LONGER DAYS OF SUNLIGHT are finally here again. If you are like me, you've been impatiently biding your time and waiting for that day when you can leave work and have enough daylight left to get outside and enjoy your favorite sport or activity.
While I absolutely do not want to temper that kind of enthusiasm, a few words of advice about preparation are warranted. You don't want that first round of golf, softball game or tennis match to throw you right out of the game while you recuperate from an injury.
The Swing Is the Thing
Golf is a great example of a sport that offers myriad opportunities for a sidelining injury. It's an athletic and challenging game that requires flexibility as well as stability, strength along with coordination and no small amount of skill.
Tiger Woods is arguably the most talented golfer of our time. But the elegance and power of Tiger Woods' swing belie the strenuous physical demands required (to wit, Woods has had to undergo recent arthroscopic knee surgery).
The golf swing is one of the most complex movements in sports and one of the most unnatural actions for the human body. It involves all of the major muscle groups and requires a good range of motion in several joints--something the average winter hibernator might not be quite ready for.
Sports writer and avid sportsman Larry Rea advises that you not only be ready for all the walking but also take the time to prepare your muscles for the swing.
The proper golf swing involves the neck, shoulders, back, hips, knees, ankles and all the soft tissues surrounding these joints. The repetitive nature of the golf swing can be stressful to unprepared muscles and joints, even for casual players. Add in the effects of poor bio mechanic due to less than optimal flexibility, and you've got a formula for injury.
No Prep, No Play
Golf injuries tend to be chronic or overuse injuries, as opposed to the traumatic or acute types of injuries seen in impact sports, a recent survey published in the American Journal of Sports Medicine showed that better than 80 percent of reported golf injuries were overuse injuries, while only 17 percent were traumatic injuries such as impacts to the head or sprained ankles.
Overuse injuries from golf most commonly involve the lower back, elbows, shoulders, hands and wrists.
Professional golfers, who average three injuries a year, are more likely to report overuse injuries of the back, wrist and shoulder, while golfer's elbow (medial epicondylitis) is the most commonly reported injury for amateur athletes, followed by low back pain and shoulder problems.
Epidemiological studies indicate that golfers lose an average of four weeks of playing time per injury, but a significant number of injuries can result in downtimes of four to six months.
Stretching for Strength
While specific strength training is undeniably helpful for good performance and injury prevention in golf and many other sports, the importance of good flexibility cannot be emphasized enough.
Flexibility, defined as the range of motion about a joint, is as essential to a powerful golf swing as are power and control. In fact, it may be the most essential element--good flexibility not only enhances smoothness and range of motion but actually powers the force behind a strong swing.
No doubt about it, golf is a power sport. A golfer has to generate maximum or near-maximum force in his swing, time after time, throughout every round. And it takes more than strong muscles alone to consistently produce that kind of power over so many repetitions.
Sports research studies have shown that muscles can generate greater force when pre-stretched before contracting. When a muscle is pre-stretched, it develops an elastic recoil, much like a loaded spring, that increases the force of the following contraction. This phenomenon is known as preloading.
Studies have shown that regardless of a player's talent or expertise in golf, preloading the force-generating muscles results in the most effective and powerful swings.
The force-generating muscles for the golf swing are primarily in the lower body. A powerful swing is generated when that force is effectively transferred to the upper body through smooth, sequential motion. This can only occur when all the major muscles in use are flexible, warmed-up and stretched.
Tiger Woods may have an uncanny ability for playing golf, but he has also spent a lifetime conditioning his muscles and joints specifically for his sport. Meanwhile, most amateur athletes and many pros enjoy a variety of sports and activities, each with different requirements in strength, form and skill.
But regardless of your sport or activity, and regardless of your natural talent, age, gender or current level of play, chances are very good that your ability will improve with increased flexibility. Even a few minutes a day of stretching can yield surprisingly strong results.
Before beginning your golf game, take a few minutes to warm up and stretch. Try these stretches to Loosen up the hamstrings, tower back and shoulder muscles. If possible, precede your stretches with five minutes of brisk walking to warm muscles and Lubricate joints.
Knee to Chest (Lower back, gluteals)
1. Lie on back or stand near a watt for support.
2. Bend one knee and putt it toward the chest.
3. Hold for 30 seconds, then slowly release and repeat on other Leg.
Standing Hamstring Stretch (hamstrings, calves, gluteals)
1. Place one foot on car bumper or step, keeping knee straight.
2. Bend forward from the hips, reaching toward toes of propped foot.
3. Hold for 30 seconds, then slowly straighten and switch legs.
1. Place a club across your shoulders, loosely draping arms over each end.
2. Plant feet in a wide stance for stability.
3. Keeping knees straight, slowly twist torso side to side.