Tag Archives: Posture

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.

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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.

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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:

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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.

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.

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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!

 

What golf-specific training really is

In the simplest possible terms specificity means that if you wish to develop a certain aspect of training then you emphasise that aspect in your training programme. The training of a squash player, for example, will therefore look quite different from someone who is training for the London Marathon.

Athletes who compete in relatively specific directions and actions without the elements of contact and chaos, they can benefit from training with a high degree of specificity to their goal activities (although the athlete should be sure to train in both directions).

This obviously applies to golfers, but what actually is specificity in golf training?

Golf-specific training doesn’t mean the exercise has to look ‘golfish’ or mimic swing.

The overhead squat pattern, for example, isn’t seen in the golf swing. However, it is a highly popular screen for golfers and much has been written about its importance to a properly executed golf swing. As Grey Cook explains here, we know hip rotation is typically important to properly executing the golf swing, that same level of hip rotation is required to squat deep. Additionally the overhead squat requires us to maintain t-spine extension (vital for good posture and rotation in the swing) whilst activating the core (essential for the transfer of power up the kinetic chain in the golf swing). A movement pattern doesn’t have be seen in the sport to carryover to that sport. 

As Mel Siff writes in his book Supertraining:

“To fulfil the criteria of correspondence with respect to the amplitude and direction of movement, it is advisable to select the exact starting position and posture of the athlete, as well as to calculate the direction of action of the forces associated with the working links of the system and the additional load. The line of action of the applied external resistance and of the loaded movement as a whole must also be taken into account.

For example, in middle-distance running, skiing and skating, a knapsack full of sand or a weight belt are sometimes used as resistance. However, the muscles which bear the load are those which resist the weight of the body. This can increase the ability to cope with vertical loading and develop general strength-endurance, but does not strengthen those muscles which propel the body horizontally.

Similarly, a skater may execute jumps on one leg on the floor or from a bench. These exercises strengthen the leg muscles supporting the body and the static-endurance of the back muscles, but do not fully imitate the working of the muscles for the push-off, where the force is directed backward.”

The golf swing is largely dependent on rotational and lateral movement to develop power, although there are also elements of vertical and horizontal power to varying degrees – There is a hip extension moment as we approach the ball in the downswing, this means for most the pelvis we be closer to the ball on striking than at posture, from this we can assume a horizontal displacement of force as occurred. Similarly, many players (Bubba Watson being a great example, whom I talked about in more detail in this article) display a pronounced dip to begin their downswing and then explode upwards as the come towards impact, this demonstrates a more vertical force displacement – To me this suggests there is merit to developing force production abilities in all directions for golfers although it would be pertinent to move to more lateral and rotational measures as we move towards the start of a competitive season say. Interestingly, as some players utilise more lateral means of generating power, whilst others use more rational and horizontal, and some more vertical (anyone who has been put through a BioSwing screen you will know you are grouped into a ‘power package’ based on the directions of movement you typically use to develop power in the swing), an argument could be made that different exercises represent truly specific to different golfers.

Siff then explains how sport typically involves simultaneous coordinated tension of muscle groups, such as the simultaneous flexion and extension at the two hip joints in running, where the angular movement of one leg enhances the push-off movement of the other.

For the golf swing this most easily equates to disassociation of the upper and lower body

By this measure something like a sled push can be seen as fairly golf specific, featuring an element of hip extension to produce horizontal force, disassociation of the upper and lower body (the legs move whilst upper body remains stable), summation of forces proximally to distally (from the ground to the arms, through the core), whilst the position taken up to push fairly accurately mimics the golf posture.

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:

Training should be speed, time constraint and intensity specific, not just movement specific.

If we consider training as a continuum from maximal strength modalities (a 1RM deadlift for example) at one end and pure speed (sprinting) at the other. As the golf swing is an incredibly fast movement and the external resistance utilised (the club) is relatively light, golf will clearly sit pretty close to the pure speed end of the continuum. As such specific training should focus on low intensities (intensity being defined as percentage of 1RM) and high speed movements, occurring within a similar time frame to the golf swing.

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An obvious example would be something like a split-stance rotational scoop toss. Much like the sled push this also features disassociation of the upper and lower body and summation of forces proximally to distally, whilst the position taken up to push fairly accurately mimics golf posture.

