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The 6 new rules of core training for golfers

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There’s a myriad of different core exercises, a wealth of opinion on how to train the core and body of knowledge that has increased dramatically during the past decade or so and continues to grow, so it’s no wonder core training is a somewhat contentious and confused subject.

The problem with a lot of golfers’ core training stems from not understanding the anatomy and function of the core, and not utilizing proper progression strategies to actually improve core function over time. Static exercises like planks and side planks are great, but doing them for ever-increasing lengths of time in the name of progression invites fatigue and loses many of the benefits of the exercise with regard to muscle activation and spinal control. Hyper specific “core” exercises that mimic the golf swing may have a place, but if you don’t posses the segmental stabilization to execute them in the first place they aren’t going to do anything for you, and may even leave you worse off.

With that in mind, this article will be presenting the rules of core training I have developed and used with all the golfers I train. Live by these when training your core and you will move better (we need proximal stability to demonstrate distal mobility, so yes training your core can make you more flexible!), keep your spine healthier and generate more club head speed.

New Rule No. 1: Train the function of the core, not the anatomy, for back health and performance 

The muscles of the core and lumbopelvic hip complex work in tandem to protect the spine, particularly your lumbar spine, which isn’t actually designed to move all that much. Most notably, these areas protect your spine during movements in the form of anti-rotation, anti-flexion and anti-extension.

Of course, we don’t want to avoid moving into rotation, flexion and extension at all costs during our daily lives or the golf swing. That’s not my point. However, spinal injury has been linked to the number of these moments we do so it make sense to:

  1. Not increase that number in the gym (particularly by doing sit-ups or crunches).
  2. Train to be strong in resisting these movements, which will reduce injury potential.

The work done by Dr. Stuart McGill proves this. By performing core training exercises that force your trunk and spine into excessive flexion (i.e., crunches and sit-ups), the facet joints and vertebral discs within your vertebral column take a beating. The same can be said for excessive extension.

Pelvic position plank

The standard front plank is a great anti-extension exercise, but you have to do it right. The aim of a plank should be to teach the core musculature to hold the spine in neutral posture where the spine, hips, and legs are linear, not arched or drooping. Common compensations are shrugging the ribs up, shrugging the hips up, rolling the shoulders or hips forward, or pretty much anything that’s not neutral.

A good front plank should make your glutes incredibly tired from forcibly making them contract so that your hip flexors stretch and the abs bite down harder. For most, this will also encourage a slightly posteriorly tilted pelvis to prevent them from setting up with hips low and anterior pelvic tilt.

New Rule No. 2: Earn the right to rotate

Power lives in the transverse plane. If you want to unleash strength, power and force, you must harness control of rotation. The keyword here is control: concentric and eccentric control. To put it another way, rotational stability ensures rotational forces are transferred effectively, thereby reducing energy leaks that slow down your swing.

As research from the aforementioned Stuart Mcgill shows, no core muscle has a primary vector for trunk rotation. Trunk rotation, and resisting it, are carried out by a blend of all core muscles. The abdominal obliques are primary drivers of torso rotation and anti-rotation, along with deep stabilizer muscles in the back. When you want to rotate to the right, you engage the left external oblique and the right internal oblique. Rotation to the left uses the right external oblique and the left internal oblique. They work as functional pairs.

As you know, the torso connects to the rest of the body (arms and legs), so you have cross-body connections from the gluteus maximus to the opposite side latissimus to generate force transmission on the posterior chain. This force transmission system is known as the posterior oblique subsystem and is a primary reason you can move your arms and legs together. This movement pattern sling is crucial to stabilization. Stability always precedes force production. When it doesn’t, you have decreased performance and become more vulnerable to injury.

Variations like Pallof presses and chops are obviously great for this, however, single-arm presses and pulls are hugely underrated in this regard. Utilizing half- and tall-kneeling positions are also great for dialing in that neutral pelvic and spine position so important for efficient power transfer. One of my favorites to tap into anti-rotation and the posterior chain connection is the tall-kneeling, single-arm cable pull.

