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Stabilize Your Swing
By Mark Blackburn

Stability during the swing is vital for consistently good ball striking.  Stabilizing your body with the correct joints and muscles at the right time is essential for an efficient pivot motion, keeping the club on plane and producing the necessary impact alignments for straight shots.  Conversely, unstable golf swings lead to inconsistency and ultimately injury as the wrong joints and muscles are recruited in trying to stabilize the swing.  Golf is played from uneven lies in variety of conditions therefore being able to stabilize the lower body while the upper body rotates requires a strength and coordination.  Often as golfers we focus on the symptoms of instability rather than its root cause.  How many times have you heard a fellow golfer tell you; “well you moved into that one” or “you scooped on that one”, unfortunately they are often seeing the consequence of instability rather than purely your faulty swing.

Fortunately there are two simple functional movement screens which can easily identify whether you have the necessary strength and mobility in your lower body to stabilize during the golf swing.  Should the screens be difficult follow the corrective exercises suggested a few times a week and you’ll help to rectify you’re instability through improving your lower body mobility and strength.  If after successfully performing the corrective exercises and physical screens instability continues find a medical professional to screen you further and examine your body’s overall mobility / stability chain.

The deep squat test will determine whether you have the necessary range of motion and strength in the lower body and core to maintain your posture and hence stay stable during the swing.  Take your five iron, stand with your feet shoulder width apart and hold the club overhead in both hands facing forwards.  Without letting the club move forwards or your heels come off the ground, try to perform a deep squat with your knees bending at least 90 degrees while your butt moves towards your ankles.  If you did it fantastic odds are you are going to have a good chance of being stable during the swing.  If you failed the test try it again without the club instead putting your hands behind the neck with the elbows touching your ears.  If this was also difficult or your heels came off the ground there may be a problem with your ankle and calf flexibility or core strength.  Take off your shoes and kneel on your right knee while extending the left knee forwards.  Place the butt end of your five iron a fist length from your right foot.  While keeping your heel on the ground try to extend the knee until it touches the shaft.  Could you do it without your heel coming off the ground?  If yes that is good.   If no, then odds are you must improve your calf flexibility to stabilize your lower body.  99% of golfers who can’t deep squat will have instability in the swing. 

The low bridge test shows whether the glute (butt) and core muscles are able to fire correctly and stabilize during the swing.  The glute muscles are the “king” when it comes to stabilizing the swing and generating power.  The test will reveal to you whether the hamstrings or lower back are trying to stabilize verses the glute.  You must first lay flat on your back on the ground with your arms extend over your chest with your knees bent at 90 degrees.  From here lift your pelvis off the ground, try to keep your belt line parallel to the ground and extend the right leg forwards from the knee.  Try to hold the position for ten seconds.  If your pelvis on the right side drops or the left leg shakes this indicates instability in the left side glute muscle.  If the hamstring or lower back starts to cramp that is indication that those muscles are incorrectly trying to stabilize inhibiting the glute and instability will occur.  Repeat for the other side.  If both sides were easy then you have the ability to stabilize your lower body.  If it was tough which is likely for most amateur club golfers you need to learn to use the glute muscles. 

So what can you do to learn to stabilize?  If the deep squat test was hard you first need to address the mobility in the hip, knee and ankle to allow the glute muscles tested in the low bridge test to stabilize while you’re swinging the club.  Mobility issues will lead to instability before muscle weakness hence the mobility testing before the glute strength screen.  It will also be quicker to improve the mobility deficiencies than the core / glute weakness.  Should you have had any pain or discomfort during the screens or when attempting the exercises stop immediately and seek physician for advice.

To improve the deep squat “Supported Squats” will be helpful.  Holding a 12-20 lb dumbbell in both hands extended out in front of you try to squatting down while a partner spots the bottom of the weight for you.  You will find the dumbbell acts as a counter balance and allows you to squat. Try to hold the squat for 3 seconds then raise the weight back up, repeat 10 times 3 times a week.  Screen yourself weekly to monitor your progress.  If your heels came off the ground during the squat test you must try to improve the flexibility of your calf muscles.  A good way is to manually massage the calf with your club shaft or a roller.  This will break up the tight tissue and help the calf flexibility allowing you to squat.  This manual therapy can also be performed by a physical therapist who will drastically improve overall mobility throughout the body helping you stabilize.

Most golfers have no idea until they perform the low bridge test how important glute strength is to overall golf swing stability.  Sitting a desk all day, driving a car and poor posture lead the glute muscles to become inhibited therefore the golfer cannot recruit them when needed in the swing.  You need to wake the glutes back up and get them firing again to stabilize your swing.  The “Deer in Headlights” exercise is the first step towards this.  Lying flat on the floor with your knees bent place both hands on your glutes.  Try to engage your right glute without engaging any other muscle, especially the hamstring.  Hold for 5-10 seconds as hard as you can and repeat for the left side.  Perform 10-15 repetitions for each side.   Once you can feel the glute working correctly then it will be easier to actually recruit and fire it in the following exercises.  A “bridge” is again performed with you lying on the ground.  Cross your arms over your chest and lift your pelvis off the ground.  You should feel the contraction in your glutes and try to minimize hamstring contractions then lower.  Perform 10-15 repetitions.  The “bridge with extension” screen is also a great way to strengthen the glute.  Perform the screen but this time lift the toes on the down leg so all the weight is in the heel.  This will allow you to further isolate the glute.  Again 10-15 repetitions of these glute exercises 3 times a week will help to stabilizing your swing.

While these screens and exercises are difficult for most golfers they emphasize the correlation between your body’s functional movement and the golf swing you make.  It is unrealistic to think swinging a club at 100 miles an hour with physical limitations won’t be difficult or inconsistent if you can’t stabilize.  However, you can now see that just to think stabilize is not enough it has to happen physically.  We have addressed mobility and stability in the lower body with these screens and exercises, which is merely half your body.   Addressing your overall functional movement will be the greatest investment you can make in your game.  Tiger Woods has been quoted as saying “his body is his most important piece of equipment” so it is likely you can benefit from yours too!  It will also help your own instructor better understand what you can and cannot do in your swing.  Often students realize they have been trying to swing in a way they were physically unable to and start to play better when the instructor focuses on a swing style which accommodates their physical abilities not the current teaching theory of a swing guru or their own preference. Good luck stabilizing your swing!

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