Henrik Stenson is relentlessly consistent.
Over the course of a tournament, many of his competitors will spray shots into danger zones and put up the type of crooked numbers that effectively sabotage their weekend.
But not Henrik.
The 42-year-old Swede, who currently holds six PGA Tour wins, simply continues to pound fairways, find greens, and elude bogeys, hole after hole after hole. As lesser players fall into trouble and frustration, the ultra-cool Stenson slowly climbs the leaderboard.
It's proved to be a fruitful approach for the world's most accurate golfer.
Thus far this season, Stenson leads all players on Tour in both driving accuracy percentage (74.79%) and greens in regulation percentage (74.25%).
No one has avoided bogeys better than Stenson, either, as he's earned a +1 on just 12.20% of his total holes played, the lowest figure among 194 qualified Tour players.
The golf swing is a fickle beast. A fraction too little or too much movement, be it in the wrists, shoulders, hips or knees, can turn pure contact into an expletive-producing duff. No one is better at steering clear of these mis-hits than Stenson, who seemingly produces quality shots ad infinitum.
That's difficult enough when you're in perfect health, but the schedule of a professional golfer is a constant assault on the body. Stenson averages about 25 tournaments a year, and each tournament week sees him take thousands upon thousands of swings. Swinging a club head in excess of 100 mph is an incredibly explosive movement, and performing it over and over grinds down even the fittest of players. The never-ending travel, often to far-flung locations outside of the United States, further leeches player's health.
"The millions of golf balls we hit over our careers takes a toll. It's about managing the little nicks that show up," Stenson told STACK. "And It's virtually 50 weeks a year where you can play a tournament. Christmas and New Year's are the two weeks with nothing going on. And you feel like you've got demand at certain tournaments at certain times, so scheduling is quite hard. All the long flights and the jet lag really take a toll."
Add in the pressure of battling against the greatest golfers in the world in front of massive crowds each weekend, and you've got a recipe for a body riddled with injury. To prevent achy joints and pretzel-knotted muscles, Stenson spends an extraordinary amount of time on his warm-up and recovery.
"Players are looking after themselves physically in a different way now than they used to. Going back 30 or 40 years, it used to be at least a few guys who would hang out in the bar when the day was over. Now, the players hang out in the gym instead," Stenson says. "You believe every little bit is going to help the bigger picture."
For Stenson, many of those "little bits" are gained inside the Massage Envy Player Performance Center, a traveling fitness center housed in two massive trailers that are on-site for every PGA Tour event. One trailer is filled with treadmills, free weights, exercise bands and other "sweat-centric" items, while the other has physical therapy tables, massage tools, and high-tech recovery equipment. Two hours before the start of every round, you can find Stenson inside the trailers.
"My pre-round routine is really important. How it looks for me is I start my warm-up about two hours before my tee time. I will get a stretch, get some checks, then I do my active warm-up, as well. Then after that, I go out," Stenson says. "Every player has a different routine. I start on the putting green probably for 20-25 minutes, then I got and hit balls. The thought is that once I've done that half hour of stretching and the active warm-up, I'm ready to go. I could go down and start hitting a driver straight out on the range. If you don't do (the stretch and warm-up), it's almost a bucket just to get going. You're trying to warm up your body by hitting golf shots, instead of warming up your body before you start hitting the shots. Ideally, you want to feel the same every day."
The "stretch" Stenson refers to is known as "Total Body Stretch." Total Body Stretch is a system of assisted stretches that are designed to increase mobility, flexibility and performance. The stretches are administered by a certified Massage Envy practitioner, which makes it possible for deeper and more effective stretches than what you can do on your own. The practitioner is able to identify tight spots, customize the stretch program to address these issues and coach you through the stretches to maximize the benefit. A Total Body Stretch session—it's also available to the public at Massage Envy locations—is a similar overall experience to getting a massage, but you're getting stretched for the duration of the session.
"(For our PGA golfers), the majority is spine that we take care of. Work on spinal mobility, lateral rotation of the thoracic spine, lateral motion in the hips, as well. Those are the two areas where we can maximize movement. If those two areas move well, then the pressure's taken off the low back. And we want to prevent all low back injuries, because if you get a low back injury, those can be more nagging and more chronic down the road," says Corey Hug, PGA Tour physical therapist.
Once Stenson's been stretched out, he performs several active warm-up exercises. These exercises are designed to help him increase mobility and fire up key muscles before he hits the range. "You're working through the whole body. You're stretching it, but you're activating it at the same time before you get out there and start hitting balls," Stenson says.
Let's run through some of staples of his active warm-up program and explain how they help him maintain one of the smoothest swings in golf.