New Rule No. 3: Master your breathing

Credit to Dean Somerset for putting me on to the importance of breathing techniques in both core work and performance.

A go-to response for many when doing core exercise is to hold their breath. While this isn’t a bad response per se, especially if they’re trying to use a valsalva to increase spinal stability during a movement like a deadlift, not being able to inhale and exhale in pace with an exercise can actually reduce the effectiveness of a core intensive exercise.

Additionally, the speed of breathing can dictate whether a movement is more of a relaxation or mobility movement, or whether the goal is speed and reactive capability development. In either case, being able to breathe through an entire set is vitally important to see the best potential improvements. For core control and stability exercises (planks, side planks, dead-bugs, etc.), I usually prescribe the exercise be done for 5 times with 3-5 second inhalations and 3-5 second exhalations rather than simply holding the position for 20 or 30 seconds. Try it. You’ll be amazed at the difference.

For speed and power work (see Rule 4), inhales are best with more of a sniffing action where air is taken in quickly and with some development of negative pressure through the ribs and abdomen, and exhaled forcefully and quickly. This short, sharp exhale causes the abdominal muscles to brace very hard and very quickly, this improves stiffness and therefore the efficiency of power transfer through the core.

Try this while you’re reading this article: Place a hand on your stomach and sniff in quickly through your nose and feel what the abdominal muscles do. Then exhale sharply through pursed lips, like you would if you were throwing a very crisp jab. Did you feel how hard the abs became for the second you inhaled and exhaled? That’s your power center.

New Rule No. 4: The glutes are also a part of the core

The ability to forcefully extend the hip, while maintaining position and neutral spine, is vital for efficiently generating and transferring force in the golf swing. The collective role of the glute muscles is to extend the hip, abduct (bring the leg away from the middle of your body), externally rotate and internally rotate the hip joint, all of which are involved in the golf swing so you can see how their function maybe important for golfers.

I am a big believer in the role of the glutes as the primary hip extender, allowing hip extension without losing neutral spine. The use of the lumbar spine, for example, to extend the hips can place the lumbar spine in a more compromised position, with the increased possibility of low back pain that accompanies this, while it also places the pelvis into anterior tilt and places the abs in a stretched position affecting their ability to transfer force. Utilizing the quadruped position teaches athletes to set the core and fire the glutes. Extrapolating this function and applying it to the golf swing is exactly what we want to accomplish.

New Rule No. 5: Follow proper progression

First, you’ll want to organize your spine and find a posture that feels best for your body. These two areas are very important if your goal is to achieve a strong core that functions well.

Next, your goal should be to achieve proper core stability. If you can stabilize the muscles in your core in the presence of change (i.e., movement), then you’ll achieve a greater level of health and a happier lower back.

After that, it’s the right time to emphasize strengthening your core by adding forms of external resistance (i.e., medicine ball, resistance band, cable column, Valslides, etc.). When you have a good foundation of all of these elements, you can begin to add power and explosive movement patterns into your core training routines.

Core progression

This progression is important, as it will help to bulletproof your spine for long-term health and performance. Let’s think about a basic core exercise, such as the Plank Hold. During this exercise, your job is to brace your core muscles, create full-body tension and to hold posture, while gravity and your bodyweight try to tell you otherwise. On a higher level, you’re performing an anti-extension exercise, where you’re deliberately trying to avoid spinal extension, specifically in the lumbar spine. Basically, you don’t want to let your hips dip down toward the floor.

In order for you to be able to properly perform all of this at the same time, it’s necessary for you to have core stability. That’s the key. That’s also why I believe it is imperative to learn how to stabilize your core before adding strength. Similarly, just like training any other movement, we want to develop strength and force production before we work on power and the ability to develop that force quickly. Be sure to master exercises at each stage before moving forward along the progression line.

