Maintaining Mobility: An Essential for the Aging Golfer
Yes it’s true, if you don’t use it, you lose it. And considering the way that we go through our day to day lives most of us aren’t using it, our mobility that is. Unfortunately, the amount of time that we’re required to be at a desk or in a car beginning in our teens starts to add up over time. As the responsibilities mount, the time allotted for fitness tends to decrease. You went from being active for two to three hours each day as a teenager, to trying to fit two to three one-hour long workouts into each week. You’re losing it.
It starts every Monday with a sit-down breakfast, then we’re in the car for 30 minutes on the way to work, then we have meetings all day with a lunch break in the middle. Then it’s back home, drive the kids the practice or a game, finally sit down for dinner. It’s been a long day, you just want to relax and watch some TV or read a book before bed. This is the routine Monday through Friday, year after year. You’re losing it.
Then it finally hits you, you’ve been playing golf every Saturday morning for years and you suddenly realize it, “I just can’t turn the way that I used to”. It doesn’t make any sense, you’ve been active your whole life. You get your three workouts a week in. You stretch before every workout. You play golf at least once every weekend. You think to yourself, “this must just be what happens when you age, you lose it, right”?
Not necessarily, it doesn’t have to be that way. You stretch and you’re active, but everything that you do is straight forward and backwards. Bench press, pull-ups, biking, squats, running, lunges, walking, stretching your hamstrings and quads, all of it. The things that make up the majority of a person’s workouts are all performed in a linear plane. Very few of them require any rotation, and those that do (like jogging) require very little. Where we’ve gone wrong is that we don’t place movement quality and variety on the same level of importance as just moving.
It’s easy when you’re young, your body is made of rubber and you don’t need to do anything to maintain it besides staying active. As we age though our body conforms to our cumulative movement patterns. When these movement patterns involve a lot of sitting and don’t include structured rotation, it makes it very difficult to maintain the level of rotation that we once had available to us. Like any other form of movement our ability to rotate depends on two things.
First, we have to have the passive flexibility available to us to be able to even get our body into that position. Think of this as the same idea as touching your toes, where gravity does all of the work for you. Second, we need to have the active range of motion to pull our body into the position that we want. This can be viewed more as building the strength required to do a pushup that goes all the way to the ground and back up. While it sounds like another full workout in order to maintain this level of mobility, it can be done quite simply with a couple of the right exercises performed at the beginning or end of your workout a couple times per week.
As mentioned before, the first thing that we have to address is the passive mobility. There are a variety of different ways to perform a T-Spine rotational stretch, but the basic idea is the same for all of them; lock your hips in place and rotate your shoulders using gravity to assist. In the video above I perform a basic rotational stretch. Having my bottom leg extended and top leg flexed helps to lock my hips in place. I also like to place my bottom hand on the flexed knee to ensure that it doesn’t lift up as I rotate my upper body. Your eyes should follow your top hand as it moves to the opposite side of your body. You want to squeeze your shoulder blade back as you approach your end range of motion. The goal here IS NOT to get your hand to the ground. The arm should just be a weight that you use to help pull your shoulders toward the ground.
Once we’ve increased our passive range of motion, we need to build our mobility by creating strength through that range of motion. It doesn’t take much to build the type of strength that allows us to move through a full range of motion. The concept is still the same, the hips need to be locked in place while we turn the upper body, but this time we don’t use gravity to help. A seated trunk rotation like the one in this video is great because it doesn’t require any resistance. You simply squeeze your knees together to prevent hip rotation and turn as far as you can. The trick to improve your mobility with this exercise is the side bend that you add in once you’ve turned as far as possible. When you come out of the side bend you’ll actually be able to turn a little further than before, unlocking a range of motion that your body didn’t realize that you had!
Practicing these two exercises a few times per week is enough to improve your range of motion and ability to rotate. Depending on what stage of your life you’re in you may not get all the way back to where you once were, but this is a step in the right direction and will only help you going forward. Maintaining this kind of mobility will not only help you to feel more limber and move better on the golf course, but it will help you to avoid the injuries that can occur when you try to compensate and create movement using other areas of your body. Mobility can be a great thing, don’t lose it.
Steve Zarriello is the owner of Olympia Fitness and Performance, located in Cranston, RI. He has been training clients of all different ages, abilities and backgrounds to help them reach their specific goals for over 10 years. His primary focus is on working with golfers to help improve their ability to play the game and keep them pain free.