Tag Archives: Movement

Why do you need to be strong anyway?

Considering the name of this blog, and the length of time I’ve been running it, it is pretty shocking to admit I’ve never actually addressed this question before now, I’ve made mention to reasons to be strong in almost every article but never actually fully answered this question, all in one place, in a (hopefully) succinct and useful manner, so this is my intention right here right now. And as it’s taken so long I guess I had better be good!

At first glance golf doesn’t seem to a sport that requires much in the way of strength. The club is a light implement and a highly co-ordinated movement in which flexibility and speed are clearly required to execute effectively. That may be the case but strength is vital to all of those physical qualities. Indeed, research has shown strength training to:

  • Reduce injury risk in golfers
  • Increase Club-head speed by 7-10 percent, or the equivalent of 10-15 yards, without any ill-effects on accuracy.
  • Increased strength and flexibility allows golfers to adopt more optimal swing mechanics
  • Improve muscular strength and muscular endurance, which has a positive impact on golf swing consistency during an 8-hour, 36-hole round of competitive golf.
  • Improve shot dispersion stats
  • Increase greens in regulation hit as a result of being closer to the hole after drive
  • Improve putting distance control
  • Lower scores
  • Strength training in lengthened position has even been shown to increase muscle length more effectively than static stretching

The strength-speed continuum

If you’re a golfer you’ve probably swung a 400 gram club your entire life, and have therefore got pretty good at swinging light objects at near maximal velocity. In other words, you are able to put the force you have into the golf ball reasonably quickly, but you don’t have much force in absolute context to put into the ball. This explains why research has shown time and time again that strength training improves club head velocity (there are still some that claim that weight training is bad for golfers and to them I will add this caveat; bad weight training is bad for anybody, good weight training can certainly help).

The speed strength continuum, then, goes from absolute speed on the left to absolute strength on the right.

AbsoluteSpeed

Somewhere in the middle lies a sweet spot between general force production abilities and the abilities specific for your sport, this will obviously vary from sport to sport with a power lifter needing more absolute strength and a golfer needing to be slightly towards the speed/ speed-strength end of things.

We have the average golfer on the far left side of this continuum from years of swinging a light club at near maximal velocity and we need to bring you towards the right side, because absolute strength is the basis for a lot of things, not just power output but also stability.

Once we’ve developed some strength and brought guys towards the absolute strength end, we can begin to work exercises that work on that ideal middle area with a little more specificity to golf. This is where med-ball throws, weighted jumps, kettlebell swings, etc come in. There is fairly obviously a consideration for individual needs here too, the classic big strong guy for example might need to be moved towards the speed end of this continuum and we would focus our efforts on speed and speed-strength work rather than strength work. There may even a place for expanding the continuum further and incorporating overspeed (underload) training in or supramaximal loading with some individuals. That said, the vast majority of golfers start way towards the speed end and moving them towards the strength end represents the largest and most easily improved window of adaptation.

Reduce injury risk

Right handed golfers typically display adducted or internally rotated right hips, low right shoulders, left thoracic rotation and rib flare (see picture below??)

To a certain extent many of these are sporting adaptations that help to perform the task of swinging a club, however they are also imbalances that left unchecked can lead to injury. As Eric Cressey said recently:

“Specificity works great until you’re so specific that you wind up injured and have forgotten how to do everything else”

A well designed strength training programs will include rotational drills on the opposite side, and you take you through various ranges of motion in various stances so as to round you out as an athlete and counteract the effect of the golf swing to reinforce these imbalances. As noted physical therapist James Porterfield says, a well designed strength training program, working within the individuals current movement capabilities will do wonders to prevent and rehab injury.

Strength is also the basis of stability – a lot of injuries issues are brought about when flexibility/ mobility are greater than your ability to stabilise in the end range position – indeed I’ve often said from an injury prevention point of view I’d rather have an athlete that is tight but stable than a hyper mobile athlete with no stability, as that person is typically spending a lot of time on the physio table!

A good example of this is the lower back, we know that repeated extension and rotation isn’t necessarily the best thing for our spines, hence why a huge percentage of  golfers suffer low back pain. Good core and glute strength provides more spinal stability and helps us to achieve better spinal positioning as we rotate, taking some of the pressure of the lower back.

Increased body awareness and movement context

As the world renowned golf biomechanist Mark Bull once put it to me,

“The biggest advantage of S&C as I see it is movement context”

The golf swing is a highly complex, co-ordinated movement requiring precise timing of movements of pretty much every muscle in the body. You need, therefore, a good understanding of where your body is in space to execute it effectively.

