The name of the game in modern golf training is improving athleticism. Tour players now work harder and smarter than ever on their fitness and strength training. Strength training has become a priority, and golfers now are using technology to break down the most minute parts of their swing.
Rory Mcllroy is one of many players who has embraced this philosophy. In an interview with Me and My Golf, Mcllory said:
"I really started to work on my fitness and strength in the end of 2010 and the start of 2011. It was really from an injury prevention standpoint, but also from a biomechanical standpoint. I got biomechanically analyzed and we saw that my peak club head speed was about 18 inches before I actually hit the ball. My club head was slowing down when I hit the ball. And that was because I basically had no stability in my hips, my glutes and my legs, especially in my left side. So a lot of stability work in my legs, a lot of core work. I've always been able to create the speed, but I didn't have the strength and stability to hold onto that speed through impact. If you see me in the gym, I'm always on a wobble cushion or a BOSU Ball, and I'm doing a lot of single-leg work."
This quote really tells the story of how golfers are evolving with the new age of training information and technology.
If you're not assessing, you're just guessing
A new paradigm has emerged in golf training that involves biomechanical analysis of the golf swing and much more. In addition to high-tech swing analysis, players are given a full-body movement screen, which tests their flexibility, balance, stability and coordination. Using the findings, a training and therapy regimen is created to improve a player's mechanical issues, weaknesses and negative tendencies.
One company that is in the forefront of this paradigm shift is Titleist Performance Institute (TPI). They put an emphasis on players improving movement fundamentals of mobility, coordination and balance, and only when these fundamentals are mastered do strength, endurance, power and skill acquisition become the focus of training.
One player who uses a team full of TPI experts is Jordan Spieth. On tour, Spieth is under the care of TPI chiropractor Troy Van Biezen, who also looks after Zach Johnson, Jason Dufner and Rickie Fowler.
Van Biezen told me, "Each player has individual tendencies and imbalances that are checked every morning and addressed to stay on top of them. After the round, corrective-based exercises are employed."
One example where Spieth's team used swing analysis technology , therapy and training together occurred when his coach, Cameron McCormick, noticed Spieth's tendency to sway when swinging. McCormick asked Van Biezen and Spieth's trainer to focus on increasing Spieth's hip mobility. Van Biezen said, "The soft tissue component is crucial; imbalances and dysfunctions need to be addressed." The system must be yielding results, since the players he treats on tour are winning majors and moving to the top of the world rankings.
The importance of reducing soft tissue restrictions
In many cases, tailored exercises can cure imbalances, but some soft tissue and joint restrictions are harder to shift. Many of the best golfers in the world, including Van Biezen, use Active Release Techniques (ART), which involve an athlete shortening a muscle while the ART provider applies tension to the muscle with his or her fingers. The athlete then stretches the muscle, pulling it under the provider's contact. The manual tension combined with the movement of the muscle improves flexibility immediately.
Golfers who aren't naturally athletic often need to work on soft tissue and joint flexibility. But not all golfers have access to ART. The next best thing is foam rolling. By essentially massaging muscles, you're able to release tension within them and improve tissue quality, which improves mobility. Common areas to roll include the calves, hamstrings, quads, IT Band, glutes and upper back. To make a foam-rolling routine even more effective, do static stretching of the same muscle group afterward.
How to take the pressure off of the lower back
Lower-back pain in golfers is an ailment often best addressed by improving flexibility. "If the mid-back and hips are not rotating enough, the lumbar spine may compensate, and the lumbar spine is not designed for a great deal of rotation," says TPI / ART Chiropractor Shane Lawlor, who has spent many years on tour with the likes of Shane Lowry and Padraig Harrington. "Some of the mistakes that I see amateur and professional golfers make is a poor warm-up routine and not investing enough in hands-on therapy. The biggest downfall is that they neglect to build a team around them. All of these contribute heavily to the common injuries experienced in the sport."
The average golfer has the same flexibility problems as the professionals, only worse. As mentioned, mid- to- upper-back inflexibility can cause lower-back pain. Too much sitting can lead to stiffness, which will greatly affect the golf swing. The following exercises are a great way to improve movement of the spine between the shoulders.