When doing any standing activity, ankles will be used. If you are looking to maximize strength or balance, checking stability of the ankles is a critical area that is frequently overlooked in training programs. There is some significant loss of control of precise movements when these muscles are weak. Additionally, some of your potential power is being ‘left on the table’. Which of the following muscles does not prevent medial or lateral flexion of the ankle?
It is important to make a distinction between two common usages of the term ‘stabilizers’. The stabilizer term can be used in the context of referring to a joint, and other times in the context of stabilizing a functional movement. It is very important to be clear on these two common usages because they can cause confusion in your training program.
When the term is used in the context of stabilizing a joint, it is referring to exerting force to control medial and lateral motions. If we look at stability of the ankle as a joint, four of these muscles are stabilizers. They prevent lateral and medial motion of the ankle joint. These muscles will always be stabilizers of the ankle joint.
If instead, we look at stabilizers of a functional movement, these same muscles will sometimes be stabilizers, and other times be agonists, antagonist or synergists depending on the movement. If for example, we look at the functional movement of ankle flexion (i.e. rising up on your toes), these same four muscles will ‘stabilize’ the action of ankle flexion. If instead, we look at a functional movements involved in golf when the back foot exerts a push posterior and medial during a drive downswing, the activity of the same muscles change. In this functional movement, two of the ankle stabilizers will be acting in a prime mover (agonist) capacity by contributing to the medial motion of the drive.
The answer to the question is 3 – gastrocnemius. This is one of the bigger calf muscles that primarily plantar flexes (points) the foot.
1 – Tibialis Anterior – This muscle pulls the foot upward and stabilizes the ankle from eversion (prevents the sole from twisting to face laterally).
2 – Tibialis Posterior – This muscle pulls the foot to point downward and stabilizes the ankle from eversion (prevents the sole from twisting to face laterally).
4 – Fibularis Longus – The muscle is also called Peroneus Longus and point the foot down and stabilizes the ankle from inversion (prevents the sole from twisting to face medial).
5 – Peroneus Tertius – This muscle is also called Fibularis Tertius and pulls the foot up and stabilizes the ankle from inversion (prevents the sole from twisting to face medial).
Excerpt from upcoming book “Golf: Training Driven By Diagnosis” by Dr. John M. Wallman
Stabilizers are a group of muscles that offer the possibility to obtain large increases in power and accuracy as well as prevent injuries. Many people overlook this important group of muscles in their athletic training. Let’s look at:
What are stabilizer muscles
Why are they important to train
Why they don’t develop adequately from practice
How to improve them
What Are Stabilizer Muscles?
These are muscles that contribute to an agonist or prime mover muscle’s function via reducing movement of some related bone. The ‘stabilizer muscle’ term is most often used in the context of action on the same joint(s) as the agonist but the term can also be applied on distal, functionally related joints. In either case, stabilizers do not directly contribute to the agonist’s movement of a bone, but they do contribute to the total power output and control of a movement. Every joint involved in golfing uses multiple stabilizer muscles. Let’s see some examples.
Example: Same Joint Stabilization
When you do your arm back, your right arm is using the middle / posterior fibers of the deltoid muscle (the blue fibers in the graphic) to lift your arm up and back. If the humerus were not constrained within the shallow socket (note the shallow socket on the left scapula in the skeleton graphic) of the scapula by other muscles, it would dislocate superiorly every
time you did a backswing. Fibers of the lower portion of the pectoralis major and to a lesser degree, the teres minor muscle work to pull the head of the humerus down, keeping it in the shallow socket, at the same time as the deltoid is pulling the arm backward. In this example, the pectoralis major is a stabilizer muscle.
Example: Distant Stabilization
“For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.”
Newtons Third Law
How does this manifest in sports? For a football quarterback throwing a ball, they straighten their arm rapidly to push the ball forward off of their hand. The shoulder end of their humerus is also pushing in the opposite direction as the arm straightens. It is only by having a relatively stable scapula attached to a fixed torso which allows all the force to go forward into the ball.