Specificity in energy systems training

If we consider the energy system demands of golf in more detail; we must walk (admittedly across sometimes substantially undulating terrain) for sometimes upto 5 hours (depending on the pace of play at your course, but the seemingly endless slowing down of play on the PGA tour is a topic for another day and another blog). Walking is relatively low intensity activity that utilises the aerobic energy system, so we must develop the capacity to operate at low intensity for a long period of time. The golf swing itself is obviously a high power output movement occurring very quickly, this utilises the ATP-PC energy system. This only provides energy to the muscles for a very short portion of time, but at a very high power output, it requires short intervals and long rest periods to train effectively. This is a somewhat controversial topic but my suggestions would be to make sure to train your steady state cardio at a very slow place for long duration, to me walking and playing golf itself are the best bets here, and to keep your interval training to short powerful bursts of 10 seconds or so with relatively long rest periods of even a minute or above, depending on your fitness level.

A note on when specificity is appropriate

For professional/competitive golfers, we must understand that the competitive golf season is a long one, whilst amateurs (and quite a few pros!), typically don’t have a lot of exposure to physical preparation for golf. Therefore, it is safe to say that most golfers live executing movements on the furthest end of the general-to-specific continuum. Therefore, the greatest training affect according to the law of diminishing returns and largest portion of their workload should be dedicated to work that falls on the other (general) end of that continuum. This is most easily identified as standard maximal strength training type modalities.

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.

Mobility for Desk Jockeys

Following on from my point on daily postural deficiencies affecting your golf posture and swing in my last article here,  I thought I’d expand on the issues created by bad posture: in this case sitting.

Sitting has been blamed for a lot of ‘modern’ musculoskeletal conditions and poor posture we see today, and rightly so. Having this posture all day is an absolutely terrible way to treat your body and your golf swing.

Poor-sitting-posture

 

Sitting like this all day has numerous effects that limit you your golf posture and your golf swing:

– Posterior pelvic tilt

– Crappy T-spine mobility (particularly extension)

– Weak anterior core

– Forward cervical spine position (aka forward head position)

– Tight hamstrings, glutes and hip flexors

Posterior tilt will limit mobility and stability in your hips and ultimately reduce your ability to make a proper hip turn. Limited t-spine mobility will radically reduce the amount of shoulder turn you are able to make, and therefore power you are able to create in the golf swing. Core strength is essential for efficient power transfer and maintaining good posture, in the swing. Whilst a forward head position will limit shoulder turn and appropriate firing of postural muscles in the upper back.

Note: These are of course generalisations, you should most definitely get assessed for your own particular postural deficiencies and not assume.

So, what can you do about it?

I have a standard operating procedure (SOP) for dealing with clients that display postural deficiencies:

1) Modify daily posture habits (i.e. sit/stand differently)

2) Hammer neutral spine with appropriate motor control exercises

By appropriate I mean that great saying by PGA and LPGA tour coach Martin Hall, ‘feed what you need’. If you have anterior pelvic tilt you should use exercises that promote posterior tilt and vice versa if you have posterior tilt, use exercises that promote anterior tilt. Here are a couple of examples:

These exercises are great to include in mobilisations and warm-ups. Strength exercises such as romanian deadlifts, good mornings and single leg RDL’s also do a great job of promoting anterior tilt.

3) Encourage more thoracic extension in your daily life

Extensions on a foam roller are a great way to get this done.

4) Avoid more flexion (particularly loaded flexion in the gym)

Don’t feed into your existing dysfunction with flawed training approaches by doing exercises such as sit-ups, crunches, weighted crunches, etc .

5) Work on core strength

Exercises that promote anterior core strength and don’t involve spinal flexion are your best bet. Barbell rollouts or suspension trainer fallouts for example:

6) Get strong!

 

4 more random golf fitness thoughts

1) The importance of stable hips in the golf swing

I talk a lot on this site about the importance of adequate hip mobility to properly execute the golf swing, however it is also important not to neglect hip stability. In the trail leg, the position your leg is in at address, is the position it should remain as you rotate in the backswing.

In short, loading into the trail side leg, without over rotating the pelvis, requires stability in that trail side hip. If you have good hip mobility and stability it will allow you to turn without any sway. You will also be able to keep your centre of pressure within the inside of the trail side heel, this is important as it enables efficient use of ground reaction forces. Vital as, in the golf swing, we use the ground to create a coil so we can unwind the club with maximum force into the golf ball. 

If the trail hip is unstable it may cause you to sway, which can lead to poor shots and a major loss in power.

Additionally, recent force plate analysis research, suggests centre of pressure moves hard to target side in transition. This makes me feel that a stable lead hip is necessary to provide a solid platform for that centre of pressure change.

By the way, the most efficient way to develop hip stability? single leg movements such as lunges, step-ups, single leg squats, and lateral lunges

2)  Check out the Association of Golf Strength & Conditioning (AGSC)

This one is pretty short and sweet. This facebook page is a great resource and community for trainers and coaches to discuss, learn and develop ideas on training golfers.

3) In order to accelerate you must be able to decelerate.

As strength and conditioning coaches we spend an awful lot of our time teaching athletes how to generate more force, hoe to sprint faster and jump higher. With good reason, these are the things that make athletes perform better, along with the fact that 40 inch verticals are pretty damn cool!

However, I can’t help but feel this is missing the boat somewhat. After all your body will only allow you to accelerate as fast as you can decelerate. In the golf swing you work on being able to develop as much clubhead speed in the downswing as you like, but if you don’t have the control and stability required to decelerate the clubhead in the follow through your body is just not going to allow you to use all that acceleration. One of my favourite quotes on this subject comes from Mike Robertson of IFAST gym:

“Build a better set of brakes, before you tweak out the engine of your car”

Basically, your body is cleverer than you and it’s trying to stop you getting injured!

Deceleration in the golf swing requires appropriate mobility (think of the opposite to what is required in the backswing), stability (particularly in the core and hip musculature) and strength (particularly eccentric strength) has a vital part to play in being able to control and absorb force.

From a programming stand point change of direction drills, lateral and linear sprint ladders are an effective tool. Jumps, such as box jumps, broad jumps, and lateral jumps, are also great tools providing we insist on good landing mechanics not just jumping jumping further or higher. Additionally as we progress these exercise here at stronger golf we will often things such as band resistance to increase the force development demands and reduce landing stress. It is vital not all training be done like this and that bodyweight variations also continue to be used in order for athlete’s ability to decelerate force to keep pace with his ability to develop force.

4) You’re carrying your postural deficiencies off the course too.

I’m not telling you anything new by saying that correct golf posture is vital to playing good golf. Efficient transfer of energy throughout the swing, good swing mechanics, injury prevention and consistent ball striking, all to varying degrees striking degrees depend on good posture. The problem is many golfers don’t realise how on-course golf posture is affected by what you do off the course. You see posture does not just apply to golf, but to every single move you make in your life. The posture you exhibit everyday sitting, standing, etc adds up to many more hours than you spend in golf posture and therefore will have a profound effect. Pay attention to your posture throughout the day and make a conscious effort to improve it.

Link

I’ve been banging on about banging on about how important posture is for a while now. As you’ve probably got bored of me saying it, here’s some amazing articles and posts on posture on and off the course. Some really top class fitness and golf professionals amongst this lot too, definitely worth a look!

http://bit.ly/uMoPVc

http://bit.ly/1aLzvW9

http://bit.ly/1dLkZxs

http://bit.ly/16JkY5S

http://markjonespga.wordpress.com/2013/08/21/distance-killer-2/

http://harrietgl.wordpress.com/2013/08/23/posture-and-productivity/

Want to strike the ball better? How about straighter golf shots that fly further too?

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Correct golf posture directly effects your swing path, swing plane, club face alignment, your angle of attack to the ball, your ability to rotate properly through out the swing, and just about everything in between. So you had better make sure you’ve got it dialed in!…spine, neck and head form a straight line, not a c shape or an s shape, weight distributed evenly between the feet and balanced on the ball of the feet, arms hang naturally from the shoulders allowing a gap between the hands and body but not too large a gap. Grab a club, get in front of a mirror, how does your posture match up?

Want more PR’s in the gym, to move better, perform better, and swing better?

standing posture

Pay attention to you posture. Posture directly effects our movement efficiency and muscle activation. When we can move efficiently, activate muscles and sequence movement correctly in our everyday life this will carry over on to how we move on the course. Resulting in a technically better more repeatable golf swing, leading to better ball striking and better scores. Posture is not just for on the course!