6 of the Best Off-Season Shoulder Strengthening Exercises for Golfers

Millions of people of all ages and varying skill levels play golf.  Golf is a low-impact sport.  However, most golfers are at risk for injury.  This is due to the complex nature of the swing requiring extreme flexibility, strength, and coordination.  Most golfers fall short in these areas.  Shoulder injuries are very common in golfers.  This article teaches you 6 exercises to strengthen your shoulders, reduce your risk of injury, and improve your golf swing.

Phases of the Golf Swing

Golf Swing
5 phases of the golf swing

The golf swing is divided into 5 phases:

  1. The backswing – from address to top of swing;
  2. The downswing – from top of the swing to horizontal positioning of the golf club (early part of downswing);
  3. The acceleration phase – from horizontal club position to ball impact (late part of downswing);
  4. The early follow-through – from impact to a horizontal club positioning and;
  5. The late follow-through – from horizontal club position to completion of the swing.

Shoulder Muscle Activity During the Golf Swing

Different shoulder muscles are active during the 5 phases of the swing. There is high activity of the middle, lower, and upper trapezius of the trailing arm during the backswing.  This helps your scapula retract and upwardly rotate.  Weakness of these muscles leads to rotator cuff, bursa, and biceps tendon irritation.

Your rotator cuff muscles in your trailing arm are also highly active during the backswing.  These muscles stabilize the shoulder joint as the larger muscles (your pecs and lats) produce high forces to move the club with speed.

Muscles of the golf swing
The muscle activity during the golf swing is complex and coordinated.

Your serratus anterior in the trailing arm shows high activity during the downswing. This helps stabilize your scapula and produce protraction for added power.  Many golfers and overhead athletes demonstrate weakness of this muscle.  Therefore, dedicated strengthening exercises for this muscle are imperative for long-term shoulder health.

One of your rotator cuff muscles, the supraspinatus, is highly active in the lead arm during the backswing.  The lead arm also shows high activity of the trapezius, serratus anterior, and rhomboids during the downswing and acceleration phase of the swing.  As you can see, many muscles around your shoulder contribute to the golf swing.  A well-rounded shoulder exercise program addresses all of these muscles.

A Proven Golf-Specific Exercise Program

Researchers from the University of Pittsburgh investigated the effects of a total body exercise program in recreational golfers.  Golfers performed a golf-specific conditioning program 3–4 times per week for 8 weeks during the off-season.  The program included stretches for the hips and upper back.  Strengthening exercises focused on the core and shoulder.  Power exercises with medicine balls and kettlebells were also included.

Shoulder, trunk, and lower body flexibility improved after the 8-week program.  Balance performance was also significantly better.  Trunk rotation speed during the acceleration phase of the swing showed large improvements.  This corresponded with increased club speed, ball speed, carry distance, and total distance.  These results indicate that a golf-specific exercise program improves strength, flexibility, balance, and performance in golfers.

6 Simple Shoulder Strengthening Exercises for Golfers

The 6 exercises described below are sample exercises from this proven off-season program.  These exercises focus only on the shoulder musculature important for an effective golf swing.  Perform each exercise 3 times per week.  Begin with 3 sets of 10 repetitions and progress up to 15 repetitions per set.  All exercises utilize resistance bands and can be easily done at home, in the gym, or on the golf course.

Band Rotational Row

Band ER in 90 Degrees

Band IR in 90 Degrees

Band Scaption

Band Serratus Punch

Band Reverse Fly

See Your Physical Therapist for Help Getting Started

Golf is a fantastic game that brings happiness to millions of people worldwide.  However, the nature of the golf swing and its repetitive nature leave golfers prone to overuse injuries.  Low back pain and shoulder injuries are the most common in golfers.  Therefore, you must perform regular shoulder strengthening exercises to reduce your risk of injury and keep yourself in the game.

For help getting started with the right exercises, see your physical therapist.  The physical therapists of BSR have been helping golfers in Southern Ocean County move without pain since 2007.  Call today to schedule your initial evaluation with one of our Doctors of Physical Therapy.

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Back Pain in Golfers: 5 Exercises to Improve Your Flexibility

Low back pain is extremely common in recreational and professional golfers.  Even Tiger Woods has succumbed to multiple back surgeries.  It is estimated that 35% of amateur and up to 55% of professional golfers experience significant time lost from golf due to back pain.  Swing mechanics, age, frequency of play, and individual physical limitations have been cited as risk factors.  Many golfers we work with have limitations in their ability to rotate and bend through their spine and hips.  This increases demands and stress to your low back joints, muscles, and discs. Golfers can correct these limitations by regularly performing exercises to improve mobility of their hips and torso.