If the muscles holding the scapula to their torso are weaker than the forces being exerted on it by the arm straightening muscles, some of the force will cause their scapula to stretch backward. This results in some percentage of the force being generated by straightening their arm going into scapula movement rather than propelling the ball forward. In other words, weak scapula stabilizer muscles result in the ball traveling slower over a shorter distance.
This loss of effective power being delivered to the target in golf (the club and ball) because of weakness in a stabilizer muscle of a related joint can happen anywhere along the kinetic chain of a movement. For golfers, power starts at the points where cleats push against the ground. Some force can be lost by not having cleats and being on slippery ground. In this case, the rear foot would slip backward during the swing. In a similar manner, weak ankle stabilizers will results in the foot bowing outward instead of that force being transferred up the chain. The same for knees that bow, hips that wobble, each and every vertebra that stretches the wrong way, robbing power rather than contributing power to the drive. Stabilizer muscles at every joint along the kinetic chain stop unnecessary movement so that there is a potential to maximize force being transferred to the club head.
Why Are They Important To Train?
These are some of the outcomes achieved by gaining better control and power from your stabilizer muscles:
Local Power – They keep the fulcrum of each individual joint ‘centered’ properly during movement to optimize biomechanics and power of that joint.
Combined Power – Having adequate strength and control of each stabilizer in your body allows you to add more cumulative power to your shots rather than robbing power from your stronger muscles.
Consistent Shots – Clicking joints are a prominent sign that your joints are not being stabilized properly and could be moving unpredictably during a stroke. Loose joints are less noticeable than clicks, but have the same impact of decreased accuracy. This makes it very difficult to hit the same shot time after time. Even half a mm of extra play in a dozen joints throughout the body accumulates so that body movements are difficult to control with precision and consistency.
Health – Weak stabilizers allow local joints or other parts of the body to move excessively, stretching tissues abnormally, causing damage and eventually pain.
Career Longevity – Accumulated stretching of soft tissues by poorly stabilized joints leads to accelerated damage and joint degeneration that results in prematurely ending athletic careers and yoga practices.
Why don’t they develop adequately during practice
Increasing effective control and strength in a muscle is a combination of many factors including: increased muscle mass; elimination of intramuscular fibrosis & trigger points; recruitment of more muscle fibers during contraction, enhancing neurological control and coordinated timing. Prime movers will experience some improvement of these parameters through playing golf, particularly enhancing nerve control and coordination. Stabilizers rarely get conscious attention during play and typically do not get enough usage to result in significant improvement.
Let’s look at a couple of the factors in muscle strength development so you can see why training stabilizer muscles in isolation and reintegrating them back into your swing can be so much more effective.
Increasing Muscle Mass
Increasing muscle mass requires introducing micro-tears into the muscle so that it stimulates the body to repair the damage and make it just a little bit stronger to prevent future damage. This is done by exceeding the muscle’s capacity through repetitive use of the muscle or increasing the amount of weight that the muscle is pulling against.
For example, in golfing, the swing muscles are typically used only once every 3-10 minutes. This pattern does not lead to the repetitions that are conducive to obtaining micro tears that stimulate growth. Increasing resistance on the stabilizer muscles through contractions of stabilizers near their maximum output during a swing are also very unlikely to happen. The majority of force in a swing is exerted by the agonist muscles and stabilizers typically only use a percentage of their maximum potential force which doesn’t stimulate growth.
Control of stabilizer muscles are frequently far from a golfers thoughts during their shot routines. It is often difficult to determine if a stabilizer is working or not, unless you isolate the movement and the muscle involved.
