While the professionals may be able to make a golf swing look effortless, the body’s physiological response during a well-executed golf swing is a complex network of muscular and skeletal responses working in fluid cooperation. An efficient golf swing requires a combination of mobility, stability, flexibility, and coordination that are all rooted in the conditioning and functionality of the muscles and joints.
What makes a good golf swing?
If you are working on your golf game, you have probably found yourself watching online videos of pro golfers in action or reading tips about how to get a better swing in athletic magazines.
The idea is that you will imitate the motions that you see and therefore improve your swing. However, this imitation can ignore the fact that those professionals have been conditioned to get their bodies into those positions through excellent joint and muscle health, training and practice.
As Todd Marsh Fitness explains, there are four elements to a successful golf swing, all of which require practice and conditioning for optimal results:
- Mobility — This refers to how well a joint moves and the range of motion for that particular joint.
- Stability — This refers to the ability to hold a joint in position through the range of motion necessary for the movement.
- Flexibility — Often used synonymously with mobility, flexibility is different. Mobility refers to the range of motion in joints, but flexibility is about the ability for a muscle to lengthen and stretch.
- Balance — This is the body’s ability to hold an overall position without sway. It requires a combination of joints and muscles to achieve.
While watching videos and reading articles full of tips can certainly help you improve your golf swing, neither is going to make changes to your physiological conditioning.
To get your body into a condition where effective imitation of those moves is possible, you will need to address the individual joints and muscles involved in the process through exercise and training. In other word, your joint muscle health condition is important.
The risks of practicing movements without excellent joint muscle conditioning are high. Several major joints are involved in a golf swing, and injury can occur at any one of these sites, making not only golf but daily movement painful.
What joints and muscles are involved in a golf swing?
A golf swing encompasses a full-body movement. In the lower body, the ankle, knees, and hips are all engaged in the action. In the middle, the thoracic spine allows for the bend necessary to swing powerfully. The upper body involves the upper cervical spine, the shoulder, and the wrist.
Logically, if there are many joints involved in a golf swing, you will need to use several muscles as well. An article in the British Journal of Sports Medicine sought to identify these muscles and found that a well-executed swing involves:
- Trapezius (extending up to your neck and into your upper back)
- Levator scapulae (at the back and side of the neck)
- Supraspinatus (connecting your arm and shoulder)
- Rhomboids (in the upper back)
- Erector spinae (running along the vertebral column)
- Adductor magnus (in the middle thigh)
- Semimembranosus (the middle muscles of the hamstrings)
What this means is that optimal conditioning for golf requires a holistic, full-body approach that focuses on individual joint and muscle health conditioning as well as exercises that combine movement.
Modern habits and work conditions are not conducive to joint and muscle health. Most of us spend the majority of our day sitting whether it is in front of the television or computer, at our desks in the office, or in a car during long commutes. All of this sitting has led to what is collectively and casually known as “Sitting Disease,” a combination of negative impacts. Many of these issues directly impact the joints and muscles listed above and affect our overall health.
The impact to joints is extensive. The cervical spine is particularly vulnerable to the effects of sitting at a desk. Craning our necks to talk on the phone or stare at a computer screen can lead to a severe (and sometimes permanent) imbalance. The thoracic spine is also at risk.
Sitting in one place for too long can lead to immobility when collagen hardens around ligaments and tendons. There is also an increased risk of herniated lumbar disks, a condition where the spine is pulled forward by a misplaced abdominal muscle.The hip flexor muscles can become shortened, making mobility in the hips another issue for prolonged sitting.
Sitting too often also limits flexibility through impacting muscles. Abdominal muscles can become weakened from too much sitting, and muscles in the legs (mainly the glutes) can also decline with inactivity.
How do joints work together?
The body has a pattern that alternates between mobility and stability. There are sets of joints that each perform a separate function, one focused on stability, the other on mobility. For instance, in the leg, the knee is a stable joint while the hip is a mobile joint.
Similarly, the shoulder is a mobile joint while the elbow is a stable one. Stable joints bend in only one direction while mobile joints flex in multiple directions.
The relationship between these paired joints is reciprocal. If the mobility is not present in a particular joint, its paired stable joint will have to twist or bend in a way that it usually would not so that it can address this issue. The result is pain, inflammation, and misalignment.
What does this mean for training and conditioning?
You can use this knowledge of how your body works to both improve your golf swing and overall health condition, and to break out of sedentary habits that might be having negative impacts on your overall flexibility, mobility, and stability.
The best way to determine a plan of action and exercises for your particular needs is to undergo a full health assessment that will evaluate your strengths and weaknesses. A health evaluation will look for disruptions to your pattern of mobility and stability and assign particular exercises to help stabilize and mobilize the joints that need work.
The next time that you find yourself swinging a golf club, you should take a moment to consider all of the parts of your body that have to work together to make that move possible. It is a truly majestic and impressive display of the physiological range of the human body.