The inter-relationship of flexibility, mobility, and stability in the golf swing is usually understated in most golf fitness articles.
Sure, many articles and blog posts are written about flexibility and mobility, or mobility and stability, but fewer are written about all three.
Even fewer articles explain the relationship between the three and how having an average ability of all three is better for your golf swing than being proficient in only two of them.
Mobility and Stability Patterns
In one of my most popular articles titled Mobility and Stability Patterns as Related to Golf Fitness, I use Bob as a model to discuss how the human body has alternating mobile and stable joints. But I don’t expound on the importance of muscle stability to support those joints.
However, knowing that the body has these alternating joint patterns will help you better understand the concepts of how flexibility, mobility, and stability work together to drive that little white ball down the fairway.
In my research, several articles discuss the difference between mobility and flexibility as well as how stability isn’t necessarily all about strength. But none of these articles, or any that I can find on the internet, actually discuss why it is important to you as a golfer to have at least average mobility, stability, and flexibility to have a good repeatable golf swing.
In this article, I’ll define the terms flexibility, mobility, and stability and why each is important to your golf swing as well as how the three are dependent on the other. Furthermore, the article will discuss some of the more common misconceptions and errors we do as golfers that hurt not only our game but also our bodies.
You Need A Basic Understanding
Most swing instruction articles in the popular golf magazines are way out of touch with amateur golfers. I discuss this, in one of my favorite articles – I do like my rant articles – 5 Reasons Why You Need Mobility Training – Golf Lesson Chimera’s.
Like all good students, golfers learn by watching swing videos of professionals.
Or, by reading tips in the magazines written by pro golfers or teaching professionals.
We are amateurs, and we don’t have the physical training or in some cases the physical abilities that professional golfers have. There is no possible way we can get out bodies into those same positions without some conditioning and training.
The point of that article is that we need an understanding of how our bodies move and to get a physical assessment so we know our own limitations. Getting an assessment is important to the concepts in this current article because the information obtained from the assessment will evaluate your need for more flexibility, mobility, or stability.
What Does Getting Assessed Mean?
Ok, if you read the Chimera article, what does an assessment do for you?
Through research, experience, and assessing tens of thousands of golfers TPI has taken and modified easy-to-do physical movement screens from some of the best physical therapists in the world to use them to evaluate body movements in the golf swing. In other words, the assessment can evaluate how you move and determine the physical limitations that when corrected could improve your golf swing.
There are four basic aspects to a Titleist Performance Institute (TPI) assessment. These are:
- Flexibility; and
For this article, we’ll skip balance, you can read more about balance in 5 Easy Golf Balance Drills You Need to Do Now to Improve Your Swing.
Let’s define flexibility, mobility, and stability as they are often confused with each other.
Flexibility, Mobility, and Stability in the Golf Swing
Let’s define the three terms, then get into the confusion and some examples that will make it the definitions more clear.
Flexibility and mobility are often confused and people think that if they’re flexible they have good mobility.
This isn’t true.
Flexibility is about muscles, not joints. More specifically, the ability of a muscle to stretch or lengthen. One can argue that supportive tissues such as tendons and ligaments should also be included when discussing flexibility.
Mobility is how well a joint moves, or the range of motion of a particular joint.
We’ll preface range of motion here too, although there are standards for how much movement a joint should have, genetics, injury, and physiological traits can reduce or increase the possible range of motion of joints. Everyone is different.
Mobility is the degree to which a joint (where two bones meet) is allowed to move before being restricted by surrounding tissues (ligaments/tendons/muscles).
Stability is often referred to as pure muscle strength. The common fix for the lack of stability is to strengthen those muscles.
That is a good first action, but stability is a bit more involved than pure static strength.
Stability is the ability to maintain or control joint movement or joint position. Stability is achieved by the coordinating actions of surrounding tissues and the neuromuscular system.
While strength is important for stability, the muscle, tendon, or ligament needs to be strong, it’s more involved than standing in one place and lifting weights. The muscles need to be able to remain strong and hold that joint in position while it moves throughout its whole range of motion.
Stability is generally considered to be pure strength.
Although sometimes it’s easier to refer to stability as strength, it is also neuromuscular, and the body needs to be conditioning to activate muscles through a range of motions that it’s not accustomed to.
Muscles, tendons, ligaments, and stabilizers need to be ultimately run through a gambit of positions while resisting weights. This is accomplished by starting with static weight training and progressing to more “functional” weight-bearing movements.
For example, core stability training can start with simple planks. The planks should be eventually progressed to holding the plank position with the body positioned in other planes, followed by holding the plank and moving the body. An example would be to hold a side plank then slowly and in control roll down to an elbow plank.
