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:
- Not increase that number in the gym (particularly by doing sit-ups or crunches).
- 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.
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.
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.
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.
Now, take a look at your current core training and ask are you:
- Training core function in a multi-directional manner?
- Earning the right to rotate?
- Utilizing breathing properly?
- Training the glutes, too?
- Following a good core training progressions?
- 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 [email protected].
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Short Game University: How to hit wedges 301
In golf, there is nothing harder than judging a flop shot over a bunker to a tight pin out of long grass. Why? Because there are so many variables to account for — in addition to what you can and cannot do with a wedge. In fact, up until very recently in the world of wedge design, we were limited to only increasing the landing angle to stop the ball, because relying on spin from this lie and this close to the green was next to impossible.
Now with the advent of things like raw faces, different CG locations, new groove design, and micro-ribs between the grooves, we can now spin the ball out of lies that we never could have done so before. This is not to say that you can now zip the ball back from these types of lies, but we are seeing spin rates that have skyrocketed, and this allows us to not open the face as much as we needed to do before in order to stop the ball.
Before we get into the shot around the green itself, let’s talk a bit about wedge design. For that, I called a great friend of mine, Greg Cesario, TaylorMade’s Staff Manager to help us understand a bit more about wedges. Greg was a former PGA Tour Player and had a big hand in designing the new Milled Grind 3 Wedges.
Cesario said: “Wedge technology centers on two key areas- the first is optimizing its overall launch/spin (just like drivers) on all shots and the second is optimum ground interaction through the geometry of the sole (bounce, sole width, and sole shape).”
“Two key things impact spin: Groove design and face texture. Spin is the secondary effect of friction. This friction essentially helps the ball stick to the face a little longer and reduces slippage. We define slippage as how much the ball slides up the face at impact. That happens more when it’s wet outside during those early morning tee times, out of thicker lies, or after a bit of weather hits. Our Raised Micro-Ribs increase friction and reduce slippage on short partial shots around the round – that’s particularly true in wet conditions.”
“We’ve been experimenting with ways to find optimal CG (center of gravity) placement and how new geometries can influence that. We know that CG locations can influence launch, trajectory and spin. Everyone is chasing the ability to produce lower launching and higher spinning wedge shots to help players increase precision distance control. In that space, moving CG just a few millimeters can have big results. Beyond that, we’re continuing to advance our spin and friction capabilities – aiming to reduce the decay of spin from dry to fluffy, or wet conditions.”
Basically, what Greg is saying is that without improvements in design, we would never be able to spin the ball like we would normally when it’s dry and the lie is perfect. So, with this new design in a wedge like the Milled Grind 3 (and others!), how can we make sure we have the optimal opportunity to hit these faster-stopping pitch shots?
- Make sure the face is clean and dry
- Open the blade slightly, but not too much
- Set the wrists quicker on the backswing to increase the AoA
- Keep the rear shoulder moving through impact to keep the arms going
Make sure the face is clean and dry
If your thought is to use spin to stop the ball quicker under any situation, then you must give the club a chance to do its job. When the grooves are full of dirt and grass and the remaining exposed face is wet, then you are basically eliminating any opportunity to create spin. In fact, if you decide to hit the shot under these conditions, you might as well hit a flop shot as this would be the only opportunity to create a successful outcome. Don’t put yourself behind the eight-ball automatically, keep your club in a clean and dry condition so you have the best chance to do what you are capable of doing.
Open the blade slightly, but not too much
Without going into too much extra detail, spinloft is the difference between your angle of attack and your dynamic loft. And this difference is one of the main areas where you can maximize your spin output.
Too little or too much spinloft and you will not be able to get the maximum spin out of the shot at hand. With wedges, people equate an open clubface to spinning the ball, and this can be a problem due to excessive spinloft. Whenever you have too much dynamic loft, the ball will slide up the face (reduced friction equals reduced spin) and the ball will float out higher than expected and roll out upon landing.
My thought around the green is to open the face slightly, but not all the way, in efforts to reduce the probability of having too much spinloft during impact. Don’t forget under this scenario we are relying on additional spin to stop the ball. If you are using increased landing angle to stop the ball, then you would obviously not worry about increasing spinloft! Make sure you have these clear in your mind before you decide how much to open the blade.
Opened too much
One final note: Please make sure you understand what bounce option you need for the type of conditions you normally play. Your professional can help you but I would say that more bounce is better than less bounce for the average player. You can find the bounce listed on the wedge itself. It will range between 4-14, with the mid-range bounce being around 10 degrees.
Set the wrists quicker on the backswing to increase the angle of attack
As we know, when debris gets in between the clubface and the ball (such as dirt/grass), you will have two problems. One, you will not be able to control the ball as much. Secondly, you will not be able to spin the ball as much due to the loss of friction.
So, what is the key to counteract this problem? Increasing the angle of attack by setting the wrists quicker on the backswing. Making your downswing look more like a V rather than a U allows less junk to get between the club and the ball. We are not using the bounce on this type of shot, we are using the leading edge to slice through the rough en route to the ball. Coming in too shallow is a huge problem with this shot, because you will tend to hit it high on the face reducing control.
Use your increased AoA on all of your crappy lies, and you will have a much better chance to get up and down more often!
Keep the rear shoulder moving through impact to keep the arms going
The final piece of the puzzle through the ball is speed through the pivot. You cannot hit shots around the green out of tall grass without keeping the club moving and having speed. A reduction of speed is obvious as the club enters into the tall grass, but you don’t want to exacerbate this problem by cutting off your pivot and letting the arms do all the work.
Sure, there are times when you want to cut off the body rotation through the ball, but not on the shot I am discussing here. When we are using spin, you must have speed to generate the spin itself. So, what is the key to maintaining your speed? Keeping the rear shoulder rotating long into the forward swing. If you do this, you will find that your arms, hands, and club will be pulled through the impact zone. If your pivot stalls, then your speed will decrease and your shots will suffer.
Hopefully, by now you understand how to create better shots around the green using the new wedge technology to create more spin with lies that we had no chance to do so before. Remembering these simple tips — coupled with your clean and dry wedge — will give you the best opportunity to be Tiger-like around the greens!
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Many lag drills have come and gone in this game because they have a hard time working when the ball is there! How many times do you hear about someone having a great practice swing and then having it all go away when the ball is there? This one is a keeper!
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