The sport of golf requires a high level of joint flexibility that allows the human body to generate powerful biomechanical positions maximizing the leverage of the human body (5,22,37). The importance of adequate range of motion (ROM) while learning and executing the golf full swing is well documented and has historically been a significant interest of the Professional Golf Association (PGA) and competitive golfers worldwide (5,37). Thus, many avid amateur and professional golfers have added stretching exercises to their precompetition warm-ups and off-course fitness regimens for the purpose of reducing the chance of injury (10,11,26,28,30), improving biomechanical efficiency (9,14,15), and improving clubhead speed (9,14,15,35,36). Indeed, competitive golfers choosing to include flexibility training as part of their precompetition warm-up and off-course fitness regimens is becoming the norm rather than the exception (9).
Static stretching exercises are commonly used during the warm-up phase before practice or competition (2,16). The general belief is that increased ROM will translate into reduced incidence of injury and improved performance (28,30,34). Interestingly, however, a recent investigation provided evidence that the short-term effects of stretching may be harmful because of decreased joint stability (21), whereas another study has reported a higher rate of injury in subjects with very high or very low levels of flexibility (8). Therefore, the question of whether greater ROM contributes to the prevention of musculoskeletal injuries remains controversial. Further, other contemporary studies have examined the effects of various stretching modalities on performance and reported decreased maximal isometric strength (1,3,13,23), decreased isokinetic peak torque (25), decreased dynamic strength (19,23-25,38), decreased sprint performance (12), and decreased vertical jump (4,7,24). Thus, it may be detrimental to stretch before practice or competition. These findings have implications for the sport of golf because high levels of sequenced force production from the legs through the torso into the arms and hands are necessary to generate maximum clubhead speed (5,15,22,35,37). Furthermore, consider that young competitive men generate driver clubhead speeds in excess of 45 m·s−1, thus requiring tremendous power output and coordination (5,15,37).
The mechanisms responsible for the stretch-induced decreased force production remain speculative (3,13). Plausible explanations include a more compliant muscle tendon unit (MTU) (7,19,23,25), decreased neuromuscular reflex sensitivity (1,19), neural inhibition (3,13,33), and tissue damage attributable to creatine kinase associated with passive static stretching (31). Localized impairment has also been explained by joint angle (23), contraction type (7,38), and contraction velocity (25).
Nevertheless, the prevalence of competitive golfers employing stretching exercises before competition continues despite the lack of evidence supporting the relationship between prepractice and precompetition stretching on golf performance. Thus, the present study was directed toward investigating the acute effect of passive static stretching on driver clubhead speed, distance, accuracy, and consistent ball contact-all of which are significant variables in golf performance (5,37).
Experimental Approach to the Problem
Two different warm-up treatments (AD = active dynamic warm-up with golf clubs; SS = passive static stretching plus an identical AD warm-up with golf clubs) were performed by all study volunteers before performance measurement. The AD treatment was selected because it is a well-accepted warm-up progression frequently used by skilled golfers and because it was very similar to the range of warm-up procedures normally applied by the subjects in this study. The addition of passive static stretching exercises in the SS treatment was different from the subjects' normal warm-up procedure. Thus, the author was interested in the impact of passive static stretching on golf performance measures. Measures of clubhead speed, distance, accuracy, and consistent ball contact were recorded at 2 sessions on 2 nonconsecutive days immediately after the subjects were exposed to each warm-up treatment. The dependent measures were selected based on the 2 logistical variables germane to all golf shots-distance and accuracy. Specifically, distance is a function of clubhead speed and solid ball contact, and direction is a result of applying the clubhead to the golf ball in a sequenced, coordinated manner. Any impairment attributable to SS would manifest itself in these measures.
