Part 2: Upper body postural dysfunctions
So, from Part 1 of this blog we know that excessive anterior pelvic tilt (weak gluteals and abs and tight hip flexors and low back) may cause a host of issues in your golf game, but what about the upper body version?! I’m sure we can all identify with a typical lazy desk posture: rounded shoulders, hunched upper back and a chin that pokes farther forward than a pigeon strutting across the park!
Have you noticed any loss in rotation through your spine, an inability to get the club on the right “plane” that the coach has been suggesting you need to achieve, swinging “over the top” or losing posture at the top of the backswing?! You may not have even noticed these limitations slowly creeping into your game over a number of years.
When you sit at a desk for long periods of time, your chest and upper back muscles can become very tight while the deep cervical flexors of your neck and mid back muscles become very weak. We call this upper body postural dysfunctions (also known as Upper Crossed Syndrome in some areas of physical therapy) and this can be seen below in figure 2, alongside a neutral posture. Many desk workers are affected by neck pain; due to prolonged sitting and bending the neck, upper back, protracted shoulders1. However, research tells us that by doing the right exercises, you can overcome the upper body limitations that emerge from sitting for too long at your desk2.
Figure 2. Normal posture (left) and upper body postural dysfunctions (right). Note the forward position of the head in comparison to the neck and the rounded shoulders and upper back.
To reverse these postural dysfunctions you must increase the flexibility in your chest and upper back muscles and increase the strength of your deep neck flexors and mid-back muscles.
I’m throwing out lots of technical terms and muscle names, but here are some examples of exercises that can help reduce the effects of your occupational desk-bound duties on your upper body!
One solution to upper body postural dysfunctions is to strengthen the muscles through the mid-back that sit all around the shoulder blades. Reverse flyes, bent over row (shown here), external shoulder drills, are excellent for strengthening the upperback and Ts, Ws, and Ys are common exercises that I am sure you have tried before (featured below).
Coaching Points: Lie face down on a gym ball with the feet apart and legs almost straight for support. For extra stability place the feet against a wall. All of the movements in these exercises begin with the hands underneath the eyes with the palms facing upwards. To make the letter T take the hands and arms out to the side of the body until they are straight and inline with your shoulders.
You should make the shape of the letter so that if a bird was flying above you they would see a letter T with your upper body. Next are the Ws, these are similar to the Ts but with bent arms at the top position forming a W. Finally the Ys, the hardest out of the 3 so don’t be tempted to raise the upper body or head to help get the arms fully extended out in front of you. Keep the body tight throughout and the head looking down to the floor. Remember not to hold the top positions, simply repeat the movement for each rep continuously until you have done 10 on each letter to begin with. To progress you can add in light weights to the Ts and Ws first and later down the line add weight into the Ys.
Now let’s show you another slightly different exercise which can be done anywhere with just some bands – Crab Walks. The late Ramsay McMaster, a world-renowned golf physiotherapist, originally demonstrated this exercise. It’s an excellent exercise that combines work for the muscles involved in both APT and upper body postural dysfunctions.
Coaching Points: Place a mini band around both legs just above the knees and hold a piece of tubing or theraband behind your back with a pistol grip. Keeping the elbows tucked into the side and the chin pulled back into a neutral position, begin to circle the hands backwards. Do not force the shoulders back and stick the chest out, as this is not a neutral position. Gently pull the shoulder blades down and in as if sliding them into an envelope on your back.
Once you have got the arms going begin some side steps, like a crab! Make sure your feet stay apart throughout the exercise and the closest they should ever get is the width of your stance in your golf address position. You should feel the glutes, mid-back and triceps all burning after doing 2-3 sets of 20 steps in each direction.
With regards to the tight areas in upper body postural dysfunctions – it is important to stretch out the chest. Prior to this you can use a spikey ball, percussive therapy massage device or massage ball to roll into the pectorals (the chest muscles) to improve the tissue quality and increase the flexibility across this area.
Coaching Points: As with the APT hip flexor foam rolling, try 2 x 30 seconds on each side. Do not do this every day as it may bruise and your muscles will need time to recover from the massage effects.
Follow this rolling by completing the chest stretch using a chair (your office chair perhaps?!) or a gym ball.
Coaching Points: Keep the arm bent to 90° at the elbow and raise it level with your shoulder, kneeling down gently press the torso downwards bending the supporting arm if necessary to increase the stretch felt across the shoulder and pecs. Hold for a minimum of 30 seconds and repeat twice on each side every day when warm.
While certain exercises can help us overcome the negative postures we all adopt at our desks, if you really want to improve these limitations quicker and for the long-term, you guessed it, you need to focus on reducing the hours spent at your desk in a poor posture. Whether this means increased desk breaks, more hours spent out on the golf course (!), getting into the gym when you’re able, or simply being aware of how you sit at your desk and how you stand when walking, anything you can do to reduce the negative effects of your postural dysfunctions will pay dividends out where it counts!
- Rajalaxmi, V., Ranjani, V. M., Paul, J., Subramanian, S. S., Cyrus, B. E., & Pavithralochani, V. (2019). Efficacy of Neck Stabilization and Postural Correction Exercise on Pain, Posture, Disability, Respiratory Dysfunctions and Mental Status in Desk Job Workers–A Randomised Controlled Double Blinded Study. Research Journal of Pharmacy and Technology, 12(5), 2333-2338.
- Singh, R., Jagga, V., & Kaur, S. (2021). Effect of Combining Stretching and Strengthening Exercises of Neck Muscles in Forward Head Posture among Desk Job Operators. Asian Journal of Orthopaedic Research, 1-5.
Dr Ben Langdown is a Senior Lecturer in Sports Coaching at The Open University and has published various journal papers in the area of golf and sports science. Specifically, Ben's research focuses on athlete monitoring, warm-up protocols, and training interventions in the sport of golf. Ben is also a Strength and Conditioning Coach for England Golf and over the past 15 years has provided biomechanics and S&C support to golfers from amateurs through to European (Men’s and Ladies’) Tours and a European Senior Tour Season Champion. Ben has presented at 4 World Golf Fitness Summits and the 2018 World Scientific Congress of Golf, where he also acted as an invited review panel member supporting education for >150 academics/coaches. He has delivered various invited keynote workshops with international organisations, including England Golf, The PGAs of GB&I, Spain, Czech Republic and Slovakia with all adopting his applied approaches. Most recently, Ben has developed the AMI Sports: Golf athlete monitoring app allowing further insight into golfers’ practice, tournaments, training and daily wellbeing.