One knee stabilizer that I frequently check involves control of rotation of the tibia at the knee. Try this on yourself. Sit with your hips and knees bent at 90 degrees. Lift one foot off the ground a few inches and dorsi flex your foot (pull your toes and foot upwards using your ankle muscles). Keep your foot in this position and without moving your thigh at all, rotate your lower leg around the axis of the tibia (i.e. if you placed your heel on a nail sticking out of the floor and twist your lower leg so the heel stays in place and your forefoot rotates from pointing to the outside and pointing to the inside).
80% of the people I test for this stabilizer muscle have no control over the motion at all. The bend their ankle but do not rotate their tibia. They do not have neurological control over the muscles that perform this motion. It usually takes 2-4 weeks to gain minimal control overs this motion and another 2-3 months to gain power and speed of movement.
Without control of this movement, your knees will not be stabilized properly, will not contribute to the total power of your sport and leave you vulnerable to injury.
How to improve stabilizer muscles
First…..diagnose which stabilizers are too weak, which too strong and which are normal. This requires testing individual muscles. You can do this by focusing on one specific joint and testing all the muscles there and comparing them to other muscles around that joint and against the paired muscle on the opposite side. Alternatively, you can do more disseminated testing, possibly testing all the muscles in the body. Testing may be done by a number of different muscle strength testing techniques including: manual; isokinetic; tensitometry; computerized movement imaging, etc.
Second….make sure that the cause of the weakness of the stabilizers is amenable to treatment by exercise. You don’t necessarily want to be exercising a muscle where the weakness is caused by a nerve, bone or other pathological problem.
Third…..exercise the muscles that are weak from lack of sufficient exercise or minor traumas with exercises that target only the individual weak muscle. You don’t want to be exercise multiple muscles simultaneously, particularly if you end up increasing the strength of muscles that are already normal or too strong. Which specific exercise you do can be further refined by what aspect of the muscle you want to address. I.E. increase muscle mass, break up trigger points, recruitment, etc.
Fourth….A muscle that has recently achieved significant improvements of strength may cause some shifting of stress points, neurological control and even technique requirements. Because of this step, you may need to reintegrate the muscle back into your stroke. This step is not always required.
Reintegration is begun by initially deconstructing the golf swing into small components (i.e. on the downswing, a deconstructed swing might be broken into: a) push down or back on the right foot; b) rotate the knee; c) rotate the hip; d) rotate lumbars; rotate the thoracic region; drive the lead arm down; etc.). Then start reconstructing the stroke by combining the newly strengthened muscle with one of its neighbors in a subset of the swing that just includes those two joints. Exercise just those two components of the swing using proper timing, motion and then speed. Once remastered, combine the ‘new’ muscle with two neighbors. Continue in this manner, adding one new neighbor at a time, until the entire swing is reconstructed.
Excerpt from upcoming book by Dr. John Wallman “Golf: Training Driven By Diagnosis”
The hip rotators can add significantly to your power, stability and consistency of your sport. Knowing which hip muscles are strong or weak is the first step to knowing the muscles to exercise and integrate into your athletic training.
The answer is 1 – Rectus Femoris. This part of the quadriceps muscle group runs from the ASIS on the superior front corner of the pelvis straight down the thigh to the patella. It function primarily as a flexor of the thigh on the pelvis.
2 – Adductor Brevis – Originates on the pubic bone and inserts on the medial and posterior portion of the upper femur on the lesser trochanter and linea aspera (see the bump on the medial side of the femur on the diagram). This causes the action to not only adduct the thigh, but also to externally rotate the femur.
3 – Piriformis – The muscle originates on the front surface / lateral margin of the sacrum and inserts into the greater trochanter of the femur (the large bump on the lateral side of the femur). It is one of the main external rotators of the femur.
4 – Gluteus Minimus – This muscle originates on the outside of the pelvic bone, primarily anterior to the hip, and inserts into the greater trochanter of the femur. It is one of the main internal rotators of the femur.