New Rule No. 6: Core training should be vector, load and speed specific

This one piggy backs on the previous rule. Training movements like a Pallof press to overhead raise or half-kneeling cable chop that require the core to produce force or resist motion through transverse and frontal plane, is great for golf as the game is after all a multi-plane movement, and as such it make sense to train this way. However, all of this occurs in a relatively slow and controlled manner.

Athletes who compete in relatively specific directions and actions without the elements of contact and chaos (i.e. golf), can benefit from training with a high degree of specificity to their goal activities. Take a look at the speed/strength continuum (pictured below) and picture where golf sits in that continuum.

Speed-strength continuum

Hopefully, you would agree that golf makes most sense categorized as a high-speed, low-force activity (force most easily equates to load, i.e. how heavy the implement being used is, in this case the golf club). As such, it makes sense to train the core to perform at high velocity. Here are a few great options:

Once again, make sure you have mastered the earlier progressions before moving onto power work.

Closing Thoughts

Now, take a look at your current core training and ask are you:

  1. Training core function in a multi-directional manner?
  2. Earning the right to rotate?
  3. Utilizing breathing properly?
  4. Training the glutes, too?
  5. Following a good core training progressions?
  6. Does that progression end in a high-velocity, high-performance core?

If not, put some of the exercise and ideas discussed here into practice. And if you have any further questions feel free to post them in the comments section or drop me an email at nick@strongergolf.org.

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Nick is a TPI certified strength coach with a passion for getting golfers stronger and moving better. Through Stronger Golf he uses unique, research based training methods to create stronger, faster, more athletic golfers. Golfers who are more coachable, achieve higher levels of skill mastery, play injury free, and for longer as a result of improved physical fitness.

11 Comments

11 Comments

  1. Rob Pearse

    Jul 5, 2016 at 2:52 pm

    Excellent info. Luckily my education allows me to understand it, where most cannot. High level info for people with the appropriate background. Very difficult for the vast majority of golfers to understand, unfortunately.
    But I loved it.

  2. Jam

    Jul 4, 2016 at 2:09 pm

    I’d love to see pics or a video of separate moves I should be doing

  3. 8thehardway

    Jul 4, 2016 at 10:25 am

    I don’t have the vocabulary for this… may I suggest expanding each rule into a separate article that provide layman-friendly explanations and perhaps an illustration showing where in the swing a particular Rule targets?

    • chisag

      Jul 4, 2016 at 11:35 am

      “As you know, the torso connects to the rest of the body (arms and legs), so you have cross-body connections from the gluteus maximus to the opposite side latissimus to generate force transmission on the posterior chain. This force transmission system is known as the posterior oblique subsystem and is a primary reason you can move your arms and legs together. This movement pattern sling is crucial to stabilization. Stability always precedes force production. When it doesn’t, you have decreased performance and become more vulnerable to injury.”

      Seems like valuable information. A translation to English would be very welcome.

  4. George

    Jul 4, 2016 at 10:00 am

    100 bucks a month to get some videos?! Talk about a rip off

  5. M. Blum

    Jul 4, 2016 at 9:45 am

    Thank you for writing an article that actually says something. I usually just scan fitness articles, since so many of them say the same thing. But, when I saw your mention of Dr. McGill, I stopped and paid attention.

    Keep up the great work and please do continue writing.

  6. Ronald Montesano

    Jul 4, 2016 at 7:38 am

    I think the reason for so many “shank” votes is the dearth of imagery. With so much informative theory, a balance needs to be struck with exercise examples and photos/video of the exercises/movements/positions. I’m quite intrigued and look forward to follow-up articles.

  7. KK

    Jul 3, 2016 at 8:07 pm

    Very technical but very informative. Thank you. I am amazed so many people dislike information that is useful for becoming a more fit and better golfer.

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Davies: The pitfalls of trying to generate lag in your golf swing

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Alistair Davies shares with you how to get lag in the golf swing the right way. Many players go about it the wrong way causing other issues in the golf swing. All will be explained in the video.

