Train

Realistically, you should be looking to train twice per week. Indeed a 15 minute, one set, workout is better in the long run than a missed day of training. In-season training will allow you to:

  • Maintain the strength and power you built in the off-season (especially important if you travel to play or are lucky enough to live somewhere with a long summer, and thus have a long season)
  • Prevent the build up of asymmetries and muscle imbalances that could lead to injury/ will have to be dealt with later

Tip 2: Manage Fatigue

All stress is stress; physical, emotional, mental, money, spouse, whatever. Once the stress bucket is full, theres not much you can do other than take a break to fix the problem. If the golf season sees a significant increase in the amount of golf swings you are making, walking you are doing (and probably more stress!) we had better factor that in.

Keep training volume low – In my experience, lifting twice per week with a 3 to 6 rep range during the in-season is appropriate for most. The off-season is the time for 4 or 5 day programs and tons of reps. In-season is the time for maintaining strength and preventing injury.

By keeping overall volume low, you can ensure you feel fresh during your round and not slow or tired, 2 to 3 sets of 3 to 6 reps will be enough to achieve these goals.

That said, reducing volume is going to mean different things depending on the needs of the individual. For golfers that are weaker/have less training experience or are playing less frequently  a reduced training volume may only need to be minimal and occur the workout before there their round (a Thursday/Friday workout before a Saturday round for example), for stronger golfers and/or those with a busier competitive schedule it may be necessary to cut training volume for the whole in-season period.

Train light and fast – There comes a point where continuing to pile the plates on to the barbell is tough on the bodies recovery ability and max lifts sap mental and physical energy that could be best used elsewhere during the season. Again this one for the stronger guys and you can get away without it more the relatively weaker you are but, dynamic effort reps and low volume will maintain the strength you have built in the off-season but allow you to feel fresh and ready to go exiting the gym. As an added bonus this type of lifting more closely mimics the high speed muscle contractions you’ll be using in the golf swing. Adding bands is a great way to achieve this, and the trap bar deadlift against a band is one of my favourites.

Tip 3: Avoid Soreness

I can tell you from personal experience that swinging a golf club when sore, particularly in the chest and shoulders, is not fun!

Cut out the eccentric portion of the lift as much as possible – eccentric muscle contractions have been shown to be correlated with higher levels of delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS). When working out during the season, we want to minimise eccentric work, the lowering portion of the lift, and maximise concentric work. This means no slow-tempo lifting and absolutely no negative sets.

You should complete the lowering portion of the lift as quickly as possible, whilst maintaining control, to limit the amount of time your muscles are under eccentric stress. Deadlifts (you can even drop the bar from lockout if you’re lucky enough to have a lifting platform), box squats and floor presses are great exercises that lend themselves well to this type of lifting.

Keep exercise variety low – After performing an exercise that produces soreness, the muscle will quickly adapt to reduce any damage from further exercise. As a result, not only is soreness reduced, but other side effects, such as swelling, reduced strength and reduced range of motion are also more quickly recovered from. This effect is known as the repeated bout effect, and is most specific to the muscles that have been worked. Therefore by picking the same exercise for each body part, and working the muscles in the same manner each time, we can make the most of the repeated bout effect to prevent soreness.

Tip 4: Reduce explosive rotational movements

Things like rotational med-ball throws are usually best left to the offseason. Firstly, golfers get plenty of explosive rotational work just playing their sport. Secondly, we know there is a link between high repetition of spinal rotation and back injury. So, at a time when the number of rotations we do is likely increasing, why add to that load in the gym? You are better off focusing on movements that groove good rotational mechanics and preserve anti-rotation strength to keep your spine healthy. T-spine mobilisations, split stance anti rotation scoop tosses and Pallof presses are my go to’s here.

Stronger-golf-half-kneeling-pallof-press

Tip 5: Mobility/corrective exercises for common trouble areas

It’s called strength and conditioning, but the truth is we could probably scrap the conditioning part with respect to golf and replace it with ‘mobility.’ All the eccentric stress of a greater volume of golf swings leads to significant losses in mobility. For those that couple this with walking the course for 3 to 5 rounds a week and travel long distances to tournaments (even if it is in a private jet), this tends to lead to missing out on basic functional movement patterns  like squatting and lunging.

