Increasing mobility is one of the most common goals of a golf fitness program. Indeed we know golfers need a decent amount of mobility in all joints, in order to be able to effectively and efficiently swing the club. We also know that asymmetries in mobility can lead to injury.
However, mobility or corrective exercise often leads to 'tests' with a pass-fail score and ‘fixing’ someone’s screen often results in a very limited program with an isolationist approach that doesn’t replicate the demands of a global motor pattern such as the golf swing. In my opinion all programs should be corrective in nature but should still focus on the basic human motor patterns that can be loaded and drive performance. I prefer the term 'optimising movement' as this speaks much more to the real world carryover and application of movement for all sports, including golf. Interestingly at a time when personal trainers are going down the corrective exercise route as the next great thing in fitness, many of the worlds leading physical therapists agree good exercise selection based around the athletes current movement capabilities can do wonders to improve movement quality.
This approach not only makes the golfer more able to swing with ideal swing mechanics and reduces injury risk, but simultaneously improves force output and performance - anytime you can create more training economy, get out of the gym quicker and back on the course practicing your skills, it has got to be a good thing! With this in mind here are my top 5 strength moves for golfers looking to optimise movement and increase mobility:
1. Half-kneeling Landmine Press
Like many smarter folks than me (Dr Quinn Henoch, Grey Cook, Mike Robertson, the guys at DNS, to name a few) I like to use a ‘ground-up’ approach, building safe and proficient movement patterns through developmental positions. These positions are in reference to the methods in which a baby learns to move, the little guys/girls learn to develop motor patterns (standing, walking, running and jumping) by progressing from a supine or prone position, to all fours, half kneeling and finally standing.
As adults it’s beneficial to revisit these positions to hone and refine our movement, especially since today’s more sedentary lifestyle seems to cause some loss of mobility and reflexive motor control.
The half-kneeling position is a fantastic tool to improve these attributes. By lowering the centre of gravity, the athlete can practice moving through the hips and shoulders with less compensation and unnecessary motion though the pelvis and lumbar spine (as an aside, this is unnecessary motion is what leads to the dreaded reverse spine).
Additionally, the landmine press element allows the development of pushing strength and power without going beyond the limits of shoulder ROM, allowing the individual to move through the shoulder without compensation at the spine or pelvis. When properly executed the landmine press allows the athlete to develop and practice proper scapular upward rotation and gleno-humeral rhythm.
2. Anterior loaded squats and split-squats
Dave Phillips at TPI talks about the pelvis being the power plug of the golf swing and it needing to be connected to the core to provide power.
As you can see in the image above, when the pelvis is anteriorly tilted the core musculature is on stretch. This is important as the closer to the end of a range of motion a muscle is the more its ability to produce force is impaired, when the pelvis is in neutral the core and the pelvis are stacked under the spine providing optimal stabilisation.
When a load is out in front of you like in a counterweight, goblet or front squat the core and pelvis are forced to ‘plug in’ and ‘turn on’ to stabilise.
Most commonly I will have my athletes do counterweight squats and goblet split squats to address this (unless there is genuine hip flexor tightness in which case we will keep the split-squat unloaded) and progress to double kettlebell and finally front racked barbell variations as they improve their core control.
3. Core stability work
Core stability is often overlooked when it comes to assessing and addressing mobility problems. If your core musculature is weak or doesn’t fire properly, your nervous system perceives this as a threat to your survival because these muscles are there stabilise and protect your lumbar spine. Your brain therefore instructs other muscles to contract to help provide lumbar stability, over time these muscles become more tonic and feel tight.
For example, as the psoas (a hip flexor muscle) is ideally placed to compensate for, the problem of a weak or inactive core often manifests itself as tight hip flexors.
This is the principle of proximal stability to distal mobility in action; you need a stable point close to the centre of a movement in order to have lots of movement further away from the centre. Think of windmilling a ball on a rope around with your hand, you keep your hand nice and still and swing the rope around it right, if you moved your hand around a lot the rope wouldn’t swing around it as well, if at all. As you can see then, no amount of stretching will help those tight hip flexors as this is merely addressing the symptom (tight hips) not the problem (poor core stability).
4. Reduced ROM deadlifts
When people lack hip mobility they will often substitute with knee or spine movement, this is typically seen in the gym where people don’t have a proper hip hinge pattern but rather you see a sort a sort of squat-hinge hybrid with a lot of knee bend or significant rounding of the upper and/or lower back to make up for the lack of posterior hip mobility and weight shift.
Simply stretching/mobilising to improve hip mobility may result in improved ROM at the joint but will oftentimes not result in an improvement to the pattern and the dynamic movements associated with it (in other words it won’t carryover) a more successful approach is often to tackle the pattern itself and, similar to the half-kneeling landmine press earlier, remove joints from the movement to better put the athlete in a position to succeed.
These variations teach the individual to posteriorly shift weight (the feeling should be getting back 'into' the hip joint) and to maintain t-spine extension by engaging postural muscles. Over time we can progress back to standing, but in the meantime we can still practice good hip hinge mechanics, develop mobility and move some fairly heavy weight.
5. Split-squat/ lunge with band RNT
Poor lunge patterns are unfortunately a staple of my assessments with new clients, with the front knee caving in being one of the common errors. This is a tell tale sign of poor glute activation, as the glutes are one of the major external rotators of the hip. Sure we could work on glute activation in an isolated manner, but that won’t necessarily positively affect the pattern. One great method for forcing an adaptive change in the pattern is called reactive neuromuscular training or RNT, this most commonly done by using a band to ‘feed the mistake’
In this case you anchor the band at about knee height, standing side on to the anchor point, step the foot furthest from the anchor point in to the band (this will be the front foot during the exercise), take a few steps to the side until you can feel a small amount of tension from the band pulling the knee inwards and complete the lunge or split-squat. The band tension is pulling the knee inwards ‘feeding the mistake’ and forcing you to fight to keep the knee out, in this way the hip external rotators are activated to a greater extent.
Bonus technique: Superset mobility work with strength work
I’ve mentioned a few times in this article and previous articles how stretching/mobility work may have an affect on increasing range of motion but not necessarily on your ability to use it in functional patterns, whilst strength work seems to have an almost magical ability to make a new/improved pattern stick.
There is an interplay here that shouldn’t be ignored, mobility work can help you get into a better position during the strength move and hence allow you to make a better pattern stick. For this reason one of my favourite techniques is to superset mobility and strength work.
For someone with hip mobility issues we will often pair a tall kneeling deadlift with a posterior hip SMR technique and quadruped rocking mobilisation to hit all possible angles of improving hip mobility. Similarly, someone who has trouble with t-spine extension may have the deadlift or landmine press paired with t-spine extensions on foam roller or cobra pose.
If you take one thing away form this article let it be this;
"Good exercise selection based around the athlete’s current movement capabilities will do wonders to improve movement quality"
Ideally you’d get assessed so you have an idea of your current movement capabilities or better still have an expert coach plan your exercise selection and watch your session (Plug alert – take a look at our online coaching and personal training programs). If you can’t work with a coach for whatever reason, it’s always best to err on the side of the caution when it comes to exercise selection. The exercises here represent a great starting point and exercise variations most can execute without compensation. From here you can progress to more functional exercises over time, as your mobility improves.