The reality is that most of us need to earn a living to play golf, we don’t earn a living playing golf and we certainly don’t train like the pro golfers do. The problem with spending all day behind a desk is that it can alter your biomechanics by causing stiffness in the mobile areas of the body and weakness in the areas that are supposed to be strong and stable. This can negatively affect the efficiency of your golf swing by causing you to adopt faulty swing mechanics, lose clubhead speed and increase your risk of injury out on the course.

It’s all about efficiency

At the Titleist Performance Institute (TPI) training we get taught that there is no perfect way to swing a golf club, but there is an efficient way and it should be based on what your body is physically capable of doing. You have two options, one is to adapt your swing to compensate for your physical limitations. An example could be making changes to your backswing or foot position to make up for certain mobility issues. Or you can work with a healthcare or fitness professional to correct as many of your physical limitations as possible. Ultimately this will help improve your swing efficiency and clubhead speed because your body won’t need to adopt faulty swing mechanics.

Before you start

Ideally, your stretching and exercise program should be tailored specifically to your physical limitations, and the only way to determine what yours are is to get assessed by a TPI Certified professional. That being said, there are a number of strength and mobility problems that are common in recreational golfers and these stretches and exercises that I’ve discussed in this blog post aims to address those common issues.

I recommend consulting with your local GP, chiropractor, physio or other appropriately trained healthcare professional before adding these stretches and exercises into your training routine. The reps and sets that have been provided are just a guide. You shouldn’t feel any pain while performing these stretches or exercises.

Cervical Spine (Neck)

You might be wondering why neck mobility is important for the golf swing? Think about it, you need to be able to keep your eye on the ball to make proper contact. During your backswing, your thorax rotates to the right while your eyes stay fixed on the ball (if you’re a right-handed golfer). If you lack cervical mobility your head and neck will rotate with your thorax and you will be unable to keep your eye on the ball.

Levator Scapulae Stretch

Grab a towel in the hand on the same side you’re going to stretch, then rotate your head about 45 degrees towards the opposite side and tuck your chin towards your chest and gently apply pressure with your other arm.

Hold for 15 seconds on both sides and repeat 2-3 times.

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levator scapulae stretch
levator scapulae stretch
levator scapulae stretch

Bobble-Heads

For this one, you’ll need a Theraband or an elastic ballistic band. Lie on your back on the floor with the band across your chest. Pull the band apart and hold. Then rotate your head as far as you can to the left and right.

Repeat 10 x each side then rest.

Another variation is to pull the band diagonally across your chest by raising one arm overhead and pulling the other down towards your side. This time you’re only going to rotate your head towards the side of the overhead arm and back to the centre again.

Repeat 10 reps then swap arms and repeat 10 reps on the other side.

bobble head exercise
bobble head exercise
bobble head exercise

Thoracic Spine (Mid-back)

Golf requires a lot of rotation to generate clubhead speed. The thoracic spine and hips are the areas of the body where most of our rotation comes from. If you’re not able to rotate through the thoracic spine then your body will compensate and try to rotate from the lumbar spine. That’s when we start seeing a higher occurrence of low back injuries because the structure the lumbar spine does not allow it to rotate like the thoracic spine due to the shape and orientation of the spinal joints.

Here are some mobility drills that will help maintain mobility in the thoracic spine.

Foam roll thoracic spine

The thoracic spine is an area of the spine that is safe to foam roll because it has structural support from the ribcage and sternum. Start with the foam roller in line with your lowest ribs and roll upwards towards the base of your neck. Roll up and down for 30 seconds to 1 minute. Then start in line with your lowest ribs again and gently extend over the roller and return to the start position. Move the roller higher and repeat.

Recommended time: 30 seconds – 1 minute.

foam roll thoracic spine
foam roll thoracic spine
foam roll thoracic spine

Open books

Lie on your side with your knees tucked in towards your chest. Extend your arm that is in contact with the floor and rest your other arm on top of that. Now rotate your upper body so that your arm and shoulder get as close to the floor as possible without your legs moving. Remember to exhale as you rotate.

Perform 2-3 sets of 15 reps each side.

Open book exercise
Open book exercise
Open book exercise

Half kneeling wall thoracic rotations

Get into a half-kneeling or lunge position next to a wall as shown in the pictures below. Make sure your front leg is closest to the wall. With both arms in front of you, internally rotate the arm closest to the wall so that your palm is in contact with the wall. Inhale deeply then exhale as you slide your arm upwards through a 180-degree arc along the wall. Inhale and then exhale as you slide your arm back along the wall to the starting position.

Advanced variation: When you’ve rotated fully lift your hand off the wall for 1-2 seconds before following the wall and returning to your starting position.

Perform 2-3 sets of 5-8 reps on both sides.

half kneeling wall thoracic rotation exercise
half kneeling wall thoracic rotation exercise
half kneeling wall thoracic rotation exercise

The Pelvis

Pelvic control is key for a powerful and efficient golf swing but it is often one of the areas where amateur golfers struggle the most when tested. Poor pelvic control could cause faulty swing characteristics such as early extension, loss of posture, reverse spine angle sway or slide.

