Golf Fitness and The Core, What is it Really?
The most overused and misunderstood word in fitness and now in golf could easily be the “core”. What is the core exactly? Is it a muscle? Is it a group of muscles? How does it help in the golf swing? It is thrown around so loosely that it can be confusing to most. Ask 10 different fitness professionals and you may get 10 different answers.
What is the Core?
Like I said ask 10 get 10, so here is mine.
Think of the core of anything, apple core, core of a golf ball. It almost always refers to the center, well the fitness term is no different. It is the group of muscles that makes up the center of the body, mainly the abdominal muscles the image to the right shows them best. I am not talking about the 6 pack everyone dreams of, it’s the muscles beneath the surface that nobody sees. The core is also made up by the glutes, lower back and sides of the hips. There is also terms like the lateral core, the posterior core, and the anterior core, again these are just terms that make up a group of muscles. This group of muscles can be amazing if activated properly. If you activate the core during a stretch of the arms, watch what happens (20 – 30 degrees more range of motion). Stand on one leg with the core activated and your balance is 10 times better. The problem is, 80 percent of the golfers we have tested over the past 10 years do not know how to activate their core properly.
How do you use the core in golf?
First you must learn how to activate the core. I have a few ways I explain it to clients because it’s not easy to do. The first, which is what most people understand is to think that someone is about to punch you in the stomach, besides punching them back, what is your first reaction? With most, it is to tighten their stomach, it’s just a natural reaction. Well, that is activating the core, the hard part is holding it. The second way I explain it is to have them cough, no it’s not a physical! When you cough your core muscles have to contract to restrict the lungs, which is activating the core. Again, the hard part is holding that contraction.
Many golfers ask me if they should activate or tighten their core in their set up position. My answer is always NO, because when you tighten anything before you take the club back you are going to restrict your swing, and most golfers lack proper flexibility and cannot afford restriction. If trained properly the core will work when it is needed, and make the proper adjustments during the swing.
What Functions Does The Core Have In Golf?
One of the most common swing moves you see in professional golfers that you don’t see in most amateurs is the separation between the hips and shoulders in both the backswing and downswing. The ability to keep the lower body stable during the backswing while the shoulders are turning back requires 2 things. Number one is flexibility of the thoracic spine and hips which I covered here. The stabilization of the lower body is the second, and this is done by having ample core strength throughout. The place we see the core really working is in the downswing. The core must stabilize the shoulder/chest region by holding them for a split second, but also initiate the hip rotation. I think this is why we see most swing faults happen during the downswing. Many things can go wrong because of a weak core or even the lack of control over the core. Here are just a few: lateral slide toward the target instead of rotation, hips thrust forward instead of rotating, or the shoulders start the downswing causing you to come over the top. Can you relate? Test your core strength!
5 Ways to Strengthen The Core For Golf?
1). First and foremost you need to strengthen the posterior core (the backside), because it is most often overlooked. You can do this by simply lying on your back with your knees bent and lifting your hips off the floor as high as you can, hold this for up to 1 minute. For added difficulty cross your arms over your chest, if you feel you are more advanced try putting your legs up on a stability ball. If you feel any cramping in the back of your legs, start over and be sure to squeeze the glutes.
2). Do a plank, This will strengthen the front core. Get into the start of a push up position, drop down to your elbows and hold as long as you can. Make sure your body remains in a straight line, if you drop your hips you will put a lot of unneeded stress on the lower back. Remember to activate the core the entire time. Try this a few times a week and your time will improve each time!
3). Side plank, just like the test. Get into the same position as the test calls for an hold as long as possible. This will strengthen the muscles in the sides of your body, these are the ones that make you rotate and stabilize you laterally.
4). Rotation exercises, use a cable or rubber bands (like the Power Bands from GolfGym). Click here to check those out. Get into golf posture with the anchor of the cable/band to your side, extend your arms as straight as you can creating a triangle between your hands and chest. Keep this triangle throughout the exercise and rotate. Be sure to activate the core the entire time. You can do this while allowing the hips to turn, and for added difficulty try holding the hips in place.
5.) Crunches on a stability ball. Make sure you are comfortable sitting on the ball first and then walk out until your lower back in on the ball. From this position try doing a simple crunch, but only about an 8 inch movement. Really try and squeeze the core, and feel a little pressure with your lower back into the ball.