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Why your desk job is ruining your golf swing

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I imagine that most of you reading this are doing so while sitting at a desk, hunched over a computer. If you’re not, there’s a good chance that you spend considerable amount of time in that position. Our increasingly sedentary lifestyle, mixed with our heavy use of computers and wireless devices, has made this position more common than it should be.

Bad posture

Maybe you’re aware that your seated posture can and should be improved, but what you may not know is that it has numerous effects that will carry into your golf posture and your golf swing.

They include:

  • Forward hip tilt: Also know as anterior pelvic tilt, it’s associated with tight hip flexors, which are a group of muscles on the front of your hips that pull the knee upward. Tight hip flexors can prevent the glutes (butt muscles) from firing and cause them to become weak. Strong glutes are essential to hip stability in the golf swing, as stable hips provide a platform to turn against in the golf swing and eliminate things such as slide and sway. The glutes are a major factor in developing power in the golf swing, too. If you want to hit it a long way you need strong glutes! Inactive or weak glutes also force the hamstring muscles to become overworked and excessively tight. If you have tight hamstrings, the root cause may be tight hip flexors and/or anterior pelvic tilt.
  • Hunched upper back and forward shoulder posture: Sitting hunched over a computer screen forces chest muscles to tighten, which can cause excessive curvature of the upper back (thoracic spine) and postural muscles in the upper back to weaken and loosen. The thoracic spine (T-Spine) also becomes stuck in flexion, and the ability to extend and rotate the T-spine becomes lessened. Limited T-spine mobility will radically reduce the amount of shoulder turn you are able to make, and ultimately the power you are able to create in your the golf swing.
  • Weak anterior core. Core strength is essential for efficient power transfer and maintaining good posture in the swing. The weaker your core is, the more difficult power transfer and good posture becomes.
  • Forward cervical spine position: Although the head stays still during the golf swing, the shoulders rotate, so golfers experience large degrees of cervical rotation both the left and right in the golf swing. Similar to a rounded upper back posture, a “forward head position” limits your ability to rotate at the cervical spine. Consequently, this limits shoulder turn or causes you to lose posture in order to complete a full backswing. Further, a forward cervical spin position can also cause the posture muscles in the upper back to shut off. Who knew your neck was so important in the golf swing?

So, what can you do about it?

Movements in the gym are used and repeated to improve postural issues, which occur over time. Since any repetitive movement will affect posture, however, you need to be sure you are selecting the right movements and performing them in a proper manner. If you don’t, you won’t be getting the full benefits of postural correction. And if you use the wrong exercises, they can even feed into your postural deficiencies.

Here a my top 5 strategies to help you correct that posture

1. Get back to neutral alignment of the spine with appropriate mobility exercises.

The Exercise: Get into a half-kneeling position with hand outstretched in front of you touching a wall. Make sure your front foot and back knee are not too close together or too far apart. Grab hold of your back ankle with your free hand, keeping your head and spine in neutral alignment with your core engaged and rock back and forth. You should feel a stretch in the hip flexor of the leg you are holding.

The Exercise: Lie with your back on the floor with your knees bent and feet on the floor and flatten out your lower back so it is in contact with the floor. Keep it there throughout the movement. With your chin tucked and core engaged, raise your arms overhead. Next, slowly pull your elbows down toward your sides, keeping them in contact with the ground. When you can no longer keep contact with the floor or your lower back arches off the floor, push back up again. 

2. Develop more thoracic extension.

The Exercise: Lying on the floor with your upper back on the foam roller, perform five crunch-like movements on the roller, trying to curl your back around the roller more and more with each rep. Then move slightly down so the roller is higher up on your spine and repeat. Move the roller up the spine two or three more times until you reach a point just below the base of the neck, and repeat the process at each new position. 

3. Improve anterior core strength

Exercises that promote anterior core strength and don’t involve spinal flexion are your best bet. The deadbug is my absolute favorite here. There are so many variations, and it does a nice job of teaching the hip disassociation we need in the golf swing, too.

The Exercise: Lie on your back and raise your arms and legs so your arms and upper leg form right angles to the spine. You will feel the lower back flatten to be in contact with the floor when you do this. Lower the arm and opposite leg, exhaling as you do so. Make sure to stay in neutral spine (i.e. don’t let lower back arch as you lengthen). 

4. Program twice as many pulling exercises (think rows and chin-ups) as pushing exercises (bench press, shoulder press and dips).

Most people (particularly men) do the opposite; heading to the gym to do way too many sets of bench presses and bicep curls. This further compound the effects of sitting all day. A 2:1 pull-to-push ratio will redress the back strength issues this often creates and help re-adjust shoulder positioning.