The team at the Titleist Performance Institute tested over 16 000 amateur golfers and 72% had what is called a “shake & bake” on their pelvic tilt test. That means there is vibration or shaking of the abdominal muscles and pelvis while performing the pelvic tilt test. This is common in players with an excessive anterior pelvic tilt or muscle imbalances caused by, you guessed it, spending most of their day sitting.

Supine pelvic tilts

Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Try to tilt your pelvis forwards by arching your back and then tilt it backwards by contracting your abdominals and flattening your lower back into the floor without letting your chest move.

Progress to quadruped pelvic tilts when you can complete this exercise without shaking. Remember it’s all about quality of movement.

Aim for 3 sets of 10-15 reps.

pelvic tilt exercise
pelvic tilt exercise
pelvic tilt exercise

Quadruped pelvic tilts

Kneel on the ground with your hands directly below your shoulders and your hips and knees bent to 90 degrees. Start by arching your back and tilting your pelvis forward. Then contract your abdominals and tilt your pelvis and flatten your back keeping your upper body as still as possible. Progress to standing supported pelvic tilts when you can perform this exercise without the abdominal muscles shaking.

Aim for 2-3 sets of 10-15 reps.

quadruped pelvic tilt exercise
quadruped pelvic tilt exercise

Standing supported pelvic tilts

You’ll need a golf club or a broomstick for this one. Get into what we call the “5-iron” posture. That is the posture you would be in ready to hit your 5-iron. Use the club or broomstick to support the weight of your upper body. Arch your back first and tilt your hips forward then contract your abdominals and tilt your pelvis backwards and flatten your back. Repeat both directions in a slow and controlled manner tilting your pelvis as much as you can without the upper body moving.

Aim for 3 sets of 10-15 reps.

standing supported pelvic tilt exercise
standing supported pelvic tilt exercise
standing supported pelvic tilt exercise

The Glutes & Hip Flexors

There’s a saying that the “glutes are king” when it comes to the golf swing. They need to have a balance of strength and endurance so you can maintain your posture while power is generated from the ground and transferred up through the trunk to the arms.

During the backswing when an ideal posture is maintained there is rotation of the thorax on the pelvis or “separation”. For good separation of the torso and pelvis to occur there needs to be sufficient hip stability. If there is poor hip stability it’ll be difficult to rotate on the hip. The body will compensate by moving sideways causing a sway on the backswing or a slide on the downswing.

In the TPI physical screen, there’s a test called the single-leg bridge test. Many recreational golfers have weak or inhibited glutes that can cause hamstring cramping or pelvic instability during the test. The glutes can become inhibited due to overactivity or shortening of the hip flexor muscles, Iliopsoas and Rectus Femoris. It’s best to get your chiro or physio to perform the modified Thomas test on you which will show whether you have overactivity of the hip flexors contributing to the inhibition or weakness of the glutes.

Iliopsoas stretch

The iliopsoas muscle is made up of the Iliacus and the Psoas muscle that merge and form a common tendon that attaches to the top of your femur.

To stretch the Iliacus past of the muscle get into a lunge position. Make sure that you keep your back glute and abdominals contracted so that it prevents your lumbar spine from extending during the stretch. Push your pelvis forward and hold and you should feel a stretch in the front of your hip.

Hold for 15 seconds. Repeat 3 times on each side.

iliopsoas stretch
iliopsoas stretch

Psoas Stretch

To stretch the Psoas, get into the same position as you would for the Iliacus stretch above. If you’re stretching your left Psoas, raise your left arm overhead and bend your trunk towards the right. Focus on preventing your lower back from hyperextending. You should feel the stretch in the front of your hip and into your abdominals.

Hold for 15 seconds. Repeat 3 times on each side.

psoas stretch
psoas stretch

Figure 4 horizontal bridge

Start by lying on the ground with your lower back flat and your hands together positioned above your chest pointing to the sky. To train your right glute, place your right foot under your left knee. Next, lower the left leg to the ground. Keeping your lower back in a neutral position, you are now going to raise your hips off of the ground using the right thigh and shin that is in contact with the floor. Try and raise your hips slightly off the ground and hold for 2-3 seconds.

To increase the difficulty, when lifting your hips off the floor keep your other leg straight so that your heel lifts off the ground as well. This increases the amount of weight on your leg in contact with the ground.

Aim for 3 sets of 5-8 reps.

figure-4 horizontal bridge exercise
figure-4 horizontal bridge exercise
figure-4 horizontal bridge exercise

Backwards llunge with rotation

You can do this with or without a medicine ball. Keep the weight evenly spread over your front foot. Step backwards into a lunge and rotate your body towards the side of your forward-facing leg. Then push your front leg into the ground and rotate your body and stand upright and balance. Hold that for 1-2 seconds.

