It’s the height of summer and we’re running more miles, playing more sets, and getting in as many rounds of golf as we can. Are you preparing your body for the demands you’re placing on your muscles and joints?
Every activity involves demands on your lower leg. Below the knee, we have multiple muscles that allow us to push off, jump, change direction and make explosive movements. The calf muscles below the knee include the gastrocnemius, which is the large, two headed muscle that’s primary function is running, jumping and pushing off, while it also helps flex the knee joint, hence its size. The gastrocnemius is a type I muscle fiber, meaning it is responsible for explosive movements. The other muscle that comprises the calf is the soleus. It aids the gastrocnemius yet is utilized more in walking and less explosive movements as it is comprised of type II muscle fibers. Since it is a smaller muscle, it only acts at the ankle joint. The gastrocnemius and soleus muscles come together towards the ankle joint and create a band known as the Achilles tendon. It is crucial to understand that these muscles are very susceptible to injury if exposed to sudden movements and contractions.
Since the lower leg is such a sensitive area, injuries due to quick and explosive movements can take a long time to recover from, depending on the severity. We have all heard of the dreaded Achilles tendon tear, one of the most painful and hardest injuries to fully recover from, however a calf strain or tear can also be very painful. When an injury like this occurs, people describe the feeling of a pop or even the sensation of being kicked or shot in the leg.
One of the ways to help prevent this from happening is a to make time for a thorough warm up and cool down. The stretches laid out below show how to stretch each part of the calf with these gastrocnemius and soleus stretches, which will help protect the muscles and surrounding tendons. It will also greatly reduce the risk of ankle injuries. Note: when performing these stretches, each time do one set with the foot pointing straight forward, one with the foot turned in while keeping the knee tracking forward and one with the foot turned out and keeping the knee tracking forward. This will also stretch the medial and lateral aspects of the muscle.
Distal gastrocnemius – With the band double wrapped around the top of your foot, start with your toes relaxed. Lie flat on the ground with your head supported by a pillow and your non-stretching leg bent next to you. From here, aim your toes towards your shin and use your arms to pull the band for an additional stretch. Gently keep moving through the stretch for 2-3 seconds and relax. Do 3-5 reps on one side and repeat on the other side. Perform 1-3 sets on each side. If you are doing the stretch before your activity, use a slightly quicker tempo and if you are stretching after, use a longer tempo. Tip: lying flat is imperative to the specificity of the stretch. If you are sitting upright, it will not target the correct area of the muscle.
Proximal gastrocnemius – With the relaxed leg out straight, double wrap the band around your stretching foot, getting as close to your toes as possible without the band slipping. Lie flat on the ground with your head supported by a pillow and your non-stretching leg bent. With your leg out straight, point your toes towards your shin and pull the band to get an additional stretch. Gently keep moving through the stretch for 2-3 seconds and relax. Do 3-5 reps on one side and repeat on the other side. Perform 1-3 sets on each side. The more flexible you are, the higher your leg can remain straight. Do not concern yourself with how high your leg is, focus on keeping it straight. If you are doing the stretch before your activity, use a slightly quicker tempo and if you are stretching after, use a longer tempo.
Soleus – sitting on a chair with one foot up and one foot relaxed, take both hands and grab around the middle of your foot. Point you toes straight up and use your hands to help pull upward. Have your leg bent to a comfortable angle, not all the way and keep your heel on the chair. Gently keep moving through the stretch for 2-3 seconds and relax. Do 3-5 reps on one side and repeat on the other side. Perform 1-3 sets on each side. Again, If you are doing the stretch before your activity, use a slightly quicker tempo and if you are stretching after, use a longer tempo.
The next time you plan your run, match or round, be sure to add time before and after to stretch so your body can see you through and perform at the level you expect.
“Warming up” is by far the most overlooked part of physical exercise and movement, particularly when it comes to the game of golf. This tends to happen for a multitude of reasons, but for the most part I think it’s the general excitement to get out onto the course as quickly as possible. Immediately hitting the driving range or getting right onto the course is extremely tempting, but I encourage you to give yourself enough time to properly warm up. I guarantee that you will feel better, and play better throughout your round.
