By Brad Ott
(MSPT, Cert MDT)
EVER notice how balanced and stable professional golfers are? Sure, a good fundamental swing contributes to that, but let’s explore in more depth where balance comes from and why it’s so important.
Balance is an integration of three systems in your body. These are the visual system, the vestibular system and the somatosensory or proprioceptive system.
The visual system works to stabilize your gaze during head and body motion. The vestibular system (inner ear) works to keep the body stable as the head moves during dynamic activity. The proprioceptive system, made up of receptors in our soft tissues and joints, provides feedback of where your body is in space. Deficits in any of these systems can lead to inconsistent ball striking and even swing flaws.
Ultimately, balance is about controlling your center of gravity (COG), which is located near your lower abdominal area. The hip and pelvic muscles, located just below, are critical in providing COG stability during a dynamic golf swing. Want to know the biggest physical difference between amateur and pro golfers? The pros, on average, have 30 percent stronger hip muscles, which provide them with more power and stability.
So why does balance decrease with age? There are several factors, but one is that our eyes change with age. Additionally, we all tend to sit for longer portions of each day, and this causes a slow decline in the efficiency of our proprioceptive system. As kids, we constantly challenged our balance systems by climbing trees, walking and playing on uneven surfaces. As adults, we rarely engage in balance-challenging activities.
When I work with golfers, I ask them whether they are able to stand on one leg to towel off after a shower or to put on their pants. You’d be shocked how many are unable to do what once was a simple balance task. Think this lack of stability carries over into their golf swing? You bet.
Let’s forget golf for a moment and look at some staggering facts. More than one-third of adults 65 and over fall each year. Among older adults, falls are the leading cause of injury-related deaths and hospital admissions for trauma. These individuals didn’t just one day develop poor balance, it was acquired slowly over the years as the three balance systems deteriorated.
Balance also is compromised following lower extremity surgeries, periods of immobilization and simple injuries such as an ankle sprain. The good news is that all ages can benefit from balance exercises, and it can only help your golf game.
Simple drills to improve balance … and your golf swing
Try a few of these simple drills and watch how your balance improves with time.
Practice standing on one leg during daily tasks such as brushing your teeth, toweling off or standing in the kitchen. As you walk down a hallway, turn your head to the left and right in a slow but continuous motion. Side-step in a skating motion and attempt to “stick” the landing on one leg. Practice your golf swing standing on an unstable surface such as two folded pillows, or do some putting/chipping while standing on just one leg.
Improve your balance, and improve your golf game. Remember, your body is your most important piece of golf equipment.
Brad Ott has a Masters in Physical Therapy and has wide experience in sports fitness, including working with golfers on the PGA and Web.com Tours and with Olympic Trial athletes.
He is President of Rebound Sports & Physical Therapy in the US.