Aim for 2-3 sets of 8-10 reps on each leg.

reverse lunge with rotation exercise
reverse lunge with rotation exercise
reverse lunge with rotation exercise

The Hips

As I mentioned earlier, proper mobility in the hips and thoracic spine are key to generating rotation for the golf swing. A lack of hip rotational mobility can be the cause a sway on your backswing or a slide on your follow-through. The following mobility drills will help improve internal and external rotation in your hips

Hip drops

Sit with your knees bent to about 90 degrees and your feet spread about half a meter apart. Rotate from your hips internally rotating one leg and externally rotating the other. Try press your knees towards the ground. Now drop to the other side. You should feel a gentle stretch deep in the hips. Repeat back and forth keeping the lower back as still as you can and focus on moving from the hips.

Aim for 1-2 minutes.

hip drops exercise
hip drops exercise
hip drops exercise

Hip 90/90

Sit with your knees bent to 90 degrees with one leg internally rotated and the other externally rotated. Try and “elongate” your legs or distract your hip joints by pushing your knees away from the body. Get your torso as upright as you can and rotate towards your leg that is pointing backwards. You should feel a stretch deep in your hip joint. Then rotate towards the front leg and lean forwards so that you feel a stretch in the glute your forward-facing leg.

This is a mobility drill rather than a static stretch so you don’t need to hold the movement at the end position. Instead, just move to end range and back again in a controlled manner.

Aim for 2-3 sets of 8-10 reps.

hip 90 / 90 mobility exercise
hip 90 / 90 mobility exercise
hip 90 / 90 mobility exercise

Hamstring & Posterior chain flexibility

The toe touch test is one of the tests we use in the TPI physical screen. 82.4% of the PGA pro golfers tested by the TPI were able to touch their toes compared to 57% of the amateurs tested.

Hamstring or posterior chain flexibility is important for a proper hip hinge pattern at address. If you’re unable to perform a proper hip hinge your body will compensate by excessively rounding your spine to get into position. This will limit your ability to rotate through the thoracic spine because a rounded thoracic spine can’t rotate as effectively as when your spine is in a neutral position.

Try this, sit upright in your chair, put your hands behind your head and rotate your trunk as far as you can to one side. Now slump over and round your mid-back and try to rotate again. You probably won’t be able to rotate as far as you could when you were sitting upright.

Sometimes tight hamstrings may be a reflex by the brain using them as brakes to try and limit excessive pelvis and lumbar spine motion due to a lack of core stability. Your chiro, physio or healthcare professional can do a quick test to determine if you have a core stability issue or a posterior chain/hamstring flexibility issue that is limiting your ability to touch your toes. They can do this by comparing your standing toe touch to your supine active single leg raise to see if there is a big difference between your measurements. If there isn’t a big difference then that usually means that your limitation is caused by tight hamstrings, fascia and other connective tissue that make up the posterior chain and not a core stability dysfunction.

These stretches and muscle releases below should help with your hip hinge if you have tight hamstrings or posterior chain flexibility dysfunction.

Toes up toe touches

Place a small book or a rolled towel under your toes and place a rolled towel or pillow between your thighs above your knees.  Slowly hinge from your hips and try to touch the ground. When you can’t go further, squeeze the towel between your thighs and see if you can get closer to the ground. When you’re unable to get any closer to the ground, bend your knees so that you touch the floor then stand upright again. Repeat this in a smooth motion.

Aim for 2-3 sets of 10 reps.

toes up toe touch exercise
toes up toe touch exercise
toes up toe touch exercise

Heels up toe touches

Place a small book or towel under your heels this time and perform the same movement as with the toes up toe touches.

Aim for 2-3 sets of 10 reps.

heels up toe touch exercise
heels up toe touch exercise

Trigger ball on feet

Roll the underside of each foot with a golf ball or trigger ball. Spend a little more time on any tender spots you find. Repeat the toe touch and see if you can get any closer to the ground.

It’s incredible how a simple drill like rolling the sole of your feet can produce such an instant increase in posterior chain flexibility. Don’t believe me? Try it!

Aim for 30 seconds – 1 minute on each foot.

trigger ball release foot

Conclusion

The stretches and exercises that I’ve listed will help correct common mobility and strength issues in recreational or amateur golfers. It’s by no means a one-size-fits-all program. Some players might have physical limitations that require more strength or mobility drills that have not been listed here.

Mobility issues or stiffness respond best to manual therapy like joint mobilisations, massage, soft tissue release techniques, dry needling, PNF stretching etc. So it’s a good idea to see your sports chiropractor, physio or appropriately trained healthcare provider who can provide you with targeted manual therapy to address your mobility limitations.

If you want to know exactly what your physical limitations are and what exercises or stretches will be best to help with your golf swing you can click here to book your assessment with me at the practice in Newstead, Brisbane.

Or click here to find a TPI certified healthcare provider in your area.

brisbane sports chiropractor dr michael benporath

About the author:

Dr Michael Benporath is Titleist Performance Institute Medical L2 Certified. He is a sports chiropractor in Brisbane at Prime Health & Performance in Newstead.