Every golfer practices to improve the mechanics of their swing, but what about the mechanics of your body?
When I have been on a golf course, I still see people placing one of their clubs behind their neck and twisting their backs. The thought is to loosen their back before playing. There are a few reasons why this doesn’t really work and I will touch on it here, but I want to get to the ankles and their importance to your swing. First, the twisting of the back seems weird as every golf pro teaches us to rotate around our spin like an axis. There should no serious twisting of the spine. Secondly, people who do this twisting, do it rather quickly, they are releasing the muscles with their brain, so they are actually strength training which will tighten the muscles they are trying to loosen. SO really this stretch is a non-golf stretch and it is not even a stretch to boot.
Now on to the ankles. The rotation of the body during the golf swing comes from the inner thighs, inner calves, and outer calves. In my last post, I wrote about the inner thighs, so today I want to go into the calves and feet which the ankles control.
In your calves, you have 4 calf muscles. The inside calf controls the inside movement and lateral movement of the foot. The outside calf muscle controls the outside movement and lateral movement of the foot. Each of these muscles goes into the arch of your foot. Thee are muscles in your feet that run from your knee to your toes and controls the tops of your feet and the arch muscle, with a few others, that control the bottom of your feet. It is important to understand that in order to improve the distance on the ball.
If you stand barefoot and go through a practice swing, focusing on the feeling in the bottom of your feet, you will feel your weight shifting through the foot from inside to out on one and vice versa on the other. This ability to work the muscles in your feet and calves is what gives the ankle the flexibility to increase your range of motion at the club head increasing your clubhead speed as the club addresses the ball. As you are going through your swing the inside calf muscle has to be able to release which will allow the outside calf muscle to pull which frees the ankle. The range of motion you have in your ankle, the more lubrication your body puts in the ankle joint. This makes your swing easier with less effort, but more importantly, it increases the club head speed due to the increased range of motion.
The question is, how do you get there? Calf stretching is a very misunderstood part of the human body. You will see some people place their toes on a curb, slant board, or step to stretch their calves. Others will lean against the wall with their feet pushed away from the wall to stretch. These can be good for your Achilles Tendon, but they are not calf stretches. In fact, I would venture to say that 98% of Americans have never stretched their calves properly. You may feel your calves with the above stretches, but you are not stretching your calves. Let me explain.
In the above-mentioned stretches, you are, at best, stretching the lower end of the 2 middle calf muscles. As a golfer, this does not help you as your motion is about twisting. With the previous stretches mentioned, no one is stretching their inner and outer calf muscles and few trainers or therapists even talk about them. Some golfers will complain of back pain and their calves could be the problem. Short calves will force you to take shorter strides. This will cause you to walk with the nose out in front of your chest. Did you know that for every inch your head is in front of your chest, the pressure at the base of your neck doubles? When a human head is sitting on top of your shoulders it weighs between 10-12 lbs. 2 inches in front of your chest, it could weigh as much as 42 lbs. I always joke with my clients that it depends on how large is their brain.
So how do you stretch your calves? You can sit on the floor with your back against the wall or if you cannot get on the floor, sit in a hard-backed chair with one foot on an ottoman with your leg straight. Place a yoga strap, rope, or anything that is not stretchy around the ball of your foot. Do not use your leg muscles. ONly use your arms and gently pull your toes back toward you feeling the stretch from start to finish. You should feel this behind your knee. Hold for 3-5 seconds and repeat 8-10 times. On each stretch, breathe out and allow your brain time to let go of the muscle tension. Next, rotate your foot inward and repeat the stretch. Now you should feel it on the outside of your calf. Finally, rotate your foot to the outside and repeat the stretch. You should feel it on the inside of your calf. This is also a great stretch for Plantar Fasciitis, we will discuss that in a later post.
The reason for the 3-5 seconds hold is to avoid the stretch reflex in your muscles which will happen due to the discomfort. If you pull too hard, you will build up your arms as your legs will fight with you instead of stretching your legs. Do not overwork yourself. You do not need to force your muscles to stretch. I see too many people hurt themselves because they are trying to force the stretch. Relax, enjoy, and watch the distant of your ball increase as you free your body.