Strength training is a great educational tool to develop awareness of how your body is moving and how to control it. Further, external load has a seemingly magical property to make a movement pattern ‘stick’ and become engrained in our memory.

Take the hip hinge for example, in a good hip hinge the muscles responsible for thoracic extension must be activated to prevent c-posture. The core musculature must do the same to keep the lumbar spine from extending as we rotate, putting the back in a compromised position. Pushing the butt back loads the powerful muscles of the hip that create so much of the speed in the golf swing. Good golf posture requires the ability to bend from the hips whilst maintaining the neutral pelvic tilt and spinal alignment essential for efficient rotation. In short a good hip hinge teaches us many of the skills we need to get into and maintain a good golf posture, come to think of it many of the cues we use in the gym to teach the hinge, such as screwing the feet into the ground, pushing the butt back and bracing your core will drastically improve you golf posture.

stronger-golf-hip-hinge

Not only that but the more movement variability we have, the broader the foundation we build. The wider the base, the more we can stack specific skills on top of it. An athlete who is solely 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.

Hopefully this post has given you more of the why behind getting strong for golf, the rest of this blog is littered with articles on the how so please take a look around, then go pick up heavy things!

Coaching up the half-kneeling position

If you’ve used our coaching programs or looked at our exercise library on Youtube you’ll know that we like to use a lot of half-kneeling and tall-kneeling exercises. This is because we like to utilise a “ground up” approach when designing training progressions – building safe and proficient movement patterns through the use of developmental positions. These positions are in reference to the methods in which baby humans learn to explore movement. As adults, it’s beneficial to revisit these positions to hone and refine our movement – especially since time spend sitting chained to a desk with a sedentary lifestyle, has lead to loss of mobility and reflexive motor control for most.

Why half-kneeling?

The half-kneeling position is a fantastic tool to improve these attributes. By lowering the centre of mass (compared to standing), the athlete can practice moving through the hips and shoulders with less compensation and unnecessary motion through the pelvis and lumbar spine – which is common and more difficult to overcome in a standing position. In other words using the half-kneeling position is a great way of a making an exercise more self limiting. This simply means you are reducing the chances of executing an exercise with poor form or your form degrading as fatigue builds up during a set.

So with that in mind, enter half-kneeling:

If you’re not utilising it at some point in your warm-up, training, or corrective exercise strategy – perhaps you should be.

When to use half-kneeling?

Core stability

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. In other other words, we need a reflexive core that activates at the correct time and with the appropriate intensity, to have arms and legs that perform well. It doesn’t matter how much force you can generate with your extremities if your trunk is not in the position to oppose and transmit that force nor does it matter how rigid you can make your core if the intensity of the contraction is not appropriate or is not timed properly, based on the specific movement demand.

The base of support is fixed at hip width or more narrow. Narrowing the base will increase the demand on trunk musculature, and requires the athlete to stabilise reflexively with intrinsic musculature throughout the body as opposed to simply ‘hanging out’ on their joints and ligaments. In addition, balance overcorrections will lead to you falling on your butt. Half kneeling, forces you to develop reflexive, well-timed contractions from head to toe, in order to remain stable. This is something that carries over to all athletic endeavours, especially a high speed, highly co-ordinated movement such as the golf swing.

Once the position is dialled in, there are countless drills to progressively challenge the trunk while achieving dynamic movement through the extremities. Ageless classics like chops and lifts performed in half-kneeling are a some of my favourites though, as these movements allow us to incorporate thoracic rotation, with the half-kneeling position ensuring a stable lumbar spine. This is similar to the demands of rotational sports such as golf. Furthermore, as we know, faulty rotation mechanics with movement coming from an unstable lumbar spine rather than the thoracic spine is a big cause of back pain amongst rotational sport athletes.

Pressing, pulling and shoulder stabilisation

We humans move in alternating and reciprocal patterns. Look at a person’s gait for example, pelvic and thoracic rotation alternate back and forth; reciprocal rotation in one direction at the pelvis and another in the trunk; flexing and extending the opposite arm and leg; etc. Single arm pressing and pulling work in half kneeling with the opposite leg up mimics this pattern, and is very powerful for developing the diagonal and unilateral stabilisation needed during dynamic standing activities, sifting your weight in the golf swing for example.

It is an ideal position for some focused shoulder stability work or overhead work to because it minimises ones ability to compensate with the lower body. With a motionless platform, all the work goes to the shoulder complex, where we want it. This is also makes it a great place to go for someone who experiences low back discomfort when performing loaded overhead movements, as it minimises the extension moment in the lumbar spine.