A moving plank such as that forces the body to remain stable around shoulder movement. The muscles holding the shoulder joint in position (actually positions since it’s rotating) need to hold the body stable. If you can do that while all of the weight is on your elbow and foot, then those same muscles can surely hold the shoulder in position while moving when you’re standing and lifting your arm.
So stability is more than pure static strength, it’s dynamic strength that occurs as joints move throughout their range of motion.
Flexibility & Mobility
Let’s combine the misconceptions of these two terms because it can be hard to tell without screening if you have a mobility problem or a flexibility issue.
We’ll look at the hip and hamstring for an example.
Let’s say you can’t touch your toes without bending at the knees or rounding your lower back. Is the problem caused because your hip doesn’t hinge (mobility issue), or your hamstrings aren’t long enough (flexibility issue)?
If you can’t hinge at the hips, no matter how long and flexible your hamstrings are you won’t reach the floor. Same with the hip, if you have no issues with the hip hinge, but your hamstrings aren’t long enough, you still can’t reach the floor with your fingers.
Using the first case, you can stretch your hamstring 5 times a day, no matter how far you lengthen your hamstrings you still won’t reach the floor because your hips won’t hinge enough without bending at the lower back.
Try it now. Touch your toes.
Can you do it?
If not, what is the cause? What do you work on, lengthening the hamstrings, or improving hip mobility?
Here is where physical screens come in handy, you can test each to see what the actual problem is and then correct it.
If you can’t touch your toes, you can click this link and see a screen that will evaluate your hamstring flexibility.
Let’s Think About Flexibility, Mobility, and Stability in the Golf Swing
I think the golf swing is one of the most complicated movements in sports, maybe the baseball swing is the most complicated because the ball is moving, but either way, you need to have flexibility in your muscles, your joints need to have a wide range of movement, and you need to hold those joints stable as other parts of your body move around them.
Lack any one of the three and it will be hard to hit the golf ball consistently.
But what’s more important?
Flexibility, mobility, or stability?
I created the diagram below to show the relationship.
Bear with me, because this diagram is transposed to two dimensions when it should be 3-D.
But I think you’ll get the idea.
Mobility is in red and on the y-axis with better mobility going up and poor going down. Flexibility is on the x-axis with high flexibility to the right and tight muscles to the left. Stability is on the z-axis (not shown in dimension) and good stability to the top left and poor stability to the bottom right.
This diagram might not be the perfect example, but you can see having too much mobility and flexibility can lead to hypermobility and the opposite leads to inflexibility and rigid movements. The lack of stability tends to increase hypermobility and too much stability will, of course, make it more difficult to move smoothly.
What’s More Important?
What’s more important flexibility, mobility, or stability?
It’s a copout answer, but it depends.
Each person is different and depending on your fitness level, golf ability and swing characteristics one might be more important than the other.
Overall, you need a balance of all three.
What Should You Do First?
Get a TPI assessment. Find out what limitations you have.
Assess and don’t guess.
Knowing your limitations will save you time and improve your golf game quicker.
I’d agree with Gray Cook, work on mobility first. Watch this short little video below as he explains it.
Cook doesn’t talk about flexibility, but your screens will evaluate if your limited movement is caused by a mobility or flexibility issue.
Work on mobility & flexibility issues first then improve your stability. But remember, without stability, your golf swing may still suffer. Improve your mobility and flexibility and you’ll hit the ball farther, no doubt. But without stability hitting the ball consistenly will be difficult.
You’ll See Improvements In Your Golf Swing
A good balance of flexibility, mobility, and stability is important to your golf swing. Not only will you hit the ball farther, but more consistently as well. Stability will allow you to swing on the same plane with more force for more consistent ball striking.
As you can see, golf fitness, or a better term, golf conditioning can be complicated. It isn’t a matter of getting stronger, more flexibility, or moving better, golf conditioning is a mixture of all three and as you improve what is most important changes.
Find a balance between flexibility, mobility, and stability and your golf swing will better and your golf game will improve.
Ask For Help
You can see that a DIY golf fitness program is difficult to design. Because an exercise that works for one might be useless to another golfer. A golf conditioning program is unique to each person depending on so many factors.
Start with the basics. I’m rolling out a series of articles that discuss the basics of a golf conditioning assessment and conditioning program. The first article can be read here.
If you need help, reach out.
If you want to play better golf, don’t just read about it, take action. A good place to start is to ask where to start.
Leave a comment below, use my contact page and reach out to me, go to the Golf Conditioning Center and use the chat function on the bottom of the page to ask a question (you don’t need to be a member) and I’ll give you some help. Even if I’m off-line, use the chat function to leave a message.
I want you to help you play better golf!
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