Scratch the stretch

Jill Barker
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Swing routine better for golf game, studies say

Contrary to the advice offered in most golf books and magazines, stretching before hitting the links may not improve your score. According to the latest research, golfers who performed a traditional stretching routine before taking their first swing impeded rather than improved their game.

A 2009 study from Stephen F. Austin State University in Texas reported that club head speed, distance, accuracy and consistent contact with the ball decreased in the 15 competitive young male golfers who performed 20 minutes of static stretching before heading out to the driving range.

Stretching before hitting the links may not improve your score. According to the latest research, golfers who performed a traditional stretching routine before taking their first swing impeded rather than improved their game. AP file photo

Montreal -

Contrary to the advice offered in most golf books and magazines, stretching before hitting the links may not improve your score. According to the latest research, golfers who performed a traditional stretching routine before taking their first swing impeded rather than improved their game.

A 2009 study from Stephen F. Austin State University in Texas reported that club head speed, distance, accuracy and consistent contact with the ball decreased in the 15 competitive young male golfers who performed 20 minutes of static stretching before heading out to the driving range.

Similar results were posted by golfers using a five-iron in an Irish study titled Dynamic Stretching and Golf Swing Performance, published in the February 2009 edition of the International Jour-nal of Sports Med-icine.

The findings may confuse golfers who believe that stretching before a game pays off in lower scores and a reduced risk of injury. It may also mislead golfers into thinking that overall flexibility isn't as important as many golf experts suggest.

Before you abandon stretching altogether, rest assured that flexibility is still crucial to perfecting your swing. A good shoulder turn and a flexible set of core muscles is key to performing the kind of wide-arching swing that is the mark of a good golfer. Why then is stretching before your game so counterproductive? The common denominator in both studies is the type of stretching that is performed prior to hitting off the tee. Static stretching, defined as holding a position for 10 to 30 seconds, is the focus of the debate.

More and more evidence suggests that this traditional form of stretching may not produce the kind of results we once thought it did.

Similar findings of reduced strength and power output have been found in other studies that evaluated the effects of static stretching before exercise. In fact, the benefits of traditional pre-exercise stretching have been questioned for almost a decade, with more and more sports specific research reporting similar decreases in performance markers after a period of stretching.

Researchers aren't exactly sure of the physiological reasons why static stretching before exercise hampers performance, though the main theory is that increased laxity in the soft tissue temporarily reduces maximum force output. What they do know, however, is that stretching is best left for after your workout, practice or game when flexibility gains, not performance, are the prime focus.

How, then, are golfers supposed to warm up before a game?

Both studies recommend golfers engage in dynamic stretching, which proved to be more effective than static stretching in improving performance on the links.

Dynamic stretching consists of sport-specific movements that are done in increasingly larger ranges of motion until they resemble the actual pattern and speed of movement performed in competition or practice.

In the case of the Stephen F. Austin State University study, the dynamic warmup involved controlled golf swings with a variety of clubs, starting with high irons and working up to a driver. The results, by all measures - distance, accuracy, clubhead speed and ball contact - were dramatically better after the dynamic warmup than they were after the static stretching routine.

In the Irish study, golfers' performance using a five-iron was evaluated 0, 5, 15 and 30 minutes after performing a series of static stretches, dynamic stretches and no stretching at all. The results showed that the dynamic stretching routine resulted in greater club head speed, greater ball speed, a straighter swing path and more central impact points than either static stretching or no stretching at all.

Does that mean static stretching should be abandoned in favour of dynamic stretching?

Yes and no. A dynamic stretching routine like the one listed above is the best choice immediately before heading out on the course. For the days between games, or immediately after a game, a static stretching routine can be performed to ensure that the body has enough range of motion to facilitate proper swing mechanics.

Static stretches should include those targeting the hamstrings, chest, neck, core (trunk, shoulder and hip muscles) and calf muscles. Include one set of stretches per muscle group and hold for 15 to 30 seconds per exercise. Repeat in those muscles that need the extra attention. Perform the routine twice a week on non-consecutive days.

Done properly, stretching is still a golfer's best friend, but like your swing, timing is everything.




Ideas for a golf warm-up

An active dynamic warm-up, from the May 2009 Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research article titled Acute Effect of Passive Static Stretching During Warm Up on Driver Clubhead Speed, Distance, Accuracy and Consistent Ball Contact in Young Male Competitive Golfers, by Jeffery C. Gergley of Stephen F. Austin State University in Texas:
10 practice swings with a 1.13 kilogram weighted club
3 full swing shots with a sand wedge
3 full swing shots with an 8-iron
3 full swings shots with a 4-iron
3 full swing shots with a fairway metal wood
3 full swing shots with a driver

Organizations: Stephen F. Austin State University

Geographic location: Texas, Montreal

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