Flexibility is quite often a misunderstood principle, but most of us know it is important to golf. Before we discuss flexibility and its relevance to golf we need to start with: “What in the #$%#%$#% is flexibility anyways?”
It is a simple question yet one that is not easy to answer. I imagine that most of you come up with some definition that is something to the effect of “Flexibility is stretching, right?” That answer is partially correct. Flexibility training incorporates stretching techniques. However, it is NOT limited to traditional stretching, and the two terms cannot be used interchangeably.
We Should Talk About What Flexibility Means
According the National Academy of Sports Medicine, flexibility can be defined as the normal extensibility of all soft tissues that allow full range of motion of a joint. You will note that nowhere in the definition of flexibility is the word stretching used. To help further explain, understand, and clearly define flexibility, let us take the definition and break it down into three parts. The first part of the definition, “the normal extensibility,” is best understood by thinking of the muscles in your body. Each muscle in your body has what is termed a “normal length-tension relationship.” When the muscle is at its “normal length-tension relationship,” it functions correctly. When the muscles contract and extend (i.e. when you “flex” your bicep in the mirror, your bicep muscle is contracting and your tricep is extending) they enable you to create movement of your skeleton. Often, athletes cause a disruption of the “normal length-tension relationship” through training, which leads to one muscle becoming shorter or longer than its normal length-tension relationship. When this happens, the body begins to have difficulty moving the skeleton in a safe and efficient manner, which will be magnified when trying to perform athletic movements.
The second portion of the definition of flexibility discusses “all soft tissues.” This part of the definition is quite easy. As you know, the human body is comprised of numerous types of cells and tissues. Soft tissues are simply a categorization of certain types of tissues in your body including muscles, ligaments, and tendons.
The final part of the definition reads: “that allow full range of motion of a joint.” Every joint (where two bones are connected in your body, i.e. shoulder, hip, elbow, etc.) moves through a specified range of motion determined by the design of the joint. The anatomical structure of a joint determines the amount, direction and type of movement through which a joint moves. This is known as the range of motion. To achieve a full range of motion, the surrounding muscles and connective tissue have to be flexible enough to allow the joint to move through that range of motion. To demonstrate what a full range of motion is, bend your elbow as much as you can (brining your hand as close to your shoulder as possible) and then straighten it. Each joint in the body has a range of motion that is unique to the design of the joint. For example, the shoulder joint is classified as a ball and socket joint, which has a range of motion of 360 degrees (a much greater range of motion than the elbow).
Once broken down, flexibility is simply defined as: every ligament, tendon, and muscle (soft tissues) in your body, having the correct length-tension relationship (normal extensibility) to allow every joint in your body to move through its full range of motion. This concludes the first part of this article. We now have a pretty simple working definition of flexibility. In the next section of this article we will discuss the question: “Why is flexibility important to the golf swing?”
The Real Meat of the Article…Flexibility and the Golf Swing
So now we have a “working definition” of flexibility. We probably need to discuss the golf swing briefly to create the connection between “your” flexibility and “your” golf swing.
Breaking down the golf swing, we know that it is categorized into different phases: address, take away, back swing, transition, down swing, contact, and follow through. Your local swing coach has probably discussed the importance of these phases of the swing in order to create a good swing. I am sure you also are aware that the body must “move through” these phases in a certain sequence for a correct swing to occur. The key phrase when it comes to the golf swing and flexibility is “move through.”
Go back to the definition of flexibility. What does it tell you? In general, it says that every muscle, ligament, and tendon in your body must have the correct range of motion within itself to perform the activity you ask of it. Take that definition and place it upon what movements are required of the golf swing. It essentially states that your individual body MUST have the required flexibility parameters within every muscle, ligament, and tendon to execute the golf swing correctly.
Now the kicker question: what happens if your body does not have the needed flexibility parameters to swing a club on the correct path? Is the answer, “Forget about golf and go grab your fishing pole?” No, that is not the correct answer. Your body is a little smarter than that one wise-crack answer. If you ask your body to do something, nine out of ten times it will “try” to do what you are asking it to do. When your brain tells your body to do this and this and this in a certain order, your body is going to try as hard as it possibly can to complete the task. The task (in our case the golf swing) may get completed, but probably not exactly as we would like. In the golf swing, this results in shots that we are really not happy about (slices, hooks, blocks, etc.)
When the body does not have the needed flexibility to swing a club on the correct path is what we term “compensation.” Compensation is the body’s way of making up for inefficiencies it may have within it. If you do not have the flexibility properties in, say, your hamstrings for the golf swing, your body will create compensation patterns in your swing to “make up” for the lack of flexibility in your lower body. So the reality of the situation becomes that, regardless of how hard you work on your swing and how much you practice, until you correct the flexibility issues within your body it will be very difficult to correct your swing. So there you have it! The connection between flexibility and the golf swing is a very important connection if you are looking to make good shots on the course.
How do I get it?
We have discussed flexibility and the golf swing. You now have an understanding about the definition of flexibility, the importance of flexibility as it relates to the golf swing, and what happens if you do not have it (flexibility for the golf swing, that is).
Sean Cochran is one of the most recognized golf fitness instructors in the world today. He travels the PGA Tour regularly working with PGA Professionals, most notably Masters and PGA Champion Phil Mickelson. To learn more about Sean and his golf fitness programs go to http://www.bioforcegolf.com