The hips, low back and shoulders tend to get pretty chewed up in the golf swing, particularly during a long competitive season. Performing hip windscreen wipers and 90/90 stretches for the hips, corrective exercises like bird-dogs or glute bridges for lumbar and pelvic control and soft tissue work for the shoulders will help you preserve full range of motion and stay injury free throughout the season.

 

In-season training is incredibly challenging to manage correctly, as there are so many different stressors and variables in play depending on the individual. However, if you do your best to follow the tips outlined here, chances are you’ll be more successful than most!

P.S. If you want more information pertaining to your individual in-season needs then fill out the contact form below and we can arrange a Skype consultation to discuss it in more detail.

 

3 (or 4) Exercises to do everyday for better posture and better golf

There are some exercises I believe golfers can’t get enough of.

Why?

Because they help offset the toll that working on a computer (or even a mobile device) takes on your body and your golf swing.

Specifically, that toll is forward shoulder position, downwardly rotated scapular, a flexed thoracic spine and forward head position. This can lead to issues rotating and even controlling the club-face in the golf swing, as well as to neck, shoulder, and back pain.

All the hours you spending at your desk, surfing the internet on your laptop, texting and playing angry birds on your phone can’t be undone with a few hours a week in the gym.

You need to up your game, the more frequently you perform these exercises the better.

Now just hear me out before you complain too much about not having the time: The best part is these no-weight, no-sweat exercises anywhere, even in the living room during the adverts of your favourite TV show! (the videos below are actually filmed in my kitchen and conservatory just to prove the point).

Exercise 1. Forearm Wall Slides w/ Scapular Retraction

Stop what you’re doing right now, and sit slumped forward in a chair. Now with your arms crossed in front of you try and rotate your shoulders to the left and right just as you do in the golf swing, take note of how much rotation you are able to achieve.

Next imagine that there’s a string attached from the ceiling to your chest and that string is being tightened, pulling your chest closer towards the ceiling, extending your spine and making you sit up straight. Cross your arms again and rotate, you are able to get more range of motion right?

This exercise drives the thoracic extension essential for good rotation mechanics. As well as teaching good scapular position essential for overhead movements and that also has a potential affect on club-face position.

For best results, do 10 to 15 reps of this exercise up to three times a day. (It’s easy to do in your office, and a great warm up before you lift weights.) Those of you with shoulder issues will love how good it makes your cranky shoulders feel too.

2. Hip bridge w/ leg extension

It’s not just slumping that hurts your posture. Simply sitting can be harmful, too.

For instance, when you sit constantly, as most of us do, the hip flexors on the fronts of your hips become short and tight. What’s more, your glutes—actually forget how to contract. (After all, when you’re sitting they’re not being used for much of anything except padding for your hipbones.)

The combination of tight muscles on the front of your hips and weak muscles on your backside causes your pelvis to tilt forward. This puts more stress on your lumbar spine, which can lead to low-back pain.  According to Lance Gill and TPI lower back pain is the number 1 reason why people stop playing the game of golf.

From a technical stand point too the glutes are important, when we talk about hip/ lower body stability, the ability to rotate around a stable lower body in the backswing without swaying, or the ability to post onto a firm lead leg during the downswing we are essentially talking about the strength and ability to contract of the glutes.

Enter the hip bridge with leg extension. It strengthens your glutes and teaches them how to contract —which helps allow your pelvis to move back in its natural alignment. Do 5 to 6 reps for each leg, holding the top position of the exercise for 3 to 5 seconds.

Bonus exercise: For extra credit perform the couch stretch (so called because you actually use the couch to do it) for 15-30 second holds to stretch out those pesky hip flexors.

CouchStretch.jpg

3. Quadruped rotation/extension

Like wall slides, this is another great exercise for your upper body posture. This exercise helps mobilise your upper back by rotating at your thoracic spine, it as teaches the good rotational mechanics (rotating at the upper back not the lower back) that are vital in good swing mechanics and will also help protect that lower back from injury. Do 3 sets of 10 on each side once, twice or even 3 times a day

 

You’ll be amazed what a few minutes a day can do to improve your mobility and movement quality. As well as undo the damage to your posture, and golf swing, slumping 8 hours a day can cause. And because posture and state of mind are linked you’ll feel better, happier and more confident too. Now that’s what I call a win win!

 

5 things I learnt in 2015

1.Kneeling to standing variations are fantastic ‘bang for your buck’ exercises.