The Physical Demands of Golf and Back Pain

The golf swing is a repetitive asymmetrical motion.  This predisposes you to strength and mobility imbalances between your right and left sides.  In order to optimize swing mechanics, you will have to focus on improving the separation between your shoulders and pelvis.  This is beneficial in both the backswing and downswing.  However, these large twisting motions are performed at high speeds with high forces.  This places substantial loads on your spine joints, discs, and muscles.

Golf exercises

The spine must also laterally bend or tilt at ball impact and follow-through.  Furthermore, the spine is asked to bend backward during the follow-through.  Many golfers we work with lack mobility to efficiently move into some or all of these positions.  Thankfully, many respond quickly to exercises that address their individual limitations.  The 5 videos which follow are examples of exercises we prescribe to golfers to improve their hip and spine mobility.  Exercises can be performed as a preventative strategy to avoid future problems.  Or they can be performed to alleviate existing back pain which is impacting your swing and score.

90/90 Hip Stretch

This stretch improves rotation through your hips.  Without adequate rotation of your hips, stress to your spine is increased.

To perform the stretch, sit on the floor with your knees bent to 90 degrees.  One knee is placed in front of your body and the other behind.   Place one hand to the outside of your front knee.  Place your other hand in front of your shin.  Gently lean forward with a straight back.  Hold this position for 3 to 5 seconds then return to the starting position.

Next, walk your hands so one is placed in front of your knee and the other in front of your ankle.  Repeat the stretch.  Finally, repeat now with your hands at mid-shin and to the inside of your foot.  At each position, you should feel a stretch deep in your buttock.  Perform this stretch 3 to 5 times on each side.

Hip Flexor Self-Mobilization

Limited hip extension flexibility is one possible cause of pain during your follow-through.  Limited extension stresses the joints of your spine.  Performing this self-mobilization with abdominal strengthening exercises often alleviates pain.

Assume a kneeling position.  Stay as tall as you can and tighten your stomach muscles. You should experience a mild stretch in the front of your hip in this position.  Gently lean in to increase the stretch.  Hold the position for 3 to 5 seconds and perform 10 to 20 repetitions.

To increase the stretch, bend your back knee and hold your ankle.  If you do this, be sure to maintain the contraction of your stomach muscles and avoid arching through your back. 

Thoracic Rotation Self-Mobilization in Standing

This standing rotation exercise is ideal to incorporate into a pre-game warm-up.  From a standing semi-squat position place one arm between your thighs just above your knees. This position will block hip and pelvic movement.  Most of the movement will now be coming from your upper back.

Next, rotate your body upwards towards the sky by following your open hand with your eyes.  At the top of the movement, exhale before returning to the starting position.  Perform 10 repetitions and then repeat on the opposite side.

Rotations with Side Bends in Half Kneeling

This exercise helps improve shoulder to pelvis separation.  It also helps decrease stress to the spine during ball impact and follow-through.

Assume a half-kneeling position.  Place your arms behind your head or across your chest.  Rotate your body towards the side of your front leg.  While holding the rotation, gently lean your shoulder towards your hip.  Return to the upright position and then attempt to rotate further.  Complete this sequence 2 to 3 times on one side.  Then switch sides and repeat on the other side.  Perform 3 to 5 repetitions on each side.

Rock Backs in Internal Rotation

Many golfers have tightness of their lead hip rotators.  This exercise helps improve lead hip internal rotation range of motion.

Assume an all-4’s position with your hips over your knees and shoulders over your hands.  Rotate your feet out away from your body and maintain this position throughout the exercise.  This will bias the stretch to your hips.

Next, sit back on your heels while keeping your back flat.  Movement should be occurring at your hips and shoulders, not your spine.  Hold this position 2 to 3 seconds and perform 10 to 20 repetitions.

Reduce Your Risk for Golf Injuries

Low back pain in golfers can range from a mild annoyance to debilitating.  Regular exercise can alleviate much of the distress and help keep you out on the course.  In order to achieve the best results, exercises should be performed multiple times each week.  Infrequent or random exercise will do you little good.  Give these 5 exercises a shot for a few weeks and see how things are going.

If you want more help give us a call.  Our physical therapists can help you find the right exercises for you and supplement these with massage and other manual therapy treatments. We also offer a free evaluation for golfers looking to feel better and improve their swing.

Exercises and physical therapy for lower back pain
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