For those of us who suffer from a golf addiction, a study sheds light on how to improve your driving distance and accuracy. No, it’s not an illegal ball or a new driver with a club head the size of a square watermelon!
Believe it or not, you can improve the distance and accuracy of your drives by altering your pre-round warm-up routine to exclude basic stretching exercises in lieu of 20 minutes of practice range full swings. At least that’s the conclusion of a study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research (JCSR). 1
Say what? Yes, I know it sounds suspicious, but the JSCR study echoes a previous study showing that engaging in pre-round stretching to loosen up actually degrades ball striking performance. Loosening up with some basic neck, shoulder, back, arm and leg stretches seems like a no-brainer to work out the kinks before teeing it up and taking swings with the big dog. But, according to the JCSR study author, this may be precisely the wrong thing to do.
Why, you ask? While the study author doesn’t definitely declare the cause behind such an outcome, he did offer two specific speculations. On one hand, it is believed by sports science researchers that stretching, in effect, lengthens/loosens the connections between muscles and tendons, and in so doing lessens the force with which major muscle groups are employed to strike a golf ball with a full range of motion swing. Put another way, striking a golf ball with tight muscle/tendon connections is believed to produce greater force and thereby produce greater distance.
As the author explained, “The nature of this reduced performance may be related to the MTU (muscle tendon unit). Rosenbaum and Henning [other researchers in the field] suggest that this decrease in force production is a result of slack in the tendon after stretching exercises. Therefore, less force can be applied to the bone, which results in a correspondingly lower force production for movement and attenuated athletic performance.”
The researcher speculated an alternative reason behind this phenomenon may be related to the reduction in the sensitivity of muscle fibers to physical activity that results from stretching muscles. Less sensitive muscle fibers might not respond to the body’s request to produce maximum force in the same way unstretched muscles might.
Now before you abandon your pre-round stretching routine, please keep in mind the JSCR study results were based on tests conducted on nine highly competitive, 20-something-year-old golfers with handicap indexes below 5 who regularly engage in cardiovascular and resistance/strength training exercise programs (i.e., the results were produced by young, athletic and active adults with mad golf skillz to begin with). Nonetheless, the outcome of the study is striking enough that it is at least worth considering the next time you are prepping for a practice or competitive round.
The Warm-Up Breakdown
In the study, the nine golfers were asked to engage in 20 minutes of full-swing ball striking on the driving range using a protocol known as “active dynamic warm-up progression with golf clubs.” Specifically, the study subjects were asked to do the following:
- Ten practice swings with a weighted “Momentus” club
- Three full-swing shots with a sand wedge
- Three full-swing shots with an 8-iron
- Three-full swing shots with a 4-iron
- Three-full swing shots with a fairway metal wood
- Three-full swing shots with a driver
After this warm-up session, the golfers were asked to immediately undertake three full-swing drives, spaced approximately one minute apart. The researcher measured club head speed, distance, accuracy and self-reported perceptions of shot quality of each drive.
Then the same nine golfers on a separate occasion were asked to engage in 20 minutes of “passive static stretching warm-up exercises” that included three repetitions of 10 seconds each of the below stretches in the following order:
- Neck stretch
- Chest stretch
- Posterior shoulder stretch
- Inferior shoulder stretch
- Side bend
- Quadriceps stretch
- Back extensor stretch
- Prone back stretch
- Reverse trunk twist
- Trunk twist
- Hamstring stretch
- Calf stretch
After completing the passive stretching exercises, the golfers participated in the practice range warm-up as well, and then underwent the three-drive test again.
The researcher discovered that the traditional practice range warm-up produced 18 yards greater driving distance with 62% greater accuracy than the regimen that included stretching prior to hitting the practice range!
Even more interesting, the study author found that the longer the golfers waited between stretching and taking the three-drive test, the gap in driving distance and accuracy narrowed significantly versus the practice-range only warm-up regimen. This seemed to reinforce the point that muscles/tendons need to rest and retighten somewhat before asking them to produce maximum force.
Again, these results were produced by highly competitive, young buck golfers, but the lessons are likely applicable to a wider swath of golfers (both in terms of age and ability). As the study author concluded, “The design of warm-up routines for athletic movements involving high-intensity power output, biomechanical efficiency, and precise coordination, such as golf, should minimize the amount of stretching before practice or competition. It is recommended that these athletes employ an active dynamic warm-up consisting of lower intensity movements progressing toward a ROM [range of motion] required for optimal mechanics in that particular sport. If the athlete has poor mechanics because of lack of flexibility, this training [stretching] should be performed after a conditioning session, practice or competitive round.”
Now if only some hot-shot sports science researcher can come up with a warm-up regimen to cut down on 3-putts, we’ll all enjoy a lower handicap index this year!
1 Gergley JC. Latent Effect of Passive Static Stretching on Driver Clubhead Speed, Distance, Accuracy, and Consistent Ball Contact in Young Male Competitive Golfers. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. December 2010. 24(12): 3,326-3,333.