Over the last several years, I have worked with many golfers from the youth to the professional level. One thing I learned quickly in my experience treating golfers is whether I’m working with a 13 year old junior starting to develop, an executive who plays money games at a local club on the weekends, or a professional who has won multiple times on the PGA tour, is that they typically aren’t interested in pelvic muscle imbalances, limited thoracic rotation, or lack of ankle dorsiflexion. However, when addressing these dysfunctions and relating them to why they might not be swinging the club the way they wish to do so, or experiencing any pain or discomfort while playing, it hits a little bit closer to home.
By no means am I a swing coach and whenever a golfer comes to me for help, I usually don’t have them show me a video of their swing. Although video analysis can be extremely beneficial, it is more important for myself to see how they move in certain areas of their body to further understand why they move they do in the sequence of a golf swing. In fact, a majority of swing flaws are actually caused by physical limitations as opposed to a technique issue, which is why it is important to address movement first before looking at swing videos. In the previous month’s issue, I discussed the value using the Overhead Deep Squat as an assessment tool to determine an athlete’s movement abilities. As mentioned before, a majority of the population, including some of the best athletes in the world, fail to perform this exercise correctly. This exact reason is why it’s typically the first test performed in the Titleist Performance Institute (TPI) movement screen. Not because we want the athlete to fail the test but because it tells the medical or fitness professional where to take a closer look and perform additional tests so that we can further understand why the golfer/athlete in front of us moves the way they do.
There are three common reasons why most people performing an overhead squat are unable to do so successfully.
- Upper Body Mobility Restrictions
- Ankle Mobility Restrictions
- Core Instability/Pelvic Imbalances
Now if any of the readers are anything like to the golfers we work with daily, then you are probably wondering why in the world should I care about the quality of my overhead deep squat. So let’s break down the similarity between these movements and how any dysfunction found in the overhead squat can lead to poor movement in the swing.
Upper Body Restrictions
Include lack of range of motion in the shoulders and thoracic spine. With these restrictions, the athlete performing the test will be unable to hold and maintain the club over their head and their torso will lean forward as result whenever they descend into a squatting motion, usually causing them to lose balance. In the swing, these individuals tend to have difficult time with separating their upper body with their lower half which cause many to lose posture during the backswing. This can often result in what swing coaches call a “reverse spine angle,” making consistent ball striking very challenging.
Massaging or foam rolling major muscle groups like the pectorals and lats, strengthening your mid-scapular muscles, as well as performing more trunk rotational exercises can help improve shoulder, neck, and mid back mobility. These can help create greater torso-pelvic dissociation and help one maintain better position in the backswing as well as generate more power. Who doesn’t love to outdrive their golf buddies?
Ankle Mobility Restrictions
Can be more soft tissue in nature, or lack of motion in the actual joint of the ankle. These individuals will struggle to keep their heels on the ground when performing an overhead squat. Their heels will rise off the ground when lowering into a squat, making balance difficult again. Believe it or not, this is one of the most common reasons why golfers lose posture during their swing. Most of the time this results in what swing coaches will refer to as “early extension.” This is classified as any thrusting of the lower body towards the ball before impact. If the lower body moves towards the ball, the club and arms get stuck behind the lower body which causes the golfer to hit the block right or the arms and wrist will compensate causing a hook to the left. Miss-hitting to the right as well as to the left is bad for very obvious reasons!
The calf muscles are very often the culprit here. Massaging, stretching, and foam rolling these muscles can extremely helpful to improving restrictions in the ankle joint. Lunging movements where the knee drives over the toes can also be helping improving ankle dorsiflexion. These exercises help maintain posture and balance through the downswing, minimize early-extension, leading to more consistent ball striking.
Core Instability/Pelvic Imbalances
Can be, but not limited to, limited hip range of motion, insufficient core strength, lack of hip stability or strength. Whenever these dysfunctions are present, a lack of depth or shifting is commonly seen when overhead squatting is attempted. This is perhaps the most common findings during assessments. It’s important to note how easy it is to develop muscle imbalances for golfers. The reasoning for this can be simply because the golf swing is a very one-side rotational movements that is performed repetitively. Over time this can cause over development of some muscles and under development in others. Early extension is frequently seen in these individuals as well. Muscular and joint restrictions are often found in the hips and when these golfers attempt to rotate through impact, the rotational movement is unavailable so their body will either shift forward or sway laterally, similarly seen when performing the deep squatting motion. These compensational patterns can cause inconsistencies when swinging the club.
Improving spinal, and hip joint mobility, as well improving glute and core strength are generally the most important with these individuals. Easy fixes, can again, include foam rolling the hips, glutes, quads and hamstrings as well dynamic spine and hip mobility exercises. However, seeking a medical and fitness professional can be very helpful due to the fact that there can be a lot of variability here and it will depend on the individual as far as what exercises, treatment, or other recommendations that may be more beneficial for that individual. Especially in those who experience any sort of low back or hip pain from playing golf.
By no means am I saying that if you have a great overhead squat then you should be shooting under par scores, or vice versa, all scratch golfers pass the Overhead Deep Squat test with flying colors and perfect form. It is important to understand that a great golf swing and great deep squat do require a lot of very similar physical capabilities. If you have limitations in your swing, or faulty swing habits like early-extension, then I challenge you to implement some of these strategies I’ve mentioned to help your move and feel better with the club in your hand. We help hundreds of golfers do this every year in our local practice. If you are dealing with any pain or performance issues on the course, we would love to help you. Golf is already difficult as it is, especially when your body is working against you. After all, another set of eyes, and particularly ones trained to watch the golf swing and look at movement can only help you. So make that phone call and start implementing these strategies to make sure that no physical limitations are preventing you from consistent ball striking, and shooting lower scores.