Why Is Shoulder Mobility More Important Than Strength For Golf?

By Dr. Brandon Siegmund

October 24, 2017

Shoulder mobility is often overlooked in golf players. When it comes to generating power in the golf swing there is a very common misconception among the people in the golfing community. The ability to hit the long ball like the guys that you see on the professional tour has nothing to do with muscle strength. Most people assume that if they are able to push more weight in the gym that the power that they develop over time will translate to hitting the golf ball farther.

This could not be further from the truth, shoulder mobility is often overlooked.

True power from the golf swing does not come from bench pressing or lifting heavy weights but it is a result of having superior mobility. If success on the golf course is what you seek then we have to design exercises to help mimic a more consistent and fluid swing and not merely exercises that develop brute strength. So, instead of working on your shoulders to develop larger muscles the focus needs to be on making them as mobile as possible.

In order to test if there is a true mobility problem with the shoulders, we first need to test them. The first test is known as the Lat Test. This will help determine the full motion of the latissimus dorsi muscle. The shoulders have three key movements in the back swing that are needed to be consistent and they are abduction, extension and external rotation.

Without these three movements all working together then recruitment of other muscles are needed to aid the golf swing. The Lat Test is performed with the back against the wall, feet shoulder width apart and arms to the side. From this position, the arms are raised in front of the body with the palms facing in and thumps up. A passing score on this test is the ability to touch the wall behind with both thumbs. A failing score is not being able to touch the wall with one thumb or both.

What needs to be done in order to pass the Lat Test for shoulder mobility?

To help increase lengthening of the latissimus dorsi muscle to help improve shoulder mobility the best device to use is a foam roller. By using this, you will help break up scar tissue or “knots” that have formed onto the muscle over time. Rounded shoulder posture from long hours of sitting at the computer or being on the phone too much are causes for these “knots”.

Sometimes using the foam roller in the beginning can be painful but over time it does become an easier exercise and is by far the most effective. The exercise is performed by laying on one’s side on the foam roller and performing the movement from the armpit to the hips. Rolling back and forth for three minutes on each side is the right amount of time. Be sure to be next to a wall when performing if there is fear of losing balance. There are a lot of great shoulder exercises

“What if I pass the Lat Test? What’s next?”

The next test that helps to determine a shoulder mobility issue is the 90/90 test, also referred to as the shoulder external rotation test. This test is performed by taking a normal five iron (golf) stance but no club is needed. From this position, the right or left arm is raised to shoulder height and bent at a 90 degree angle. A passing test is the ability to externally rotate (rotating the hand up and back) past the normal spine angle of the body. The ability of the shoulders to externally rotate is paramount in reaching a neutral position at the top of the back swing.

A failing test is the inability to externally rotate the shoulders due to tightness or the presence of pain.

In order to increase the mobility of the shoulders to help pass the 90/90 test the best exercise is done with the help of a lightweight resistance band or tubing. The band or tubing can be attached to a door knob, dresser drawer or any item that is stable and at level with the hips. Stand perpendicular to where the band or tubing is attached and grasp in one hand. The key to this exercise is to have the arm held firmly by one’s side.

If the arm slides forward then to much emphasis is placed on the bicep muscle. The motion of external rotation is performed with the back of the hand turning outward. It is important to make the move slowly and with control. The exercises should be performed on both side for 3 sets of 12 to 15 repetitions daily. This will allow for improved mobility of the rotator cuff muscles that help to stabilize the shoulder joint.

Why do the muscles of the shoulders become so tight over time?

The primary reason that people lack mobility of the shoulders is usually due to having rounded shoulders from poor posture. The average American typically sits for anywhere between 75-80% of the day. Most of this time is spend with the arms in front of the body on the computer or in a hunched forward position. The pectoralis and front deltoid (shoulder) muscles become tight and tighter over time as well as the associated ligaments that help hold the shoulder joint in a neutral position.

This common positioning day after day will put limitations on reaching a complete back swing due to shoulder tightness and will eventually cause loss of posture or compensation of other body part in the golf swing that eventually leads to dysfunction or pain.

It is important to always be active in helping to make the shoulders more mobile on a daily basis to help undo the stress put on them every day.

This is merely something that can be done overnight to help the golf swing and pushing heavy weights at the gym will only add to the problem which is always lack of proper shoulder motion. So, in order to become more consistent and generate the power necessary to hit the long ball it is not about being the bulkiest golfer on the course but it is more important to become the most flexible which will almost certainly leads to lower scores on the course.

Dr. Brandon Siegmund

About the author

Dr. Brandon Siegmund was born and raised outside of Fort Worth. After he obtained his Bachelor’s degree in Biology from the University of Texas at Austin in 2006, Dr. Siegmund performed clinical research at MD Anderson Cancer Center. Click Here To Read Full Bio

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