“Dear The Golfing Doc. I have terrible flexibility. I can’t even touch my toes. I want to improve my flexibility and my golfing buddies say yoga is helpful. Any thoughts? Thanks. Tim M. Seattle, WA.”
I am often asked the question, is yoga good for golfers? In general yes. Yoga is very beneficial for one’s overall health. Yoga improves flexibility, builds muscle strength, improves posture, improves cardiovascular health such as helping with blood flow, increases immunity, makes you feel better, and many more health benefits. But I do have a couple reservations when recommending yoga for golfers.
First of all, you do not need be flexible to play golf. So what does that mean? A golfer needs better mobility not more flexibility to play better golf. Flexibility and mobility are not the same thing. Think of flexibility as how much you can stretch a muscle. For example, can you bend forward and touch your toes. This tells us how flexible your hamstrings are. On the other hand, think of mobility as how well a joint can move throughout its natural range of motion. Can a hip flex, extend, rotate, abduct, and adduct. Even if you did not have good hamstring flexibility, your hip should be able to go through these movements to some degree. Improving your flexibility does not always improve your mobility because muscles are not the only structures that work with a joint. There are other structures such as ligaments, joint capsules, and even scar tissue that you cannot necessarily stretch on your own.
Second of all, there are several different types of yoga but you have to find the right one that addresses your physical needs. A lot of golfers experience some degree of stiffness, soreness, tightness, or even pain in their muscles or joints. Whether this is noticed while swinging, playing, or after a round, yoga can help prevent and eliminate some of these complaints. But the key is finding the right yoga for you.
There are several different types of yoga. Hatha is one type that improves flexibility through poses and breathing techniques. Vinyasa is a more fast-paced power yoga that improves flexibility through a variety of lunges, bending, and stretching techniques. Iyengar involves a lot of poses and these classes can often run for about 90 to 120 minutes. And finally there is Bikram yoga. This has gained increasing popularity as it is hot yoga. The heated environment helps get the blood flowing quickly and helps improve flexibility during the classes. Regardless of which type of yoga you choose, I do recommended first finding out what your physical restrictions and needs are. A good medical professional or fitness professional with golf experience may be able to help you.
For golf, range of motion, or should I now say, mobility is more important than flexibility. The golf swing relies on proper biomechanics, timing, and a sequencing of movements. In order to achieve an optimal swing, each of the major parts of the body must move as best as possible. Improving the ability of a muscle to stretch does not necessarily help improve a joint’s range of motion especially if the cause of the restriction is not muscle-related. And this is why I say yoga can be helpful for a golfer but it has to be the right one that targets the right areas.
Our GOLFLETICA Certified Golf-Yoga instructor Grant Rice demonstrates a few of the most common yoga exercises that golfers can benefit from. If you experience any pain while attempting any of these exercises, stop immediately and consult your physician.
Dr.Sese is the Clinical Director at the Washington Golf Performance Institute in Bellevue, WA. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org