Developing a movement pattern is one thing that often requires a few things to be isolated and worked on separately in order to deal with mobility and stability and restrictions. However, once this imbalances are dealt with and the pattern is appropriate this approach is not the most efficient method to maintain good movement.

Some of my favourite exercises to maintain mobility, stability and good movement in the whole body are goblet hold kneeling to standing, overhead kneeling to standing (you can even add hip flexion, as shown in the video below, rotation or both to these movements) and the turkish get-up.

Depending on the variation you employ these exercises challenge t-spine extension whilst being required to maintain core and pelvic positioning. There is an anti extension/anti-lateral flexion component for the core, assuming one is ‘packing’ the shoulder correctly in the overhead variations this is a fantastic way to work scapular stability, there is also a significant hip stability (and mobility for that matter) component compounded with a fairly challenging single-leg strength component as well.

2. Sometime it’s better to dominate simple movements rather than progress to more complex exercises.

I’m a big believer that basic, staple exercises, performed well, can benefit individuals of all experience levels. Indeed a recent study by Dr Stuart McGill compared the results of basic isometric core exercises and more dynamic exercises.

All training groups saw improvements in both their fixed core strength and range of motion, and also in their response to more reactive stress to the spine. The isometric groups in both the naïve and savvy groups saw bigger improvements than the dynamic training groups. While isometric exercises may seem very rudimentary and “beginner,” they can still prove beneficial to more advanced athletes and lifters, especially in terms of ease of set-up, relative risk to the individual doing them, and – most importantly – in quantitative outcomes, such as those measured in McGill’s research. 

The message: A basic staple exercise, performed well, can benefit individuals of all experience level.

blockdeadlift

One of my favourite examples of this is the deadlift. A lot of people pull conventional style or get attracted to deficit, snatch grip or even landmine rotational deadlift to press. These are fine exercises no doubt but you need a good basis of movement quality to complete them well and therefore use enough load to get a training effect out of them. Most people should focus on the simplified trap bar or block deadlift (seen above) variations that don’t have the mobility demands and therefore allow greater load to be used in a safer manner

3. Spinal stabilisation may have gone too far.

Over the last decade we’ve come along way with regard to spinal stabilisation. Hopefully you’ve stopped doing sit-ups in favour of exercises such as dead-bugs, planks and Pallof presses that stabilise the spine and develop the ability of the core musculature to transfer force.

This is great, healthier backs and reduced flexion-based injuries all round!

So what’s the problem?

Well, as I suggested in my 6 key physical attributes of elite golfers article for TPI, we need some ability to flex and extend our spines (through pelvic tilt) in the golf swing, and indeed in everyday life. For some, we’ve driven ourselves into extension and locked our spines so rigid in a desire to stabilise that we’re driving dysfunction throughout the entire kinetic chain as a result.

While we don’t want to load spinal flexion (especially at end range), we need to maintain the ability to naturally flex and extend our spines.

4. Good programming isn’t actually that complicated, but it is effective.

This piggy backs on point two to certain extent and provides a wider lesson I’ve learnt this year:

“As simple as possible; but not any simpler” Albert Einstein

Oftentimes as trainers I think we can get caught up in using the latest ‘cool’ exercise or periodisation scheme or even worse trying to justify what our place by showing how clever we are, this often leads to programs that are great looking on paper, use all the latest research and methods but at the expense of ease of use and effectiveness.

Full credit has to go to Coach Dos of… for pointing me in this direction with his ideas on using movement menus in programming

Most would agree that we need to develop mobility, stability, strength, and power in a variety of planes of movement. With that in mind our workouts need to include:

  • Explosive exercise
  • Squat pattern
  • Hinge
  • Upper body push
  • Upper body pull
  • Rotational movement
  • Single-leg movements

And probably not much else! Once we have this list all we need to do is select the most appropriate exercise for the individual in each category. As time goes by we simply alter workout load and intensity depending on the chosen periodisation strategy and time of year in relation to the season. That really all you need for a time efficient and effective golf fitness program.

5. Soft skills are in importance in online training too.

There is science and art to strength coaching. Sure science can tell us the most effective sets and rep schemes, periodisation, etc but motivating the athlete, determining when to push and when to back off, and selecting the best exercise for that particular athlete, their needs and their goals is where a bit of the art to coaching lies.

