Human movement can be complex and difficult to understand. We live and move in three different dimensions; forward and back, side-to-side, and rotationally (and usually all three simultaneously). Some joints are designed to primarily move forward and back (flex and extend), e.g., elbow and knee joints. Other joints move in all three directions at the same time (flex, extend, side-to-side, and rotate), e.g., hip and shoulder joints.
The spine is unique in that it is a series of interdependent joints which collectively move in all three directions. The spinal column consists of 33 vertebrae organized into 5 different regions; Cervical (neck), Thoracic (rib cage), Lumbar (low back), Sacral and Coccyx (pelvis). The vertebrae increase gradually in size from top to bottom. Conversely the available movement at each segment of the spine increases from bottom to top. Each region of the spine moves differently as the size and shape of the vertebrae change. The lumbar region moves well forward and backward (flexion and extension) but is less effective when bending side to side or rotating. The thoracic region easily moves from side to side and rotationally, while flexion/extension is limited. The cervical area is very flexible in all three directions.
Rotational movement is vital to human movement. Every step taken, whether walking or running involves rotation of the hips, spine and shoulders. One must rotate to get in and out of a car. Cervical (neck) rotation is necessary to check blind spots while driving. We rotate when we pick something up off of a table from one side of our body and place it on a counter on the other side of our body. All real-life daily movement patterns involve rotation. Rotation is necessary to function properly.
Because all human movement involves rotation, all sports require rotational movement. However some sports require optimal levels of both rotational mobility and strength (power). Those sports are considered rotational sports and include; golf, baseball, tennis, hockey and others. While the entire body is involved in the development of rotational power, as it relates to sports performance, rotation of the torso is vital and necessary. Compared to all other sports the golf swing requires the most spinal rotation, therefore optimal spinal rotation is paramount to maximize the ability to swing a golf club.
The lumbar spine is capable of limited rotation but is better suited to move forward and back (flex and extend). That leaves only the thoracic region of the spine (the area made up of the rib cage), to contribute to overall rotational power. Optimal mobility and strength of thoracic rotation is required to excel at any of the rotational sports.
As a fitness professional and a TPI Certified Golf Fitness Professional with over 27 years of experience, I believe that incorporating exercises that focus on increasing your ability to rotate your thoracic spine is essential. Increased rotation decreases stress and can reduce low back pain, allowing you to practice and play more. An increased ability to rotate also will allow you to generate more power and hit the ball farther. Additionally better rotation allows you to swing the golf properly resulting in more accurate shots.
I will be releasing a series of exercise videos to help you to increase your ability to rotate your spine during your golf swing. Stay tuned if you want to play with less pain, play more often and hit the ball farther and straighter.
-John Preston MS, CSCS, EP-C, CPT, TPI | Director of Education with TrueTurn
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