Further, the upper back is also somewhat of a complex structure comprised of a number of different muscle groups, including the rhomboids, serratus anterior and lower traps that often times need to be activated with more specific work. The face pull is my favorite way to hit these often neglected muscles. See the video below.

5. Get strong glutes!

The single-leg glute bridge is a nice way to feel glute activation and build some glute max strength when you start adding external load. Make sure you feel the glute doing the majority of the work, however, and not the hamstring.

The Exercise: Start by lying on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor with your knees and feet together. Extend one leg from the knee and lift the pelvis off the floor, fully extending the hips until your body forms a straight line. Try to feel the contraction in the glute as much as possible, rather than the hamstring. Shoot for a percentage of 80 percent glute and 20 percent hamstring as a goal. Just touching your hamstrings or your glutes can serve as great reminder as to where you need to feel the movement and where you shouldn’t be feeling it. 

Lateral band walks primarily work the glute medius, the muscle primarily responsible for resisting hip rotation, and a therefore great for developing stability.

The Exercise: Keeping the shoulder blades retracted (think about pulling them down and back), chin tucked and core engaged, step to one side. Make sure to not over-step, as this will result in loss of balance on the toe of the landing foot, turning it too far out and reducing glute engagement.

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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.

13 Comments

13 Comments

  1. christian

    Sep 20, 2015 at 12:15 am

    “Most people (particularly men) do the opposite; heading to the gym to do way too many sets of bench presses and bicep curls”
    It’s just that biceps curls IS a pulling exercise, and not a pushing one.

    • Nick Buchan

      Sep 25, 2015 at 8:08 am

      Christian, technically bicep curls are a pulling exercises yes but it only works the biceps not the lats or muscles of the upper back, nor does it give the benefits of scapular retraction and improving shoulder posture that are important with pulling exercises so for this reason I don’t count it as a pulling exercise when balancing pushing and pulling ratios. Additionally the standing position, with weight out in front, most bicep curl from and insertion of the bicep means they tend to negatively affect shoulder position in a similar way to pressing exercises. If you want to do curls, may i suggest doing incline bench curls as these negate many of the problems with standing curls.
      Thanks for reading,
      Nick

  2. Large chris

    Sep 18, 2015 at 7:47 am

    Great article, but seriously please don’t start doing foam roller movements etc in the squat rack as per the video above. Just find an empty floor and wall space. Be considerate.

    • Nick Buchan

      Sep 18, 2015 at 5:16 pm

      Haha totally agree Chris! In my defence it was a quite day and very early in the morning, you can get away with it when there are only two people in the gym!

  3. Craig

    Sep 17, 2015 at 2:33 pm

    Nick, great article and interesting for biomechanics/physical therapy lovers. Under the forward hip tilt section wouldn’t tight hip flexor create lengthened and weak hamstrings? Lower crossed syndrome would have tight hip flexors and tight back extensors with weak/lengthened hip extensors and weak core. Just wanted your thoughts, thanks!

    • Nick Buchan

      Sep 18, 2015 at 5:27 pm

      Craig, The reciprocal inhibition effect of the hip flexors does effect the strength of all hip extensors yes, so hamstrings, glutes, abductors, etc, but I find most peoples biggest problem in this regard is weak glutes. You are correct that tight hip flexors pull the pelvis into anterior tilt and as such the distance between the origin and insertion of the hamstring (basically the knee and the hip) is greater so from an anatomical point of view the hamstring has been lengthened. However this lengthening means the hamstring is effectively slightly stretched already so when you try and lengthen it further, by hip flexion, the hamstring will feel tight, despite technically being lengthened! Most people who complain of tight hamstring it is probably actually anterior tilt and tight hip flexors that are the problem rather than the length of the hamstring. Not sure I’ve explained that all that well but hope it makes sense!? Thanks for the question!

  4. Scott

    Sep 17, 2015 at 9:27 am

    the videos really help. thanks for the article!

  5. Nick Buchan

    Sep 16, 2015 at 11:39 am

    Thanks for the comments guys! Appreciate it!

  6. Nick Randall

    Sep 15, 2015 at 9:54 pm

    Nice article Nick – love your work!

  7. Golfraven

    Sep 15, 2015 at 2:54 pm

    Great article. I like the home excersised or those that don’t require further equipment. I might get a mat for my office space and do some of those during working office hours. Currently I stand away from my desk regurlarly and do either putting or swing excercisea but guess this is not helping my core muscles. would be great to see some excercises you can actually perform at the desk or office chair.

