|The hip joint is usually very flexible in multiple directions and relies on muscles to provide it with stability. |
The hip joint is usually very flexible in multiple directions and relies on muscles to provide it with stability. Hip rotation is essential for the golf swing but incorrect use of the muscles that act around the hip joint, because of lifestyle or swing faults, alters the way the hip moves. Hence, many golfers have tight hips that cannot rotate into the positions required for the swing.
Do muscle imbalances such as tightness in one hip muscle and weakness in other muscles cause the swing faults or do swing faults, such as sliding and swaying, cause hips to get tight? Is it the chicken or the egg? Either way, if you have any tightness or weakness that is affecting your ability to move it is worth correcting.
Apart from swing faults, if you stand for long periods of time hitting balls, the front of the hips get tight as the hip flexor muscles here shorten and the muscles in the bottom - the glutes - are stretched and find it harder to work effectively. The importance of the glutes in the golf swing canít be overstated; there is a reason why they are the biggest muscles in the body!
Gluteus medius provides the lateral (side to side) stability of the pelvis that allows the hips to rotate on plane while gluteus maximus is the key to keeping the hips over the ball and provides the power for the swing.
But while we may know that the glutes are important, it does not follow that exercise automatically strengthens them. A squat should strengthen the gluteus maximus and a lunge should strengthen the gluteus medius but it is easy instead to use the hip flexors and leg muscles in these exercises as our bodies find the easy way out. Lengthening the hip flexors and hip rotators will make it easier to strengthen the hips so stretching these muscles is necessary to achieve maximal strength gain.
The first step to strengthening the glutes is to make sure your brain knows where they are! Specific exercises that target the glutes are an important first step. When you can do these specific exercises,, you can then integrate the muscle into more dynamic activities but first check your performance of the exercises below to make sure you arenít merely ingraining faulty movements into your gym routine and so into your swing.
The exercises here are designed to specifically target the glute muscles and you should feel the work in your bottom, not in your legs or back.
1. Prone kneeling and hip extension
In the position indicated in Figure 1, with a towel under your left knee, make sure your back is straight (you can put a golf club along your back to check). Tighten your low stomach and then, keeping the right knee bent to 90, lift your foot to the ceiling. Only move as far as your hip joint moves and do not allow your back to arch at all. It doesnít matter how high your leg goes so long as your back does not move! Repeat this movement 8-12 times slowly and then change legs. As the feeling of only moving your leg, and not your whole body, becomes more natural start slowly going higher or holding the end position for 5 seconds.
2. Cook hip lift
The glutes can also be specifically targeted by lying on your back and hugging one knee to your chest as you push through your opposite heel to lift your bottom. As long as your knee is tightly tucked into your chest, your back cannot arch and you must use your glutes to lift your body. Repeat 8-12 times and then change to the opposite leg. Stop if you feel the work in your leg.
3. Half kneeling
Gluteus medius stops sideways movement of the pelvis in the golf swing and in the position shown here, if gluteus medius isnít working you will fall over! Kneel as shown with your legs in as narrow a base as possible and the front foot in front of the front knee. To keep your balance, pull in your low stomach muscles and brace your butt muscles, as you slowly rotate your upper body towards your bent knee and back to the middle. Repeat 8 times on each side. If one side is harder than the other, do more on this side.
Once this exercise is easy and all the work is happening in the correct place progress on to:
4. One legged bridging
Lying on the floor, flatten your back to the floor and tighten your low stomach as you lift your hips only a few inches off the floor. From here, straighten one leg out (as shown) making sure your hip bones do not drop on either side by pushing up through your bottom. Change legs and repeat 8 times. You should feel the work in your glutes but if you feel your legs working hard instead, you have either progressed to this exercise too early or lifted your hips too high.
As your strength improves you need to start making the strengthening regime more dynamic. If you have access to a cable machine, the next exercise is ideal as a precursor to a squat.
5. Cable squat
Using the weight of the cable machine to counterbalance, slowly lower into a squat keeping your low stomach pulled in and your weight on your heels and then stand up again by pushing through your heels to feel the glute muscles working. Repeat 8-12 times, 1-3 sets.
If you follow the exercises here, your gluteal muscles will fire more easily and you will find that you can feel them working better during your exercise regime thus allowing strength to improve.
With thanks to LET professional Elisabeth Esterl