Golf Stretches and Flexibility Exercises
Golf stretching exercises to improve your game and do away with golf injuries for good.
by Brad Walker | First Published March 27, 2007 | Updated August 14, 2017
The game of golf originated in Scotland. Avid players of the sport were already practicing their swings in the 15th century or even earlier. Perhaps, the idea started when Scottish shepherds tending sheep used their crooked herding sticks to tap rounded stones into rabbit holes to pass their time.
Around 1603, Scottish Baron James VI (who was soon to assume the English throne) brought the game to Britain. The game was played enthusiastically but it was played on rough terrain without greens. The first golfing club named the “Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers” was formed in 1744 and the first rules of the game were formalized. An annual competition also opened to all golfers in Great Britain and Ireland.
In the late 1800’s, golfing gained popularity in the U.S. and courses like Shinnecock Hills on Long Island drew serious golfers. By the turn of the century, North America had over 1,000 golf clubs. Techniques of golf club making and golf ball manufacture have continuously evolved along with other fine points of the game.
The golf swing has four components: the back swing, downswing, ball strike and follow-through. The back swing stretches the muscles in preparation for the powerful forward release, and is similar to the wind-up in baseball. The forward swing segment of the drive releases the full power of the swing and determines the distance the ball is hit. The follow-through completes the proper swing. The forward portion of the swing incorporates 22 separate muscles. Conditioning of these muscles permits better control and allows the player to increase the speed of the golf head.
Muscle groups involved in the golf swing include:
- Core muscles used in generating torque and increasing club head speed
- Hamstring muscles essential to maintaining proper posture and stabilizing the lower back
- Quadriceps used in flexing the knees
- Upper back muscles assisting in rotation during the back swing and maintaining an erect spine
- Shoulder muscles (particularly, the rotator cuffs), used to position the upper body and generate speed
- Forearm muscles for controlling the golf club and supporting the wrists
- Muscles of the wrists and fingers
Most Common Golf Injuries
The golf swing requires a combination of shoulder movement through a wide range of motion at high speed, and strong rotation of the trunk. Both movements produce risk of injury, as do other aspects of the game. A variety of golfing injuries fall into two broad categories, cumulative (usually the result of overuse) and acute or traumatic injuries.
Back injuries are common in golf and generally involve muscle or ligament strains. Such injuries tend to be self-healing within a few weeks, provided proper rest and treatment with nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications and common analgesics are provided.
Back injuries include:
- Muscle strains – in which muscles, particularly in the lower back are either painfully overstretched or in some cases, torn.
- Backaches – due to overuse and stress.
- Herniated disks – in which the soft core within a vertebral disk is forced through the fibrous outer layer of the vertebrae. These more severe injuries may require serious medical attention.
Shoulder injuries include:
- Shoulder Tendinitis, Bursitis, and Impingement Syndrome – These conditions are similar and result from inflammation, irritation and swelling of the rotator cuff and bursa. As a result, these structures may be pinched between the head of the humerus and acromion, causing pain.
- Torn Rotator Cuff – a common traumatic injury, characterized by aching and weakness in the shoulder when the arm is lifted overhead.
- Rotator Cuff Tendinitis – Irritation, swelling and inflammation of the tendons of the shoulder.
Elbow injuries include:
- Golfer’s Elbow (Medial Epicondylitis), Elbow Bursitis and Tennis Elbow (Lateral Epicondylitis) – each resulting from repetitive stress to muscles of the arm and forearm.
Wrist and hand injuries include:
- Carpal Tunnel Syndrome – a painful, repetitive stress disorder affecting nerves of the hands.
- Trigger Finger – caused by pressure or inhibition on the flexor tendon sheath which encases the tendon. The condition causes the finger to lock up.
- Fracture of the hamate – a small bone on the outside of the wrist, sometimes fractured during the golf swing.
- DeQuervain’s Tendonitis – caused by an inflammation of the tendons controlling the thumb.
Injuries to the knee include:
- Arthritis of the knee (osteoarthritis), a torn meniscus or kneecap pain (chondromalacia).
Injury Prevention Strategies
Many injuries occur early in the season before proper conditioning has taken place. Such injuries may affect soft tissues including tendons, muscles and ligaments, as well as the joints of the upper body, (including back, elbow, wrist and shoulder).
Attention to technique is critical to avoid injury, which can result from over-swinging, twisting the spine, an incorrect grip or hitting the ground during the forward swing.
To avoid back injury:
- Rotate the shoulder and hip about the same degree during the back swing.
- Keep the spine vertical during the follow-through, avoiding any hyperextension of the spine.
To avoid shoulder and elbow injury:
- Shorten the length of the back swing, ending with the club head at a 1 o’clock rather than 3 o’clock position.
- Strengthen rotator cuff and scapular muscles to prevent overuse or tearing injuries.
- Strengthen muscles of the chest (pectoralis major) and back (latissimus dorsi), which generate the power of the swing.
- Study the mechanics of proper swing with a pro.
- Slow the velocity of the swing in order to produce less shock to the arm when the ball is struck.
To avoid hand, wrist and elbow injuries:
- Select larger and softer club grips
- Use a neutral grip to hold the club
- Select irons with larger heads and lower vibration
- Graphite shafts can lessen vibration
- Select the correct club length
- Strengthen forearm muscles through exercise
Physical conditioning of appropriate muscles along with careful attention to correct technique tends to limit golfing injury. Hitting practice balls with shorter irons is a good means of loosening the muscles and avoiding strains. Additionally, proper rest, a consistent warm-up routine and core-strengthening exercises should be part of an overall approach to injury-free enjoyment of the game.
The Top 3 Golf Stretches
Stretching is one of the most under-utilized techniques for improving athletic performance, preventing sports injury and properly rehabilitating sprain and strain injury. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that something as simple as stretching won’t be effective. Below are 3 very beneficial stretches for golf; obviously there are a lot more, but these are a great place to start. Please make special note of the instructions below each stretch.
Reaching Lateral Side Stretch: Stand with your feet shoulder width apart, then slowly bend to the side and reach over the top of your head with your hand. Do not bend forward.
Reaching-down Triceps Stretch: Reach behind your head with both hands and your elbow pointing up. Then reach down your back with your hands.
Bent Arm Shoulder Stretch: Stand upright and place one arm across your body. Bend your arm at 90 degrees and pull your elbow towards your body.
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About the Author: Brad is often referred to as the "Stretch Coach" and has even been called the Stretching Guru. Magazines such as Runners World, Bicycling, Triathlete, Swimming & Fitness, and Triathlon Sports have all featured his work. Amazon has listed his books on five Best-Seller lists. Google cites over 100,000 references to him and his work on the internet. And satisfied customers from 122 countries have sent 100's of testimonials. If you want to know about stretching, flexibility or sports injury management, Brad Walker is the go-to-guy.