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For Golfers, Active Warm-Up Beats Passive Stretching

For Best Performance, Skip the Stretches and Go Straight to Practice Swings, Suggests Study in The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research

What's the best way to warm up before a golf match? Performing a passive, static stretching routine before taking practice swings may actually have a negative impact on performance, according to a study in the December issue of The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, official research journal of the The National Strength and Conditioning Association. The journal is published by Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, a part of Wolters Kluwer Health, a leading provider of information and business intelligence for students, professionals, and institutions in medicine, nursing, allied health, and pharmacy.

Passive static stretching before active dynamic warm-ups leads to "significant decreases in clubhead speed, distance, accuracy, and consistent ball contact," reports Jeffrey C. Gergley, Ed.D., of Stephen F. Austin State University, Nacogdoches, Texas.

To Hit Longer and Straighter, Golfers Should Swing, Not Stretch

Dr. Gergley designed a study comparing two different warm-up routines in a group of nine young male competitive golfers. On two different days, the golfers performed an active dynamic warm-up, consisting of a series of practice swings.

On one day, they performed the active warm-up alone. On the other day, they performed a passive static stretching warm-up, before doing the active swings. The 20-minute stretching routine consisted of a series of twelve stretches, starting with the neck and proceeding to the calves.

After each warm-up, the golfers hit three full-swing shots with their driver. The distance, clubhead speed, accuracy, and ball contact were compared for shots made after the two types of warm-up.

On all four measures, performance was significantly better after the active warm-up alone, without passive stretching. In shots made immediately after the warm-ups, clubhead speed was about five percent lower with passive stretching, compared to practice swings alone. Distance was about seven percent shorter, and accuracy was reduced by more than 60 percent.

The athletes made follow-up shots more than an hour after warm-ups to see if there was any evidence of a "recovery curve." However, most of the differences remained significant, with better performance after the active warm-up without passive stretching.

In recent years, stretching and flexibility training has become an important part of the training routine for golfers. "Indeed, competitive golfers choosing to include flexibility training as part of their preparation of competition is becoming the norm rather than the exception," according to Dr. Gergley. However, studies in other sports have raised questions about the benefits of stretching, in terms of both athletic performance and injury prevention.

The new study suggests that passive static stretching leads to reduced performance in golfers, compared to an active, dynamic warm-up alone. The decrease in performance after passive stretching may be partly explained by increased compliance of the "muscle-tendon unit"—stretching may cause the tendon to become slack, and thus to transmit less force.

Dr. Gergley believes the results have practical implications for golfers who want to maximize their swing. "My suggestion is to ensure you are warm enough to stretch actively and statically the major muscle groups involved in the golf swing—essentially every muscle group—and hold stretches for very short periods of time (ie, 3 seconds). Then proceed to active and dynamic warm-up progressing through 'the bag' from shorter heavier clubs to longer lighter clubs, eventually reaching playing speed and intensity.

"In other words, get warm, stretch briefly, and then start swinging clubs—ultimately reaching the tempo, speed you will use when you play.

"He notes, "These findings were specific to golf and cannot be universally applied as each kinesthetic movement has different biomechanical, metabolic, and common injury demands. Further, the study was designed to show two very different approaches for experimental knowledge.

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