The Importance of Golf-Specific Stretching
The golf swing is a very complex, dynamic set of movements that engages many different muscle groups and joints in the body from head to toe. To be able to move through the required range of motions, those muscles, joints, and tendons must be in good shape. If they aren’t, it will show in your swing.
Typically, that reveals itself in a loss of flexibility and mobility. Muscles become tight, they shorten in length, and they gradually weaken.
Why does this occur? Well, many things can contribute to this general loss of flexibility (insufficient water intake, poor sleep, high stress levels, etc.) but the primary reason is, very simply, a lack of use. When it comes to muscle flexibility and strength, the old adage definitely applies: “If you don’t use it, you’ll lose it.” And when you don’t use them, your muscles will begin to atrophy.
A Sedentary Lifestyle is the Main Culprit
Unfortunately, there is ample evidence that people today are just not “using” their muscles and joints nearly enough. The main culprit that prevents them from exercising and increasing their activity levels? A mostly sedentary lifestyle.
There have been many studies conducted in the past several years documenting the fact that people are spending less time than ever engaged in physical activity. There are many reasons for this – the increased demands of their job, time constraints due to family commitments, more time spent in front of a computer or a TV, etc. – but the fact remains: people now spend more of their day sitting than at any time in history. In fact, for the typical person, more than half of their day is spent sitting. That’s not a good recipe for muscle and joint health.
According to the Cleveland Clinic, “if you stop using your muscles, your body won’t waste the energy it needs to take care of them and, instead, your body will start to break your muscles down, which causes them to decrease in size and strength.”
Golfers In Particular Pay a Heavy Price
And although no one is immune from these issues, golfers in particular suffer the effects in a very noticeable and frustrating way. The loss of flexibility causes the golf swing to become shorter, the player is less able to make a full and complete body rotation, balance and stability often suffer and, when combined with the reduction in strength, the result is less consistent ball striking and a loss of power and distance on their shots.
The fact of the matter is that swinging a golf club properly is an extremely athletic and demanding process. Many people simply don’t possess the flexibility or strength in their major muscle groups to effectively perform these movements. And, unfortunately, that lack of flexibility only worsens over time.
Just Fixing Your Swing Mechanics Won’t Really Help, Though
When golfers experience this gradual loss of power, many of them will conclude incorrectly that the solution is to improve their golf swing mechanics by taking lessons. But, while working on your swing mechanics is always a good idea as you seek to improve, that alone is clearly not enough. You can’t expect that better mechanics will make your body stronger or more flexible. As stated above, our golf swings are dictated by our physical capabilities.
What is required is an honest assessment of how the lack of flexibility in your muscles is affecting those swing mechanics. What you will come to realize is that, if you first set out to improve the function of your muscles, by increasing their flexibility and strength, the eventual result will be an improvement in the function of your golf swing. It never works the other way around.
Regular Golf-Specific Stretching is the Real Answer
So, the real answer to this problem is to begin a regular routine of golf-specific stretching exercises that will keep your muscles long, lean, and flexible, specifically the ones that are predominantly called upon throughout the course of a complete golf swing.
Simply stated, golfers who have strong, flexible, and functional muscles are much better equipped to effectively perform the strenuous motion of the golf swing than golfers with weak, tight muscles.
Specific Golf Stretches That You Can Use
Although the body employs dozens of muscles in the execution of the full golf swing, there are certain muscles and joints that are of particular importance. We’ve selected specific stretching exercises for you that focus on these key muscle groups. If you build your stretching routine around these exercises, and perform them on a regular basis, you will soon have a better range of motion in the key muscles and joints that are integral to the golf swing.
We are providing below descriptions and videos of these stretches so that you can perform them properly.
NOTE: You’ll see that there are multiple stretches listed that focus on the hips, glutes, and lower back. This is because these muscle groups are of such significance in the golf swing that they warrant extra attention.
Stretch 1: Side Plank Rotations
Muscle Group targeted: Core
Importance of the Core in the golf swing: A strong core helps you to transfer power as you transition from the backswing to the downswing, and then through impact. It also helps to stabilize your body and keep your lower back healthy by reducing pressure on the lower spine and pelvis during the swing.