5 – Sartorius – This long thin muscle originates on the ASIS of the lateral pelvis and crosses the thigh diagonally to insert below the knee in the pes anserine on the medial side of the tibia. It is known as the ‘Figure 4 Muscle’ because it functions to bring the foot up while rotating the thigh externally bringing the legs into a position resembling the numeral 4.
By Dr. John M. Wallman, DC
Excerpt from the soon to be released book “Golf: Training Driven By Diagnosis”
The rotator cuff muscles of the shoulders are the fine tuning muscles that keep the round head of the humerus bone centered in the shallow glenoid socket or fossa. Imbalances of the fine tuning or major muscles of the shoulder lead to off centering of the joint during movement. This leads to decreased performance in strength/speed/endurance, abnormal stretching of tissues, joints that are too loose, clicking, pain & degeneration.
The correct answer is 4 – Pectoralis Minor
A mnemonic to help remember the muscles involved in the rotator cuff is “SITS” which stands for Supraspinatus, Infraspinatus, Teres Minor & Subscapularis.
The Pec. Minor originates on the anterior 3-5 ribs and inserts on the coracoid process of the scapula.
The Supraspinatus originates on the posterior aspect of the scapula above the spine of the scapula and inserts on the upper portion of the greater tubercle of the humerus.
The Subscapularis originates on the subscapula fossa on the anterior aspect of the scapula and inserts on the lesser tubercle of the humerus.
The Teres Minor originates on the lateral margin of the scapula and inserts on the lower aspect of the greater tubercle of the humerus.
The Infraspinatus originates on the posterior aspect of the scapula below the spine of the scapula and inserts on the middle portion of the greater tubercle.
It’s human nature to want to do what you do well. That’s one of the reasons why some people do the same exercises or yoga poses over and over again. They get good at it, and it feel nice to excel at something.
But….that leads to more muscle imbalances in the joint as some muscles get stronger and others lag behind. The more imbalanced a joint becomes, the more overall performance goes down, the more tissue damage occurres and the more that susceptible to injury you become.
If you want to improve in a sport or athletic activity fast, particularly one that uses a very narrow range of muscles, the more important it is to exercise all the muscles of that joint to achieve a balanced state. If you want to get the fastest improvement in your athletic activities, test all the muscles around your key joints for your activities, and just exercise the weak muscles. That will balance up a joint quickly and improve your performance very efficiently.
This refers to exercises involved in your training program and not warm ups or practice. With those activities, you may be ‘waking up’ your prime muscles to do your sport and that could involve moving muscles that are already too strong.
Here’s to fast improvements in your sport and health!
Improving your golfing power & consistency, decreasing your rate of injuries as well as lengthening your playing career will be enhanced by balancing your agonist and antagonist muscles. This refers to the agonist and antagonist having:
Comparable Strength Throughout Each Part Of Their Ranges Of Motion
What does this mean and can that really improve my power, consistency, injury rate and career longevity? Let’s start answering this question with some definitions.
Agonists – are muscles that pulls the body most directly in the desired direction. These are also known as ‘prime movers’.
Antagonists – are muscles that pull in the opposite direction. For every action you do, there is one or more agonists that pull one way and an antagonist(s) that pull the other way.
Arc of Motion – refers to a specific portion of a joint’s full range of motion.
Imbalanced Joint – At one or more points throughout a joint’s range of motion, muscles pulling in some direction will be significantly stronger than muscles pulling in the opposite direction. This will result in joint off centering (a shift in the joint’s fulcrum), abnormal mechanics, decreased strength/speed/endurance, stretching of soft tissues, damage and injury. Persistent imbalance will lead to joint degeneration.
Resting Tension – When the body is at rest, there is a residual amount of muscle contraction that remains. The balance between the resting tensions of the agonist and antagonist will determine where the body comes to rest when no conscious work is being done. An astronaut sleeping without the influence of gravity, will assume the position that reflects the balance of resting tensions of all muscles throughout the body. Note the resting tension dominance of neck and elbow flexors as well as shoulder internal rotators with the astronaut in the photo.
