The sport of golf is very unique in that it involves one of the most complex movements of the human body. Mastery of the golf swing requires balance, flexibility, strength, power, coordination, rhythm, and stability. When determining the objectivity of these characteristics we can look at golfers of varying skill levels. Very proficient golfers have characteristics that are different than the recreational golfer. There have been studies that have compared these differences. One particular study looked at 257 healthy male golfers.1 In this study they compared the characteristics of different skill levels; the skill levels that they compared were <0 handicap, 1-9, and 10-20. What they found in regard to balance in particular was that very efficient golfers, < 0 HC showed much better single leg stance balance during certain conditions that were tested on a Kisler force plate at a frequency of 100 Hz. This is a device that allowed researchers to introduce a certain force and see how the golfer reacted to that force. That date is then collected and compared across the different groups.
Why is balance important in the golf swing?
Technology today is allowing researchers and golfers to determine how the ground is utilized during the golf swing. Have you ever seen a long drive player hit a golf ball? They literally leave the ground! Pieces of equipment like the Boditrack allows us to see the transfer of weight during the different components of the golf swing. What we are finding is as the club is being taken away, in this instance for a right handed golfer, there is a center of pressure shift onto the trail right leg which peaks when the club shaft is parallel to the ground. Before the player even gets to the top of the back swing we see the pelvis start to turn as we come into the downswing. There is a rather quick transition of weight onto the lead leg. This center of pressure shift requires balance to keep the body within its base of support. When you think about how quick the golf swing happens, it is critical to control all the moving parts and momentum that is created along with the shifting of the weight. This all takes balance!
How does the body balance?
There are three main systems involved in balance. The first is your visual system. Your eyes take in information that is then sent to the brain through the optic nerve. This information is interpreted by the brain and the brain sends commands down the spinal cord to tell your body what to do. The inner ear functions in a similar way. There is fluid that moves in your inner ears. Surrounding certain parts of where that fluid flows are hairs. According to how those hairs react to the movement of the fluid information is once again sent to the master controller, the brain. Our last system that aids in our balance in our joints. Our joints have certain cells which react to changes in pressure, stretch, or their environment to send signals up to the brain for the brain to interpret. The brain will then send signals back down to tell your body to fire a muscle or step to avoid a fall.
Can balance improve?
One particular study2 looked at balance as one of the variables they tested to see how it reacted to practice. In this study, which was conducted over 8 weeks, there was a statistically significant change in the patient’s balance after the training was completed. The training did encompass more than just balance work, but also included flexibility work, strength work to upper and lower body, as well as some aerobic exercise. There are numerous other studies that show how training and challenging the various systems can help with balance will improve a person’s ability to prevent falls as a result of a loss of balance.
Balance is not only critical in the golf swing, but driving the cart as well!
1. Sell, TC, et. al. Strength, flexibility, and balance characteristics of highly proficient golfers. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 2007;21(4):1166–1171
2. Lephart, SM. et. al. An eight week golf specific exercise program improves physical characteristics, swing mechanics, and golf performance. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 2007;21(3):860–869