  8. Tim

    Sep 15, 2015 at 8:52 am

    great piece – I have just been given many of these exercises by my fitness trainer and physio to counter many of these issues from sitting at a computer all day.

    So far they are helping but given I spend 10 hours a day at the computer and only about 30mins doing the exercises not sure if its enough to really help.

  9. Nathan

    Sep 15, 2015 at 7:14 am

    Yep, certainly need more of this!

  10. Tanner

    Sep 15, 2015 at 6:36 am

    Like the short vids

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Clement: Laid-off or perfect fade? Across-the-line or perfect draw?

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Some call the image on the left laid off, but if you are hitting a fade, this could be a perfect backswing for it! Same for across the line for a draw! Stop racking your brain with perceived mistakes and simply match backswing to shot shape!

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The Wedge Guy: The easiest-to-learn golf basic

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My golf learning began with this simple fact – if you don’t have a fundamentally sound hold on the golf club, it is practically impossible for your body to execute a fundamentally sound golf swing. I’m still a big believer that the golf swing is much easier to execute if you begin with the proper hold on the club.

As you might imagine, I come into contact with hundreds of golfers of all skill levels. And it is very rare to see a good player with a bad hold on the golf club. There are some exceptions, for sure, but they are very few and very far between, and they typically have beat so many balls with their poor grip that they’ve found a way to work around it.

The reality of biophysics is that the body moves only in certain ways – and the particulars of the way you hold the golf club can totally prevent a sound swing motion that allows the club to release properly through the impact zone. The wonderful thing is that anyone can learn how to put a fundamentally sound hold on the golf club, and you can practice it anywhere your hands are not otherwise engaged, like watching TV or just sitting and relaxing.

Whether you prefer an overlap, interlock or full-finger (not baseball!) grip on the club, the same fundamentals apply.  Here are the major grip faults I see most often, in the order of the frequency:

Mis-aligned hands

By this I mean that the palms of the two hands are not parallel to each other. Too many golfers have a weak left hand and strong right, or vice versa. The easiest way to learn how to hold the club with your palms aligned properly is to grip a plain wooden ruler or yardstick. It forces the hands to align properly and shows you how that feels. If you grip and re-grip a yardstick several times, then grip a club, you’ll see that the learning curve is almost immediate.

The position of the grip in the upper/left hand

I also observe many golfers who have the butt of the grip too far into the heel pad of the upper hand (the left hand for right-handed players). It’s amazing how much easier it is to release the club through the ball if even 1/4-1/2″ of the butt is beyond the left heel pad. Try this yourself to see what I mean.  Swing the club freely with just your left hand and notice the difference in its release from when you hold it at the end of the grip, versus gripping down even a half inch.

To help you really understand how this works, go to the range and hit shots with your five-iron gripped down a full inch to make the club the same length as your seven-iron. You will probably see an amazing shot shape difference, and likely not see as much distance loss as you would expect.

Too much lower (right) hand on the club

It seems like almost all golfers of 8-10 handicap or higher have the club too far into the palm of the lower hand, because that feels “good” if you are trying to control the path of the clubhead to the ball. But the golf swing is not an effort to hit at the ball – it is a swing of the club. The proper hold on the club has the grip underneath the pad at the base of the fingers. This will likely feel “weak” to you — like you cannot control the club like that. EXACTLY. You should not be trying to control the club with your lower/master hand.

Gripping too tightly

Nearly all golfers hold the club too tightly, which tenses up the forearms and prevents a proper release of the club through impact. In order for the club to move back and through properly, you must feel that the club is controlled by the last three fingers of the upper hand, and the middle two fingers of the lower hand. If you engage your thumbs and forefingers in “holding” the club, the result will almost always be a grip that is too tight. Try this for yourself. Hold the club in your upper hand only, and squeeze firmly with just the last three fingers, with the forefinger and thumb off the club entirely. You have good control, but your forearms are not tense. Then begin to squeeze down with your thumb and forefinger and observe the tensing of the entire forearm. This is the way we are made, so the key to preventing tenseness in the arms is to hold the club very lightly with the “pinchers” — the thumbs and forefingers.

So, those are what I believe are the four fundamentals of a good grip. Anyone can learn them in their home or office very quickly. There is no easier way to improve your ball striking consistency and add distance than giving more attention to the way you hold the golf club.

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Clement: Stop ripping off your swing with this drill!

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Not the dreaded headcover under the armpit drill! As if your body is defective and can’t function by itself! Have you seen how incredible the human machine is with all the incredible feats of agility all kinds of athletes are accomplishing? You think your body is so defective (the good Lord is laughing his head off at you) that it needs a headcover tucked under the armpit so you can swing like T-Rex?

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