thoracic spine

Internal Program Review: Enhancing Power Transfer in a Collegiate Golfer

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Tiger Woods reportedly has a bench press 1RM of somewhere around 300 lbs. (up to 350 lbs. by some estimates) and evidently Rory McIlroy is a known gym rat. Regardless of these reports, the facts are in regarding the the efficacy of strength training in pursuit of a better golf game–strength training works.

Strength Training for Golfers.jpegLike most groups of athletes, golfers do however need to realize that their sport doesn’t require ‘sport-specific’ training in the weight room as much as it requires ‘individual specific’ training. This fact should be painfully obvious when you realize that both Tiger Woods and John Daly occupy nearly the same space. In all, golfers should aim for more dynamic thoracic spine arthrokinematics, enhanced power development at the hip, and increased power transfer through the trunk. These performance goals may seem self-evident, but are common amongst most athletic domains, not just golf.

Because of these commonalities with any other sporting domain, what we’re looking to do is enhance the overall athletic capacities of our golfer, while allowing sport-specific training to be done on the driving range, putting green, etc… The biggest differences in training won’t come from the fact that an individual is looking to pursue one sport, but from their individual training history, injury history, and assessment outcomes (including limb length, muscle imbalances, and spinal abnormalities).

Below are some segments from a Day 1 of a program I’ve designed for a collegiate golfer. Ultimately this is a great example of what we’re trying to do to maximize overall athleticism while working specifically on developing power, power transfer, and thoracic spine mobility. Even without having placed this athlete in front of a high-speed camera, I can guarantee we’ve improved the maximal output of this athlete’s drive in the short time he’s been working with us.

1. Overhead Pressing Facilitates A Better Golf Swing

Strength Training for Golfers 1

This is a perfect example of something we pride ourselves on at Ruthless Performance,  which is incorporating something that seems as though its has no bearing on the sport-specific demands of a particular sport/athlete, but is actually extraordinarily utilitarian.

In the case of our Day 1 with this athlete, our ‘A1’ is a Half-Kneeling Fat Gripz Dumbbell Overhead Press. This is a long name, but is only so because we have this athlete on a very specific overhead press. The active Half-Kneeling position is useful for inhibiting the rectus femoris. This facilitates more glute activation in later sets, separates the hips, and minimizes any kind of momentum.

In the case of a golfer one of our goals is indeed power transfer, but in the case of this, we’re trying to minimize momentum from the lower body as a means of fostering recruitment of the musculature of the upper back. By strengthening the upper back, we’re also enhancing the ability of the scapulae to move with more precision and force around the thoracic spine–this is step 1 of ensuring a better golf swing, from a kinesiological perspective.

 

2. Heavy Carries Promote Rotator Cuff Stability

Loaded carries should be a mainstay of most strength & conditioning programs. In this case we’ve chosen the classic farmer’s carry for a few reasons. Chiefly because of the athlete’s limited overhead range of motion.

Overhead ROM can be limited for a handful of reasons, in many cases it can be chronically tight lats and pecs. Here, however, the cause seems to stem from limitation to the thoracic spine. Since we already have the athlete completing an overhead exercise in his ‘A’ sets, I did not think it was wise to double down with overhead work on his primary AND secondary sets.

Strength Training for Golfers 2

I chose to add the overhead work as his ‘A1’ because getting in this position more comfortably is one of our top priorities. The ‘B1’ actually helps us in this regard by causing some very serious cuff activation that we’ll utilize later in the workout. Even though the farmers carry can internally rotate the shoulders, we can mitigate this with cueing and frequent correction.

As it relates to golf, we’re focusing on the cuff because of its interplay with the spine. A weak rotator cuff is a potential site for energy loss in the swing and needs to be addressed accordingly.

 

3. Conditioning Can Reinforce Main Program Objectives

If there’s anywhere we come dangerously close to what would be traditionally viewed aJosh Zelinsky - IPRs ‘sport-specific’, it’s here. These two exercises were combined as a finisher for the general purpose of cardiorespiratory endurance (this is strength and conditioning, after all…). But these two exercises are pretty well suited for building a better golfer as the rotary component of the Rotational Overhead Med Ball Slam helps facilitate power transfer outside of the sagittal plane while the Low Handle Prowler Push yields glute development.

I’ll be using exercise pairing with more frequency moving forward. The Rotational Overhead Med Ball Slams provide movement at the shoulder with a semi-rigid trunk and unloaded hip hinge action. The prowler keeps those arms stationary while loading the legs in a range of motion where they are otherwise understimulated.

Many rightfully view balance in terms of anterior-posterior, but rarely do people realize that balance of stimulation within a joint’s potential range of motion is an important form of balance as well. The deep hip musculature in particular is rarely stimulated sufficiently at these end ranges. Part of the reason why the low-handle is so strenuous is why it is so effective; the low-handle more fully stimulates the hips. And in a sport like golf, maximizing action at the hips is of utmost importance.