The study subjects (N = 15) were young male competitive golfers who regularly participate in golf specific conditioning programs. These programs incorporate multimode low to moderate cardiorespiratory training, multiple-set total-body strength/hypertrophy training, and multiple-rep total-body flexibility training similar to the stretching protocol used in the SS treatment. A United States Golf Association (USGA) handicap index of 5 or lower, reflecting a high level of skill and recent participation in competitive golf, was required for participation in the study. Before testing, the subjects were provided with a complete written and oral explanation of the study. After the explanation, each subject was asked to sign an informed consent document that was approved by Stephen F. Austin State University's institutional review board. Table 1 outlines subject demographics and skill levels expressed by USGA handicap.
The application of the warm-up treatments to the subjects incorporated a counterbalanced design. The AD warm-up treatment began with 10 practice swings with a Momentus (Mt. Pleasant, Iowa) 1.13-kg weighted golf club. Next, each subject hit 15 full-swing shots with their competition golf clubs. Subjects progressed through their sets from shorter, heavier clubs to longer, lighter clubs and ultimately concluded the AD treatment with their drivers. Table 2 outlines the AD warm-up progression.
The SS treatment began with a 20-minute stretching routine. The stretching exercises included in the routine were selected with the objective of stretching the entire body as well as golf-specific musculature. Table 3 outlines the stretching exercises and their order. Hetu and Faigenbaum (15) offer a more detailed explanation of how to perform these stretching exercises. Each subject performed 3 repetitions of 10 seconds on both sides of their body with the exception of the back extensor and prone back stretches for each stretching exercise. Immediately after passive static stretching, each subject proceeded to perform an identical AD warm-up as described above.
After either the AD or SS warm-up treatment, each subject was instructed to hit 10 full-swing golf shots with brand new Titleist (Fairhaven, Mass) Pro V1 golf balls with his driver on a flat driving range. For measurement consistency across the sample, subjects were instructed to go through their normal preshot routines as if they were competing, with 1 minute of rest between shots. One-minute intervals between trials were selected to allow the subjects adequate time for mental preparation for full focus on the next swing while also enabling the regeneration of phosphocreatine metabolized in the previous trial. Measures of clubhead speed were made using the Beltronics Swingmate (Mississauga, Canada) laser swing speed measuring device. The distance of each shot was measured using the Bushnell (Overland Park, Kan) Pinseeker 1500 laser range finder. Accuracy was measured by the absolute distance each shot deviated, right or left, from the predetermined target line. Finally, consistent ball contact was measured using subjective feedback from each subject by asking the question, “How well did you hit that one?” and recording “yes” for solid contact and “no” for poor contact.
This type of subjective measure, although not empirical, is appropriate for golfers at this skill level (37).
To determine the effects that the 2 different stretching treatments had on clubhead speed, distance, accuracy, and consistent ball contact measurements, a paired t-test for 2 sample mean values was used. This method provides a statistical measure of actual mean differences between treatment applications. Statistical significance was set at p ≤ 0.05.
The subjects in this study were tested for driver clubhead speed, distance, accuracy and consistent ball contact after AD and SS warm-up treatments. Results of paired t-tests revealed significant (p < 0.05) decreases in clubhead speed (−4.19%), distance (−5.62%), accuracy (−31.04%), and consistent ball contact (−16.34%). No trends in any dependent measure were observed during the 10 trials. See Table 4 for mean, SD, and t-statistics.
The purpose of this investigation was to determine which type of warm-up and/or stretching routine was best for producing optimal driver clubhead speed, distance, accuracy, and consistent ball contact. The results reveal significant decreases in clubhead speed, total distance, accuracy, and consistent ball contact.
The present study supports the findings of previous investigations reporting decreased force production or performance measures after various stretching modalities. The nature of this performance decrement after stretching may be related to the MTU. Rosenbaum and Henning (27) suggest that this decrease in force production is a result of slack in the tendon after stretching exercises. Therefore, less force can be applied to the bone, resulting in a correspondingly lower force production for movement and attenuated athletic performance. Cornwell et al. (7) report that observed decreases in performance are a result of the MTU's inability to store elastic energy. Interestingly, the amount of elastic energy that can be stored in the MTU is a function of the unit's stiffness (17,29). Other authors have demonstrated that tendon compliance and muscle contraction can occur simultaneously in animals (32) and humans (6). Collectively, these investigations support the theory that a more compliant MTU results in a greater time interval until external force is expressed in powerful athletic movements.