Since rolling out and majorly scaling up my Online Coaching platform this year the way I coach, screen and assess online has changed dramatically. Really having to consider appropriate exercise selection in programming and screening, gathering data on progress and recovery, providing support and accountability via e-mail and apps, etc, in the context of not actually being present with the client. This means the difference between just giving someone a program to follow on there own and actually providing a fully customised experience, with all the accountability and support necessary to ensure progress is still good even without that in-person contact. Incidentally (shamless plug alert!), you can click here to enquire about our online coaching services here.

 

A huge thank you to everybody who has read and supported this blog over the last year, thank you also to everybody involved in this amazing industry who has helped, supported or passed on their knowledge to me over the past year.

 

How to golf forever: 5 key exercises

Want to play the game we all love for as long as possible? Of course you do!

The golf swing is not an easy motion on the body and your posture likely sucks – You sit a lot and you stare at a lot of screens.

In order to play for as long as possible, you need to make caring for your body a priority in order to prevent injury and insure lifelong orthopedic health.

The first step is to get your training program rebalanced. Generally speaking most gym goers push more than they pull, leading to a host of potential problems down the road. Take a look at your current program and make sure to get a 2:1 ratio of pulling to pushing exercises.

Once that’s taken into account use these exercises to straighten out your posture and keep you on the course for the long haul.

No. 1 – Face Pulls

The face pull may be the most versatile loaded training tool in our arsenal for remediating poor shoulder and thoracic positioning. It provides the exact opposite movements to the ones we’re continuously pulled into on a daily basis.

This movement incorporates humeral horizontal abduction and external rotation of the shoulder and retracts the shoulder blades – all helping combat the hunched over, constantly adducted, internally rotated and protracted posture.

Slouching over a phone or computer reading this? that’s the poor position I’m talking about!

Don’t be fooled into thinking the face pull is just another dainty corrective exercise either. Sure, it can be programmed into any successful dynamic warm-up or activation technique for prepping the shoulders and rotator cuff, but you can also load this pattern up for a results-producing training effect.

No. 2 – Rear Foot Elevated Split-squats

To me the rear-foot elevated split squat might offer the biggest bang for you buck of any squat or single-leg exercise. You get the stability requirements of standing on one-leg, ycan load some heavy ass weight up with it, and it also provides some direct dynamic mobility work for the hip flexors of the leg which is placed in the elevated position (achieving an extended hip position with a flexed knee puts a nice stretch through the superficial and deep hip flexor groups while challenging this position under stability and strength requisites). All this adds up to you getting a downright brutal training effect when executed properly.

And there’s more! Not only does this movement have the ability to be loaded up, but done so in a safe manner. It actually protects the lower spine.

The single leg nature of the movement incorporates a reciprocal pelvic position that deloads the lower spinal segments and helps protect notoriously vulnerable segments from unwanted shear stress. When done with the weight loaded in a front racked manner the greater core activation will help to prevent anterior pelvic tilt during the movement (a particular problem in exercises like back squats) and hold the spine in neutral.

Basically RFESS’s mean you can strengthen the lower body without putting the spine under as much load.

No. 3 – 1-leg rotational med-ball taps

The relationship between a loss of balance and ageing has been long established. Put simply the longer you are able to maintain your level of balance ability, the more likely you are to stay active, healthy and without the need for rehab. Additionally, static balance proficiency has been associated with improved performance in baseball pitching, a movement that usually exhibits pretty good carryover to the golf swing.

The 1-leg rotational med-ball tap is a nice exercise to develop static balance whilst beginning to learn to disassociate the upper and lower body, and correct rotation mechanics.

No. 4 – Loaded carries

The loaded carry is another class of movement that is absolutely pivotal for every single person on earth to practice and master.

World class experts have been passionately teaching the loaded carry for years to tap into both a prehab model of the spine and synergistic neuromuscular stability patterns that link up the shoulders, core, and hips.

When executed properly, loaded carries are pretty much the ultimate form of core training. Indeed, low back and core health expert Dr. Stuart McGill, considers the programming of loaded carries absolutely essential.

So why does the loaded carry keep you healthy and functioning above all other core specific movements? The phenomenon of what Dr. McGill has coined “super-stiffness,” this can be explained as a rhythmic and timely firing pattern around a region of joints to maintain an optimal position.

