Anybody who takes an interest in the golf world will likely be aware of the hot topic of conversation right now – no, not Bryson DeChambeau’s 428 yard drive! Curbed cart paths tend to help with that, but that other thing that helped him carry the drive 300+ yards before it even hit the deck; his dramatic body transformation compared with last season.
Regardless of people’s opinions, 3/3 top 10 finishes since the tour’s restart, including a tied Third place, and moving from 34th last season to floating between 1st and 2nd in Driving Distance on tour is pretty impressive – so much so that he’s adding fuel to the fiery debate of course designs moving forward. Bryson is known as ‘the mad scientist’ for a reason though – having all of his irons fitted to the same shaft length, putting on 30lbs in an offseason, and still being able to strike the ball cleanly with a swing that now looks like a bodybuilder’s? Only a PGA Tour athlete with a degree in Physics can justify those things…(Fortunately, that’s him.)
One question that is floating around however: ‘Is this sustainable?’. In this interview with Skratch; he recalls a practice session where his swing speed reached nearly 140 miles an hour and ball speed surpassed 205mph. With equipment and strength training advancements over the past 20 years; we really are pushing the boundaries of athleticism in golf, and it is indisputably far more physical than the pre-Tiger years. We’re yet to see the long term effects of lighter gear, faster swing speeds and greater physical competition on a generation of golfers’ bodies throughout a career. While it’ll be interesting to watch how the careers of the Dechambeaus and Koepkas of the world progress past 35 years old, something of more interest to me is a little closer to home.
The majority of us watching them are not born to be a Tiger or a Rory McIlroy – we sit for hours a day, sometimes in front of screens or steering wheels as we work to pay the bills. We play a round at the weekend and are lucky to get a range session in one evening a week while we have the light!
However; we are striving to keep up with a game designed for professional athletes. Most of us have seen weightlifting events while flicking through the TV events during the olympics, or seen (usually men) trying to lift far too much weight in the gym before, and we know we’re not cut out for that kind of physical stress; but trying to gain distance off the tee is pretty similar! The weight lifted may not be, but the effort you have to put into driving the green on a short par-4, most certainly is. Bryson knows that Force = Mass x Acceleration: The less weight there is, the faster it goes with the same amount of force. You may not be lifting as much as beefcake Steve from the gym, but you sure do swing that 3 wood faster than he can bench press.
The issue with this is that while these weightlifters will work on their legs for an hour or so, go home and let them rest while they train their arms the next day; we’re out on the course for 4 hours, putting that load through our spines the same way stroke after stroke, round after round. Granted approach shots and putts provide a break, but it’s the amount of volume – the sheer number of repetitions we make, hole after hole, round after round that wears away the same spot until we experience the back pain, frozen shoulder, arthritis etc.
Another thing worth considering is that our lifestyles are no longer conducive to this sort of stress on the body. Our neck, shoulders and upper back are packed up from mobile phone & computer use, and our low back and hips are tight from all the sitting. This is, in my opinion; what is troubling a lot of amateur golfers.
The bones in your lumbar spine (low back) are designed to move in a different fashion than those in your thoracic spine (upper back). You can see the difference in the shape of them in the pictures here.
Lumbar (low-back) vertebrae – Gray’s Anatomy
Thoracic (mid-back) vertebrae – Gray’s Anatomy
Your lumbar vertebrae are designed to slide on top of one another, translating forward and back, but don’t rotate very well. Your upper back, however; is designed to twist and turn. The bones form joints with the ribs allowing for even more rotation, your hips move in every which way when healthy and your 5 main joints of the shoulder help with the control of the club throughout.
When our bodies are all squished up from sitting at computers all day, our joints in our lower back can start taking over for what our upper back should be able to do, but can’t. One possible outcome of this, is the back pain experienced by many amateur golfers.
Now, this all sounds pretty doom & gloom for those of us with bad backs, sore hips and tight shoulders; but fear not! While the fitness industry is notorious for being saturated with HIIT classes, cover models and poorly educated professionals; we are slowly catching up, and can offer you an intelligent solution to help you keep playing well past your 60s. We won’t improve your strokes gained, or lower your scores – that’s up to you and your pro. A fitness coach claiming to directly make you score lower has likely never played golf, or is simply fixated on a different agenda, usually involving your pocket book. It’s not our job to improve your game. It is our job to help you keep your body going as long as you’re walking about on this big mount of dirt!
With that being said, taking care of your joints, sharing the load of your golf swing evenly across the body and maintaining your posture are three keys to longevity on the golf course; and this is where we can help!
Did you know there is an exercise to create more space in every single joint in your spine neck to tailbone, in the joints of your pelvis, your hips, to open your ribs, and all the joints around your shoulders? Can you imagine how it would feel to swing without restriction? There are exercises to help the muscles of your legs work together with your torso, your shoulders and arms; so you’re not wearing out some joints faster than others, and exercises to improve the awareness of your hips, spine, and shoulders so you can finally understand the feeling your golf pro is trying to teach you. Even better, most of these you can do anywhere, at any time with no equipment once you know how!
Why don’t you see this in gyms all over the world, I hear you say? Remember, I said we’re catching up slowly! We’ll get there – bridging the gaps between physiotherapy and other healthcare professions, elite sports and everyday lifestyle takes time, but we’re working on it. There are online programmes you can buy that can instruct you through exercises that are more beneficial to you. If you’re looking for something a little more bespoke, and tailored to your body and your needs; then there are professionals like myself who can work with you one-on-one, or in small groups for the same thing.
There’s been a lot of excitement building over the last decade with regards to how low we can score, and how long we can drive with new equipment, and gym programmes. Sometimes it’s worth stepping out of the fairway bunker on the second hole, putting the five-iron back in the bag and simply focusing on getting back to a good lie to get up and down, and help keep yourself in the game as you get closer to the 18th green in life.