Peak Power – The maximum amount of force that a muscle can generate at some arc within its’ range of motion. Typically, muscles will be weaker at both ends of its range of motion.
Next, let’s talk about what muscle balance isn’t. It is not just:
Balanced Peak Power – Imagine a joint where the peak power is equal between the agonist and the antagonist, but one muscle has its’ peak power towards one end of a joint’s range of motion and the other muscle has its’ peak power at the other end of this range of motion. The joint will have a tendency to be stretched off-center at one end of the range of motion and be stretched off-center the other way at the opposite end of the range of motion.
Balanced Resting Tension – When properly balanced, the body’s position at complete rest is close to postural neutral. Having balanced resting tension does not mean the muscles are balanced throughout their range of motion. The agonist and antagonist muscles could be properly balanced at the resting central point yet still have significant imbalances at either end of their ranges of motion.
What importance does this concept have in golfing?
In golfing, some players do not train at all and get all their physical development from playing golf or practicing on some sub-set of golfing activities. More recently (i.e. since Tiger Woods), physical training has been incorporated into many more player’s career preparations. The majority of this physical preparation takes the form of exercising the prime movers and are done in ways that mimic some component of the golf swing. Let’s take a look at the muscles that are involved (and thus exercised) in golfing and then see why these conditioning methods are leaving a lot of power on the table and increasing susceptibility to injury.
Let’s start by considering movement of the arms, trunk and pelvis during a golf swing. The following graph shows the rotation speed of 4 body regions during the backswing, down-swing and follow through. This gives clues regarding the amount of force being used in the respective agonist muscles. (The force exerted by the muscles equals the mass of the body part times acceleration.)
Note the relatively slow velocities used by all four body regions during the backswing. This graph demonstrates relatively little work being done by the backswing muscles compared to the work being done by the down-swing muscles. Even if we take into account the additional work done by the backswing agonists as you approach the transition to the down-swing by stretching the elastic tissues, this muscle group is getting exercised much less that the down-swing agonists. Over time, this imbalance in peak work during golfing results in the down-swing muscles becoming stronger than the antagonist group involved in the backswing.
It is also important to note that the peak force exerted during the backswing happens closer to the maximum backward rotation. The peak force during the down-swing happens closer to the ball strike. Whatever strength development occurs in the agonist and antagonist muscle groups during golfing will be mismatched not only in peak force, but also in the arcs of motion involved.
What To Do?
The key point to get from this article is this. In order to achieve optimal performance, it is necessary to balance the agonist and antagonist muscles throughout their ranges of motion in all of the golf related activities.
A critically important requirement for obtaining this balanced muscle strength in all of your golfing motions is diagnostic testing. This will tell you which muscles should be exercised heavily, which ones lightly and which ones to avoid in order to achieve the best results. Many testing methods can be done fairly rapidly and will save you a lot of time by eliminating unnecessary exercises. Whatever methods of strength assessments your doctor or trainer is using, it is beneficial to have an assessment that includes at a minimum:
Each agonist muscle involved in the golfing motions at the beginning, middle and end of the range of motion for that muscle.
Each antagonist muscle opposing the agonists, also at the beginning, middle and end of the ranges of motion
Here is a good starting point of the list of agonist & antagonist muscles to diagnose. (Note: these muscles are the primary agonists & antagonists involved in the golf stroke and do not include stabilizers, synergists or smaller muscles.)
After determining which muscles are too weak, it is important to determine why that muscle doesn’t have proper strength. Is it:
weak from lack of use?
inhibited because of pain in the area?
having a problem with the muscle’s nerve or artery supply?
biomechanically impaired because of bone, cartilage or ligament damage?