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What should your hips do in the golf swing?

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If you want to become more consistent, a better ball striker and hit longer golf shots then this is the video for you. This video will show you exactly what your hips pelvis should be doing during your backswing, downswing and through impact. Having great control of your pelvis and it’s movement will help you have greater control over your golf swing.

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Playing in your mind vs. playing out of your mind

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Comparing the recreational beginner to the elite player

As a player, I know there are rounds of golf where I feel like I worked extremely hard to achieve the results and there are also rounds that are effortless and just plain easy. Why do we go through these peaks and valleys in golf?

As an instructor and player, I want to explore a deeper understanding of what it means to be playing out of your mind vs. playing in your mind.

I want to address both beginners and elite players on their quest for better play. All beginners and elite players must understand that, as players, we are all experiencing ups and downs. The bottom line is that some handle them better than others.

Why is this a feeling golfers have: “playing out of your mind”?

Well, it is pure relaxation. It is fluid, seamless, continuous motion. No hang-ups. No hiccups.

The next big question, how do we achieve this regularly?

We get to this without forcing it, by believing in our makeup. It is locked in our subconscious. It is a controllable, uncontrollable. Subconsciously, your nervous system is in the green light. You are just doing. This is peak performance. This is the zone. This is playing autonomously, out of your mind.

I believe that over time, a golfer’s game is compiled in his/her built-up expectations of the player they truly believe they are. Expecting to make a putt vs. just so happening to make it feeds two different minds. When you place an expectation on an action tension is created. Tension creeps into our nervous system and our brains either respond or they don’t. This is called pressure. This is what I call playing in your mind. You are in your head, your thoughts are far too many and there is just a whole lot floating around up there.

The more players play/practice, the more they will expect out of themselves, and in result, create that pressure. (ie. Why progress is difficult to achieve the closer you get to shooting par or better). The best players are better at responding to that pressure. Their systems are auto-immune to pressure. (ie. Think of practice like medicine and think of a pre-shot routine like the Advil to help calm the spiking nerves.)

  • Playing in your mind = high tension golf… you might need an Advil.
  • Playing out of your mind = low tension golf… you are in a good headspace and are doing all the right things before your round even started.

The key to understanding here is that we can play in both minds and achieve success in either situation. It is all about managing yourself and your re-act game.

Subconscious playing is beyond enjoyable. It is more recreational in style. I believe beginners are playing more subconsciously, more recreationally. I believe elite players can learn from the beginner because they are achieving superior moments and sensations more subconsciously, more often. All players at all levels have off days. It is important to remember we all have this in common.

The goal is always to play your best. When I play my best, there are no preconceived thoughts of action. It’s simply action. Playing out of your mind is an unwritten script, unrehearsed, and unrepeatable on a day to day basis, you’re living it.

Say you have that one round, that out of your mind, crazy good day. The next few days, what do you do? Do you try to mimic everything you did to achieve that low number? As good players, we take these great days and try to piece it together into a script of playing. We know we can get it down to almost damn near perfect. The more a player rehearses the better they get. Edits are made…knowing that things are always shifting. Visualization is key.

No doubt, it’s a huge cycle. Players are in a continuous race to achieve results in numbers. Players looking to reach great success should generate a journal/log and compile a record and playback method and revisit it repeatedly.

There is no secret or magic…it takes mastering the minds to achieve the best results more often. Most important, as players, we must recognize that during our amazing rounds…

  1. We are relaxed
  2. We are having fun
  3. We are just doing

In this game, the deeper we go, the more we propose to be there. It will always bring us back to the basics. One complete full circle, back to the beginner in all of us. So, the next time an experienced player sees a beginner on the first tee…take a moment and appreciate that player!

Remember to enjoy the walk and believe that hard work always works!

Please reach out to me at dmfiscel1482@gmail.com to learn more about the zone and how to become accustomed to playing autonomously.

 

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