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Improve Your Golf Swing with TSpine Mobility

In past articles, we have mobility vs flexibility and how our bodies are a collection of joints, some requiring mobility and others requiring stability. The thoracic spine or mid back area is proving to be a critical component in maintaining a healthy lumbar and cervical spine.

For the golfers out there, this is especially important. In the golf swing you need you need to be able to separate the upper body from lower body. During the backswing your pelvis needs to be stable allowing the shoulders to turn. If you are unable to separate the upper and lower body, you will be limited as to how much shoulder turn you can perform. This is where thoracic mobility is important – to allow movement through the back while keeping the pelvis stable.

golf swing

One of the exercises we routinely use to help increase thoracic mobility is the diagonal plate raise. This exercise, done with a weight plate is one of the best exercises to increase movement through the thoracic spine. It is important when performing this exercise that you focus on keeping the hips straight and not allowing them to rotate with the shoulder. Watch the video of this exercise and if you practice it correctly yourself, there will be no movement through the lumbar spine at all; all the movement should be originating in the thoracic spine (or upper back). To view this exercise please visit my blog:

Last but not least is the shoulder or gleno-humeral joint. Also closely connected to the health of the shoulder is the area of the shoulder blade (the sacpulo-thoracic joint).

gleno-humeral joint

You cannot discuss shoulder health without talking about the stability of the shoulder blades which directly reflects the health of the rotator cuff. The scapula, rotator cuff and shoulder is an area that whole exercise physiology textbooks are written about. In order to have a shoulder that allows mobility, you need to have a stable base first. Without a stable base provided by the scapular muscles, the shoulder joint can become quite immobile, causing decreased range of motion and pain.

The scapular stabilizers (lower trapezius, rhomboids, serratus, levator scapula) are responsible to hold and lock the shoulders in the right position for the shoulder to function properly. Some of the exercises that we use to strengthen these various muscles are as follows. All rowing movements will help to strengthen the trapezius and rhomboids. How often have you heard us say pinch and pull.

lower traps

When you pinch your shoulder blades together, the rhomboid muscles in the middle of your upper back activate. These muscles originate along the spine (C7 and T1) and then attach themselves to the inner border of your shoulder blades. The pinching action will pull the shoulder blades together and this in turn with other muscles throughout the upper back and shoulder (rotator cuff) will cause the shoulder to sit in an anatomically correct position allowing proper function of the shoulder.

Other exercises that benefit the shoulder joint are the lat pulldown and prone trap raise. We also have variations along those exercises that we use (stiff arm pulldowns, high pulley rows). Often with these exercises we will instruct you to "pull your shoulders to your hips". This prevents the shrugging so often seen with these exercises and once again helps to maintain the shoulder in a healthy position. The muscles primarily responsible for this are the middle and lower trapezius.

trapezius

The trapezius muscle is a large muscle that originates at the skull , the spine of C7 and all the thoracic vertebrae . It then inserts along the rear of the shoulder, the scapular spine and part of the clavicle. The trapezius muscle's main responsibility is to keep the scapula down (no shrugging) and to maintain stability to allow shoulder mobility.

So, this is starting to turn in Anatomy 101 and I may have gotten a bit off track. The scapular and shoulder, as I mentioned are worthy of a book on their own. I am sure either you personally or someone you knows has had, does have or will have shoulder problems. It is probably the most common problem we see in and out of the gym. And because of so much of what we need to do the keep healthy and strong, involves the shoulder, we much be diligent about the work necessary to keep the this joint healthy.

I hope this helps you to understand why we do what we do in the gym and why it is important that we strive for correct movement in all the exercises regardless of how insignificant and boring the exercise may be. After all, some of the most important exercises (prone trap raise, reach roll and lift, side lying windmills) don't come attached with Country names (Bulgarian squats, Turkish Sit Ups, Russian Deadlifts).

So next time we utter "pinch, pull or "shoulders down" you will be able to picture what and why.

Till next time,
Narina

Resources:
1) National Academy of Sports Medicine – Upper Body Muscular
Anatomy (A comprehensive approach to Integrated Functional Anatomy)
2) National Strength & Conditioning Journal, Volume 25, June 2003
– A Comprehensive Approach to Shoulder-Complex Maintenance by Phil
Wagner, BS
3) A Joint-by-Joint Approach to Training by Mike Boyle

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