Stretching: static, dynamic, and proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation
If you are doing The Daily Habit every week then you are giving your body lots of great input to perform your best on the golf course and to live better every day. Golf is very demanding on your body and ‘stretching’ is absolutely necessary to prevent injury and have an efficient golf swing. There are general movement attributes that are required for the golf swing. Your thoracic and cervical spines need to be mobile, your chest needs to be open, your hips need to be ready for rotation and extension, your wrists elbows and shoulders need to be prepared for the demands about to be placed on them, and let’s not forget about your ankles without adequate dorsiflexion; good luck maintaining your posture.
So, you are expecting to learn about stretching but let’s take a quick sidebar and look at the human mobility and stability chain to help us understand what needs to move and what needs to be stable.
The Mobility/Stability Pattern of Human Movement states efficient movement within the kinetic chain occurs in an alternating pattern of mobile joints and stable body segments. If this pattern is altered, dysfunction in movement patterns will occur and compensations in these movement patterns will be the result. Below is a synopsis of the kinetic chain and a joint-by-joint clarification
Ankle – Mobile
Knee – Stable
Hip – Mobile
Pelvis/Sacral/Lumbar Spine – Stable
Thoracic Spine – Mobile
Scapular/Thoracic – Stable
Cervical – Mobile
Gleno-Humeral – Mobile
Elbow – Stable
Wrist – Mobile
While you can see that there is an alternating pattern, it is still crucial that every joint exhibit both mobility and stability. These characteristics are the main ones of each joint, but they are not exclusive. This means that despite the ankle being a mobile joint, you still need to possess control over its movements through space, which is actually the definition of stability. And despite the elbow being a very stable joint, you will still need to be able to achieve full elbow extension and much flexion during the golf swing; this requires mobility. Only focussing on stabilizing the stable joints, and mobilizing the mobile joints will leave much to be desired in the quality of your swing. This is where dynamic stretching, or movement preparation, comes into play.
Dynamic stretching has been shown to be most effective in preparing your body to perform high level activities such as golf. This movement preparation primes your nervous system to perform the upcoming tasks that will be required of the body. If you slowly stretch your muscles, which involves deep breathing, relaxing, and held positions; can you honestly expect your body to produce a ballistic rotational movement (golf swing) on demand? Do you feel that despite stretching prior to your rounds that it still takes you the first three holes to warm up? This is your body telling you that what you did to prepare was not what it needed.
Dynamic stretching, or more accurately, movement preparation, will utilize mobility, stability, flexibility, and balance to prepare your body for the upcoming tasks. Movements such as lunges, skipping, cat-camels, deadbugs, and jumping are examples of movement preparation. These movements will take joints through large ranges of motion, bring muscles through various lengths, utilize varying bases of support, as well as use faster movements than static stretching. Using the lunge example from above we see that as you step you will go from single leg support to split stance support which will require tremendous balance. From here you will lower your back knee which will help stretch your quad and anterior hip. To maintain an upright posture your core muscles will have to produce significant amounts of stability. All of these benefits are from one movement. Try to get that from a poorly done 20 second hamstring stretch.
This isn’t to say that static stretching should not have a place within your strength and condition routine. Those who are more flexible are shown to be injured less, and have lower handicaps. If you’re injured less, you can practice and play more. We would suggest that static stretches should be performed during and after your round instead of before. Yup, during your round. Remember, before your round, you want to prepare your body to move quickly and efficiently. Also, static stretching prior to activity has not been shown to reduce injury risk acutely during that activity. During and after the round, when your muscles are warm would be the best time to statically stretch. A round of golf lasts a long time and when you are halfway through a round your warm up was 2 hours ago. So, if your legs are tired and maybe your back feels tight, this could be a time for a half kneeling hip flexor stretch. Hold for 60 seconds on each side while you are waiting on the tee. This is a good one to do every 6 holes. There is some debate as to what the perfect time to hold a stretch is, but research suggests between the 1-5 minute mark. Yes, MINUTES are needed, but 60 seconds is a good place to start and then do multiple sets or throughout the day to give your body more exposure to that input.
If you look around and watch people stretch, you likely see them hold for 15-30 seconds at most. While we applaud them for taking the initiative to stretch, but this amount of time is grossly inadequate. Stretching basically works through exposure. What we mean is that as you apply a pulling stress on your muscles, there are little sensors in them that send signals to the brain and spinal cord, telling them that they are being pulled. The brain and spinal cord in turn then say “oh, this muscle is being asked to lengthen, maybe I should let it relax a little”. A signal to relax a little is sent to the muscle, and more length is achieved. Over time, the muscles, tendons, ligaments, and sensors become accustomed to being longer and need less output from the brain and spinal cord to relax. As this happens your muscles will become more flexible.
So, you know what static and dynamic stretching are. But, what about that big fancy string of three words in the end of the title. Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation sounds complicated but it is simple. First let's take some of the bite out of it and by calling it PNF.
PNF is a pretty complicated concept with many sub-techniques (hold-relax, contract-relax, alternating isometrics, rhythmic stabilization, etc), but for our purposes, let’s focus on the contract-relax (CR) method of stretching. When you contract your muscle and then stop, there is a brief period during which your muscle receives input from the nervous system to relax. This is called the refractory period. At this point, a muscle that is “tight” will be more susceptible to being stretched. At this point you can bring the area of the body into a greater range of motion. To use CR on your hip flexor, you would isometrically contract your hip flexor for 5 seconds and then go into a nice deep stretch. After holding roughly 15 seconds, you then isometrically contract your hip flexor again for 5 seconds and go deeper into the stretch. You would repeat this 5-10 times.
We find that CR allows people to relax into their stretch a lot more than trying to statically stretch. The tendency is to be too aggressive with static stretching which does not allow the muscles to actually relax. As you read earlier, the muscles need to be told to relax to actually stretch. If there is pain, there is no way the muscles will be allowed to lengthen. It’s a protective mechanism. CR allows people to gradually ease into their stretches.
Dynamic stretching using movement to take joints and muscles through large ranges of motion. This method also utilizes balance, mobility, and stability. There is usually the added benefit of increased heart rate and circulation, in turn raising peripheral tissue temperatures, allowing for increased tissue pliability, as well as disbursement of synovial fluid throughout joints, allowing for smoother movements within joints. As you can tell, this is best done prior to golfing.
Static stretching is prolonged holding of one position to increase muscles’ tolerances to being lengthened. This is best done when muscles are warm after your round or at the end of a dynamic stretching protocol.
And finally PNF is a stretching method that uses mechanisms built into the human body to produce greater amounts of relaxation and therefore greater stretch tolerance. Like static stretching, it is best done after activity.