The loaded carry does just that, and then some. Not only are the four layers of the abdominal wall being activated, but also the hip and shoulder complexes that can have the ability manipulate the position of the spine, especially when they become dynamic in nature.

Don’t dismiss the carry as just an optional metabolic finisher. When programmed with parameters of progressive overload, the carry can be advanced to match increasing levels of your skill and strength.

No. 5 – Glute bridge

If you haven’t got the idea from this post already, spinal health is a big deal if you plan on playing golf or moving in general for the rest of your life. Glute strength is a vital component spinal health.

You can prevent spinal injury through training the lower pillar of your spine in a more concentrated dynamic nature.

From the simplistic supine bodyweight glute bridge to the loaded hip thrust, the popularization of glute training has never been more mainstream.

The glute max forms a highly influential structure, with specific attachment points throughout the posterior pelvic structure, that plays a major role in enhancing both posture and stability throughout the lower lumbar segments. The glute medius may be equally as important to long-term function, responsible for both lateral hip stability and alignment.

From athletic performance to avoiding hip fractures later on in life, targeting the glutes directly translates into function. Manipulate range of motion, rhythm, and loading variables in training, and the glutes will enhance global function in every step of your life and undo the poor postural stresses of daily sitting while also firing up the posterior chain.

This weeks best fitness articles for golfers – 13/09/15

Article of the week

Making shapes in the gym, Matt Scott

Matt’s rapidly turning into a bit of a regular in these lists even though I’ve only done two of them! Mobility is important, just taking a cursory glance at a golf swing will tell you that! This article and video takes you through a few great dynamic mobility exercises that can be used as a warm-up to both your workout and your round, or daily as a quick and simple home workout to improve mobility.

Honourable mentions

Thoracic spine mobility for golf, Lawlor Clinic

Another mobility article (yes it’s that important!) As a reader of this blog i’m sure you’ve heard me banging on about how the thoracic spine mobility, and more specifically rotation, is vital in achieving proper rotation in the golf swing. As my favourite Mike Boyle quote goes “bad golfers turn at the low back, whilst good golfers turn at the hips and the upper back.” The video in this article has slightly sketchy audio at points, but it’s more than worth it because there’s great exercises!

Talking shop with Coach Dos, Tony Gentilcore

Coach Dos is one of my heroes in strength and conditioning and this interview with him by Tony Gentilcore (another great S&C coach) does a great job of reminding me what’s truly important in physical preparation for sports and training athletes.

Does Compression clothing make sense for golfers? Ron Kaspriske 

As the title suggests this is a look at whether or not there is actually a performance benefit to popular compression clothing. It takes a very thorough and well-rounded look at the subject. Just for the record I’m with Ron, it probably doesn’t help performance but it doesn’t hurt either and the mental aspect can’t be overlooked in a sport like golf. If it makes you feel good go for it!

Improving ankle dorsiflexion for a better golf swing

The ankle, along with the wrist, maybe the most ignored joint in terms of athletic performance. However the foot is our only contact point with the ground, in a sport such as golf where a powerful swing is the result of creating large amounts of ground reaction force its importance should be obvious. Structurally speaking the foot is also our base and affects everything else further up the kinetic chain. To quote Lance Gill

“We need to pay more attention to ankle dorsiflexion as it directly affects golf swing kinematics”

TPI research has for a long time espoused the link between issues maintaining dynamic posture in the golf swing, such as early extension, and the inability to correctly perform a deep overhead squat. The better understanding of movement mechanics brought to us by the increase in movement assessment, such as TPI’s own/ FMS and incredibly smaDorsi/plantar-ankle-strongergolfrt people such as Grey Cook, has also shown us the link between poor dorsiflexion and a poor deep overhead squat. To bust a bit of jargon here too dorsiflexion is simply your ability to flex your foot upward.

Dorsiflexion is also important for daily tasks such as stepping down stairs, getting up out of a chair and even walking! An inefficient gait pattern, with a circular motion or leg swinging outwards as the person steps, is often a result of a lack of dorsiflexion

How do you know if you need more dorisflexion?

Here is a really simple, down and dirty, assessment you can do right this second as the only thing you need is a wall:

Placing your left foot 5 inches from the wall step back with your right foot and get in a half kneeling position, so your left foot is still on the floor 5 inches from the wall and your right knee is down on the floor. Keeping your foot flat on the floor push your left knee forward until your knee touches the wall. If you have to lift your heel off the ground or your knee has to track inwards and not in a straight line in order to touch the wall your dorsiflexion is compromised. Swap sides to get a result for the right ankle too. Note: Ideally this test would be completed bare foot.