Warming up lubricates your joints, warms your muscles and connective tissues, activates your nervous system, and helps sharpen your senses resulting in an increase in performance and athletic potential. This is especially important for the golf athlete as most golfers, and people in general, do not have the level of flexibility needed for proper swing mechanics. There’s plenty of factors that go into “why” flexibility falls short, but for most it’s increased periods of sitting, orthopedic injuries, or everyday aches and pains that can tighten people back up in a matter of hours. The best way to combat this is by performing something called “pre-event stretching” and undergoing a warm up. It is important to note that specific stretching techniques should be applied to pre-event stretching and warmups to reduce the likelihood of injury or decrease in performance. Static stretching, or holding stretches, is not recommended before a day on the course. This is because holding stretches can actually sedate the muscles, compromise muscle stabilizer functions, and lengthen muscle spindle cells without the brain being able to effectively monitor that change. You’ve probably had a feeling like this in your swing, you go to swing, and as you move through the motion something just doesn’t feel right and it impacts your ability to hit the ball properly. This is the brain responding to the change in length, and then altering the muscle length to match the pattern it’s used to. All in all: not good.
Dynamic warmups and muscle energy exercises like the ones we use in LYMBR have been found to be the most effective at warming up the body, engaging muscles that will optimize swing mechanics, increase performance, and will reduce the likelihood of injury. This means that you will stretch into your target muscles without holding the stretch, and move in and out of the stretch until you loosen up. The repetitive nature and the minimal holding time is more effective as the brain can actively monitor the change in muscle length. This prevents the negative impacts of static stretching for pre-event such as joint destabilization and coordination deficits. In fact the body may actively tighten itself up during static stretching exercises as a way to protect the joint, especially if the joint is already sore.
Dynamic stretching does not put the body into a “threatened” state as the body responds better to being actively moved, and tends to allow the joints to move more freely. Typically, the golf athlete will respond better to this stimulus than trying to stretch across tight joints, especially in golfers over the age of 40. This is because aging creates degenerative tendencies in joints which decreases mobility unless there is focused flexibility practice to maintain or increase joint ROM (range of motion). This style of stretching and warmup not only lasts longer in most cases, but is also more effective for the body to learn how to move through an increased range of motion.
4 STRETCHES TO GET WARMED UP
To make the most of these stretches, figure out where your biggest area of concern is for you and your swing (i.e. hips, shoulders, spine, pelvis, etc.) and pick the exercises that will help loosen these areas up. To assess which exercises make the greatest amount of difference, take out a club and swing it a few times before you stretch and mobilize. This will give you a solid starting point to reference as you move through your warm up and pre-event stretch. Indicators of improved range of motion from the exercises are as follows:
Increased range of motion in spine, pelvis, and shoulders
Reduced effort in swing, enhanced fluidity of motion
Possible heightening of sense such as hearing, sight, and movement awareness.
#1: SEATED BACK ROTATION WITH THUMBS UP
Take a seat in a chair with your legs shoulder width apart. Lift up your right arm with your thumb up. Turn your body with your arm and keep your eyes on your thumb. Return to the starting position and repeat for 5 repetitions. Repeat on the left side for 5 repetitions. Take a rest before repeating another set. Keeping the thumb up is great for hand eye coordination, it helps loosen up the shoulders, mid back, neck, and hip rotators.
#2: SIDE LYING BACK ROTATION
Laying down on your side, place your bottom hand on your knee to prevent the leg from coming up. Rotate backwards gently and hold for 2 seconds. Return to starting position before repeating the stretch for another 4 reps. Turn onto the other side and repeat on that side for 5 reps. Rest before repeating the exercise for another set. This is a great way to mobilize the upper back, neck, and shoulders.