Great examples of half kneeling work in this instance are half-kneeling single-arm cable rows, half-kneeling cable pulldowns, half-kneeling single-arm overhead press, and half-kneeling single Kettlebell holds

TL;DR: The half-kneeling is awesome for reducing movement compensations, reducing form degradation and creating a more ‘self-limiting’ exercise, as well as increasing the core stabilisation requirements. Prioritise mastering the base position first, then implement one or two of the myriad of variations in your warm-ups, strength work or core training program. Progress and modify as you begin to improve your control.

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!

 

Best Golf Fitness Articles For Golfers – 27/09/15

The best fitness articles for golfers is back this Sunday morning!

And I have some cracking articles for you today…in fact so good I couldn’t choose just one best one, so you have 3!

Best of the week:

Hitting save on a movement document, Gray Cook

I use a lot (I mean a lot) of kneeling and half-kneeling exercise variations in my training programs. These tall-kneeling and half-kneeling patterns limit the stability requirements of a exercise and create bridge between your mobility work and your lifting work. This great article by the guys at FMS takes you through the why behind using patterns with both detail and clarity

What to hit on the golf course (hole by hole), GolfDigest​ and Matt Jones

I’m not a qualified nutritionist, but I know enough to know how important it is to performance on the course and in the gym. As such I’m always on the look for quality nutrition articles to share with you guys, and this one from Golf Digest and Matt Jones certainly qualifies! Love the emphasis on proteins to stabilise energy and ensure concentration.

18STRONG.com​ podcast with Charlie Weingroff

I think this is the best podcast from Jeff and 18 strong so far – yes including the one I’m on! Charlie is one of the best in the business and a proper S&C coach with the know how and scientific evidence
to back it up. This interview will give you a lot of the scientific rational behind why i don’t recommend golf specific or ‘golfish’ exercises.

Honourable mentions:

The simplest way to improve your warm-up, Chris Wicus

There is a big stability or mobility first debate going on at the moment in the fitness world. My take is neither particularly matter if you’re alignment is poor. Breathing drills are a method I have just started using to help with alignment issues. Here’s a great little primer on the basics

The worst thing you could do for your golf swing, Ryan Blackburn

This dovetails nicely with Charlie’s podcast on ‘golfish’ exercises. Exploring why you shouldn’t use exercises that mimic the swing or training aids like weighted clubs (1000% agree with this by the way..weighted clubs are a terrible idea!) and gives some good option for bog standard general physical preparedness exercises that are actually much more effective.

Movement quality is the foundation

I am constantly trying to improve and refine the quality of my clients movement. For many, we have to re-lay their movement foundation completely prior to introducing more intensive methods of training.

But why is movement so import?Movement-Quality

What many people fail to realise is that they are working too hard to achieve improvements in strength, power, etc. If they would only take a step back and address the big picture issues, they’d actually see a better change in performance. Movement is the low hanging fruit. Working on mobility, stability and movement will add pounds to the bar as well as mph and control to your swing, almost instantly in many cases.

The body is built to move as one seamless, integrated unit. Instead I see golfers with a laundry list of movement issues:

– Poor breathing patterns

– Anterior pelvic tilt and lumbar lordosis/ Posterior pelvic tilt and thoracic kyphosis

– Horrible thoracic mobility

– Poor rotation through the hips

– Poor rotation through the shoulders

In truth this list could go on, but these are the major ones to start. As an example, let’s look at one of these issues and see how it could hold back your performance.

anterior-pelvic-tiltIf your pelvis is in constant anterior tilt with a big lordosis of the spine, you’re stretching out the big muscles on the back side of your body (chiefly the hamstrings) and not allowing them to contract optimally.

Perhaps more importantly, your core is offline, your diaphragm and pelvic floor are no longer facing each other and able to work together to create intra-abdominal pressure and stability. Effectively, you can’t transfer energy from your lower to your upper body as efficiently. This presents a massive problem as your ability to convert the power created by rotation of the pelvis into club head sped in the golf swing relies on the efficient transfer of energy through the core. With a weak or unstable core you’re losing distance and control.

This is why I bang on about movement quality so much. You can train hard, hitting balls, deadlifting and squatting heavy but these won’t give you optimal results (in fact, that may even exacerbate the problem) until you sort your movement. In short, it can add distance to your tee shots and lbs to your deadlift, without ever actually training the pattern in question.

Both in my personal training and when working with clients, call me lazy, but I want the easy gains first. Think working smart, before you start working hard.

Movements not muscles

The golf swing is an incredibly dynamic, complex movement pattern involving co-ordination of the entire body in a particular sequence. Training should be representative of this, utilising full body, compound movements and complex movement patterns that increase coordination and dynamic strength. Train movements not muscles.