Ankle-Dorsiflexion-Mobility-Strongergolf

Let’s make it better!

Manual therapy and self-myofascial release techniques coupled with joint mobilisations to address restrictions in the joint have in my experience have proved to give the fastest and most effective gains in dorsiflexion (for those of you felt a ‘pinching’ in the front of the ankle when performing the test joint mobilisations are particularly important).

Foam rolling the calves is the most obvious; sitting on the ground with one leg atop the foam roller, pass the calf 5 over the roller 5 or 6 times. Adjust position slightly each time to hit different parts of the musculature and different angles. We can also amp this up somewhat by pausing on tender spots and performing ankle pulses up and down and circles, before continuing on to find the next spot.

A big thing often over looked in increasing ankle dorsiflexion is the role of the plantar fascia (the thick connective tissue that supports the arch on the underside of your foot). If the fascia is tight it will pull on the gastroc and soleus muscles of the calf, which will limit dorsiflexion. The foam roller is to global for such a small area, it doesn’t get into those fibres in the way we need, so a lacrosse ball is your best option here. Simply make 5 or 6 passes up and down the foot searching for those tender trigger points, when you find one just hang out there for a second before continuing on.

For many just this work on the plantar fascia will improve your dorsiflexion immediately. Try re-testing straight after doing this and I bet many of you will see an improvement. We even see improvements in deep overhead squat from doing just this, and a better deep overhead squat means better ability to maintain posture in the golf swing, not bad for a minute or too spent standing on a ball!

Lastly, It is also important to actually move and get some dynamic mobility improvements at the joint. Wall-ankle mobilisations are one of my favourite ways to achieve this

Foot and ankle mechanics can be improved quickly and easily. They also have a really significant impact on the kinematic sequence of your golf swing and ultimately your performance.

Random golf fitness thoughts: Instalment 3

1) Speciality barsspeciality-bars

It’s common for golfers to experience wrist, elbow and even shoulder pain (due to the overhead position of the golf swing). Speciality bars like safety squat bars, swiss bars, trap bars, etc are perfect to take the pressure of these body parts by placing the body in more neutral alignment. Indeed after a recent shoulder injury the safety squat bar has been a god send in allowing me to still squat heavy and maintain a training effect.

They are expensive sure – but we’ll worth the investment if you’re coaching people with injury concerns in these areas – if you’re an athlete with these concerns and can find a gym with these bars to train at your body will thank you.

2) A better way to cue the squat

When coaching the squat I much prefer to cue the squatter to push the elbows down underneath the bar rather than the traditional cue of chest. The reason for this is when you cue someone to stick their chest up, what ends up happening is they slam their back into lumbar extension and allow the lower portion of their rib cage to flare up.

This causes a whole host of issues – poor stability through the core and lumbar spine, a lengthening of the glutes and hamstrings, and crappy biomechanics all around. I’ve found cueing someone to drive their elbows up as they squat deeper and deeper to be far more effective. If you cue someone to drive their elbows up, they naturally get their chest and back into a better position. But it’s also a much more neutral alignment.

3) Develop power across the speed-strength spectrum.

If you’ve been reading this blog for a while you’ll know i’m a great fan of bodyweight jumps and med-ball throws to increase power in the golf swing. Whilst this is most definitely still the case, if you keep all your power training towards this speed end of the spectrum you will eventually leave holes in your power training. Complete power training should also include weighted jumps, band resistance, and heavier loaded lifts such as olympic lift variations.

4) Keep moving throughout the day.

It takes about 20 minutes for “creep” to kick in with your muscles – and the less you let that happen, the better.  The best posture is the one that is constantly changing.

5) Deload the spine every once in a while.

Regular, heavy, deadlifting and squatting is the most effective way to increase strength levels, and anyone who argues differently is quite frankly wrong! That said, heavy deadlifting and squatting exposes the spine to large compressive forces so if you’ve been at it a while there’s nothing wrong with dropping squatting for a week every month or so. Focus on extra single-leg work, movement training, pull-throughs…anything that deloads the spine for a short period. I know of a lot of powerlifters who do it and your spine health will definitely thank you for it!