Many golfers are under the impression they should arch their lower back when addressing the ball, but instructor Dave Phillips of the Titleist Performance Institute says this can lead to back pain and a bad swing.
"It's known as 'S-posture' and is caused by players sticking their tailbone out too much at address," says Phillips, one of America's 50 Best Teachers
as ranked by Golf Digest. "This excessive curvature at the bottom of the spine puts stress on the muscles of the lower back and causes the abdominal muscles to relax," he says. "This can lead to a host of issues like a loss of posture, poor weight shift and an unsynchronized downswing. You're going to struggle to hit solid shots from this address position."
Phillips says it's OK to stick out your rear end at address, but don't do it by arching your back. Instead, bend forward from your hip joints, and keep your spine neutral. This requires core strength and proper lumbar-spine stabilization, but it will lead to a better swing and help you avoid back pain.
ACTIVATE YOUR ANKLES
And help keep your knees and feet pain-free
As golf-shoe designs have improved in recent years—now providing more stability for your stance and swing—the importance of having good ankle mobility has almost gone away. That might sound like a good thing, but a lack of ankle mobility can lead to leg injuries, especially in the knees and feet. "A shoe with good heel height and support would help golfers with poor ankle mobility—like a lack of dorsiflexion—stay in their posture and make a better swing," says Golf Digest fitness advisor Ben Shear. "But it's putting more stress on the tendons and ligaments of the feet and knees because the ankle isn't absorbing its share of the load."
A common problem is plantar fasciitis, an inflammation of the connective tissue on the bottom of the feet. But if you feel a dull, achy pain below your kneecap, particularly when you sit, you might have patellar tendinitis, says Dr. Vernon Cooley, who performed Tiger Woods' knee surgery after he limped to victory at the 2008 U.S. Open.
Golfers who walk the majority of their rounds, particularly on hilly courses, also are at risk for this type of tendinitis. The patellar tendon connects the kneecap to the tibia (shin bone) and can become inflamed or torn when placed under severe stress.
"It's typically an overuse injury," Cooley says. "The tendon is taking on more stress than it can handle. Certainly if your ankles aren't functioning properly, you're a prime candidate to feel this type of knee pain." The usual prescription of rest, ice, stretching and anti-inflammatory drugs, such as ibuprofen or naproxen sodium, can accelerate recovery. But in the long run, you might want to consider golf shoes that allow the ankles more freedom of movement. Consult with a podiatrist or orthopedic doctor. In addition, try to improve your ankles' range of motion before you play.
"Have you ever seen Miguel Angel Jimenez go through his pre-round warm-up?" Shear says. "The way he gets into a squat position andmoves in circular motions with his hips? He might not know why he's doing what he's doing, but he's mobilizing his ankles." [Editor's note: The 20-time European Tour winner says he's aware of the particulars and benefits of his stretching.]
A SWEET BREAKFAST
It's time to rethink what you eat in the morning, especially if you're a "bowl of cereal and a glass of orange juice" kind of golfer. Instead of items that are high in simple carbohydrates and processed sugar—which can lead to erratic energy levels when you play—consider a baked sweet potato. Radical? Perhaps. But hear us out: They have complex carbohydrates, which help sustain energy for longer periods; vitamin A, which improves vision; as well as potassium, which optimizes cellular function and regulates sodium. Just skip the butter and brown sugar on top.