5 Exercises for Pain-Free Golf
Bulletproof your body and your golf game
Do you think golfers qualify as elite athletes? Even just a few years ago, most would have answered that question with a resounding “no”. Golf hasn’t exactly been known for its high calibre athletes because as much as the skill-specificity and precision is high, other markers of fitness and athleticism have never been part of the sport. John Daly’s infamous pre-game routine of smoking 4-5 cigarettes and drinking 2-3 Diet Cokes was a prime example of this. People still love to debate whether golfers “count” as athletes, though there has been a distinct shift in the last couple of decades in how seriously pro golfers take their health and fitness.
Athleticism in Golf
In 1997, Tiger Woods burst onto the scene and quickly became known as someone who took caring for his body more seriously than his predecessors (though his multiple back surgeries have led many to wonder how things could have been managed differently). More recent competitors such as Bryson Dechambeau have taken health a step further by constantly searching for ways to get both stronger and more mobile, not only in the name of producing power in shots, but in being able to do so for as many years as possible.
While the everyday golfer is unlikely to reach Dechambeau’s 377-yard drives (elite-level success in golf typically requires early specialization and a heck of a lot of reps over time), if you’re looking to add some yardage to your shots while also improving your back health and ability to reach down to grab your tee, then you’ll benefit from these top 5 exercises for golf:
1. Any Deadlift Variation
Deadlift = Hip Hinge = How You Address the Ball
A deadlift – otherwise known as a hip hinge- is a staple for most strength exercise programs. As a golfer, it’s an incredible tool for not only building strength in your hamstrings and glutes, but for developing endurance in your trunk as well. To deadlift properly, you’ll need to create sufficient tension throughout the upper body to maintain a “neutral” spine from start to finish as your legs and hips drive the motion. Done effectively, your legs and hips transfer power while your trunk (read: your whole core) learns to express endurance.
The pattern itself will contribute to:
- The effective hip hinge required to properly address the ball
- Strength gains that translate directly into drive distance
- Injury prevention for low back and hips alike
Further to that last point: Technique here is vital. Many golfers will use their backs for everything, rather than coordinating properly with their hips, leading to lower back & nerve pain, SI joint issues, and even ultimately to a loss in the ability to play. A quality hinge pattern ensures that you’re extending and stabilizing in a way that spares your lower back.
2. Kettlebell Swing
Kettlebell Swing = Power
Think of this as building on your deadlift pattern but with a ballistic component (read: power). There are many versions of the Kettlebell Swing, but for carryover to golf and its required power output, the hardstyle (Russian) swing serves golfers very well. During this movement you’re using a tension-relaxation cycle that is perfect for learning to make your body rock solid at point of impact with the ball.
The two main phases of the kettlebell swing translate to the golf swing because:
- Takeaway and follow through require the body to be relaxed, not tense.
- When club head meets the ball, the body should turn to steel. Maximal tension at impact = bombs.
- The effective transfer of power from lower to upper body requires hip-driven (vs low back driven) movement.
3. Get Up
Get Up = Coordination, Mobility & Strength
A Get Up, with or without weight, is an expression of mobility and strength through a highly coordinated movement. If you’ve swung a golf club, you know that while it might look simple, the amount of coordination it takes is significant.
Much like the deadlift, the Get Up makes you strong, but it is also an incredible challenge through multiple planes of motion. You get better shoulder, trunk, and hip stability by exposing all of those joints to multiple ranges throughout the sequence. This contributes to your golf game because:
- Golf doesn’t take place in just one plane of motion, and owning strength through multiple ranges makes you more competent in the sport.
- The capacity to both resist and assist rotation in a swing is addressed in a single exercise.
- Strength in rotation (aka transverse plane movement, which for golfers is often overlooked) is vital to both injury prevention and, of course, outdriving your friends.
4. Single-leg Deadlift
Single-leg Deadlift = Stability
We’ve talked about strength, power, and coordination, but what about balance? Balance contributes to the success of each swing as we start with equally weighted feet before shifting to the back foot during takeaway and subsequently to the front foot during the follow through. There is nothing more embarrassing than falling out of your swing to see the ball fly out of bounds.
Single-leg deadlifts have similar benefits to the deadlift, in addition to:
- Addressing right-to-left discrepancies as it’s a unilateral (one side at a time) exercise.
- Helping you create a stronger connection from the foot to the hip, which can improve power transfer from lower to upper body.
- Improving proprioception, as it helps you learn where your weight truly is on each foot.
- Adding variability to your hinge pattern, leading to hips that have more movement options at their disposal!
Being stable throughout your swing means more consistency, which means more strokes gained.
5. Animal Flow Side Kickthrough
Side Kickthroughs = Rotational Power
A Side Kickthrough from Animal Flow is an excellent movement to stimulate the rotation of the actual golf swing. This movement teaches you how to control rotation as well as create a stretch reflex similar to your takeaway. Once learned, it can also be done with a Jumping transfer (Jumping Side Kickthrough) to further hone that connection and power.
A Jumping Side Kickthrough teaches you fast controlled rotation as well as:
- Giving your shoulders much needed closed-chain work; improving stability and communication to the rest of your body.
- Developing more reflexive (vs rigid) core strength that’s protective of the back
- Teaching foot awareness, strength and a stronger connection up to the hip due to its precise landing and take-off technique.
The ability to generate fast controlled rotation will carry over to swing speed and ensure that your body reflexively knows what to do. Increased swing speed means stepping up to a 150-yard Par 3 twirling a 9-iron while your buddies are muscling out their 7s!
Improving your golf game isn’t just about hitting thousands of balls at the range. It also means looking outside of the game to take care of your body and train the various aspects of each phase of the swing. Those who take the time to care for their joints, counterbalance the demands of repetitive swings, and hone stronger body connections are the ones who make each stroke at the range count. As a golfer, adding in an effective exercise program will have a meaningful impact on your game (and the rest of your life). If you’re not looking outside the game to improve your handicap, don’t be surprised by the strokes adding up during your rounds.
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