Exam Room – Testing Flexibility

Exam Room – Testing Flexibility

There is no doubt that the amount of preparation taking place off the golf course has drastically changed over the last twenty years. The likelihood of a golfer spending time in a gym setting, working with personal trainers, or medical professionals was rare, and the term “golf fitness” was an unknown subject.  In today’s world, the golf fitness industry has taken off and a complete 180 has taken place, in that a majority of golfers who play at a professional level have a team of trainers, medical providers, and others who assist them in addressing the physical elements of their golf game. The popularity of this concept sparked the existence of TPI (Titleist Performance Institute), which quickly became the gold standard in the golf fitness world.  The fact that 12 of the last 16 major winners have a TPI member on their team, should give you an idea of how crucial investing in the physical component of golf should be. 

One giant addition that TPI has provided for swing coaches and medical and fitness professionals alike is the movement assessment. This has helped bridge the gap between these professions and allow communication amongst all three to create a team effort in helping a golfer accomplish what they need to physically be healthy and perform at a higher level. A previous article written by another one of our team members discussed the importance of this assessment and how it can reduce risk of injury and increase performance. The value of an assessment for every golfer cannot be stressed enough. However, what may be even more valuable is the information gained from that assessment and how that info can be translated into a successful plan including workouts, drills on the range, and other interventions leading to lower scores. 

If you aren’t sold yet on assessment, let’s break it down and talk about the most valuable screening that provides the most information about a golfer.  That test is hands down the Overhead Deep Squat Test.  The Overhead Deep Squat Test provides a ton of information about a particular golfer’s mobility he or she currently has.  The test looks at bilateral symmetrical movement of the hips, knees, and ankles; and when adding a club or dowel, one can also look at thoracic spine and shoulder mobility as well.   The test also can be telling of a particular athlete’s core/pelvic stability and mobility, as well as calf and quadricep flexibility. A significant amount of mobility in the aforementioned areas are vital to swinging the golf club in an efficient and safe manner.  But before we talk about how any dysfunction in these regions of the body can lead to faulty swing patterns, let’s discuss how to perform the test itself.  

1. Start by standing shoulder width apart in an open space,  with your toes facing forward.

2. Next grip any club with your arms at shoulder width, and hold the club directly over your head.

3. Lastly, squat down as deep and low as possible while holding the club as high as you can,  keeping the club directly over your head and feet.

It should be prefaced that more than 9/10 golfers fail this test to some degree.  This includes players from all different ages and levels from youth to seniors, and amateurs to professionals.  A countless number of PGA tour players fail this very test every off-season in our facility. The architecture of everyone’s body is very different and there are numerous ways for the body to perform this movement to some degree using different movement patterns.  It is known that high level athletes just happen to be the best at compensating movement patterns.  It should also be stated that if there is any pain performing the test, the heels rise when squatting, the club falls forward, or the athlete loses balance than the test is considered “failed” or non passing.  This would indicate that this particular athlete has dysfunction in one of the areas mentioned earlier in the article.   

The criteria for a rare “pass” or perfect Overhead Deep Squat Test includes:

• The femur (thigh) must be parallel with the ground (the thigh crease is even or below the knee crease at the bottom of the squat).

• The angle of the torso and the tibia (shin) should similar or the same.

• The knees should track over the toes and the toes should be facing forward and not flaring out.

• There is a vertical path that can be drawn from the club to the foot.

As mentioned earlier this test is rarely ever performed perfectly and requires a tremendous amount of symmetry and mobility of multiple regions of the body. If an athlete doesn’t meet all of the requirements listed above, he or she performs the test again except this time without holding the club overhead.  This we will call the Deep Squat Test. If the athlete can perform the deep squat, then this would indicate the problem area or dysfunction lies in the thoracic spine (mid-back) or shoulders and notifies  medical professionals to start an examination by looking here.  If the athlete is still not able to perform the deep squat with adequate form, this would rule out any upper body dysfunction and be more indicative of a core or an ankle mobility insufficiency.  

From here, the tester can check the mobility of the ankle joint and calf mobility to distinguish the two.  The tester gets into a half kneeling lunge position and sees how far his or her knee can travel over the toes.  There is some variability here but on average they should be able to get the knee approximately 4 inches over the toes. If one or both of the knees can not travel 4 inches past the toes then this is considered an ankle/calf mobility dysfunction.  If the athlete meets the 4 inch requirement on both sides, but cannot perform the deep squat, it is indicative of a core/pelvic stability or mobility issue and the ankles can be ruled out. 

So how do you take this information from the Overhead Deep Squat Test and apply it to the golf swing? It has been heavily researched and strong correlations have been recognized between those who are unable to keep the heels down during the Deep Squat Test and those who have an early extension swing pattern. “Early extenders” would classify one who move their hips  forwards towards the ball and/or stands up or extends the upper body in the downswing.  These individuals typically have calf/ankle mobility restrictions or pelvic/core instability. Additionally, those who successfully perform the Deep Squat Test but are unable to perform an adequate Overhead Deep Squat Test, commonly struggle to maintain posture during the backswing. These golfers typically have mobility restrictions in their upper to mid back (thoracic spine) and shoulder muscles, and most commonly the latissimus dorsi or “lats.”

If you are golfer looking for valuable information about your own body, look no further than the Overhead Deep Squat test. Perhaps you’ve just performed this test yourself after reading this article, or you’ve had an assessment from a medical, fitness, or golf professional.  The next step is to take the knowledge gained from this incredibly valuable test and use it to address your dysfunctions found within it, either personally, or by seeking the right professional to help you along the way. Don’t be surprised if you finally understand why you cannot physically perform what your swing coach is asking you to do, or that nagging back or shoulder pain goes away. The knowledge the Overhead Deep Squat Test is invaluable.  And that new knowledge gained might just be what takes your game to the next level.