James-Tyler Dodge DPT, CSCS
Most people think playing golf or tennis is as easy as hitting a ball into a hole or over a net. Those who play either of these sports know it is much, MUCH more than that. Sure, when we were younger it was easy to jump right into playing, but as we get older things start to feel tighter and harder to move which leads to decreased performance on the course or court, and sometimes injury.
The goal of this blog is two-fold, one, I want to educate you on what potentially is holding you back from feeling and performing your best, and two, show you how to restore motions that are key to certain sport movement patterns necessary for all sports, but especially golf and tennis.
Perhaps the two most important body regions to play these sports are our hips/pelvis and our spine. These two body segments essentially are best friends, they connect to one another via the sacroiliac joint (tailbone), have muscles that act on each other, influence the way our bodies move, and affect our posture in a major way.
Since the spine and hips are best friends, when one of them gets tight or stiff, the other tries to work harder to make sure your body can do what you’re asking it to do. If we think about a golf swing, we need a lot of hip rotation and thoracic spine (torso) rotation so we can rotate throughout the entirety of the swing and generate torque to hit the ball hard and far. The same goes for a tennis swing, whether it’s a foreswing or back swing, our hips and thoracic spine are rotating and counter-rotating to make sure we can hit the ball over the net.
Now let’s say our hips are tight, this tightness will limit the amount of rotation at our hips and can lead to an increased demand of rotation in our spine that over time can lead to back pain. The same is also true if we imagine our thoracic spine can’t rotate the way it should and we will try to compensate with extra- and abnormal motions at the hips and pelvis that can place undue stress on the muscles and labrum of each of our hip joints. If we can address the mobility in our hips and thoracic spine, it can help us to move more naturally and freely which can help us perform better and stay healthier!
Below are some exercises that hit critical areas of our hips and spine to help increase mobility, make our bodies move efficiently, and ultimately, reduce the chance of injury. If at any time there is pain while performing any of the exercises, it may be an indicator you need to set an appointment up with your MD or physical therapist:
Foam Roll Thoracic Extension
- Start: Place the mid of your back (between the shoulder blades) on the foam roller with your knees bent and feet on the ground.
- End: Reach both arms up and over your head and tighten your stomach to avoid excessive arching of the low back. Come back to the start position and repeat.
- Frequency: 2 sets of 10 repetitions.
- Start: Find a steady hands-and-knees position, preferably with the hands directly under the shoulders and knees under the hips. Now curl up like a cat to as high as comfortable.
- End: Reverse the curve of the “Cat” position, and extend the head, neck, and spine as much as comfortably possible. Repeat.
- Frequency: 2 sets of 10 repetitions in each direction.
- Start: Lay on either side with your hips and knees bent to 90 degrees. Place the hand of the bottom shoulder on the top knee to pin down the knees/hips. Straighten the top arm in front of you.
- End: Reach the top arm to the opposite side of your body as much as comfortably possible while making sure the knees/hips stay in place. Repeat.
- Frequency: 2 sets of 10 repetitions on each side.
- Start: Sit on the floor with both hips and knees in a 90/90 position as shown in the picture. Reach your chest over the front shin to stretch the bottom hip. Hold for 3-5 seconds.
- End: Counter rotate your body to the other side while trying to keep both knees in contact with the floor. You may feel the stretch on the top hip now. Hold for 3-5 seconds. Repeat back and forth.
- Frequency: 2 sets of 10 repetitions in each direction/ with each leg.
Half Kneeling Quadriceps and Hip Flexor Stretch
- Start: Start in a half kneel position with the tailbone tucked under you (this will help to tilt your pelvis posteriorly).
- End: Shift your pelvis forward while maintaining neutral alignment of the spine and back. In this position we are targeting the hip flexor of the leg that has the knee on the ground. Hold 2-3 seconds and repeat.
- Frequency: 2 sets of 10 repetitions with each leg.
Active Hamstring Stretch
- Start: Lay on your back with one leg straight and the other held with both of your arms as shown in the picture.
- End: Straighten the top leg to the ceiling while holding the leg in place with your arms. This will actively stretch your hamstring muscle. Hold for 3-5 seconds. Repeat.
- Frequency: 2 sets of 10 repetitions with each leg.
To wrap it all up, the hips and spine are key regions to take care of for your sport performance and for everyday life. That said, consistency is key! In the beginning of trying these exercises out it may take a little extra effort to perform if your hips or thoracic spine are tighter than usual. I promise you that the more consistent you are with these exercises the easier they will get and the better you will feel and perform on the course or court. Be mindful to care for your body, and your body will thank you for it!