Positional Integrity

Positional Integrity is the foundation of the Training Pyramid. You should spend the most time under tension here. The golf swing requires lots of mobility and control of your parts (stability) through some pretty extreme ranges of motion. Even in the amateur golfer, we need to be competent in turning our hips and thoracic spines, rotating our shoulders, and stabilizing our hips and trunk. The basis for all of these is being able to get into the positions that are required of the golf swing. Are our muscles flexible enough to lengthen where they need to go? Do our joints possess the range of motion and mobility to slide and glide so the muscles can extend and flex? Can we hold certain positions in one area of the body so others have a good base to work off of? Do our nervous systems have good unconscious control of the movements we need to make? The answer to these questions needs to be yes, and those yes’s are earned with time performing positional integrity work. 

If we have limitations in our bodies, say stiffness in our thoracic spine, a sufficient turn will be almost impossible to make without compensations arising in other parts of our body. You will likely have to sacrifice stability somewhere to gain the mobility needed to make the turn. This is typically a recipe for injury. However, when discussing positional integrity we also need to discuss its relationship to the other factors of training besides making golf swings. The time that we spend in the gym lifting weights, working on our endurance, and performing power movements also requires the need to get into extreme positions - and getting into these positions with compensations will lead to possible injury. 

If we are looking to get strong for our golf swing and we are performing deadlifts but we have limited hip extension because our hip flexors are tight, then there is a high chance that we will “stand tall” by extending the lumbar spine, and not the hips. This positional limitation will carry up the pyramid to power drills like kettlebell swings (also a hip hinging movement), jumping, and hanging power cleans. So when we go to make golf swings and we need hip extension through and after impact, instead of producing it we dump into our low backs and wonder why we hurt. 

In the above scenario, if we spend more time trying to make hip extension based strength/power/skill movements than we do working on gaining mobility/flexibiltiy of hip extension (like a half kneeling hip flexor stretch), we are setting ourselves up for failure. Once you improve your ability to get into a position that you typically struggle with, then it’s time to load that new ability with strength/power/skill work. These adaptations take time to get. Improvements within a session of positional integrity work can definitely been seen, and can then be saved within the motor patterns of the body with strength/power/skill work. However, there will be between session regression. That is why you need to be consistent with your mobility/stability/flexibility/motor control program. 

One might think that the only positions or movements that they should focus on with their positional integrity work would be those that resemble the golf swing. However, being able to express your maximum potential in all ranges of motion should be the goal, not just being able to get the specific degrees needed to make efficient, painless golf swings. Being able to put your arms above your head is not a required position in the golf swing. However, I know that if you try to do this and shrug you have poor control of your shoulder girdle. Or if you arch your low back you likely have tight lats and pecs. The inability to do something “unrelated” to the golf swing can tell us about certain characteristics that might show up in your swing or in your loaded performance training movements. This is something that the Titleist Performance Institute calls the Body-Swing Connection. The gist of this is that limitations in your body can cause limitations in your swing. Based on this theory, if you then change your body you will be able to actually change your swing. This also means that if you adapt your body to being more flexible/mobile/stable you will be able to perform better in the gym, gain strength, power, and resiliency, and perform better on the course. 

To make these changes, lots of time needs to be spent trying to gain flexibility, mobility, motor control, and stability. The body has to essentially learn these new movements and positions and then imprint them on your nervous system with new motor programs and patterning. Like I said earlier, this is like a two steps forward, one step back process. That is why the most time needs to be spent on this section of the pyramid. As stated in the first part of this series, positional integrity work can improve the performance of every step above it, but cannot be improved solely by performing any of the three steps above. Hitting golf balls will not improve your wrist mobility limitations, and doing snatches will not lead to improved quad flexibility. But improving your wrist mobility can help you make better swings and improving your quad flexibility might help your snatches, if these are your limitations. 

It’s time we take an honest look at what works, and what the most elite athletes in the worlds are actually doing. Sure, we are inundated with pictures of Brooks Keopka benching, Rory deadlifting, or Phil working on his calves, but what we aren’t shown is all the stretching, mobility work, and motor control exercises these guys are doing to make better swings, and better lifts in the gym. Why? Because it’s not as sexy, and doesn’t get as much likes and follows. The truth of the matter is though, that you have to move with better quality or you will either have to limit the lifts you use to gain strength and power, or you may end up on the injured reserve.

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