#3: HORIZONTAL GLUTE
Laying on your back, bring your leg up to a 90 degree angle. Use your opposite arm to bring your leg across your body. Try and keep your low back on the table. Bring the leg back to starting position and repeat for 5 total reps. Repeat on the other side for 5 reps, and rest before doing another set. This will help with your hip drive through your swing.
#4: HIP FLEXORS
Grab a pillow and kneel down onto the pillow in a lunge position. Squeeze your glute, and drive your front knee forward until you feel a stretch on the front of your hip. Hold for 2 seconds, return to starting position and repeat for 5 total repetitions. Switch legs, and repeat on the other side for 5 repetitions. Rest before repeating another set. This will help with your hip drive through your swing and will prevent any compensations in the hips and lower back.
WARM UP TO WIN
Add these 4 stretches as part of your pre-round routine. The few minutes you invest in a proper warm up will make the hours on the course more enjoyable and successful.
Written by Conner Fritchley, LYMBR Stretch Therapist and Academy Instructor.
Now that golf season is here, many of our clients are making their way back to the links for some much-needed and long-awaited tee time. These early months of the golf season are extremely crucial. If you haven’t prepared your body for the technically challenging movements of golf, then your season may be over before it begins.
In the past, we’ve covered how technically challenging and impactful a golf swing is on the whole body. When we think about stretching for golf, the focus is on relieving tension in the hips, adductors, and low back muscles to increase drive and create tension relief on the low back. These are the obvious areas to treat to allow for increased rotation and overall stability over the ball, but they are not the only muscles to investigate.
There are small nuances that go into the sport that can have a similar impact on your body’s range of motion and ability to function. One of those nuances is influenced by something we do every day; walking. With the implementation of golf carts people are walking less and less on the course, and although this is convenient, it’s really not doing your body any favors. Similar to hip and back overuse injuries of the golf swing, you can produce similar overuse injuries in your feet from walking, sitting, walking, and sitting again. This aspect of the game warms up the muscles, lengthens them, and then once you stop moving, contracts and thus shortens the muscles. Shortened muscles in the feet can lead to inflamed plantar fascia (plantar fasciitis), achilles/soleus injuries and calf tightness; all which eventually lead to limited motion and subsequently knee or hip problems.
When your feet are not functioning properly, the impact is felt on your golf swing. Your feet are first contact and therefore first to initiate the movement of the swing. If the range of motion of your feet and ankles are limited, then so will be your rotation. A limited ability of the feet will lead to limited follow through in the golf swing.
At LYMBR we have specific protocol for feet, ankles, and toes to make sure you are getting optimal performance from those areas. Remember that feet are the first point of contact to the ground, if they are weak, then the rest of the body is functioning on an unstable foundation. By stretching your feet and ankles we can restore range of motion and overall flexibility of those specific muscles. This will make them more able to absorb impact, withstand hours of stop and start walking, and allow for proper rotation of the ankles through the duration of your swing.
Written by Conner Fritchley, Stretch Therapist in our Darien studio.
As winter comes to a close and spring tries to make an appearance, golfers in the northeast are eager to play their first round. If you are fortunate to play year-round in warmer weather, chances are you have many rounds under your belt, with many more to come.
Is your body up to par?
Every golfer knows the importance of a finely tuned swing and the need for flexibility, yet their body often resists. The golf swing is one of the most complex motions in all of sports. It uses the entire kinetic chain to transfer forces from your feet, through your hips and back, to your shoulders and hands. It’s no surprise this motion can take a toll, causing sore muscles, and often injuries from overuse.
The primary objectives of the golf swing are to produce maximum distance, be accurate, and be in control through every phase of the swing. To do this successfully with less risk of injury, proper strengthening and proper mobility and flexibility are key.
Golfers perform a lot of repetitive motions and do so for long periods of time. During the backswing, muscles like the quadriceps, glutes and obliques are activated in the hips and core. When these muscles are working together properly, the latissimus dorsi and pectoralis muscles can efficiently be stretched at the top of the swing to the full position of the backswing.