 

Wrap-Up

Training for golf has some unusual demands as many of its participants are white-collar desk jockeys.  This fact, mixed with the vast requirements of the spine, shoulders, and hips call for tremendous amounts of work in the gym that most of these athletes are not getting. Time in the gym for golfers should rely on enhancing thoracic spine mobility in the transverse plane, enhancing glute recruitment, and strengthening the shoulders.

Golfing more is obviously the best way to get better at golfing, but even practice has its limitations; once you’ve honed in on your swing, the only other means of getting better is adding more force.

Takeaways from the Ruthless Performance Mobility & Stability Workshop at Bloomsburg University

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Visiting my alma mater for workshops and lectures is something I look forward to. I enjoy seeing the growth of the institution, the new faces, etc. This was even more so the case this past week when I presented on the concepts of mobility and stability to the Bloomsburg University Strength & Fitness Club. As a former president of the club, it was rewarding to see that the club has continued to find success and a segment of the student body interested in such high-level concepts in kinesiology and human performance.

The workshop began with a very typical introduction to the joint-by-joint approach. Since most anyone who’s listened to me talk at-length have heard about this, I’ll save this concept for its own post some other time. Because this wasn’t classroom based, we quickly moved into a handful of actionable drills and techniques that these students could swiftly employ into their own workout programming.

As long as an hour can seem, it flies by when you’re trying to demonstrate, correct, and generally facilitate these cutting-edge and nuanced exercises in a group setting; but, there were definitely some stand-out moments and takeaways worth talking about further here.

College-Students are Predisposed to Flexion-Based Abnormalities

Long hours locked into flexion in the classroom, library, or lab are requisite for scholarly success; recreating in these positions is not. Rather than spend time outside of the classroom sitting even more in front of the TV, strength training or club sports can offer an opportunity to enhance spinal mechanics as well as overall cognition and more.

To take this a step further, students can spend their time more efficiently during a warm-up for a workout by focusing on the specific areas of the spine and musculature that are most prone to poor mechanics and resting tone. A keen observer to the workshop may notice we didn’t spend much time going over drills that accentuate flexion; this is largely by design.

One all-too-common observation is the over emphasis of the pecs and lats in most strength training programs. With a population prone to long bouts of sitting (flexion), the internal rotation caused by lat and pec dominance can exacerbate some associated musculoskeletal injuries. Reducing volume on the lats and pecs, while increasing the volume of work done by the traps can enhance performance and simultaneously mitigate spinal issues.

Though the real point we covered in-depth regarding all of this was about thoracic spine mobilization. The more the thoracic spine can move unrestricted through the sagittal and transverse planes, the more likely the surrounding musculature can more efficiently function.

Ensuring Soft-Tissue Quality Requires Time Not Equipment

The restrictions on soft-tissue work are usually self-imposed. Going into this event, I was under the impression that our venue would be an empty basketball court, but because of how accessible these drills and exercises are, this wouldn’t have been a problem at all.

Most of the mobility drills and stretches that we demonstrated required little to no equipment and can be manipulated with bodyweight alone to yield an effective response and positive adaptation. For the ankle, drills like the ankle-wall drill, myofascial release with a lacrosse ball, or dorsiflexed ankle drill require next to nothing to complete. Further up the kinetic chain, we can use the couch stretch, bretzel, or saddle stretch for the quads. The hips can be mobilized with the cossack squat, half-kneeling drill, or the posterior hip stretch. And on up the chain…

Though that is nowhere near a definitive list, the larger point is that equipment should not be a constraint; the primary reason that people have insufficient movement quality is due to a lack of time invested on a regular basis to ensure continued improvements to flexibility and posture.

 

Where was the Foam Rolling?

I have nothing against foam rolling—in fact, I advocate for foam rolling and actively add some variations to the majority of our corrective exercise protocols. When foam rolling is added, it is usually in short bursts. 15-20 seconds per side on areas that aren’t an issue or an approaching problem. This time expands only slightly for areas that are problems, from 30 up to 60 seconds on problem areas. I can’t give a detailed account of what areas may be problems due to the individualized nature of these protocols, but the calves, pecs, and traps tend to be a focal point.

When we do advocate for foam rolling, we do so in these short bouts because we’ve found greater adherence when the demands are so limited.

Foam rolling didn’t make the cut for the mobility workshop because there are greater uses of time, particularly when we’re trying to get a new population to engage in movement and tissue quality initiatives. Foam rolling may provide some relief and facilitate some long-term improvements in these areas but mobility drills are a more proactive approach than SMR/ foam rolling as foam rolling mainly addresses issues once they’ve already become an issue.

 

Nutrition Workshop Coming Soon

I’ll be presenting at Bloomsburg University once again in just under two weeks. The topic will be cutting-edge and nontraditional dietary modalities for high performance. The event is open to all BU students and is hosted by the BU Strength & Fitness Club. For more information and event details, contact the BU Strength & Fitness Club directly at BUStrengthAndFitness@gmail.com.