- Start in a side plank position with your right forearm on the ground. Make sure your shoulder is directly over your elbow, stack your feet, and lift your hips up off the ground.
- Reach your left arm straight up to the ceiling and get long through your body from head to toe.
- As you exhale, reach your left arm underneath your torso. You’ll feel your obliques engage to help you rotate.
- Then, inhale and unwind your body to reach your left arm back up to the sky.
- Keep your core tight and your glutes engaged to help you maintain stability as you rotate in this side plank exercise.
Stretch 2: Glute Bridge (sometimes called a Hip Raise)
Muscle Group targeted: Gluteus Maximus (glutes)
Importance of the Glutes in the golf swing: They are the biggest muscle group that connects the lower body to the core. Strong glutes will help to stabilize the pelvis, which allows the rest of the body to assume and hold the initial set-up position. In addition, they play a stabilizing role as the golfer rotates into the backswing and into the follow-through.
- Lay down on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the ground. Your feet should be hip-width apart with your toes pointed straight ahead, and your heels should be about 6-8 inches away from your glutes. Place your arms by your sides with your palms turned up toward the ceiling.
- Squeeze your glutes and your abs as you start to lift your hips toward the ceiling.
- Raise your hips as high as you can go without arching your back. The goal is to raise your hips until your body is in a straight line from your knee to your hip and to your shoulder.
- Squeeze the glutes as tightly as you can in the top position while you hold for two seconds.
- Slowly lower the hips down to the floor, keeping tension in the glutes and abs as you lower down.
Stretch 3: Lunge with Spinal Twist
Muscle Groups targeted: Hips, Quads, Lower back
Importance of the Hips in the golf swing: The hips are one of the most important areas to focus on in the golf swing. Limited hip mobility reduces your ability to turn and rotate in the backswing and downswing. They are critically important for maintaining posture and in generating power in your swing. Proper rotation of the hips is crucial to produce rhythm and tempo in the swing, to control accuracy, and to keep your club face square.
- Start standing with your feet together. Take a big step forward with your left foot, so that you are in a staggered stance.
- Bend your left knee and drop into a lunge, keeping your right leg straight behind you with your toes on the ground, so you feel a stretch at the front of your right thigh.
- Place your right hand on the floor and twist your upper body to the left as you extend your left arm toward the ceiling. Hold for 30 seconds to 2 minutes.
- Repeat on the other side.
Stretch 4: Reclined Figure 4 (sometimes called Reclined Pigeon Pose)
Muscle Groups targeted: Hips, Glutes, Lower back
Importance of the Hips/Glutes/Lower Back in the golf swing: See explanations above in previous stretches.
- Lie on your back with your feet flat on the floor.
- Cross your right ankle over your left knee and keep your right foot flexed.
- Bring your left knee toward your chest. Reach your right hand through your legs and interlace your fingers just below the crease of your left knee.
- Using your arms, pull your left knee toward your chest, pausing when you feel a stretch in your right glute and hip.
- Hold there for at least five breaths (though you can hold the stretch for up to two minutes) then release and repeat on your left side.
Stretch 5: Standing Piriformis Stretch
Muscle Group targeted: Piriformis
Importance of the Piriformis in the golf swing: The Piriformis muscle is a very strong hip muscle, the primary function of which is the external rotation of the hip. It also helps with hip abduction and extension. In addition, it plays an important role in stabilizing your core. Limitations in the piriformis can translate into pain and strain in your lower back.
- Stand facing a table or high stool and place the outside of the lower leg up on the table with the thigh raised, knee bent, and hip rotated.
- Lean forwards slightly, using the table for balance, until you feel your piriformis stretching
- Hold for 30 seconds gradually leaning further forwards
- You can increase the stretch by bending the knee of your standing leg and doing a mini squat
Stretch 6: 90/90 Hip Stretch
Muscle Groups targeted: Hips (both Internal and External Rotation)
Importance of the Hips in the golf swing: In order to have an efficient golf swing, you need to have both internal rotation (rotating into your hip) and external rotation (rotating out of your hip). Note that, in addition to the hips themselves, this stretch targets many of the muscles surrounding the hip capsule, including your glutes, flexors, piriformis, and psoas.