These factors can be ruled in or out fairly rapidly with diagnostic tests as well. It will give you limited benefit to exercise a muscle that doesn’t work well because of nerve damage or a malformed bone until the factors causing the weakness are resolved. Our goal is to make sure you have the most efficient, productive time exercising so that you get the maximum return for your training time.
Most people realize that study is not the same as training. It is not wise to prepare for climbing Mt. Everest by only reading a book about it. Your knowledge will be improved and you may bring the correct tools, hire the right guides, etc., but your body needs to be physically capable of climbing that height. You need a certain amount of muscle, blood cells and other physical capabilities to accomplish that task. Building those muscles and capabilities requires training.
Practice is also not the same as training. The distinction here is more subtle but just as important if you want to achieve maximal results. Let’s start with some definitions.
Training – Expanding your physical, mental or spiritual performance by systematically exceeding your current capabilities in a way that induces micro-stresses that stimulate growth. Training improves your capabilities of performing a wide range of tasks (i.e. improve bio-mechanical integrity, strength or endurance). This increased capability can then be applied to improve your performance in playing golf. Training is analogous to Basic Research (as opposed to Applied Research) in that it improves your body’s basic functioning.
Practice – Improving the consistency of accomplishing a specific activity through repetition. Generally, practice mimics the end goal sport or activity (i.e. practice rounds) or some sub-set of the sport / activity (i.e. chip shots at the driving range). Practice is analogous to Applied Research rather than Basic Research in that it improves your ability to perform that specific activity.
Many organizations, teams and artists practice but never train. This is unfortunate because that results in sub-optimal results. Let’s look at some examples of groups that generally practice or train or both.
Military & Police – They generally do both training and practice. In boot camp and beyond, each soldier is trained to improved their physical capability. They run, do push ups, crawl, etc. At some point, they will also do ‘war games’, hostage drills or marksmanship to practice situations that mimic actual combat or police situations. They do not do push ups so that they can drop and do 50 on the battlefield. They do push ups so that they can accomplish many different activities better.
Professional Sports – Almost all sports organizations do practice in the form of games or sport specific drills. The utilization of training however, varies from sport to sport. Football and gymnastics are known for including a lot of physical training in their preparation while other sports such as golf or bowling typically include much less.
Performing Arts – Dancers, musicians and actors are very heavily oriented towards practice only type of preparations. It is the rare dancer or drummer who also does joint balancing exercises to improve biomechanical strength or cognitive training to improve focus and multi-tasking abilities.
Casual Athletes – The person who plays a few baseball games each summer typically does neither training or practice. They don’t do practice games or practice drills to get ready for competition play. They may or may not do exercises to improve their overall capabilities.
Why is training important?
There are many reasons why including training in your golf regimen will improve your game. They include:
Increasing your maximum strength, speed & endurance
Improving your control, accuracy and consistency
Extending your effective career
Let’s look at these individually.
Increasing your maximum strength, speed & endurance
Improving your maximal potential performance requires inducing microstresses in a way that stimulates growth. This growth can be in your muscle size, neurotransmitters, vascularization or any human characteristic. When you want to build muscles, it is necessary to stimulate growth by introducing small tears in the muscle. This stimulates the body to repair the damage and make it a little bit stronger over the next few days. Note – We are not talking about introducing so much damage that you are injuring the muscle. This typically takes multiple weeks to recover from.
When a golfer plays a round or practices, they tend to do motions in a way that does not approach the threshold necessary to stimulate growth for most of the tissues involved. This results in a few muscles getting stronger while the vast majority do not. One way to reach the activity threshold necessary to stimulate growth is by deconstructing the golf stroke into its’ component parts and exercising each of them separately. Once each component has been stimulated to reach the desired amount of growth, the stroke is reconstructed to achieve a new maximum level of performance.
