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6 reasons why golfers struggle with back pain: Part 2

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This article is co-written with Marnus Marais. Since 2011, Marnus has worked with some of the world’s best players on both the PGA Tour and European Tour, helping them to maintain optimal health and peak physical performance. His current stable of players includes Dustin Johnson, Patrick Cantlay, and Louis Oosthuizen, amongst others.

You can find more information on Marnus and his work at marnusmarais.com

Following on from Part 1 of this article, we examine reasons 4, 5 and 6 for why golfers suffer from low back pain.

Reason 4: Weak Core Muscles

Before we make start making exercise recommendations for this complicated area of the body, it’s worth asking—what is the core exactly? There is considerable debate about this often misunderstood region. Back pain expert Professor Stuart McGill, explains it as follows:

‘The core is composed of the lumbar spine, the muscles of the abdominal wall, the back extensors, and quadratus lumborum. Also included are the multijoint muscles, namely, latissimus dorsi and psoas that pass through the core, linking it to the pelvis, legs, shoulders, and arms. Given the anatomic and biomechanical synergy with the pelvis, the gluteal muscles may also be considered to be essential components as primary power generators’

In a golf context, there is a common myth that the core muscles are our main source of power in the swing. In reality, the main role of the core is to provide stiffness and stable support for force/power transfer from our legs to our upper body

If we can create stiffness and stability in our core, we can help protect our spine and surrounding structures from unnecessary strain whilst also improving swing efficiency—pretty sweet combo!

Due to a combination of perpetual sitting, poor posture and other detrimental lifestyle factors, our cores tend to lose this ability to provide stiffness and stability. We can combat and correct this with a solid core conditioning program. Below are examples of some of our favorite exercises.

Dead Bug with Fitball – the combination of squeezing the fitball whilst extending arm and leg delivers all sorts of great stimulus for the core muscles.

Bird Dog – great for glute, core and back strength

Pallof Press – fantastic anti-rotation exercise. Good for strengthening the core whilst using the ground efficiently

Reason 5 – Not Warming up Properly/Not Warming up at All!

As we’ve explained above, mechanical back pain arises from too much stress and strain placed on the back. During the game of golf, we treat our spines terribly—expecting them to twist, turn and contort with the aim of producing decent golf shots!

If we don’t prepare our bodies for an activity like golf and just go out cold, we significantly increase the chances for strain and stress being placed on the lumbar area.

I’m sure many of you have had the experience of throwing a ball or a stick hard without warming up, and received a nasty sharp pain in your shoulder. Now, if you were to warm up before doing that; stretching your shoulder, making a few practice throws etc, you’d likely avoid strain altogether. Same goes for the low back and the golf swing – without a decent warm-up, there’s every possibility of a strain when trying to rip driver down the first!

By incorporating a warm-up into your pre-golf routine, you can significantly reduce the risk for injury AND help avoid that card wrecking double-double start! As a side bonus, warming up regularly can help your general health, fitness, and wellbeing too.

We know that most amateurs don’t warm up; a study done by Fradkin et. al showed that around 70 percent of amateur golfers seldom warm-up, with only 3.8% reporting warming up on every occasion!

A decent warm isn’t hard and doesn’t have to take ages to complete; research shows that a warm-up of 10-20 minutes is sufficient. In the video below, Marnus gives a thorough guide to a solid warm up sequence.

Reason 6 – Swing Faults

Let’s not forget the golf swing. One of the most common reasons I see golfers struggle with low back pain is that they are unable to “get to their lead side” and “get stuck” on the downswing. This causes the aforementioned excessive side bend and rotation from the low back, which we need to avoid! 

“Getting stuck” on the trail side

Now we aren’t golf coaches and therefore don’t deliver swing advice. However, there are some fundamental movement patterns that most golfers could benefit from practicing. In the videos below, one of our favorite body orientated swing coaches, Richard Woodhouse, is using one of our favorite training tools, the GravityFit TPro, to help teach an efficient movement pattern. The aim is to develop a strong connection between arms and body, using the hips and thorax to rotate, thereby helping to avoid “getting stuck.”

Summary

The absolute best practice for a healthy golfing lower back is working with a golf swing instructor and also a health/fitness professional that understands the body and swing connection. As a team, they would be able to identify and improve your individual swing faults, movement pattern dysfunctions, range of motion deficiencies, muscle weakness, imbalances, and alignment issues.