:15 in the above video
This classic yoga move promotes mobility in the spine.
- Begin in an all-fours position with your hands underneath your shoulders and your knees underneath your hips.
- As you inhale, arch your back and look up. This is the "cow" position.
- Exhale, look down, press into your hands, and round your back like a cat.
Move slowly through these two positions, hitting each position 10 times.
Quadruped T-Spine Rotation
:25 in the above video
This move targets the mobility of the T-Spine, which is short for "thoracic spine." With the twisting motion inherent to the golf swing, mobility through the T-Spine is an absolute must. Not only can it help reduce the risk of injury, but it can also result in greater club head speed and control.
- Begin in an all-fours position with your hands underneath your shoulders and your knees underneath your hips.
- Place your right hand near your ear, as Stenson does, or right where your neck meets your torso.
- Keeping the rest of your body stable, rotate down to your left as far as possible, leading with the eyes, and allowing your right head and shoulder to follow.
- Lift your right elbow straight up towards the sky, opening the T-Spine in the opposite direction.
Breathe through the movement and hit both the top and bottom position 10 times on both sides.
Low Lateral Lunge (Hips Stay Low as Switch Sides)
:40 in the above video
Mobility through the hips is essential to a buttery smooth golf swing.
- Start by performing a Lateral Lunge to your left and shifting over your left leg (your left knee should be about even with the pinkie toe at the endpoint, if not slightly beyond). Keep your hips back during the lunge.
- While keeping your hips low, move into a Lateral Lunge to your right.
- Perform 8 reps on each side.
:34 in the above video
The hip hinge is a critical movement pattern for athletes. Being able to tap into the strength of your glutes with a stable core is essential to elite performance. Stenson also performs a mini hip hinge every time he stands over the golf ball.
- Begin with your feet at shoulder width or slightly beyond that.
- With your hands on your hips or lower back, bring the torso toward parallel to the ground. Although you can bend your knees slightly, think of "hinging" at the hip rather than squatting forward.
Keep your core and glutes activated to perform the movement correctly, as your muscles should be doing the work of lowering and raising your torso—not your joints. Perform 2 sets of 10 reps.
:45 in the above video
This exercise specifically targets the gluteus medius, an oft-neglected muscle that provides stability to the hip. Weak gluteus medius often lead to pain or injury in the low back, knees and ankles. The variation that Stenson performs is known as a Back-to-Side Fire Hydrants.
- Assume all-fours position, extend leg directly behind, squeeze glute and lift leg toward ceiling.
- Hold for two counts.
- Bend knee and hip to bring leg to side position.
- Hold for two counts and keep knee at 90 degrees.
- Lower to start position.
Repeat for 6-10 reps. Perform set with opposite leg.
1:02 in the above video
Bird Dogs are an excellent movement to reinforce proper spinal alignment and optimal core recruitment.
- Assume an all-fours position with your hands beneath your shoulders and your knees beneath your hips.
- Keeping your spine neutral, raise your opposite arm and leg straight out. Keep your abs braced and the musculature in your low back and glutes activated. This will help you resist rotation and extension forces that attempt to take your spine out of natural and allow you to maintain a straight line from extended hand to extended foot.
If you've never performed Bird Dogs before, you may need to regress the movement. Perform 2 sets of 12 total reps.
:48 in the above video
Pallof Pulses are a variation on the traditional Pallof Press. This exercises combines anti-rotational core strength and stability with a small range of movement. The range of movement generally mimics where Stenson will be contacting the ball. This anti-rotational core work helps Stenson better control his club head and also aids in his ability to decelerate through the second half of his swing. "You're coiling every time, and it takes a lot of stress on (the body) to slow it down, as well. When you're hitting drives, it's a lot of weight. Even though the club is light, the force you put into it actually makes it quite heavy. So you've gotta slow that down on the other side," Stenson says. Never performed Pallof Presses before? Here's everything you need to know.
:57 in the above video
In golf, posture is crucial. Many modern humans, including many professional athletes, are anterior dominant—meaning they use the muscles on the front of their body (e.g., the quads and pecs) more frequently than the ones on the back (e.g., the hamstrings and trapezius). Anterior dominance has become the norm in our society due to the positions we assume during most of our daily routines (such as staring down at a smartphone or working on a laptop) and our training habits (overtraining the "mirror muscles" while neglecting the posterior muscles). For golfers, who spend hours each day hunched over a ball, the risk is even greater. To combat anterior dominance and pull himself into better posture, Stenson performs Band Rows. Perform two sets of 10 reps, keeping your posture upright and pinching your shoulder blades together as you contract.
Photo Credit: Andrew Redington/Getty Images
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