The increased focus on core training among athletes hasn’t been overlooked by the golf world. Competitors in the PGA Playoffs (such as Tiger Woods, Paul Casey, Robert Karlsson, Dustin Johnson, and Zach Johnson) look more like athletes than ever before.
From a training standpoint, golf performance is largely dictated by rotational power. To some extent, improving performance is as much about removing barriers as it is about improving capacity. In other words, in order to fully express your rotational power, it’s necessary to develop full range of motion in hip and thoracic spine rotation, which most people are lacking, and to build core strength to transfer force from the hips to the shoulders. Use the exercises below as part of a daily routine to help develop the hip and spine mobility and core stability you need to perform optimally.
Lying knee-to-knee mobilization
This exercise is meant to improve hip internal rotation range of motion (ROM). A lack of hip rotation ROM will limit the range through which you can generate power, and can cause you to shift your weight in an effort to “steal” ROM.
To perform this golf workout exercise, lie on your back with your feet flat on the ground, with your heels an inch or so in front of your ankles. Spread your feet out as wide as possible. Pull your knees in toward each other until you feel a slight stretch deep in your hips. Hold this end range for a second, then pull your knees back out as wide as possible.
Repeat for 8 repetitions.
Seated thoracic rotations
Similar to a lack of hip rotation ROM, a lack of thoracic rotation (rotation through the upper spine) can cause undesired movements during your swing and limit your power generation. This lack of thoracic rotation typically causes you to rotate more through the lumbar spine (low back), which causes a lot of golfers to suffer from back pain. As your body naturally compensates for the lost power, it relies on generating more force through the shoulders and arms, which can cause excessive stress to your shoulder, elbow and wrists.
To perform this golf workout exercise, sit down with your knees touching. Sit up nice and tall, interlock your fingers and put your hands behind your head. Pull your elbows back as far as possible to help open up your chest. Keeping your elbows pulled back and your chest up, rotate through your chest as far as possible. Hold the end range for a second, then bend to the side while still keeping your chest pulled up before rotating back to the start.
Repeat these slow side-to-side rotations for 8 repetitions on each side. All the rotation should happen in your upper back, so your belly button should never move.
Half kneeling hip flexor and pec mobilization
This exercise really highlights the relationship between your hip and opposite shoulder, and helps reinforce the mobility you need for a smooth back swing.
To perform this exercise, get in a half kneeling position with your left leg forward. Hold a foam roller (or other similarly shaped instrument) between your hands with your arms locked so that the roller is at an angle from your back hip toward your opposite shoulder. Sit up nice and tall so that your back hip is “all the way through” or fully extended. From here, you want to lightly squeeze your backside gluteal muscles as you rock your hips forward. As you’re rocking forward, use your bottom hand to drive the top arm into a diagonal rotation pattern. At the end of the rock, you should feel a slight stretch to the hip flexor on the back leg and in the pectoralis muscle on the opposite side.
Return to the starting position and repeat for 8 reps, then switch sides.
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Front plank/side plank/glute bridge
Now that you’re moving freely, you want to reinforce proper core stability. This plank/bridge series helps activate your core musculature, promoting stability and force transfer through your midsection.
To perform a front plank, get in the plank position by lying on your stomach with your feet together. Push up on your elbows, with your elbows directly beneath your shoulders. Your hips should be raised to the same height as your shoulders, and your core muscles (including your glutes) should be braced as if someone was going to kick you in the stomach.
To perform a side plank, lie down on your side with your feet on top of each other. Now push yourself up on your “down” forearm so that your upper arm is perpendicular to the ground. Once again, you’ll want to brace your core muscles as if someone was going to kick you in the stomach. Attempt to stay straight as a board from your ankles through your shoulders. Don’t let your hips fall back or rotate.
To perform a glute bridge, lie on the ground with your knees bent to 90 degrees, your heels on the ground, and your toes pulled up toward your shins. Place your hands on your midsection. Contract your core muscles to brace your midsection, then contract your gluteal muscles to pull your hips up. Hold this position for the desired time. Avoid pushing up through your heels. Only go up as high as your glutes will take you; avoid arching your lower back.
With all of these exercises, start with 3 sets of 10 rep holds (on each side for the side planks) and progress to 30 rep holds.
Standing belly press
The standing belly press takes the core stability principles of planks and reinforces them in a rotational pattern, which is somewhat more golf-specific.
To perform this golf workout exercise, stand with your feet about shoulder width apart with a slight knee bend and in a manner that puts your right elbow even with a cable column, about one foot away from the column. Interlock your fingers around the cable handle and pull it into the center of your chest. Slowly extend your arms all the way out so that your hands are at shoulder level. You should feel the cable trying to pull you into rotation. Use your core to maintain a neutral position and prevent this rotation.
Start with 3 sets of 10 rep holds on each side and progress to 30 rep holds. You can also add weight, but do this cautiously as it’s important that there is no shifting or rotation of the hips or shoulders.
Side standing medicine ball scoop
This medicine ball exercise takes the rotational range of motion and core stability you’ve built in previous exercises and uses it to develop rotational power. The goal is to initiate the rotation through the hips and just use your arms to follow through.
Stand about eight feet away from a cinder block wall with your toes perpendicular to the wall about shoulder width apart. Hold a medicine ball with your back hand on the front of the ball and your front hand on the back of the ball. Move the ball toward your back hip then forcefully rotate your hips forward and swing the ball at the wall as hard as you can. It’s OK if your back foot rotates here.
Perform 3 sets of 6 reps on each side.
These exercises are not meant to overload a golf swing. In fact, that would likely ruin your swing technique. The goal of these exercises is to establish an athletic foundation that will allow you to express your golf swing with maximal power and without physical limitation. Perform these exercises on a regular basis to ensure you maintain adequate hip and thoracic ROM and core stability.