Golf: 2 Exercises for Strength and Flexibility

Take steps to avoid back injury and improve your game
Even Tiger Woods’ golf game can be seriously compromised by back pain. To avoid back injury on the links — and to play your best — be flexible and get strong in your core.

Back pain. Not even Tiger Woods is immune to it — his back spasm in the final round at the 2013 edition of The Barclays tournament may have cost him the championship. And he had been suffering from lower back stiffness the entire week of play.

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As superbly conditioned as Woods is, back pain can still be one of any golfer’s biggest challenges to play through.

Flexibility and core strength the key

To avoid any kind of back injury on the golf course, experts say: Be flexible and get strong in your core.

Golfers can do specific stretches and exercises that will help them not only avoid injury but also play their best game, says Timothy Ertle, MPT, Physical Therapist, Cleveland Clinic Sports Health.

Being better conditioned helps people avoid injury related to repetitive movements, which cause 82 percent of all golf injuries.

Consider that the average golfer takes about 9,000 swings per year, including rounds played and time spent practicing at the range. The lumbar spine is most vulnerable to injury because each full golf swing places the spine at, or near, the end-range of available spine movement. Gaining flexibility and strength in this area is important.

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Golfer’s “open book” stretch

Golfers who are more flexible can hit the ball further, because they are able to recoil more energy into their backswing and release this energy when they strike the golf ball.

One good stretch for the lumbar spine is the “open book” stretch. This stretch improves lumbar rotation range of motion and is helpful in improving your backswing flexibility. You can do this stretch every day.

To perform the stretch:

  1. Lay on your right side and bring your knees up to your chest and your arms out straight in front of you on the ground, palms together. 
  2. Bring your right hand to the top of your left leg. Use your right hand to keep your knees stacked.
  3. Open your left arm up like a book, turning your head to look to your left hand.  Your left hand does not need to touch the floor, but may. Just remember to keep your knees stacked. You will feel the stretch from your tailbone to the base of your skull.
  4. “Close” the book by bringing your left arm back over to your right just like the starting position.
  5. Hold the stretch for 15 seconds and repeat the sequence three to five times on both sides of your body.

Golfer’s core strength exercise

A strong core allows a golfer to maintain spine angle and the stability of each spinal segment while the body moves through each phase of the golf swing.

This is important because, as the number of strokes increases, so does the potential for fatigue, which leads to a gradual loss of coordination of the deep muscles that control and stabilize the spine. The lumbar joints, disc and muscles are then more susceptible to forces leading to a potential joint breakdown, sprains and strains.

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Incorporate a good core strengthening exercise into your regimen three to five times a week. A good exercise to try is the prone alternating leg extension.

To perform the exercise:

  1. Lie over an exercise ball and find your center of balance by touching your hands and forefoot to the floor.
  2. Alternate lifting each leg off of the floor, without hyper-extending.
  3. Do 20 repetitions to complete a set (10 for each leg), and work your way up to three sets.

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