If you don’t have access to such expertise locally, you may want to check out the online services offered by Marnus and Nick here:

Marnus – https://www.marnusmarais.com

Nick – https://www.golffitpro.net/

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Nick Randall is a Strength and Conditioning Coach, Presenter and Rehab Expert contracted by PGA Tour Players, Division 1 colleges and national teams to deliver golf fitness services. Via his Golf Fit Pro website, app, articles and online training services, Nick offers the opportunity to the golfing world to access his unique knowledge and service offerings. www.golffitpro.net

1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. F

    Nov 17, 2019 at 1:00 pm

    Reason 1: the Modern, Athletic, NFL-MLB type uptight physical muscle swing for the short-term explosive career, a swing that has too much force. The other swing is the torque swing like Couples that has too much hip slide paired with the elbow crushed into the ribs.
    That’s why a hunched back and a squat is the swing for a lifetime for no back injuries.

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Davies: Training the trail elbow in the golf swing

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Alistair Davies shares with you how to get the correct trail arm and elbow action in the downswing. He shares some great drills that can be done at the range or at home to help lower your scores.Get the correct training for the trail arm here today!

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The important lessons you can learn from Peter Senior’s golf swing

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He may not be a household name in the United States, but Australia’s Peter Senior has a swing for the ages. At 60 years old, Senior has 34 worldwide professional wins including the 2015 Australian Masters beating a competitive field with several top-ranked players in the world. Turning professional in 1978, his career has spanned over 40 years.

Senior’s game and swing have stood the test of time, and the longevity of his career should be recognized. Senior formerly worked with Australian instructor Gary Edwin, and the structure to this swing taught to Senior paved the way for a future of consistent, high-quality professional golf.

Having a great golf swing isn’t the only key to becoming a great golfer, one must learn to play the game. However, you can learn a lot from Senior’s swing.

The origin to Senior’s swing lies in his set-up. Senior sets up in what I call his “hitting angles” or a position that mirrors impact.

From this position, Senior is able to simply keep these angles he established at address throughout the swing. This is why the set-up is so critical. The further he deviates from these “hitting angles”, the more he will have to find that impact position with his body in the backswing and downswing. In other words, more movement. The goal of his backswing will be to maintain these original starting angles.

From the picture, Senior has maintained his original body shape that he established at address. From this position, it will be much easier and repeatable to return the club to impact.

Note how his impact position now mirrors his original address position. All his original angles were maintained with a slight bump of the body towards the target. From impact, he can simply fold up his arms as his right side of his body rotates around his left side, keeping the clubface square to the body.

This standing tall finish position with the head following the torso is much easier on the back. His body has come forward and around beautifully, covering the ball for a proper strike.

The beauty of Senior’s swing lies in its simplicity. The changes Senior made to his swing can apply to anyone. Let’s look at two simple drills to make your swing more efficient and powerful.

“To a large extent, my backswing is a product of my set-up position” – Tiger Woods, Golf Digest 2020

To get into these impact angles simply practice pushing into an impact bag with the head and shaft of the club. Make sure your trail arm is tucked, lowering the trail shoulder as you pressure the bag.

To get the feeling of the proper coil from this set-up position, grab an impact bag and hold the bag in front of you.

From here, swing the bag around you with your arms keeping the top of the bag level. You will feel the trail side of your body move back and the lead side move out, coiling around your spine angle.

The trail glute will also move back and around with this drill, a key move the great Ben Hogan used to pivot his body. To develop an efficient swing and a long, injury-free career, take note of Peter Senior’s key moves.

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Fix early extension: 3 exercises to get your a** in gear

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It’s pretty common knowledge that “early extension” is a problem for golfers everywhere, but how does it affect your body and your game? And what can you do to fix it?

First, let’s look at early extension in its most simple form as a physical issue rather than a technical issue.

During the swing, we are asking our body to not only create force, but also resist a number of different forces created by the aggressive rotational pattern we call a golf swing. The problem comes down to each player’s unique dysfunction which will likely include bad posture, weak glutes or a locked out thoracic spine for example.

