I would ask anyone who is reading this article, regardless of age, to please have an open mind to what I’m about to teach you. It could literally add years to your golfing life, as well as help you improve your game to degrees you never thought possible.
As a physical therapist, one of the most common excuses people give for their pain is “I’m just getting old and stiff.”
And believe me when I say, I understand.
I understand that as we age, we no longer ‘bounce back’ the way we did when we were younger. Recovery is slow, pain lasts longer, and it seems only natural that there should be a steady decline in our athletic abilities as we age. (not to mention some of your doctors are telling you that your age is causing your pain and/or stiffness)
I’m not here to argue with you that age doesn’t matter at all, that would be foolish, and inaccurate. But what I will argue with you is that it doesn’t matter as much as people think.
Let me pose a scenario for you:
Say you walk up to a pull up bar, jump up, and hang there. You have superhuman strength, and Forest Gump money, so you’ve got time to hang there for 3 years.
At the end of those 3 years, you let go and drop down to the ground, but uh oh! your arms are stuck overhead!!!
For the next few weeks, people are constantly high fiving you while you walk down the street. Others assume you’re a referee practicing his field goal pose, yelling “IT’S GOOD” when they see you.
It’s a nightmare! You look like a Greek God carved from marble (I mean c’mon you hung from a tree for 3 years) but the costs FAR outweigh the benefits.
Along with the pain on your palms from merciless high-fiving, your shoulders, back, and neck feel incredibly stiff and you can’t seem to move them!
So what, did your arms get that way because you aged 3 years? Of course not!
Your body adapts to the loads placed upon it.
In other words, we look like what we do.
“Holy crap Dr. T – get to your point!”
Here it is –
we sit entirely too much, which essentially stiffens us into a rounded forward position, and it’s making us worse at golf…
So I would pose another question to you:
Did you get old and then stiff, or did you get stiff and then old?
Cross Pelvic Syndrome is a diagnosis of sorts that was coined by Dr. Vladimir Janda, where he very effectively explains the mechanism for much of our modern day musculoskeletal problems.1
In it, he explains that due to our increasingly sedentary lives, likely involving LOTS of sitting, our bodies have adapted to the seated position which puts us at a biomechanical disadvantage when we try to express ourselves athletically.
Quickly, here are the effects.
Due to prolonged sitting, the hip flexors, hamstrings, and low back muscles tighten, while your abdominals and glutes basically fall to sleep.
To move appropriately, especially in athletics, it is critical for your glutes and abdominals to have endurance and function efficiently.
A quick test:
The single leg bridge is a wonderful drill, but it’s also an assessment we will use because it’s a fantastic indicator for how well your glutes and abdominals are working together.
This video will show you some of the details on the movement. If you’re feeling up to it, feel free to try it out (no pain allowed – if you feel pain you need to stop immediately).
Did you do it?
Your hamstrings cramped up didn’t they….
That’s not weak hamstrings, quite the opposite in fact, it’s over-worked hamstrings. What that immediately tells me is your hamstrings are responsible for a lot of your hip extension, a movement we use for squatting, walking, sitting/standing, and on the golf course it’s incredibly important for many aspects of the swing.
A ton of swing faults can be easily linked to a lack of coordination of your glutes/abdominals.
If your hamstrings didn’t cramp then good, this information will still be beneficial to you, but you’re ahead of most! You have to understand that I’m able to make the prediction that they cramped based on probability, and this is a HIGH PROBABILITY result of the single leg bridge because of the issues consistent with cross-pelvic syndrome.
On top of adding inexplicable and frustrating strokes to your scorecard, an inability to coordinate or even use the glutes and abdominals often leads to pain.
A non-negotiable tenant of athletic movement is proximal stiffness (i.e., core stability).
Imagine trying to fire a cannon off of a canoe in the middle of a lake – hope you know how to swim!
This is what you’re trying to do if you want to swing a golf club without core stiffness.
From a stiff core, your body can generate high amounts of torque through the arms and legs, allowing you to explode through the ball.
For those of you saying “you shouldn’t be swinging as hard as you can” – I agree.
If you don’t know what I’m talking about, the next time you’re on the range, try to hit the ball as hard as you can. But let me save you some time, it won’t go straight, and it won’t go far.
Most experienced golfers know this, and can tell you that the best and longest shots never come from swinging out of your shoes.
