by Steve Zarriello – Cranston, RI
It’s that time of year again: the sun is out, the leaves are budding, and the weekend warriors are ready to hit the golf course. It will be a time for hanging out with your buddies, getting away from the significant other, and, of course, questioning how you can improve your swing. While taking some lessons with your local pro is a great way to improve your swing mechanics, your body still needs to be able to do what your instructor wants you to make it do, but can you? Coordination levels aside, this can be a difficult task for many people, based on the fact that they can’t move the way they’re supposed to.
The golf swing is a very natural movement, or at least it should be. The problem lies in the fact that the things that we do for the 160 hours per week that we’re not playing golf are very unnatural. You see, the golf swing, like many other athletic movements, is based on rotation from an athletic stance; the things you do for the rest of the week are mostly based on a seated posture. Every day since kindergarten we have spent the majority of our day sitting. You wake up and get out of bed, sit in the car to go to work, sit at your desk all day, get back to the car, maybe hit the gym before you go home to sit down for dinner and watch some TV, and then it’s back to bed. With all of this time spent in the seated position, we begin to lose our ability to move.
In many foreign countries where people don’t spend all day sitting, you will routinely see someone just hanging out in a deep squat position, feet flat on the ground, toes pointed straight forward, and their hips below their knees… and they’re comfortable that way. Can you do this? You used to be able to when you first learned to walk.
The point I’m trying to make is that we begin our lives with an incredible amount of mobility, and as we get older, we begin to lose that mobility because we don’t use it. It’s when we lose that mobility that we lose the ability to execute movements in the most efficient and consistent patterns possible.
The golf swing is a natural, but very complex and technical movement with many moving parts, and every person is built differently with different swings. There is no one way to swing a golf club; however, there is one efficient way for each individual person to swing a club, and the most efficient way creates consistency, and consistency is what we’re looking for in our game, isn’t it? Yes, everyone would like to drive the ball 300 yards, but is it any good if it’s 300 yards straight sometimes, and 300 yards into another fairway other times? Isn’t it more important for shots to consistently end up where we aim them? This consistency is a product of both our level of coordination and our mobility. The consistency we’re looking for is in what’s called our kinematic sequence.
We’re all familiar with the kinematic sequence even if we’re not familiar with the name: the hips turn first, then the torso, then the arms, then the club, all while maintaining an athletic posture, or at least that’s what we want to happen. When we have restrictions in our mobility, it makes performing this kinematic sequence much more difficult, if not impossible, and this creates extraneous movement such as sway, slide, and loss of posture. All of this extraneous movement makes it much more difficult for us to be consistent with our shots. So long story short, we are born mobile, and as we grow older and sit more, we lose our mobility. Then, when we want to play golf, we stink because we can’t move. So how do we fix it?
Well, the only true way to figure out whether or not you have a mobility issue (and you probably do), and more importantly where it is, is to go through a screening process. I recommend seeing a fitness professional who is either FMS (Functional Movement Screen) or TPI (Titleist Performance Institute) certified. Someone who is qualified will not only be able to screen you for mobility issues, but also create a corrective exercise program based on your specific issues. Mobility issues can lie in many of the joints in the body including the hips, ankles and shoulders, but where I see it the most in my clients is in the Thoracic spine (section of the spine from the shoulders down to the bottom of the rib cage). This is an especially important segment of the body in the golf swing as it is the part of your body that connects the hips to the shoulders and allows you to efficiently transfer power from that initial hip turn to the upper body.
If you’re a golfer, getting a screening done and having a personalized program put together for you should be at the top of your list this season. However, just to get an understanding of how T-Spine mobility affects your golf swing, try this exercise: Lie on your right side with your hips and knees bent at 90 degrees. Place your right hand on top of your knees to prevent them from separating during the movement. Straighten your left arm out in front of you, and take a deep breath in through your nose. Then, while keeping your eyes on your left hand and exhaling throughout the motion, slowly bring your arm up toward the ceiling. Continue in an arcing motion until your left shoulder, arm and hand are all as close to flat on the ground behind you as you can comfortably get them. Do you see the connection to the golf swing? Comfort is key here; you aren’t trying to push yourself beyond your limits. Perform this motion for 3 sets of 10 on each side.
Did you actually get your arm to the ground? Was your shoulder also on the ground? If so, did your knees have to come apart in order to get there? Was one side easier than the other? If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, then you have a T-spine mobility restriction that will limit your shoulder turn. Keep trying this exercise daily until it gets better and in the meantime, get yourself screened to see where else you’re not moving efficiently. And remember where this conversation started; your mobility issues are a product of your sitting habits, so get up and move!
Steve Zarriello, B.S., CSCS, TPI Certified is the Owner of The Way HPI located in Cranston, RI. He has been training people of all ages, ability levels, and training goals for almost 10 years.