So when we then ask the body to rotate, maintain spine angle, get the left arm higher, pressure the ground, turn our hips to the target (to name a few) a lot of mobility, strength and efficiency are required to do all of this well.

And not everyone, well actually very few of us, has the full capability to do all of this optimally during the swing. The modern lifestyle has a lot to do with it, but so does physiology and it has been shown that tour players as well as everyday golfers suffer from varying levels of dysfunction but can ultimately get by relative to learned patterns and skill development.

But for the majority of players early extension leads to one or more of the following swing faults:

  • Loss of spine angle/posture. During the swing, a player will ‘stand up’ coming out of their original and desired spine angle, this alters the path and the plane of the club.
  • “Humping” the ball. Johnny Wunder’s preferred term for the forward and undesirable movement of the lower body closer to the ball.

Lack of rotation during the swing occurs due to the shift in the center of gravity caused by the loss of posture as your body does its best to just stay upright at all.

Ultimately, early extension leaves us “stuck” with the club too far behind us and nowhere to go—cue massive high push fade or slice going two fairways over (we’ve all been there) or a flippy hook as your body backs up and your hands do whatever they can to square it up.

Not only is this not a good thing if you want to hit a fairway, it’s also a really bad way to treat your body in general.

As a general rule, your body works as a system to create stability and mobility simultaneously allowing us to move, create force, etc. When we can’t maintain a stable core and spinal position or force is being transferred to an area that shouldn’t be dealing with it, we get issues. Likely, this starts with discomfort, possibly leading to prolonged pain, and eventually injury.

The body has a whole lot to deal with when you play golf, so it’s a good idea to start putting in the work to help it out. Not only will you reduce your risk of injury, but you’ll also likely play better too!

So we have three simple exercises for you here that you can do at home, or anywhere else, that will help you with the following elements

  • Posture
  • Core strength
  • Glute function
  • Thoracic mobility
  • Asymmetrical balance
  • Ground force development

#1: Forward lunge with rotation

  1. Standing tall, core engaged with a club in front of your chest, take a reasonable step forward.
  2. Stabilize your lead knee over your front foot and allow your trail knee to move down towards the ground, trying to keep it just above the surface.
  3. Maintaining your spine angle, rotate OVER your lead leg (chest faces the lead side) with the club at arm’s length in front of your torso keeping your eyes facing straight forwards.
  4. Rotate back to center, again with great control, and then step back to your original standing position.
  5. Repeat on other leg.

#2: Bird dog

  1. Get down on all fours again focusing on a quality, neutral spine position.
  2. Extend your left arm forward and your right leg backward.
  3. Control your breathing and core control throughout as we test balance, stability and core activation.
  4. Hold briefly at the top of each rep and return to start position.
  5. Repeat with right arm and left leg, alternating each rep.
  6. If this is difficult, start by working arms and legs individually, only life 1 arm OR 1 leg at a time but still work around the whole body.

#3: Jumping squat

  1. Start with feet shoulder-width apart, eyes fixed forward.
  2. Engage your squat by sending your knees forwards and out to create pressure and torque, whilst sending your hips down and back.
  3. Squat down as far as possible whilst maintaining a neutral spine, active core and heels on the ground.
  4. As you naturally come out of the squat, push the ground away using your whole foot, creating as much speed and force as possible as you jump in the air.
  5. Land with excellent control and deceleration, reset and repeat.

Got 10 minutes? Sample workout

3 Rounds

  1. 10 Forward Lunge with Rotation (5 each leg)
  2. 10 Bird Dog (5 Each side or 5 each limb if working individually)
  3. 5 Jumping Squats
  4. 1 Minute Rest

If you can take the time to make this a part of your routine, even just two or three times per week, you will start to see benefits all round!

It would also be a perfect pre-game warm-up!

And one thing you can do technically? Flare your lead foot to the target at address. A huge majority of players already do this and with good reason. You don’t have to alter your alignment, rather keep the heel in its fixed position but point your toes more to the target. This will basically give you a free 20 or 30 degrees additional lead hip rotation with no real side-effects. Good deal.

This is a great place to start when trying to get rid of the dreaded early extension, and if you commit to implementing these simple changes you can play way better golf and at least as importantly, feel great doing it.

 

To take your golf performance to new levels with fitness, nutrition, recovery, and technical work, check out everything we do on any of the following platforms.

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