Breaking Down the Golf Swing: What Muscles Does Golf Work?

Oct 11, 2023
what muscles does golf work

Learning what muscles are used in golf is key to understanding how to train for the sport, and also why certain injuries tend to occur. The golf swing is a beautiful movement; one of the most complex in all of sports (and it happens in the blink of an eye). This article will break down what muscles are working when, and some exercises that will help you effectively train the movement.

Isn’t Golf Just a “Game”?

No - that couldn’t be further from the truth. Golf is indeed a sport, one that requires a huge amount of athleticism to perform with any degree of proficiency. Your muscles are getting worked in a variety of ways while swinging the golf club, and almost every joint in the body will be put through its functional range of motion in the process.

Phases of the Golf Swing

The golf swing is typically broken down into five phases, they are:

  1. Address
  2. Backswing
  3. Downswing
  4. Impact
  5. Follow-through

Each phase involves different muscles working in different ways. Let’s take a brief look at each of them, and then show you exercises to help develop the muscles involved. Our goal is a swing that is efficient, smooth, powerful, and has a low chance of injury.

*Note: The descriptions and muscle activity given below are for a right-handed golfer (most people are right-handed), and should simply be reversed to understand the same actions taking place in a left-handed golfer.

Address/Backswing

The address position is your start position. From here, you move into the backswing where you bring the club back behind your body and up towards/over/behind your head. Your shoulders turn to the right and the arms bend to follow; your torso assists in this rotation. Finally, weight shifts onto the back (right leg).

(Credit: Adobe Stock)

Muscles Used

  • Muscles in the back called trapezius are heavily involved in the rotation of your shoulder girdle, the ones on the right side are most active during this phase
  • One of your rotator cuff muscles (actually, the most commonly injured one), subscapularis, is what helps internally rotate the left shoulder and move it across the body
  • Oblique muscles in your abdomen help you twist to the right 
  • Erector spinae muscles on the left side of your back resist this rotation to give you better control over the movement
  • Right hamstrings turn on as body weight is shifted onto the right leg

Downswing

During the downswing, your hips initiate the movement and weight begins to shift rapidly onto the front (left) leg. This forces the thighs to start working, as well. Muscles in the back pull the shoulder girdle back around as the chest starts to quickly bring the club down towards the ball. The abdominals and forearms engage heavily, also.

(Credit: Adobe Stock)

Muscles Used

  • Your butt (gluteus maximus) has near 100% voluntary contraction as the downswing initiates
  • Hamstrings are also contracting hard in the right leg
  • As weight shifts onto the front (left) leg, the left quadriceps and groin muscles get turned on to support the load
  • Your rhomboids and trapezius muscles are what wraps the shoulder girdle back around towards the left; this is coupled with rotation from the oblique muscles
  • Pectoralis major (chest muscle) contracts hard to swing the club down towards the ground
  • Forearm flexors work in a “burst-like” manner, contracting rapidly to bring the club towards impact with the ball

Impact

Much of what is present in the downswing continues to the point of impact. All of the rotational forces continue to act on the body, causing shifts towards the ball from the ground up. Many injuries actually occur at the point of impact, so it’s important to train the body to be able to handle these forces repetitively and over a prolonged period of time.

(Credit: Adobe Stock)

Muscles Used

  • Right chest muscle continues to be highly active in moving the club through the ball
  • Rotator cuff muscles (right subscapularis and left infraspinatus) internally rotate the right shoulder and externally rotate the left shoulder
  • Hamstrings and quadriceps in the left leg increase their activity
  • Abdominal muscles continue to rotate the trunk left

Follow-through

The shoulders roll from right to left in a motion exactly opposite that of the backswing. Significant activity in the shoulders helps to perform this movement. The trunk and right leg continue to twist left while the left leg is now planted firmly as a stabilizer. Several muscles now work hard to decelerate the motion by working eccentrically (contracting while lengthening).

(Credit: Adobe Stock)

Muscles Used

  • Left glutes, quadriceps, groin and hamstrings
  • Right external oblique and left internal oblique
  • Left infraspinatus and right subscapularis (rotator cuff muscles)
  • Serratus anterior (both upper and lower segments) on the right side

3 Exercises for a Better Swing

Now that we have a better understanding of what is working during the swing, we can begin to incorporate exercises that work those muscles in a similar fashion. It is important to remember that we cannot just isolate the muscle(s). We need to train them in concert with one another so that they can work together throughout this complex and highly synchronized movement.

Check out these 3 exercises borrowed from our programming here at Dynamic Golfers. We have an extensive library of workout routines designed to help golfers at all levels achieve their goals and play pain-free. Try us out for yourself by clicking here and signing up for a 7-day free trial!

1. Lunge w/Chest Opener

Instructions:

  1. Stand feet shoulder width apart with a wide grip on a golf club, pole, or broomstick
  2. Step one foot forward and drop your back knee down into a deep lunge
  3. Then, bring the pole up over your head and behind your body (as far as your flexibility allows)
  4. Bring the pole down, step back up to the starting position
  5. Switch legs, repeat
  6. Perform 3-5 sets of 30-60 seconds each

Benefits

This exercise works the entire lower body while at the same time addressing muscle tightness in the chest, front of the shoulder and mid-back.

Weighted Single Leg Deadlift

Instructions:

  1. Hold a dumbbell in each hand, adjust your weight as necessary
  2. Balance on one leg
  3. With a flat back, hinge at the hips and fold forward until your torso is parallel with the ground or just above that
  4. Keep a slight bend in the front knee
  5. Your back leg should remain straight and lift up behind you as you hinge (picture 2)
  6. Bring yourself back up to the starting position
  7. Repeat on the same leg for 30-60 seconds
  8. Switch legs, repeat
  9. Perform 3-5 sets of 30-60 seconds each

Benefits

The single leg deadlift has tremendous stabilization benefits that produces strong power from the hips while swinging. It also strengthens and mobilizes the hamstrings.

Resistance Band Putt

Instructions:

  1. Step in the middle of a resistance band
  2. Grab the two ends of your resistance band with your hands clasped together
  3. Engage your core by squeezing your glutes, inhaling, and pulling your belly button in towards your spine
  4. With stiff arms, twist your torso to one side 
  5. Pull the resistance band up and to the same side, as well
  6. Return to the starting position
  7. Rotate to the other side with your trunk and arms
  8. Perform 3-5 sets of 30-60 seconds each

Benefits

This resistance band exercise works the shoulders, core, and hips all in one integrated motion. It has a lot of crossover to the golf swing and does wonders for injury prevention in the back.

Written by Eric Lister – Certified Personal Trainer & Corrective Exercise Specialist

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