Improving your control, accuracy and consistency
One side effect of only doing golf rounds or practice drills is that joints are developed unevenly. This results in imbalanced joints that stretch to one side. This movement of the joint fulcrum from its’ optimal central point introduces joint instability or even clicking which diminishes accuracy. This instability introduces another variable during each stroke that gives inconsistent results. It’s like doing target practice at a shooting range during an earthquake. A fulcrum shift in the middle of a stroke can have unpredictable results.
Proper training for golf would involve testing: each ligament for laxity; each joint for ranges of motion and integrity; as well as every muscle for balanced strength before beginning any program of stretches or exercises.
Extending Your Effective Career
Joints that have imbalanced muscles or ligaments that get stretched beyond their normal ranges with have faster than normal joint degeneration. This involves pain, swelling and a shortened career. Golf is a very one-sided sport which means that it is harder on the body than balanced sport activities. On any given year, 15-20% of all golfers have a significant injury. If you want to enjoy golf well into your golden years, or extend your income producing professional career by more years, implementing a proper training regimen throughout your golf life is a major factor to consider.
Practice will lead to improvements in power, speed, skills and overall golf performance. By incorporating training as well as practice into your golf preparations, your maximum results will be improved to higher heights in a quicker time frame and your career will be extended for longer than it would be without training.
Primarily by A) Increasing the number of muscle fibers (cells) B) Increasing the size of the the muscle fibers C) Both A & B D) Increasing the amount of scar tissue between the muscle cells.
The answer is primarily by B) increasing the size of the muscle cells. When you do strength training that stresses muscles to the point of micro-traumas, they repair by building more myofibrils, mitochondria, cellular organelles and cytoplasm within the muscle cell. This makes each cell get bigger. Recent evidence shows that doing extreme strength training can result in a small increase of the number of muscle cells, but this is a relatively minor method of increasing muscle size and strength. Scar tissue tends to contract over time, eventually making the muscle smaller.
If you are looking to excel in any field, the bar for what is needed to obtain excellence is constantly being raised. In golf, prior to Tiger Woods, if you wanted to excel in golf you trained using the Triangle of Instruction. This included: Golf Instruction (technique); Mental Preparation &; Equipment. In 1996, Tiger Woods introduced the golfing world to a new training regimen for golf. To excel in golf after that point you needed to train in:
Advanced Golf Instruction
At that time, a lot more golfers added a physical conditioning to their golf training program. These conditioning programs varied for each therapist but typically consisted of a set of ‘golf’ exercises. These conditioning programs frequently did not utilize many diagnostic tests and were to a large degree, the same for every golfer. The programs were based upon ‘the kinds of physical attributes that someone playing golf should have’. More recently, some physical trainers, coaches, therapists and doctors have been introducing a greater number of screening tests that might look at some particular physical characteristic for each body region. This would allow the therapists to design a training program that was more customized for each golfer. A typical diagnostic workup at this time period involved 1-2 tests per body region for a total of a few dozen tests.
Now, if you want to rise above the pack, or improve the efficiency of your golf training program, your physical conditioning needs to be taken to the next level. Top level physical conditioning needs full customization to make sure that each of the exercises you do gets you the best results. To achieve these kinds of results, you need to do more testing for what your body is capable of and exactly what exercises you need to do.
This can be achieved by considering what each part of your body could be evaluated for, in each of the different performance characteristics. This could potentially involve many hundreds of different tests and result in thousands of possible training exercises. Such a testing & training program could easily involve a prohibitive amount of time, so let’s look at this in more detail to find out how we can get the desired golf results we want with the amount of time we’re willing to invest.
Body Units & Characteristics
First, let’s briefly describe what we mean by ‘Body Units’ and ‘Characteristics’ and give some examples of each. Future articles will look at these in more detail and describe the variables as well as how you might test and train each one of them.
The body units refer to each:
Functional group – Multiple muscles &/or joints up to and including the whole body, that work together to perform some function. A function is any general activity such as knee flexion, shoulder internal rotation, jumping, etc. Generally, functions do not refer to sport specific techniques such as a golf back swing or putting. Techniques are made up of a coordinated set of functions.
