Using your breath to unlock your golf swing
Our breath is powerful. It provides us with vast amounts of information on what our body is doing, and in what environment it is doing it in.
It’s powerful, but it is also controllable.
Controlling our breath is a great trigger for focus and is powerful enough to provide both psychological and physiological changes in the body. It can spark alertness, alter heart rate, increase muscle tension /relaxation and alter hormone release.
For this reason, athletes have used breath control for centuries to enhance their performance.
Breath control is also used in training formats like powerlifting, yoga and Pilates. Coaches in these disciplines have been utilising cues for breath in an attempt to alter the bodies response to load, provide stability to the spine or to release muscle tension.
For golfers, having sufficient mobility in key areas of the body is fundamental to playing at the highest level. A physical limitation in the golf swing can cause a chain reaction through the body leading to compensations and inefficient patterns.
Most golfers, especially at the highest level, understand this and incorporate mobility training into their routines.
To develop mobility, we require an ability to both contract and relax specific muscle systems, allowing us to perform correct movement through full ranges of motion. The contraction, and more importantly, relaxation, of a muscle system is easily manipulated by….. your breath.
By using a contract/relax technique at the end range of a movement, we can manipulate the body's perception and provide more range to the movement.
For example, if you were to take your thoracic spine into a rotated position, to the end range where you cannot rotate any more. By using our breath, combined with the contraction and relaxation of the muscle system involved in that movement, we could increase the amount of movement you have in that position.
The technique works like this; Firstly we take the joint to its end range. We then take a full deep inhale. Whilst inhaling we build muscle tension by contracting the muscles around the area. We hold the breath and the muscle contraction for 4 seconds. We then slowly release the breath and the contraction for a full 8 second exhale. This process can then be repeated 2-3 times or until the muscle feels like it has completely relaxed.
The acute change occurs by ‘tricking’ the muscle systems into relaxing. We create a high tension state using the breath and muscle contraction followed by a state of relaxation which is greater than the starting point. Over time, the range of motion we have at the starting point increases and we find new available movement available to us through our golf swing and other activities.
Although the breath seems like a magic trick in this scenario. It can also have a negative effect.
During mobilisation work, like mentioned above, or maybe using a foam roller or massage ball tool, the body can also default into a protective mode. Here, the breath will quicken, and will shallow out. In this state the body senses danger, it’s on high alert, and unsurprisingly, increases muscle tension.
This will both limit the amount of movement available to us, and the pliability of the area we are trying to change. Having the opposite effect to what we are trying to achieve.
So whether you are going to use the technique outlined above, or perform a variation of stretching, soft tissue mobilisation or even having a massage. Get control of your breath. It will allow for more change to occur, more relaxation, and ultimately, better results. It will also give you an opportunity to practice breath control in a training environment, making application on the golf course that bit easier.
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