Every golfer practices to improve the mechanics of their swing, but what about the mechanics of your body?
When I have been on a golf course, I still see people placing one of their clubs behind their neck and twisting their backs. The thought is to loosen their back before playing. There are a few reasons why this doesn’t really work and I will touch on it here, but I want to get to the ankles and their importance to your swing. First, the twisting of the back seems weird as every golf pro teaches us to rotate around our spin like an axis. There should no serious twisting of the spine. Secondly, people who do this twisting, do it rather quickly, they are releasing the muscles with their brain, so they are actually strength training which will tighten the muscles they are trying to loosen. SO really this stretch is a non-golf stretch and it is not even a stretch to boot.
Now on to the ankles. The rotation of the body during the golf swing comes from the inner thighs, inner calves, and outer calves. In my last post, I wrote about the inner thighs, so today I want to go into the calves and feet which the ankles control.
In your calves, you have 4 calf muscles. The inside calf controls the inside movement and lateral movement of the foot. The outside calf muscle controls the outside movement and lateral movement of the foot. Each of these muscles goes into the arch of your foot. Thee are muscles in your feet that run from your knee to your toes and controls the tops of your feet and the arch muscle, with a few others, that control the bottom of your feet. It is important to understand that in order to improve the distance on the ball.
If you stand barefoot and go through a practice swing, focusing on the feeling in the bottom of your feet, you will feel your weight shifting through the foot from inside to out on one and vice versa on the other. This ability to work the muscles in your feet and calves is what gives the ankle the flexibility to increase your range of motion at the club head increasing your clubhead speed as the club addresses the ball. As you are going through your swing the inside calf muscle has to be able to release which will allow the outside calf muscle to pull which frees the ankle. The range of motion you have in your ankle, the more lubrication your body puts in the ankle joint. This makes your swing easier with less effort, but more importantly, it increases the club head speed due to the increased range of motion.
The question is, how do you get there? Calf stretching is a very misunderstood part of the human body. You will see some people place their toes on a curb, slant board, or step to stretch their calves. Others will lean against the wall with their feet pushed away from the wall to stretch. These can be good for your Achilles Tendon, but they are not calf stretches. In fact, I would venture to say that 98% of Americans have never stretched their calves properly. You may feel your calves with the above stretches, but you are not stretching your calves. Let me explain.
In the above-mentioned stretches, you are, at best, stretching the lower end of the 2 middle calf muscles. As a golfer, this does not help you as your motion is about twisting. With the previous stretches mentioned, no one is stretching their inner and outer calf muscles and few trainers or therapists even talk about them. Some golfers will complain of back pain and their calves could be the problem. Short calves will force you to take shorter strides. This will cause you to walk with the nose out in front of your chest. Did you know that for every inch your head is in front of your chest, the pressure at the base of your neck doubles? When a human head is sitting on top of your shoulders it weighs between 10-12 lbs. 2 inches in front of your chest, it could weigh as much as 42 lbs. I always joke with my clients that it depends on how large is their brain.
So how do you stretch your calves? You can sit on the floor with your back against the wall or if you cannot get on the floor, sit in a hard-backed chair with one foot on an ottoman with your leg straight. Place a yoga strap, rope, or anything that is not stretchy around the ball of your foot. Do not use your leg muscles. ONly use your arms and gently pull your toes back toward you feeling the stretch from start to finish. You should feel this behind your knee. Hold for 3-5 seconds and repeat 8-10 times. On each stretch, breathe out and allow your brain time to let go of the muscle tension. Next, rotate your foot inward and repeat the stretch. Now you should feel it on the outside of your calf. Finally, rotate your foot to the outside and repeat the stretch. You should feel it on the inside of your calf. This is also a great stretch for Plantar Fasciitis, we will discuss that in a later post.
The reason for the 3-5 seconds hold is to avoid the stretch reflex in your muscles which will happen due to the discomfort. If you pull too hard, you will build up your arms as your legs will fight with you instead of stretching your legs. Do not overwork yourself. You do not need to force your muscles to stretch. I see too many people hurt themselves because they are trying to force the stretch. Relax, enjoy, and watch the distant of your ball increase as you free your body.
Many of my clients are golfers and I usually hear how their low back pain affects their golf game. I used to play golf and I remember from my golf lessons that when you are swinging the club, you want to keep your back straight and rotate using your legs to bring the clubhead around your body. Watch a pro golfer when they swing. The club head is usually around their back to the other side of their body. This gives them more range to increase clubhead speed as it approaches the ball. When we see an amateur golfer we see the clubhead go to about the middle of their back which limits the range of building the clubhead speed. We know they are older and not as flexible, but can they improve their flexibility?
