Golf fitness: Functional training for golf

David McGill explains how strength and flexibility training can help with posture and in doing so aid your muscles to function correctly, with the goal of improving your golf swing.


Are you:

- Looking to improve the power in your golf swing? - One of many golfers who stress their spine when they swing their club?      - Looking for a cutting edge approach to strength and flexibility training, realigning your posture, so muscles function correctly and look toned?

When swinging your club, your body rapidly moves through three dimensions, using many groups of muscles in the upper and lower body to help generate the power needed to strike the ball.

As well as generating power, your muscles have other responsibilities, including keeping you balanced and finely altering your body position to ensure technical accuracy during the tee-off or shot.

Repetitively, using one side of your body (by being right or left handed) leaves tightness in certain muscles. Muscles work in pairs or groups, so, if one muscle tightens, another muscle will lengthen, weaken and reduce your ability to generate power when hitting the ball. Regardless of the practise you put in, your performance on the green will be affected. Neglecting this problem inevitably leads to postural misalignment, discomfort and/or injury.

To condition your body and help improve your sporting performance, many of you will seek guidance from trainers at health clubs who still encourage the use of seated, fixed resistance or floor-based exercises where muscles pass through limited ranges of movement.

If golf and many other daily activities we do involve a standing body position requiring the simultaneous functioning of groups of muscles, why are we still encouraged to do seated exercises which work a few muscles in isolation? Despite your effort (and your increased isolative muscular strength), these exercises will not contribute significantly to your improved athletic ability or performance in golf.  Still eager to do those abdominal crunches and bicep curls?

Provided your trainer can identify any muscular imbalances, selective, isolative exercises can help to strengthen a "weak link" that you may have, allowing you to restore proper muscle balance.  Our brain, which controls muscular movement, actually thinks in terms of whole body motions, not the contraction of individual muscles. Therefore, floor-based or fixed-resistance exercises are actually training the muscles, not the movements which your brain needs to know for your body to function correctly! Strengthening your muscles in isolation can actually inhibit the collective functioning of certain muscle groups, in turn causing them to contract out of sequence.  This can place your body, particularly your spine and pelvis, at risk of injury when swinging a club.

During every shot you play, your body relies upon the combined contraction of muscles in your anterior and posterior oblique system. Exercises should be used which simultaneously work all of the muscles in these systems.

People often differ in posture. Many exercise classes encourage general strengthening of muscles which, unbeknown to the instructor and class participants can overwork our already tight ‘tonic’ postural muscles which contract all day to keep us upright. This further worsens our postural misalignment and explains why some of us feel and see the benefits from exercises whilst others experience pain and discomfort (in areas such as the neck and lower back) rather than the benefits intended. Strengthening exercises aren’t the sole culprit though! Many stretching based classes encourage general stretching of muscles, failing to recognise our weakened, elongated muscles which will simply be further weakened and prohibited from functioning by doing do. Muscular stretching and strengthening should therefore be selective according to the postural condition of the individual.

A combination of muscular strength and flexibility is required in golf so opting solely for a strength workout or just a flexibility class would be inadvisable. As well as strength and speed, the power you can generate depends upon your flexibility/range of movement. Further strengthening tight muscles will therefore decrease flexibility, in turn reducing your ability to generate power in your golf swing.

The leading website from the world’s oldest golf magazine, we’re the go-to destination for amateur and keen golfers alike who are keen to up their golfing game. As well as expert course reviews, news and tips to improve your handicap our golf-focused travel content will help you pair teeing off with your travels in some of the best destinations around the globe.