Improving your golf drive distance – The Pros and Cons Relating to Back pain
Golf season is now upon us! You’ve dusted off the old clubs, hit the driving range, maybe, and are back on the course. And then WAM!, that nagging back pain returns after a handful of rounds. Of course, it isn’t enough to stop you, but immediately, and sub-consciously, your swing changes and so does your ball flight path and velocity. Inevitably, you submit your game to the will of the “golf gods”, and carry on playing mediocre golf with occasional lower back pain being par-for-the-course.
So what can you do right now to reduce your injury risk, maintain that explosive power, and break beyond the threshold of mediocre golf (no guarantees on this last stipulation)? Well, probably a lot of things, but I’d like to focus on one, torso-pelvic separation – the controlled and coordinated movement mechanics of your torso (your upper body NOT including your arms) and your pelvis. So what does this mean in relation to the golf swing?:
Backswing: initiated by simultaneous UPPER torso and arm rotation, followed by some pelvic rotation (look up “x-factor” for videos on this) 1
Downswing: initiated by pelvic rotation back to the impact position, followed by UPPER torso rotation and lastly arm rotation1
There are some critical factors to consider here:
First off, rotation of the torso (during both the backswing and downswing) should be in the upper portion as highlighted above. Often times, we find that clients have restricted rotation in this part of their torso and compensate by rotating through the lower torso [read: lower back]. Repeat this every time you swing (maybe 100-200 times a round) and the result is lower back pain due to repetitive strain, among other possibilities.
Second, pelvic rotation in the back swing should be less than that of the upper torso. This generates potential energy – think about the tension created in an elastic band as you pull it – which you can translate into power if harnessed correctly in the downswing.
So let’s assume you currently do not have back pain and you’ve been told that you need to work on this aspect of your golf swing. Here are a few targeted exercise suggestions that will help improve your upper back mobility, activate your core, and improve your pelvic movement control.
Thoracic clock stretch (see link): this stretch is designed to focus your torso rotation to the upper and NOT the lower back. Not a bad idea to complete this stretch on both sides of your body, 2 sets of 15 repetitions per day.
Pallof press with rotation (see link): this strengthening exercise is designed to help dissociate trunk from pelvic rotation. So try your best to twist with your upper body/torso WITHOUT letting your pelvis and hips rotate with you. 3 sets of 15 repetitions per day would be a good goal, using a resistance that feels challenging over the last 3-5 repetitions of each set.
Pelvic rotation drill (see link): This exercise can be a tricky one to implement, especially if you already have back pain… so I would avoid it if you have any concerns at this time. One of the challenges with maximizing torso-pelvic separation is that rotation at the pelvis often results in some rotation of the lower back, which overtime can lead to injury. You can reduce your exposure to lower back rotation by moving your torso and pelvis together during your swing, thus sacrificing power. But, if you are really focused on increasing your power you can utilize this drill safely by maintaining strong core activation and building up the amplitude of motion. Try and complete 15-20 repetitions total while standing on your lead leg.
Finally, remember that we have discussed only one element of the golf swing and one golf-related injury, to which there are MANY of both. If you have concerns regarding your swing, injury, or pains affecting your golf game, coming in for a detailed biomechanical assessment will bring you one step closer to avoiding injury and improving your bodies tolerance of the sport. Highlighting and resolving biomechanical and strength deficits is something that can’t be done by reading this blog, so please use our expertise appropriately.
Thanks for reading and happy golfing!
- Myers, J., Lephart, S., Tsai, Y., Sell, T., Smoliga, J., and Jolly, J. The role of upper torso and pelvis rotation in driving performance during the golf swing. Journal of Sports Sciences. Jan. 2008; 26 (2): 181-188.
Manager of Clinical Services / Registered Physiotherapist
Jordan is a graduate of the University of Toronto Physiotherapy program and has since been practicing in orthopaedic settings. He has developed an interest in sports physiotherapy through his many years as an athlete, participating in baseball, golf, snowboarding, and more recently rock-climbing, cycling, and strength training. He is dedicated to improving mobility, optimizing function, and strengthening to help achieve your goals through the use of manual therapy and individualized exercise prescription. He also has additional training in acupuncture and sports taping.