This is where “pulsing stiffness” comes into play. As a matter of fact, as it relates to the golf swing, relaxing your extremities is every bit as important as stiffening. This subject is beyond the scope of this article, but I will be writing one and placing it in the blog soon so check that out if you want to know more.
Without a stiff core, our body starts to lose mobility.
Our arms and legs don’t feel comfortable moving through their fully available range of motion because they don’t believe they can safely achieve their primary goal – move while protecting the joints.
So our body simply decides it won’t use it’s full range of motion in these joints, and our problems begin.
For some of us, the solution is as simple as just adding a little core stiffness (before you start doing crunches read the rest of this). We immediately have our range of motion restored, and as a result, some of our pain goes away.
For others, who have been sitting on their issues for a while hoping it would go away on its own, it may take some time to get the body back to full range of motion.
Name a swing fault, it can easily be the result of the lack of stability and mobility consistent with cross pelvic syndrome.
I love my golfing crowd. They always know when something weird is going on with their body. Know why? Because the ball isn’t doing what it used to anymore.
“Dr. Tyler – I’ve been slicing for the last 2 weeks, something’s up!”
“Dr. Tyler – I’ve added 8 to my handicap this past month, something’s up!”
“Dr. Tyler – my elbow’s been bugging me, it’s no big deal but I’ll be damned if I let this thing get to the point where it messes up my swing!”
Those are all very real texts I’ve gotten from patients, and I frickin’ love it!
My golfers don’t mess around!
They know that their movement affects their swing as much as anything else, and they don’t want it to get to a point where their game is negatively affected.
So how do we fix it?
A well rounded exercise routine that establishes a strong glute/abdominal connection is a start, and I’ll put a link at the bottom of this article for some of my favorites –
But be warned, exercises alone won’t put a dent in the issue if you don’t follow these instructions:
You need to get up and move several times per day.
I’m not so unrealistic to think that every 30 minutes, you’re going to stand up and take a 10 minute walk, but there are things you can do. As a plus, at the time of this writing, most people are working from home, which means you have more options!
Take your laptop to the kitchen counter and work from there while standing. Stack it on some books if you’re tall like me. Get in a squat position and work on your laptop for 10 minutes or so. Work from your knees, or only one knee for a half kneeling position. Get creative with it!
The only rule is you shouldn’t feel pain.
Will this be a weird adjustment – yep. Will you struggle with some of these positions – absolutely. Will you look ridiculous when your significant other walks into the room – you betcha!
But you know what, my golfers that start doing this notice IMMEDIATE benefits to their movement, and in their golf game when they start following this advice. They feel looser, stronger, more balanced and stable, and most importantly…less pain!
Don’t fall victim to not doing something just because you don’t like the answer.
I have family members that get really frustrated with me when I suggest they do this, because they think “wait no, you’re a PT, just give me a list of exercises I can do.”
That’s like treating a car engine like garbage, putting the worst sludge you can buy for cheap into the tank for years, and then expecting it to work better just because you put the “expensive oil” in it this time.
It doesn’t work that way!
Put differently, if you saw some product that guaranteed to take 20 strokes off your golf scorecard by the weekend, you might raise an eyebrow, you might even click to learn more, but deep down you know that improvement doesn’t come to the person who spends the most money on their golf game,
it comes from consistent practice of good golf
If you’re serious about continuing to play efficient, pain free golf, this is your answer. Moving on a regular basis will remind your abdominals and glutes how to work efficiently and together. The better you get, the more endurance you will gain, and the more “holy crap did you see how far that went”s you’ll get on the tee box.
P.S. I will be very disappointed (in myself for not making myself perfectly clear) if you come away from this thinking “Looks like I need to do more single leg bridges!” I’ve done a lot of talks with gyms/trainers/golf pros, and any time I hear something along the lines of “we’ve been doing that cool drill you showed us,” I get a sinking feeling in my stomach because I clearly did not do my job. So let me be clear:
The Single Leg Bridge is an assessment tool. Under the right guidance, we can use it as an exercise, but only after you’ve learned why you’re doing that drill and what you should feel. So please, don’t go home and fire off 3 sets of 10 single leg bridges because you saw it in this video.
- McGill, Stuart. Normal and Injury Mechanics of the Lumbar Spine. In: McGill, Stuart. Low Back Disorders: Evidence-Based Prevention and Rehabilitation. 3rd ed. Backfitpro; 2016.
Here are some of my preferred warm-ups to engage the glutes/abdominals before a round of golf: