Exercises For Golfers and the Alexander Technique
Golf is one of those sports like archery, or darts, in which a small number of movements can be practiced and improved ad infinitum. In that respect it is an art form, almost meditative, quite apart from the fact that it is good fun and appreciated worldwide.
Whatever level of expertise, from family-fun pitch and putt, to executive bonding, to the highest-earning sportsman in the world, golf is tremendously popular.
This article is written for golfers who are up against problems with their game, whether physiological, emotional or practical. There are many excellent exercises for golfers available but what if putting them into practice just doesn’t seem to improve your game as much as you would wish?
Knowledge of the Alexander Technique can help you to access those exercises clearly and thoroughly. You can learn how to ‘feel’ right and enjoy everything coming together the way it should for that all-important ‘hole in one’.
Frederick Matthias Alexander
FM Alexander, 1869–1955, actor and accomplished rider, found that the vast majority of people hold residual patterns of unidentified tension throughout their muscular system. This tension creates pressure in the body – pressure which is communicated directly to whatever the person is doing, including golf.
His pioneering work made him famous in his day. Everyone who could afford him came, including authors, doctors, scientists and statesmen, actors, clergy, athletes and nobility, to learn to improve their ‘use’ of themselves.
And he taught many a golf enthusiast to improve their game and find comfort, co-ordination and conscious control along the way. In fact, he devoted an entire chapter of his book, ‘The Use of the Self’, to the subject of golf, specifically to the problem of keeping one’s eye on the ball.
Problems for golfers that the Alexander Technique can help with:
- overuse and over-practice
- poor swing mechanics
- rotational stresses placed on the spine
- incorrect grip and setup
- pain in the joints, back, neck, hips and rotator cuff
- hand and finger problems
- pushing or pulling the ball
- not keeping your eye on the ball
- poor tempo
And many, many more…
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Alexander Technique golfing exercises enable you to:
- not react to a situation, but instead remain calm
- play in the zone
- take each shot independently
- focus and remain present
- move in a balanced, coordinated way
- hit the ball further
- bend with ease rather than tension
- avoid pain and discomfort
- be comfortable
- achieve your full potential
Some Alexander Technique exercises to help you improve your golf:
The Exercise: Coiling With Balanced Posture
The swing is everything. It's a complex movement that can be endlessly studied and honed, resulting in a vast array of competence, from the struggling amateur to Tiger Woods.
Golf instruction can help with angles, movements and positions - but sometimes it's hard to properly interpret what the coach wants you to do...
The Alexander technique helps you to experience your body as one integrated and coordinated system, rather than a collection of parts. It helps you use your body more like a spring. Lessons are well worth trying as they will probably help your game.
Alexander technique helps people achieve their full potential and make the best of what they’ve got. Could it help Rory McIlroy improve his game? Perhaps not, but it would probably make him feel more comfortable!
The Exercise: Semi-supine
When you lie down, your back, which supports you in all your activities, is able to rest and recover. It only takes about ten minutes for the deep muscles of the spine to relax and for the discs to reabsorb fluid from the surrounding tissue. Thus, your spine regains its normal state and is better able to continue supporting you.
Usually, a portion of an Alexander technique lesson will involve lying in ‘semi-supine’ i.e. with the head supported and the knees raised. This is mainly because it makes it much easier to show a person where their patterns of tension are and how to release them. Also, it is an easy exercise for a person to practise on their own in between lessons.
Whether or not you have Alexander lessons, preparing for a game of golf by, amongst other things, resting your back like this for ten minutes is a very good idea.
The Exercise: Free Neck
In almost any sport, not only golf, transitioning from one movement to the next, or from one position to the next, will involve an automatic clenching of the muscles at the back of the neck. This is mostly to do with postural habits and partly to do with reflexes. The result is a compression of the entire back just at the moment when you actually need to be optimally free and flexible.
In Alexander lessons, this problem – the relationship between the head, neck and back – is the very first we deal with. Showing a person how to maintain a free neck, a head which is poised and a back which is lengthening and widening, is paramount. Only when this ‘primary control’ can operate efficiently will the use of the limbs, breathing and overall coordination improve.
Keeping a free neck at all times is an impossible task but learning how to achieve it when you strike the golf ball is something an Alexander teacher can help you with.
Apparently, more golfers injure themselves picking up their golf balls than in the swing!! By giving you a clearer view of your body’s natural organisation, a course of Alexander Technique lessons will allow you to bend with relative ease for the rest of your life.
In Alexander lessons we teach the ‘semi-flexed’ position.
This semi-crouched, flexed, springy position will automatically occur in most sports as it is mechanically advantageous. We train people to study it thoroughly, in order to gain more and more ‘space’, freedom and lightness.
We show people how to free their primary control (head, neck, back relationship) during the entire bending movement; to keep their feet fully on the floor; to look at the ground, sending their knees directly over their feet, bending only at the hips and never at the waist.
Being able to 'semi-flex' is essential to everyone.
Keeping the legs strong, the joints supple and the back straight will keep you mobile into extreme old age. In a golfing context, the exercise can easily be adapted to picking up the ball, improving the swing and staying grounded.
NB Your House Fitness recommends golfers to warm up with a 'cat cow' exercise. This warms up the spine for any type of rotation swing movement.
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We humans have around 750 postural muscles - muscles we can consciously control for balance and movement. The vast majority of these muscles need to work together, not independently, and as such influence one another. Tension in one part of the system will affect the whole.
All of us have unidentified residual tension in our muscles, which means that they are over-contracted, which in turn means that we end up squashing ourselves with the pressure that this creates. Alexander lessons show you how to permanently release the pressure so that you feel lighter and more spacious.
Given the number of muscles we have, and bearing in mind the remote odds of winning the lottery, which only involves 6 numbers, it’s easy to imagine the billions of potential combinations of patterns in the human body. Hence, Alexander technique training can make you almost infinitely lighter and freer, which is why so many people have lessons as a way of life.
Golf is a bit like that too – you can get better forever and you will find that even people at the very top of their game will still want to practice and improve. This doesn’t mean that you can’t achieve a level which satisfies you, either for pleasure or profit; it just means that with the right instruction, in golf and Alexander technique combined, you can get there more quickly.
Integrating the breath is something which naturally occurs, with varying degrees of success, during sport of any kind. Golf is a bit different, in that you probably exhale as you swing, but the rest of the time your breath may be held in concentration, apprehension or purely from habit.
When the breath is held, the ribcage becomes fixed, the diaphragm can barely move and the whole upper body is compromised. This is not a useful state of affairs, as the sport requires total mind and body coordination that is free, efficient and comfortable.
In Alexander technique lessons, we teach people to improve their breathing from the start. When we begin to free up the primary control, or head–neck–back relationship, the resulting absence of muscular pressure allows the breathing to operate as little or as much as it needs to. This brings a certain lightness to your actions, a sense of emotional relaxation and the potential for a better stroke.
‘Inhibition’ is the skill of being able to withhold consent to a given stimulus. I’m not talking about being able to overcome a reflex response, like flinching when a bee stings you, but about being able to pause for long enough to choose how you want to respond to something that happens in your game.
On the golf course, it’s very easy to become emotionally challenged if things are going badly, as opposed to treating each shot independently. It’s easy to be put off your game when external circumstances are challenging. It’s easy to rush into a stroke when things don’t feel quite right and you’re badly prepared.
In Alexander lessons, we teach Inhibition from the beginning. We go right back to basics in that we focus on the split second when a message leaves your brain to travel down your nerve fibres and activate your muscle spindles. We’re able to show you how to prevent those messages from taking a habitual route which might result in misapplication or tension.
‘Direction’ is often known in the sporting world as ‘muscle memory’. It is the skill of being able to picture in your mind the desired outcome, so that your brain remembers how it felt to get it right before, when you made a perfect swing or got a hole in one.
In Alexander lessons, Direction is one of the main skills we teach. We take it right back to basics, encouraging your brain to create, or rediscover, neural pathways that fundamentally reorganise the way you support yourself in balance and movement before you even do anything complex like play golf.
When you can feel the direction that all your main postural muscles need to be going in, before you’ve even taken a swing at the ball, then your golf acquires a new depth of controlled lightness and accuracy.
Direction improves your use of yourself on a fundamental level.
Lessons With Jenny
I have studied the Alexander technique since I was a teenager and have taught thousands of people over the last twenty-five years, including many sportsmen and women.
I have first-hand experience of working with golfers – training them to be more comfortable in themselves and to improve their technique. I find it very rewarding to help people enhance their skills.
I work in Exeter and South Devon, giving mainly one-to-one tuition, but also taster sessions, group work and introductory talks.
‘Jenny has helped me improve my game. I would tell my friends about her but at the moment I’m enjoying beating them!’
AG, policeman, Exeter
‘I’m a sports’ photographer for world championship golf amongst other things. In the course of my work I have to hold super awkward positions in order to get the best shots. Jenny has helped me to stay comfortable in spite of this and keep my back pain at bay.’
RL, photographer for Nike
‘The exercises Jenny has shown me are very useful. My golf is better as a result. Just have to remember to do my lying down!’
JH, business executive, Exeter
‘Studying the Alexander technique gave me back my career.’
Jeff Jullian, PGA golfer
‘After working with (my teacher) on the Alexander Technique I know that golfers could greatly benefit by training with (my teacher) and then incorporating the information into their golf swing.’
Mandy Quattlebaum, LPGA Teaching Professional at Chelsea Piers Golf Academy
John Duncan Dunn (1874–1951) was a course designer and teacher of golf. He wrote many magazine articles and several books, including ‘Natural Golf: A book of fundamental instruction’ (1931), which shows the golfer how to develop his own personal style. He was also a great fan of F.M. Alexander, as the following article shows.
Reprinted from Golfers Magazine, Vol. 36, No. 3 March, 1920. pp 17–20
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