As I watch golfers swing a club, I see that their inner and outer thighs along with their inner and outer calves is what allows them to have the maximum amount of clubhead range. When I see golfers workout and stretch, I rarely see any golfer work on these two areas of their body. On the local courses, I see golfers forcing their backs to do the work. The inner thighs and outer thigh control the pelvis and when they are short, the pelvis is tilted forward which cause the low back to tighten. The calves are what allows your weight to shift on your feet. Without this flexibility, the chances of damaging your knees are pretty high. There is a way to help you improve your flexibility for golf. I have started putting videos on my YouTube channel at, The Muscle Repair Shop, to help you. Currently, the calf stretches are there and if you follow the video, you can reduce your risk of knee injuries. We will soon have the thigh and inner thigh stretches uploaded. You can visit my website at www.musclerepairshop.com and contact me for additional videos to help your golf game.
I love when my golfing clients tell me they have reduced their scores by 4-5 strokes. The stretching will help you with distance and control. More importantly, you can play without pain.
Recently I graduated from the University of South Florida with a degree in Aging Sciences. I went back to school as an older student to improve my knowledge of the Aging process we all face. Aging Sciences has taken the place of Gerontology because Gerontology covered the aging process from 55 years old to death. Aging Sciences covers aging from birth to death. The most important thing I learned was that we are not prepared for what we will face as we age. Being my fifties, I have some time to improve, but for younger people, they can actually prevent themselves from many of the ailments that older people face today.
Our health care system is a symptom-based system which means it focuses mainly on solving the ache or pain with little regard towards the cause. When older people suffer from arthritis, back pain, or joint pain, we can offer drugs, braces, or surgery as a means to stop the pain. What we should be looking at are their diet and lifestyle. Unfortunately, even the doctors will say, ” at your age, what do you expect?” You should expect everything to work, however, you must be taught how to prevent these things from happening and most health care workers are not trained to teach you.
We know that inflammation can lead to heart disease, but did you know it can lead to arthritis, joint stiffness, and even back stiffness. Too many people are consuming processed foods, mainly carbohydrates, that convert into to simple sugars. These simple sugars can create inflammation throughout your body. Secondly, carbohydrates are the main portion of your diet can cause your body to burn sugars instead of fat which can lead to obesity. Just by simply reducing the number of bread, pasta, and eliminating most of the processed foods like pastries and doughnuts, you can reduce the harmful effects. Eating more vegetables like lettuce, kale, greens of different kinds will help to reduce the need to burn glucose(sugar). Remember to take baby steps to build a habit. Bad eating is a habit just like good eating. Never go cold turkey and deprive yourself as this is a recipe to fail. In 1996, I weighed 315 lbs. Over the next 18 months, I lost 105 lbs. without ever going on a diet. All I did was to learn new habits. It is not easy, but you can do it!
Lifestyle changes like taking brisk walks every day, choosing the stairs versus the elevator, and learning to relax are keys to reducing stress which can cause inflammation in the body as well. Meditation is a great way to reduce stress and bring your life back into calm. This can make you more productive and efficient. Little changes daily to your lifestyle will build a lifetime of good habits without too much pain. Part of my losing the 105 lbs., was beginning to walk around my 1 bedroom apartment because I did not have the energy to walk around my building. That is where I started.
These are small changes you can do every day. The younger you start, the more positive results you will have. In fact, many of the ailments older people suffer from today would simply be eliminated with these changes. This blog will continue to break down the choices you have so you can easily transition your life into a more healthy and fulfilling life. Please leave any comment you may have or suggestions as we will delve into aging from birth to death and how to prepare yourself for the aging process no matter where you are starting from.
Stretching is so misunderstood. If I were King, I would change the word to releasing. Stretching is about letting go of the tension in your muscles. This tension can come from thoughts throughout your day or physical activity. A Neurosurgeon once said to me, ” Ever seen a stressed guy look relaxed?” He’s correct when we are stressed we tighten every muscle in our body. When having a bad day you may hold more tension in your shoulders, hips, hands, or feet, but it is also throughout your body. This tension will cause compression on your bones, nerves, and blood vessels. The compression on your spine can lead to bulging discs, herniated discs, tingling down an extremity. An example would be bike riding. As a biker is hunched over the handlebar, the compression on his/her spine is increased as they are holding up their head. The muscles of the chest begin to contract as they steering their bike, again increasing compression. As the compression increases in the cervical spine (neck), it pinches the nerves going down to the hands causing tingling and numbness. By releasing the chest muscles and the muscles on the front of the neck, the pressure on the neck will release. Increasing the strength of your back muscles will only make it worse.
