Protecting your spine is one of the most important components of physical fitness throughout your entire life. Low back exercise comes in a wide variety of flavors ranging from very simple to very advanced. As a physical therapist, I see people with back pain on a day to day basis. My job is not only to treat their current symptoms but also to help them prevent these issues from arising again. These conditions can be tricky to treat and can take long periods of time to heal. Back pain can take you away from the course for a large portion of the golf season!
This page is dedicated not to the treatment of back pain but to the prevention of it. There are a handful of factors that can play a significant role in the development of pain. Swing mechanics, posture, flexibility, and core strength are a few of these factors. For the discussion of low back exercise on this page, I will only focus on the latter two: flexibility and core strength. I have written other pages in regards to the importance of posture and swing mechanics so I won't reiterate that content here. Reducing strain and improving stability are our main concerns and this page will provide you with some of the essentials.
To most people, flexibility and mobility may seem synonymous. In this instance, however, I will be using "flexibility" in reference of soft tissue length and
mobility" in terms of vertebral joint movement because the two are definitely distinct characteristics.
When examining the golf swing, the key areas where you need flexibility are at the shoulders, hips and core musculature. The shoulders would include the pecs, lats, mid back, and rotator cuff muscles. At your hips, the gluteals, internal/external rotators, and groin are all important contributors to balance, stability, and power. The core musculature includes practically everything around your mid section. These muscles are also very important for power development, but also help move and support the spine. A loss of flexibility at any of these areas can lead to compensatory mechanisms and altered swing mechanics. As we age, we generally lose some of our flexibility so maintaining this is especially important for older golfers.
Joint mobility is also something that we lose as we age. It also can be compromised by other factors such as injury, soft tissue tightness, degeneration, etc. The majority of our trunk rotation occurs at the thoracic spine (mid back) while most of the forward and back motion comes from the lumbar spine (low back). A lack of joint mobility can have the exact same effect on your swing as tight muscles would.
As I mentioned earlier, your low back exercise program needs to consist of both flexibility and strengthening.
For flexibility, my Golf Stretches page has pictures and descriptions of some basic back exercises to perform. They include:
Admittedly, these are simple exercises but they target key areas and are appropriate for the majority of people who are not suffering from any sort of significant back injury or condition.
Core strengthening is an essential part of any golf fitness program. Golf is a repetitive sport with a large component of the swing being comprised of trunk rotation. It is the core musculature that helps contribute to the strength and stability of this region.
The "core" itself is a group of many different muscles ranging from the abdominals to the paraspinals to the glutes. Essentially, anything that attaches to or around the pelvis can be considered a core muscle. Since this is such a complex area structurally we need all the help that we can get from these muscles not only with athletic activities but with day to day life as well. A strong core will benefits you in more ways that one!
Like everything else, these exercises can vary in intensity. For a back pain preventative program, we do not need to perform the highest intensity workouts. What we do need to do, however, is make sure that we are targeting multiple muscle groups at once to help promote stability. Doing 1000 crunches per day does not count as a core workout!
For preventative strengthening, a handful of basic exercises can go a long way. Examples of these would be:
Again, these core strengthening exercises are basic but they are valuable because they can be used by golfers of all levels and they can be modified any number of ways to provide more of a challenge. I have two specific pages that outline these variations, one for Bridges and one for Planks.
A bird dog is where you start on your hands and knees and you slowly extend an opposite arm and leg. Upon returning to that starting position, you then alternate with the other side repetitively. The goal is to keep your back level and your mid section as stable as possible. This also can be modified any number of ways. You could utilize light dumbbells or ankle weights, an exercise ball, or perform the same arm and leg motions while lying flat on your stomach.
Other basic exercises that you could perform would be rows and lat pull downs. At face value, these are not typically called core exercises but you could easily modify them be performing each one standing in a squat stance in order to recruit additional muscle groups.
In order to prevent back pain, you do not need to be fancy. A basic golf fitness program comprised of a few, simple low back exercises that focus both on flexibility and strength can go a long way in keeping you in good shape and on the course.