- Sit on the floor and bend one leg in front of your body with your hip rotated out. Position it so your lower leg and knee are resting on the ground. Your leg should form a 90° angle, and your ankle should be neutral, so your foot is pointing straight.
- Position your other leg beside you with your hip rotated inward and your shin and ankle on the ground. Bend your knee so your leg forms a 90° angle. Your back knee should be in line with your hip, and your ankle should be neutral.
- Try to keep your back straight and resist the urge to bend to one side. Think about sitting into both hips equally and easing the lifted hip straight down toward the ground.
- Hold this stretch for up to 60 seconds, breathing deeply to relax into the position.
- Complete 2-3 reps on each side.
Stretch 7: Core Internal Oblique Dip
Muscle Groups targeted: Internal Obliques in the abdomen
Importance of the Internal Obliques in the golf swing: The internal obliques are one of the key muscles in the abdomen and are especially important in golf because they help rotate the body. These muscles are often called “same side rotators” due to their anatomy and function and, simply put, they are imperative in your golf swing.
- Lay down on your side with your elbow placed in line with your shoulder.
- Position the leg that’s on top several inches in front of your bottom leg and raise your hips upward.
- When you’re ready, dip your hips and core down toward the floor, but don’t touch the floor completely. Hold for a few seconds, and then raise your hips back toward the ceiling.
Stretch 8: Kneeling Hamstring Stretch
Muscle Group targeted: Hamstrings
Importance of the Hamstrings in the golf swing: The group of muscles referred to as the Hamstrings consist of four large muscles on the back of each upper leg. If your hamstrings aren’t loose and functional, your lower body won’t be able to stabilize and allow the upper body to coil effectively against it. Tight and weak hamstrings can also lead to back issues.
- Get into a half-kneeling position on the floor. Place your left foot forward and right knee back (both legs should be at a 90° angle).
- Sit back onto your right ankle and straighten your left leg. Bend forward maintaining a straight back until you feel a slight pull in your hamstrings. Hold for 30 seconds.
- Repeat on the other side.
- If your hamstrings are tight, you can keep a slight bend in the knee.
Stretch 9: Latissimus Dorsi Stretch
Muscle Group targeted: Latissimus Dorsi (Lats)
Importance of the Lats in the golf swing: The Latissimus Dorsi is the strongest muscle of your back. It’s also the largest back muscle, covering a major part of the middle and lower back area. The Lats range of motion is crucial for a proper golf swing. If limited, the club will be out of position at the top of the backswing, resulting in compensations throughout the rest of the swing. It is also one of the key muscles providing power to the swing.
- This exercise is done using a golf club or similar item to create the stretch
- Get in a kneeling position and place the left foot forward, shin perpendicular to the floor, with the foot flat on the ground
- Holding both ends of the golf club, extend your arms fully overhead
- Keeping the arms extended and the back straight, lean to your left side. Hold that stretch for 5-7 breaths.
- Raise your arms back overhead, and then lean down to the other side, again holding the stretch for 5-7 breaths.
- Them switch legs, placing the right foot forward, and complete the same stretches on both sides.
Stretch 10: Pectoral Stretch
Muscle Group targeted: Pectoralis Major (pecs)
Importance of the Pecs in the golf swing: The Pectoralis Major, or chest muscle, extends from the sternum to the shoulder joint on each side of the chest and helps the shoulder flex and the arm extend. It is vital for rotation and a smooth golf swing. To generate club head speed, it is required to pull the club through the downswing with substantial force. The pectoral muscles are a key component of this.
Instructions for version 1 of the pectoral stretch
- Get set-up next to a wall or doorway and place your hand up on the wall to create a 90° angle at your elbow. Your elbow should be at shoulder height and your hand should be above head height.
- Perform the stretch by leaning your body forward and maybe rotating your chest away from your hand.
- Focus on keeping your shoulder and shoulder blade in a good position by keeping it back to increase the stretch.
- Complete 8-10 reps
Instructions for version 2 of the pectoral stretch
- Instead of placing your hand on the wall as in version 1, place your hand behind your head, and place your elbow on the wall.
- Turn your body down and away from your elbow to increase the stretch.
- Complete 8-10 reps
- Bill Sullivan