You’ve been looking forward to your round of golf all day. Your clubs are in the trunk of the car; you rush out of work and head directly to the golf course, arriving with just enough time to swing your driver a few times before your tee time. Your body feels a little stiff but you figure you’ll loosen up after a few holes. If this sounds familiar, then read on and find out what is wrong with this scenario.
Golf, like any sport, requires a desirable amount of flexibility and a specific warm-up to avoid potential shoulder, hip, and back strain or injury. Let’s talk about what you should do before you hit your first tee shot and which ongoing exercises you can do to increase and/or maintain your flexibility between rounds. Of course, if you have any shoulder, hip, or back issues or other more serious health conditions, you should consult your physician before hitting the links.
You may have heard of the two basic types of stretching: static and dynamic. Golf requires a combination of both because the golf swing is complex, requiring as it does the coordination of many joints to build power and momentum to hit the ball properly and well. Static stretches require you to hold a stretch for about 20 seconds. They should be done gently, without bouncing.
Dynamic stretches have you move through a range of motion that, in this case, prepares you for the golf swing. In just 10 minutes or so before you start your round you can complete a series of exercises that have proven themselves effective. Keep in mind that none of the exercises should be painful or cause any unusual sensations, such as tingling, numbness or dizziness.
First, find a parking spot that allows you to walk for 5 minutes before reaching the clubhouse. Then, while standing with feet hip width apart, interlace your fingers and roll the palms toward the sky as you extend the arms overhead with elbows straight. Look up at the backs of your hands and hold that position for 20 seconds. Side bend left, hold for a 5 count, then, right and hold, repeating 5 times. Next, holding a long iron or driver behind your back and keeping your trunk upright, rotate your trunk gently. The first couple of rotations should not go to your limit. Repeat 10 times. Hold the club on your shoulders and bend your knees slightly. Bend forward at the waist slightly and turn your trunk from side to side in the swing plane for 10 swings.
For the legs and hips, hold a club vertically for balance as you complete the next 4 stretches. Stretch your groin or inner thigh by shifting your weight to the right, letting your right knee bend while your left leg stays straight. Hold for 20 seconds and repeat with the other leg. Now step forward with your right foot, keeping your back leg straight. Shift your weight forward to the right leg while lifting the back heel. You should feel a stretch in the hip flexor or front of your left hip.
For the calves, lower the left heel to the ground, keeping the left knee straight. Hold for 20 seconds. Repeat the stretch by sliding the left foot in a little and bending the left knee slightly while keeping the heel on the ground. Repeat on the other side. These 2 calf stretches are especially important if you are walking on hilly terrain.
For the back of the thigh, step forward with your right heel and continue to hold a club vertically for balance. Keeping the right knee straight, bend forward at the waist and keep your head over your trunk. You will feel a gentle stretch at the back of the thigh (hamstrings). Hold for 20 seconds and repeat with the other leg.
Moving upward in the body, roll your shoulders forward and back starting with small rotations. Then place your right hand on your left elbow and gently pull your right elbow across your body, feeling a stretch across the back of the right shoulder. Interlace your fingers behind your back and squeeze your shoulder blades together. Hold for a 5 count and repeat a few times.
For your neck, put your hands behind your back; grasp your left wrist with your right hand. Slowly tilt your head right as you gently depress your left shoulder down to feel the stretch on the left. Repeat on the other side. Finally, stretch your inside forearms by holding your right arm straight in front of you with palm facing up. Gently pull your fingers back with your other hand, not letting the arm lift as you do so. Change the stretch to outside of the forearm by facing the right palm down and pulling the back of the hand toward you with your other hand. Repeat on the other side.
Now, gently swing a short iron back and forth several times without stopping. Progress by selecting a longer iron and driver before you tee off. Now your body is ready to launch your first drive!
Increasing and/or maintaining your flexibility for future rounds should become part of your daily routine. In addition to the static standing stretches described above there are a few others that are beneficial. The first is the wall torso twist. Stand with your back to a door, with your feet apart in a typical golf stance. Directing your head at an imaginary ball, twist your upper body slowly, attempting to touch both your palms on the door behind you. Hold for 20-30 seconds and repeat in the opposite direction 2 times each.
The next stretch is done on the floor, as you lie on your side with your hips and knees bent at 90 degrees. Extend both arms along the floor at shoulder level, with elbows straight and palms together. Slowly lift the upper arm up and over to rest behind you on the floor, palm up at shoulder level while turning your head to face the ceiling. Breathe deeply. Keep the knees together by holding them with your other hand. Your goal, which is to level the shoulders, may take several sessions to achieve. Return to the side-lying position and repeat 3 times on the other side. For the buttocks, sit perched on the edge of a chair, cross one leg over other with the ankle resting on the opposite knee. Lean in at the waist to feel the stretch. Repeat 3 times with other leg.
Although there can be no guarantee that you will lower your handicap by doing these exercises, you can be sure that you will experience greater comfort when you swing your clubs, be less likely to injure yourself, and be better able to manage an existing physical limitation or issue. Enjoy your round!
Carol Tschirpke is a registered physical therapist at BioSynchronistics/Quality Physical Therapy, which has offices in Sturbridge on Main Street, in Charlton on Southbridge Street and on Rt. 20 at Sims Health & Racquet, and in Barre at Listening, The Barre Integrated Health Center, on South Street. Rehabilitation treatment is also done at all three offices. The practice’s website address is www.biosynchronistics.com. You are invited to email article ideas to firstname.lastname@example.org.