Building Muscles for Golf
In order to perfect the golf swing, we need to use a collection of specific muscles which may or may not be well prepared for the job. The question then becomes, what do we actually mean by this? Many professional golfers have become enthused about Pilates and gym membership in a way that simply didn’t happen in the past. Actually, this is true of the general populous. We have become increasingly obsessed with the body and its fitness, with many, both men and women, defining themselves in this way. Arguably, part of Tiger Woods downfall has been his over-development of muscle, which has left him muscle-bound. We try too hard at building muscles for golf.
Now, nobody could reasonably argue that muscular strength was irrelevant in terms of how far we can hit the ball, however, we must ask ourselves, is it sheer brute force we are striving for? Are we simply building muscles for golf? Or is there a different, more effective way to train muscles to perform better golf shots? As an Alexander technique practitioner and a very keen golfer, I have to say the answer is a resounding, yes. If we go back to the example of the muscle-bound Tiger Woods, we see that his struggle is with the fluidity of movement, control. It is far more important in golf to have control over what your muscles do than to have big strong ones.
What we are talking about here is psycho-physical control. In Alexander Technique terminology this simply means the ability to consciously control muscle.
Matt Deal, head PGA pro at Hendon golf club, says the main problem he has teaching golf is the ability of his clients to actually carry out his instructions. The difficulty is that they aren’t able to translate what he shows and tells them to do. They cannot consciously control muscle or even know exactly what they are doing with their bodies. This we call faulty sensory appreciation. An inability to know what your body is doing. It is impossible to feel what is going on in your body. How can Tiger go from being the greatest to being out of contention? He had control of his muscles and then lost it. He became muscle-bound.
There is no doubt that knowing what we are doing with our bodies, our muscles, is incredibly difficult. But why should this be so? After all, we have been evolving for millions of years. F M Alexander argues that post-industrial revolution, (and of course now the technology revolution) we have moved so far away from using our bodies in everything we do that we have lost this skill. I would also posit that since early western philosophy advocated the superiority of mind over body and Christian denigration of it (the body), we have lost an important relationship to the body, what we could call the integration of the mind and body. Getting the two to function as one whole powerful and skilful unit is essential to playing well.
A new kind of training
It, therefore, follows that we need to train, not by building muscles for golf in the gym, but in some way that will develop our efficient and intelligent use of muscle to carry out our will in making consistent golf shots.
Let’s first look at the main muscles in use;
Gluteus Maximus (your bum)
Pectoralis major (chest)
Latissimus dorsi (back)
All of the above muscles are key to the golf swing and are also muscles that get worked in the gym. All of these muscles are prone to excess tightening, which is going to impair flexibility, the fluidity of movement. Because of contraction, tightening of muscle, motility is often restricted in one or more of these areas. Actually, a workout is likely to exacerbate this problem, because when we move, we tighten. When that movement is fast and energetic the tightening is far greater. When all we are doing is building muscles for golf, we are effectively undermining our ability to move freely and work efficiently.
An effective muscle is one that is softening and lengthening. There is limited (controlled) contraction and maximum leverage is available to the muscle. In order to bring this about there are several techniques available to use.
The important thing is to be able to become conscious of what condition each muscle is in. Since there are a lot of them, over 600, it is necessary to have a method that allows and encourages freedom in a general sense as it is too difficult to have in mind all of the muscles at any one time. It is also possible to control certain groups of muscles at a time. Learning to control the level of tension in muscle in a general sense, through relaxation, Alexander Technique and some other methods are going to be far more useful as most problems in golf do not come from weak muscles but muscles that are ill-trained in carrying out the task in hand. Muscles that are not under our control. Muscles that fire off randomly against our wills. Tensing unnecessarily.
In order to begin to gain a greater connection to your muscles try this relaxation exercise that we call semi supine. You are trying to make a mental connection with your muscles. With practice and in good time it is possible to ‘talk’ to muscle and get a response, making sure only specific muscles engage in the right way and at the right time.
Further help can be gained from your local Alexander Technique Teacher.
Improving your use in this way will have very real benefits to your game as a whole. It will also prevent injury. It will also be far more effective at turning your game around, than hours spent sweating in the gym. However, to be really good, we do need to be fit. So perhaps it is more correct to say, be circumspect about your gym activity, don’t get muscle bound and develop your sense of muscle use (psychophysical) as much as possible. Don’t get hung up on building muscles for golf. The problem lies with those who think training muscles to be strong are getting the competitive edge, they are not. Wisdom will always beat brawn. So use fit muscles wisely and you could be a winner.