Are you one of the many who pushes through a round of golf grabbing your shoulder and wondering why that thing is so sore? Shoulder pain is one of the more common issues with athletes today, affecting about 1-2 in every ten golfers1, and often is a result of something other than the shoulder! The golf swing is a rotational power move and requires mobility and stability from the ground up through your hips, torso, shoulders and out through your arms to the clubface. A breakdown in any one of these body regions can cause excess stress on any of these body parts. Today, I’m giving you my top five techniques from the waist up to avoid these breakdowns and allow the joints of the body to work together so you can stay on the course and off the trainer’s table. Doing all five of these on a daily basis, or at a minimum before a round of golf, is sure to unlock some of your rotation limitations and keep those shoulders moving and healthy.
We will begin with two techniques in and around the shoulder and progress to some thoracic spine drills, the real secret sauce behind opening up rotation in the golf swing.
Technique 1: Active Pectoral Self Release
One of the big things that can limit the mobility of your shoulder is limited pec flexibility. You have two pec muscles per side, pec major and pec minor. Between the two of them, restrictions can result in limited arm elevation and external rotation, as well as poor scapular mechanics, which often lead to impingement-type shoulder pain.
The object of this technique is to spend a couple of minutes using a ball and a wall to dig into your pecs and release any abnormal tension that they commonly hold. Begin with simply rolling the length of the muscle. As you find tender points, you want to maintain pressure there while reaching your arm up and away from your body, rolling your hand open. Reach back and forth about 8-12 times or until you feel some of the tension releasing. The goal is to feel some discomfort, but avoid putting so much pressure that the pain is excruciating.
Dosage: Total 2 minutes or less
Technique 2: Controlled Articular Rotations (CARs)
Didn’t your mother tell you to brush your teeth! We all (hopefully) spend a few minutes per day brushing our teeth to maintain healthy, functional chompers. Why then, would we not do the same to maintain healthy, moving joints? This simple technique can do just that. I recommend performing CARs through all the major rotational joints at a minimum, including the star of today’s show, the shoulders. Think of it as non-optional, just like brushing your teeth every morning and night. To perform this technique, start by creating a low level of tension (about 25% of your maximal squeeze) throughout the rest of the body (toes, glutes, core, other hand). Begin the movement with thumb forward and elbow straight, slowly raising the arm straight out in front of you and around in a circle reaching behind you, eventually reaching your starting point. As you reach the top of the circle you will rotate your hand and arm around so that on the back side, you will be led by your pinky finger. The keys to this are: 1) explore your full range of motion without compensating with trunk bend or rotation, 2) keep low-level tension throughout the body during the entirety of the movement, and 3) proceed through the motion as slowly as possible.
Dosage: 3 revolutions each from front to back and from back to front, each side per day.
Technique 3: Twist and Tilt
You will be surprised how much extra turn you can get as you go through this simple, but amazingly effective self-mobilization for the thoracic spine. In the thoracic spine, joint movements are coupled. In other words, when you have rotation, you also have side-bending, and vice-versa2. Thus, getting at both motions can net some quick and significant results!
Begin in a chair seated with upright posture, feet flat on the floor, and feet and knees parallel. Place hands interlocked behind your neck without pulling your head or neck forward. Start the motion by turning your trunk as far as you can to the right, without tilting to the side or moving your hips. When you reach the end of the available rotation, tilt your body to the right, come back to upright, and then rotate further. Repeat this until you run out of extra turning after tilting to the side. Perform the same technique to the other side.
Technique 4: Reach Backs
This technique is going to help train the new mobility you opened up in the last exercise. Begin on hands and knees and then sit back onto your heels. This will lock out your low back so we can really focus on the thoracic spine. Put your right hand behind your head and elbow straight out to the side. While maintaining butt to heels, reach your elbow up and around as far as possible in the opposite direction, trying to p0int your elbow to the sky.
Perform 10 reps to each side.
Technique 5: Assisted/Resisted Reach Through
This technique is similar to the previous drill, but now we are going to unlock your spine and incorporate a resistance band to both add mobility and recruit your core for better control of that new range of motion. Assume a quadruped position with hands below shoulders and knees below hips. Wrap a resistance band around the rotating shoulder and anchor it behind you to the opposite diagonal as shown in the video below. Rotate up with the banded shoulder, pointing the elbow as high as possible, and then rotate all the way back and under to allow your elbow to touch the opposite arm. Repeat for 10 repetitions and perform ten per side.
Perform these exercises regularly and thank me later for the increased mobility and pain free rounds! As always, if you have a medical condition or are concerned about one, please see a medical professional.
PT, DPT, TPI
- McHardy AJ, Pollard HP. Golf and upper limb injuries: a summary and review of the literature. Chiropr Osteopat. 2005;13:7.
- Willems JM, Jull G, Ng J. An in-vivo study of the primary and coupled rotations of the thoracic spine. Clin Biomech. 1996;11:311–316.