I was recently watching my 6-month-old niece propel herself around the room by only rolling. She’s too young to crawl, creep, scoot, or walk, so she relies heavily on her mom and dad’s strong arms, and the ability to roll. She had to do a lot to earn this ability though, as did most of us.
Like the aforementioned forms of travel, rolling which is actually not typically thought of as a way to get around unless you are a 5-7 month old child, is a developmental movement. Meaning, that to be able to do it we had to first be able to perform more fundamental movements like picking up our head, touching our toes, and touching the toes on the opposite sides of our body. All of these things make rolling achievable. But what do all the prerequisites do?
These movements ensure spinal stability and strengthening of the deep spinal stabilizing system, as well as strengthen the abdominal wall, including the obliques. But what good can rolling do for golfers? First off, rolling can be an amazing test of thoracic spine, neck, and hip mobility, as well as trunk, hip, and shoulder girdle strength.
If your thoracic spine and neck can’t turn, maybe because you spend 10+ hours glued to a chair every day, then being able to roll from your stomach to your back will be almost impossible without cheating. If your hips can’t produce extension you will find the same difficulties. If your trunk is weak and you do not possess deep spinal stabilization you will find it hard to provide a strong base of support to move your limbs to propel you through the actual roll. On top of that, If your obliques are weak then you have almost no chance of rolling from your back to your stomach, and your hip flexors will likely have to engage.
But what good can rolling do besides tell me I can or can’t do it? How is it good for my golf game? Rolling can actually be a stabilization and strengthening drill for your trunk, hips, shoulders and neck. If you use just your arms to roll, your obliques, shoulders, and back muscles will build endurance, and strength. These muscles are crucial for the golf swing because they help transfer and produce power to put into the ball. In fact, your lead side lat, and trail side pec are two of the muscles firing the hardest at impact.
Or maybe your mid back is stiff and you have a C posture when setting up to the ball. To help with this you’re going to need a drill to improve your thoracic mobility. The Hug’n’turn or Half Kneeling Stick Turns to a Closed Knee are great options. But after doing these, you want to lock your gains in by using your body and brain to produce movements that require the newly acquired mobility. Upper body rolling is an amazing choice. When rolling from your stomach to your back, your thoracic spine must extend, your shoulder blade needs to retract, your arms need to be overhead, and you need to stretch out your pec. All of these will help you get into a better posture when addressing the ball and making a reproducible, painless backswing. The gains in thoracic spine mobility you get will also help prevent lateral movement, chicken winging, loss of posture, or even a flat shoulder plane during your swing.
If you are rolling with just your legs you will once again be working on your oblique strength, although a little less than if you roll with your arms. This is because the mass of your legs will help pull you over at a certain point. Also, this type of rolling will require immense amounts of hip extension and glute strength. And if you don’t know it already, your glutes are the powerhouse of your swing. Your glutes are, or should be, the strongest muscles a golfer has. Unfortunately as society has pushed up to sit more and more, the hip flexors on the front of our body get tighter, and our glutes on the back side of our body get stretched out and have decreased neural drive. Basically our glutes have a hard time remembering what they are supposed to do, also known as Glute Amnesia. If you sit for long periods every day and you need a quick reset for your body to bring your hips and thoracic spine into some extension, then rolling with only your legs is a great choice. It also pairs nicely after a Half kneeling Hip Flexor Stretch to make sure you can get the most hip extension possible.
Rolling with both your upper and lower body will also enforce separation between your hips and shoulders. In the golf swing it’s called the X-factor. The greater the X-factor that you have in your swing, or distance between your stable hips and your rotating shoulders in the backswing, the greater time you have to produce power, and theoretically hit the ball farther. When we roll it is done in a segmental way, meaning that the legs move, then the hips, then the torso, and then the arms, and vice versa when the arms move first. If your legs are moving up and across your body and your shoulders are still on the ground you are causing separation between the two which can help with spinal mobility or lock in any mobility that you gained from spinal, hip, and shoulder mobility drills.
Be sure you check out the accompanying video to see progressions of rolling, and some common tips on how to make your rolling the best you can. Chris does a great job of performing all three variations. Remember, rolling is more than something babies do. It’s something golfer’s who want to live better and play better do as well.
Benefits of Rolling to Golf:
- It improves mobility in the thoracic spine, so you can make better rotation.
- It teaches you to move segmentally, which can help to improve your ability to separate your upper and lower body an important quality for storing energy.
- It builds core strength.
- It improves hip extension, if you struggle with hip extension you will struggle to use your glutes to create force from the ground up.
- It brings your arms overhead, opening up your lats and improving your ability to get in a great position at the top of your backswing.
- It can improve asymmetries developed from life and swinging a golf club. Physical asymmetries happen but addressing them can help you produce more power and prevent injury.