Breath, control, strength, flexibility, precision, and body awareness. I could be talking about elements of the Pilates approach, but I’m also talking about golf!
As instructors, we know that Pilates lengthens and strengthens muscles for a balanced body and creates joint stability while focusing on core strength and trunk mobility. But being a great golfer takes more than just strength and mobility. That’s where neuro-based drills come into play.
A good golfer requires accuracy, coordination, and consistency in their sport. In many ways, using the Pilates approach and golf practice may be the brawn, but neuro is the brain!
If we analyze a golf swing of a right-handed golfer, we see a lot of things happening.
- Head position
- Gaze fixation
- Shoulder flexibility
- Trunk rotation
- Hip placement
- Right leg internal rotation
- Weight shift and knee valgus
- Left ankle tilt
Sessions on the Pilates Reformer address many of these directly. Still, when we combine this with neuro drills, we can help to improve the golfer’s game and reduce their risk of injury!
Creating a neuro map that connects the brain’s sense of safety with correct movement is the key.
Here is a typical approach I take with my clientele who play golf.
Creating a Neuro Map
Good quality inputs back to the brain provide a sense of security and understanding. Simplistically, the brain seeks to avoid movement that could cause it to be injured (like falling) or movement that could cause pain in the body.
The brain will communicate its unhappiness by making you weak, dizzy, in pain. Ignoring subtle signs will make the symptoms worse, so addressing it and acknowledging the brain’s feelings by providing it appropriate stimulus can increase strength, precision and reduce pain.
To do this, let’s use the analogy of a map. Imagine being dropped off in a new place — somewhere you have never been. You are given a map. But it’s just a blank piece of paper with nothing on it. This is not helpful! Similarly, the brain’s map captures details created by awareness in all respects.
- To create “roads,” we need quality of movement. Full ranges, all angles, different speeds.
- To create “buildings,” we need the ability to sense hot and cold.
- To create “parks and trees,” we need pressure sensors.
The clearer the map and the more detail it has, the better we can navigate through life with ease.
Therefore, our goal is to move the golfer in ways that create the map details. This might look like:
- full ranges of motion with internal and external rotation at the hip
- flexion and extension at the ankle joint with feet in straps
- standing leg splits with rotational disks
- changing the axis of rotation for an oblique twist
- increasing shoulder mobility with front and back rowing
All these movements will make the golfer feel more comfortable moving these joints in full and healthy ranges. This will directly affect — and improve — their swing!
To make these exercises even more effective, add the following neuro drills to these tried-and-true reformer exercises.
- Adding head rotation with eye gaze fixation on an object while moving the limbs will increase mapping for the needs of a good swing.
- Warm-up the body with touch before the movement. Using a ball, foam roller, or hands to “wake up” the intended joint and muscles.
- While remaining pain-free, work your maximum ranges for the ankle, knee, hip, and shoulder joints.
- Continue to cue proper breathing. Activation, oxygen, and glucose feed the brain!
- Show them the difference! To truly create plastic change, the brain needs to know it was worth it. After all, this work is very caloric intensive! Have your golfer perform a swing before the session, then after the warm-up, then after the workout!
When your golfers see the improvement, which very often is immediate, their brain will want to continue the outcome and map these more effective and efficient ways to move.