The compression on your joints will cause your joints to wear out leading to joint replacement and surgeries to treat the pain. Every joint have muscles crossing over them. As the muscles harden from working out, it reduces the spacing in the joints which will squeeze out the synovial fluid, a lubricant the body naturally puts in your joint. Left untreated, this compression can cause bursitis, which is telling you your joint is too close together, and later damage to the cartilage. By learning to stretch properly, you can relieve the pressure on your joints as well as the nerves and blood vessels. You don’t need to know the names of all your muscles, but understand how you work mechanically will reduce your risk of injury.
The biggest issue that people have when stretching is understanding how much of stretching is more mental than physical. If you pull your muscles too hard, massage too hard, or try to force the muscle to release, your brain will fight back in fear of you hurting yourself. Your brain will not let you hurt yourself unless you force it, which is crazy! Listen to your body and when you stretch, feel the stretch from start to finish. If you are tight, only hold the stretch for 3-5 seconds and repeat 8-10 times. Holding a stretch for a long period of time is fone if you are flexible, but if you are not, then stretching is about re-training your brain to believe you can actually do the stretch. Be safe and free your body!
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Golfers are always looking for ways to improve their golf game. Is it the golf clubs, the golf balls, the shoes, or the training? Some may think if they get stronger in the gym, their distance will improve. Some may even get into stretching, but unfortunately, too many times the stretching is ineffective. All of these factors will improve your game, but understanding how stretching affects your game could be the most important one.
Let’s talk about the ankles, which I call the Rodney Dangerfield of the human body. I will include the calves in that assessment as the calves control how well the ankles move. We have all done the standard calf stretches, leaning against the wall with one foot back or standing on a slant board or curb, leaning forward trying to extend the Achilles tendon thinking we are stretching our calves. Once you understand how the calves work, you will quickly see how ineffective these stretches are for golf or any sport. There are actually 4 calf muscles in each calf. Some of you may have thought there was only one. There is an inside calf muscle which controls the inside part of the arch. When this muscle is short, or tight, the person will walk on the outside of their foot, supination. The outside calf muscle controls the outside of the arch and when it is tight, the person will walk on the inside of their foot, pronation. The two middle calf muscles run the length of your leg forming the Achilles tendon and continues into the arch. These control the up and down motion of the foot. Most healthcare people treat the foot with special insoles and shoes as if there is something wrong with your foot, but in reality, it is your calf. Why is this important to you?
As a golfer, your swing starts in your feet. Try swinging a club in your bare feet and feel how your feet move across the floor. How much movement you get is based on how flexible your calf muscles are to free your ankles. When these muscles are tight, there is a lot of torque on the knees, hips, and low back. When a golfer is stiff, they will tend to muscle through a swing using their upper body and that is where many injuries originate.
The best way to stretch these calf muscles is using a yoga strap or rope. Never use a stretchy band as they were designed for strength training. Sitting on the floor with your back against the wall, place the strap around the ball of your foot. Do not use your leg muscles and do not pull hard! Stretching is not about the pressure, but the releasing of the muscles. As you gradually pull the strap back, feel the middle calf muscles releasing. Do not lean back with your back, we are not wrestling a horse! Your ankle should be able to bend to 110 degrees. Do not force it, as the muscles will tighten and your stretch has stopped. There should be some pain. However, too much pain and your muscles will contract which will cause you to be in strength training mode. Hold each stretch for 3-5 seconds and repeat 8-10 times. Next, rotate your foot to the inside and repeat the stretch. You should feel this on the outside of the calf. Again, do not force, but allow the muscle to let go. Finally, rotate foot to the outside and repeat the 3-5 second hold and repeat 8-10 times. You should feel this on the inside of the calf. If your ankles are really tight, do these every morning and every night before you go to bed.if you suffering from night leg cramps, this will resolve the cramps. If you cannot sit on the floor, try a hardback chair with an ottoman.
During your day, place a golf ball on the floor and gently press down on the ball as you are sitting. Do not do this standing.No Pain, No Gain will not be your friend. Do not roll it around as I want you to pinpoint sore spots on the arch of your feet. Rolling around is fun, but it doesn’t solve your problem. The problem is hitting the ball farther with better movement. Keep that in mind! Check out my website at www.MuscleRepairShop.com