Why look at both small & large body units? There are times when it is preferable to train by focusing on a single muscle or joint. Other times, it will be preferable to train a functional group or technique. Choosing the size of the body unit to work on will depend on where you are in your golf career & training program, your training strategy and, if you are recovering from an injury or not. For more information, see Sequence Your Golf Training Program
Here are the basic characteristics to address when training the motor components of each body unit.
A good way to remember all of these physical characteristics is:
Note that these characteristics refer to ‘motor’ control. This would include the active motor tissues (muscles, nerves, vascular) as well as the passive motor tissues (ligaments, tendons, connective & scar tissue). They do not address sensory input, although there will be some overlap.
Each muscle, joint or body region can be tested and trained to develop balance, speed, power, etc. Each of these characteristics can also be looked at in a few different ways. Let’s look at ‘Range’ for an example. The most simplistic example of Range would be considering if we can get our lead shoulder up to the proper height with a straight elbow. If we look in more detail, we also measure how much a joint can: flex, extend, abduct, adduct, internally & externally rotate. We can also look at Range from the context of active range of motion vs. passive range of motion. Each of these different perspectives will tell us different information that will help us develop different aspects of our golf game.
Why would we take the time to measure a joint through all these ranges of motion rather than just stretch the motions that you use in golf?
If a joint is stretched in only 1 or 2 directions and the other vectors remain constricted, the joint will not remain properly centered through its range of motion. Tissues will get tugged on abnormally and damaged….perhaps to the point of impairing performance, causing injury or curtailing play.
Another reason why you might not want to just stretch the restricted motions that are used in golf has to do with the active vs. passive motions. Doing a generalized stretch can result in regaining the desired total range of motion as a result of some previously normal length tissues getting overstretched while other tissues in that motion remain restricted. These combinations of abnormal ranges result in a total ‘Normal’ range of motion will have a set of side effects that impair many other aspects of your game and career. i.e. The hypermobile tissues will have sloppy joints along with the resultant loss of: power; stability and; control. Targeting the stretch to only the tissues that are abnormally constricted will yield better results.
Testing & Training Strategies
Evaluating and training every body unit in every characteristic could easily take years of work. Let’s look at a couple of examples to get a better sense of why this could take so long.
In most basic golf training programs, time will be spent developing muscular control and power to move the torso independently from the pelvis during a drive. You can improve your chances of preventing the development of back and torso injuries by simultaneously training the antagonistic muscles for the same amount of power and speed. These antagonistic development protocols are included in fewer training programs. Developing comparable speed and power in the stabilizer and synergistic muscles of the same torso/pelvis region will add that much more control and power to your hits, fewer injuries and more years to your career. The protocols to add these stabilizer and synergistic physical conditioning skills are included in even fewer training programs.
Let’s take one more example that will give us a sense of how much time can be put into physical conditioning for golf. Vision Training – How many golfers train the muscles and nerves involved in this at all? When you are reading the green for a long putt, tracing the path from your ball to the cup, how long does it take you? Do you remember the size and shape of the first few bumps by the time you get to tracing the last few? Do you find that your eyes skipping over parts of the path leaving blank regions? How good is your peripheral vision at maintaining sight of the cup and terrain while you look back at your ball? What if you could expand your peripheral vision and acuity by 20 or 30 percent, would that help your putting? There are training programs for each of these skills and each one takes some time to develop.
When there are so many training options to choose from, designing an overall training strategy is one of the first steps to take. It is easy to imagine how the training program will differ between a football linebacker, a vocal singer and a business person. But even within the field of golf, training priorities list will vary quite a bit. It will be necessary to take into account far more than age, injuries and level of commitment to the game. Each player will also need to design their training strategy to take into account their temperaments, physical attributes, targeted career length and the competitive field. Your strategy might be driven by trying to be the first to develop a skill that others have overlooked before.