There also may be a neuromuscular explanation for the decrease in performance after stretching. Avela et al. (1) measured the reflex sensitivity of skeletal muscles after repeated passive static stretching. Their results show a significant decrease in reflex activity and force production. Kokkonen et al. (19) have attributed these observations to a reduction in the sensitivity of the muscle spindles and theorized that repeated stretching also reduced the number of motor units available because of autogenic inhibition. Knudson et al. (18) have hypothesized that a decrease in vertical jump performance was associated with a decrease in neural transmission because they found no change in the kinematics of the movement. Additional investigations have provided evidence that reduced force production and performance were attributable to acute neural inhibition from passive stretching that consequently reduced the neural drive to the muscle (1,19,27).
In the present study, a significant decrease was observed in clubhead speed, distance, accuracy, and consistent ball contact. There are several explanations that apply to these performance observations. First, it is plausible that the skeletal muscles were normally and sufficiently innervated by the central nervous system but that less force was transferred to the golf club because of slack in the tendon. Second, altered neurological activity may have caused the skeletal muscles to fire without synchronization or adequate action potential, thus reducing coordination and/or force production. A final explanation is that both the transfer of force from the skeletal muscles to the golf club and the neurological system were temporarily impaired by the SS treatment. The author supports the later explanation because both force production and neuromuscular coordination are necessary for efficient movement in the full golf swing (5,14,37). Moreover, decreased force production and coordination may be a result of a dual effect caused by temporary slack in the tendon and an altered neurological state. Nevertheless, the question of whether these reductions in performance are attributable primarily or collectively to a more compliant MTU, reduced neurological sensitivity of the muscle spindles, or neural inhibition remains speculative and requires further study.
In the sport of golf, adequate ROM is paramount for optimal swing mechanics to be learned, improved, and performed (5,37). Similarly, other sport kinematics also require specific expressions of flexibility. Therefore, each sport should be evaluated for its specific ROM requirements for optimal performance and the consideration of preventing injury.
This inquiry was specific to the golf full swing on driver performance after passive static stretching. The full golf swing is a closed-kinetic-chain activity in the rotational plane, which categorizes it as a unique skill (22) and differentiates it from other investigations focusing on other sport movements. Thus, readers should be cautious not to universally apply the findings of this study to sport movements other than the full golf swing.
The scientific literature addressing warm-up and precompetition stretching routines applied to specific sport movements is scarce at best. Fowles et al. (13) have reported impaired isometric force for up to 1 hour after passive stretching. Rosenbaum and Henning (27) found a decrease in the rate of force development after static stretching, but force development returned to pretest values after a 10-minute run. Fletcher and Jones (12) have reported slower 20-m sprint times after passive static stretching. In the present study, it is possible that the effect of the SS treatment would “wear off” at some point during a normal 18-hole round of golf, which typically lasts between 4 and 5 hours; however, the latent effect of passive static stretching is not well understood and requires further inquiry.
In conclusion, the SS warm-up treatment resulted in decreased driver performance in all dependent measures when compared with the AD warm-up treatment. This investigation further supports previous investigations questioning stretch-induced greater ROM and its correlation to performance in athletic movements.
The design of warm-up routines for athletic movements involving high-intensity power output, biomechanical efficiency, and precise coordination, such as golf, should minimize the amount of stretching before practice or competition. It is recommended that these athletes employ an active dynamic warm-up consisting of lower-intensity movements progressing toward an ROM required for optimal mechanics in that particular sport. If the athlete has poor mechanics because of a lack of flexibility, this training should be performed after a conditioning session, practice, or competition.
The author would like to thank the office of Research and Sponsored Programs for their financial support of this project through the Research Enhancement Program.
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