Chris Hook, Strong First Certified Team Leader, TPI-FP3, FMS2
You were hoping to hear us tell you to load another 12-pack on the cart, or hit the La Familia Tequila a little harder at the turn, or maybe how you should load up on some red wine after your round for the anti-oxidative benefits of Resveratrol. But remember, we love strength and one of our favorite tools is the kettlebell. So, keep reading and forget about the alcohol, this post is not about cocktails, at least not this time.
What doesn’t get better with strength? Wouldn’t you rather have a strong argument, a strong handshake, and a strong cup of coffee? Yes, of course, right? But you know what else gets better with strength? The top of your backswing. Sure it gets better with mobility/flexibility and that is always to first place to start (sign up for The Daily Habit, to start your free daily movement practice for golf). But let’s say you have been doing The Daily Habit or Supple Shoulders and you have good thoracic spine and shoulder mobility, and you have built some good shoulder stability.
Enter the Kettlebell...
The kettlebell is a powerful tool and we use it for many movements. However, if you turn the kettlebell bottoms-up it becomes a completely different animal. Yes, upside-down. If you have a bell nearby, grab it and using two hands pick it up and set it up in one hand bottoms-up. Keep your wrist and forearm in a straight line (make yourself look like the photo on the left). Now what has to happen for the kettlebell to stay inverted? You have to crush the handle with your grip. Grip strength is not just important for an impressive handshake. It is the key to stronger rotator cuff muscles, which affect your ability to position the golf club at the top of your backswing.
...Hold it like a baby bird.
What is your only connection to the golf club? Yes, of course it's your hands. Although everyone is familiar with the Sam Snead saying ‘hold it (the club) like a baby bird’, at setup. This is not the reality of impact. At impact a tour player is applying tremendous grip pressure to their half-chord Tour Velvets. PGA Tour players, according to the Titleist Performance Institute’s testing, can create 55-60 kg of grip pressure on average with a Dynamometer (it's a grip measuring tool), with their lead hand having the ability to exert more pressure. Long Drive Professionals can create 65-72 kg of pressure on average. Do you see a pattern here? Does grip strength have something to do with distance? It sure does, although there are, of course, many other components to crushing the ball 320 yards off the tee.
Dr. Mike Testing his grip with a Dynamometer...he crushes it;)
What are the muscles in this mysterious Rotator Cuff? And, how does using your grip activate your Rotator cuff? Break it down Dr. Mike.
Your body is just like those tour players or long drive professionals . We all have rotator cuffs made up of the SITS muscles; Supraspinatus, Infraspinatus, Teres Minor, and Subscapularis. These muscles work in harmony with the biceps, lats, and other muscles surrounding the shoulder blade to keep your shoulders out of your ears during your backswing, and allow for better shoulder turns. When the shoulder blade is sitting nicely on the back of the ribs, the shoulder joint and thoracic spine are able to produce movements through greater ranges of motion. It is imperative that the rotator cuff and muscles around the shoulder blade work well to achieve optimal positioning.
As mentioned earlier, activating your grip means activating your rotator cuff (1, 2). There is more than one reason for this. As your body prepares to produce movements in the periphery, (think hands, wrists, feet and ankles) the proximal joints will produce stability (3, 4). If you are going to fire a slingshot, you want to make sure that the handle is stable. This is the same premise behind proximal stability for distal mobility. Your body plans the motor task of gripping, and prepares your body by producing stability in the shoulder.
Secondly, there is a concept known as irradiation. This basically means that if you contract a part of your body aggressively, you will produce contractions throughout other parts of the body in close proximity (5). This is similar to ripples in a pond. The fist is the center of the ripples, but those ripples move outwards, like your forearm and shoulder muscles firing when you crush the handle of the bottoms-up kettlebell.
Beyond solidifying your rotator cuff, bottoms-up kettlebell training builds both lat-centric shoulder stabilization and strengthens the lower trapezius
When the thing your hand is squeezing is an upside down kettlebell in the rack position the shoulder is also in a position where you can engage some of the bigger muscles like the latissimus dorsi and lower trapezius. The lat is very active in the last 18” of the downswing to create power, but it also eccentrically stabilizes the shoulder at the top of the backswing. The lower trap works to keep you shoulder engaged at the top of the backswing and not creeping up into your ear. When you have a weak lower trap your upper trap and levator scapula (shrugging muscles) will become overactive and usually result in neck pain or swing characteristics like Flying Elbow (a break down of the trail shoulder in the backswing) or Chicken Wing (a break down of the lead elbow into impact).
Bottoms-up kettlebell training can be applied to a variety of movements from a Racked Carry to a The Getup, and our favorite; bottoms-up Military Presses. Bottoms-up work can be useful when the selection of kettlebells you have access to become insufficiently challenging. When the bells you have access to are too light, turn them upside down and you will have weeks or months worth of work ahead of you. So, where do you start? If you are new to working with kettlebells start with a Racked Carry. Racked carries will provide you will all of the benefits discussed above in addition to adding the dimension of rotational stability. Walking is a rotational pattern and when you load it with a bell on one side of your body you are now stabilizing the rotation that occurs in your gait cycle. When your body is stabilizing rotation it is using the same muscles that create rotation. This is a spine sparing way to build your ability to produce rotation without adding more rotation to your body.
Kettlebell Racked Carry (3-5 sets of 30 second carry each side)
...and here is a video to help you incorporate carries into your own training.
- Use two hands to position the kettlebell in your right hand upside down. Your wrist should be almost completely straight.
- Keep your forearm vertical.
- Engage your shoulder down and back, as if you are trying to put your right shoulder blade in your right back pocket.
- No need to hold it like a baby bird here, crush it like you want to break it.
- Stay tall, keep your pelvis level, and take the bell for a walk for the time prescribed. If you cannot hold the bell for the prescribed time. Reduce the weight.
- Repeat on the other side.
- Rest 2-3 minutes, shaking out your hands and arms. Then do your next set each.
- Sporrong H, Palmerud G, Herberts P. Hand grip increases shoulder muscle activity: an EMG analysis with static hand contractions in 9 subjects. Acta Orthop Scand 67: 485–490, 1996.
- Lynley V. Roberts, Cathy M. Stinear, Gwyn N. Lewis, Winston D. Byblow. Journal of Neurophysiology Published 1 October 2008 Vol. 100 no. 4, 2109-2114 DOI: 10.1152/jn.90786.2008. http://jn.physiology.org/content/100/4/2109.short
- Adler S, Beckers D, and Buck M. PNF in Practice: An Illustrated Guide. Berlin: Springer, 2000.