During the downswing, the quadriceps, psoas, obliques and glutes are a couple of the major players responsible for creating hip stability, hip extension, and internal rotation. Speed in the golf swing is created through rotation. You can’t rotate efficiently if you’re tight and off balance. The pectoralis muscles and latissimus dorsi generate force and energy that will travel to the forearms. The forearms are very important to the swing as they will affect your grip and can be a factor in your drive ending up in the center of the fairway or in the rough.
In the follow through phase, muscle groups like the core and rotator cuff muscles take charge in deaccelerating the body after maximum power is generated. This is very taxing on the body and with the proper stretching and strengthening program put in place, these muscle groups can be conditioned to perform at a high level. Keeping these muscles in good shape will also aid in injury prevention.
Flexibility is equally important for a good golf swing – and many golfers come to us feeling like they don’t have enough of it. The most common areas we treat with our golfing clients are the low back, hips and shoulders. Long days in the office during the week sitting behind a computer while having to endure a lengthy commute, often hinders many. Maximal rotation in backswing and downswing is hard to achieve if your hips are locked up from sitting. Often, these muscles are tight and underused which will directly affect your swing and the way you feel swinging. It’s crucial to correct muscular imbalances and tightness before compensation occurs, throwing off the entire chain.
In order for your muscles to perform at their best, they must also be limber. For example, if you have strengthened your hip flexors to help power your swing load and turn, but the range that muscle can go is limited, so too will the power you hope to generate with that motion. When your hip flexors are able to assist in a full and smooth rotation, the power behind your swing will be optimal. This is true for all the muscles that fire in unison when you set your tee and hope to drive the ball down the center of the fairway.
Tiger Woods is a prime example of healthy play versus non-healthy play. We’ve seen him play like a well-oiled machine and we’ve also seen him end his day very early. A few years ago, he talked about not being able to activate his glutes and thus leading to low back pain. There are several reasons this could have happened. Possibly compensation of weak or underused glutes, poor posture or compression of nerves to name a few. These are things that can happen to anyone if the proper preventative measures are not taken.
Getting ready for golf season or trying to improve on your current season takes a lot more than going to the range and hitting buckets of balls. You will get a lot more out of your game if you invest in a program designed to hit all the major muscles involved in the swing. The right program will keep you limber, strong and playing as much golf as you wish to play.
Written by Michael Eaton. Michael is a Stretch Therapist and Assistant Manager in our Darien Studio.
The golf swing is one of the most complex and beautiful motions in all sports. It utilizes the entire kinetic chain to transfer forces from your feet through your hips and back, to your shoulders and hands. The spiraling golf swing is truly a full body movement. We have clients come in sharing that golf is doing a number on their body – making them feel older than they are, and by the end of the season they are really hurting. Assisted stretching can make a big difference, as long as each client is evaluated for their individual needs.
If we look at common ailments that sideline golfers we see overuse and low back issues topping the list. Overuse injuries are just what the name indicates, and often easily preventable. Overusing an area, simply put, is performing motion, stopping, and performing the action again and again. The stopping and resuming occurs between shots, between holes, between rounds and between days. Every time a muscle gets warm, which occurs during frequent use, it eventually cools down. During the cool down phase the muscle contracts. Without any activity to restore length muscles will get incrementally shorter. Some players may feel discomfort after their first round while other players can go weeks even months before feeling something. Including stretching to keep you muscles long and your nerves relaxed at any time is helpful to prevent injuries.
Every part of the body is involved in a golf swing, yet not everyone swings the clubs or hits the ball the same. Because everyone is different there are specific stretches for each person. The differences in swings cause the body to brace and store impact forces differently for each of us.
Therefore, the entire body should be considered and considered on an individual basis. We see two very common areas that clients see relief from; stretching the hip flexors and adductors which greatly increase the golfer’s drive, and stretching the low back which relieves tightness and pain. These finer details are what a stretch therapist highlights for you to keep you out on the course, competing in tournaments, and getting the most out of your season.