Loosen up and get into the swing

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 15 May, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 15 May, 2012, 12:00am


Golf isn't all about what you do on the course; what you do off it counts, too. World No 1 Rory McIlroy, for example, credits much of his success to strength and conditioning in the gym with Steve McGregor, the fitness guru who also works with newly crowned English Premier League champions Manchester City and the New York Knicks.

For the next three weeks, Health Post has teamed up with Hong Kong touring professional James Stewart and his trainer, Ross Eathorne, to help lift your golf game through a series of exercises that work your flexibility, posture and strength.

This week, the focus is on stretching - something former Hong Kong No1 Stewart says has been paramount to his golfing success. 'I stretch every day to maintain my flexibility,' says Stewart, executive director of J&J Golf Academy at Discovery Bay Golf Club. 'If I don't stretch prior to playing, I really notice it as my golf swing tightens up, and my rhythm and timing are affected. It's especially important to stretch after long car rides or flights.'

About 90 per cent of pro golfers do some type of stretching for 10 to 30 minutes before they play, says Stewart. But most amateurs don't stretch at all, says Eathorne, a golf biomechanics coach with Optimum Performance Studio in Central.

'Like everyone, James has tight muscles that can lead to injury and swing faults especially under pressure,' he says. 'For men, flexibility will have the greatest impact on the game, as when men reach 40, their spines start to stiffen. Women are generally more flexible in their spines.'

Here, Stewart demonstrates a pre-swing stretching routine.

Chest stretch

What it works: lengthens the pectoralis minor and opens up stooped posture. Tight chest muscles can contribute to shoulder impingement injuries. A tight right side will restrict backswing and encourage closing the club face at impact.

Method: stand, back against a wall with right arm raised and bent, elbow just above shoulder. Gently turn torso towards the right so that your chest now faces the wall. Hold for 20 seconds and repeat one to three times on each side.

Groin stretch

What it works: the inside thigh muscles that often tighten up in response to a weak pelvis and spine. Those with tight groin muscles will lift their leading heel and lose stability and swing power.

Method: sit with knees bent and soles of feet together. Grasp ankles and gently force knees down using elbows. Keep the spine fairly straight. Hold for 20 seconds and repeat one to three times.

Spinal rotation stretch

What it works: stretches the large and small trunk and hip muscles. Restricted spinal rotation will result in excessive internal shift and rotation of the hips during both the backswing and follow through. Coil action will also be limited, and this results in an attempt to accelerate the club with the arms and can lead to golfer's elbow.

Method: lie with left arm out to the side and left leg bent at a right angle in the air. Place opposite hand on left knee and pull it towards your right side while keeping shoulders on the ground. Aim for the knee to touch the ground. Hold for 30 seconds and repeat one to three times on each side

Levator scapula stretch

What it works: the muscle that attaches from the top of the shoulder bone to the top of the neck. It elevates the shoulder blade (scapula) and rotates the neck. A tight left side will restrict shoulder rotation and possibly pull your eyes off the ball and lead to neck ache or tension headache after golf.

Method: stand tall and tuck your chin in. Hold side of head with opposite hand. Gently pull head until you feel a mild stretch on the side of your neck. Rotate chin down and forwards and feel the mild stretch move to the back of your neck. Hold for 15 seconds and repeat one to three times each side.

Latissimus dorsi stretch

What it works: the side trunk muscle that plays a massive role in swing width. It attaches from the pelvis to the arms. A tight left side will shorten swing width, and a tight right side will restrict follow through. Your swing will be choppy and encourage the club face to close on impact.

Method: stand with feet apart, with one hand behind the body and opposite arm stretched upwards. Lean sideways. Hold for 20 seconds and repeat one to three times on each side.

Deep glute stretch

What it works: the deep lateral rotators of the hip, which tighten to compensate for ankle, knee or pelvic instability. Tight hips will limit rotation and may lead to the spine compensating and, therefore, a back injury. This stretch can reduce casting of the club head and reverse pivots.

Method: sit on floor with legs bent at about 90 degrees, one in front and one behind you. Lean forward while keeping the spine straight. Hold for 20 seconds and repeat one to three times.