This article is not going to relate the Overhead Squat (aka, OH Squat) with any ‘squat like’ moves in the golf swing, such as the ‘Sam Snead Squat’or the squat move Sean Foley talks about (Foley, 2011). Strength and conditioning exercises don’t have to mimic certain movements within the golf swing, or even look like the golf swing to be beneficial to golf.
Most of the talk about the OH Squat in golf is using it as a test. The OH Squat is a great test and can provide lots of information about a golfer but it’s also an excellent exercise.
I am going to present evidence for why I believe the OH Squat exercise is the best exercise for golf if you only use one. If you are not interested in any science, then you should skip to the ‘swing characteristics’ and conclusion now. Otherwise I am going to present evidence for why the OH Squat is so great for golfers.
Mobility & Stability
It’s no secret that you need mobility and stability to make a good golf swing; to maintain a stable base, to make a full turn and to get through the ball whilst still balanced. Correct mobility and stability throughout the body, coupled with strength and power can optimize swing efficiency and club head speed to hit the ball straighter and longer.
The golf swing requires differing amounts of mobility and stability within each joint (or area of the body) and follows an alternating pattern of more mobility or stability, as follows: ankle mobility, knee stability, hip mobility, low back stability, t-spine (thoracic) mobility, scapula stability, shoulder (GH joint) mobility, elbow stability and wrist mobility.
The OH Squat coincidently uses the whole body and requires mobility and stability in the same pattern. To perform a good OH Squat you will require good ankle dorsiflexion, hip internal and external rotation, core stability, t-spine extension, shoulder external rotation and scapula stability to name a few.
Interestingly enough, what is it we see with many golfers…? The mobility and stability that the OH Squat can bring, is just what many golfers lack. The OH Squat is both, a strength training exercise and a stretch! Don’t think of the OH Squat for only strengthening certain muscles, it also helps mobility and stability around joints too.
Resistance training can help increase flexibility according to Morton et al (2011) and Fatourus et al (2006). You therefore don’t only improve strength, but improve flexibility at the same time. Quite contrary to what many people believe that resistance training makes you less flexible.
Every golfer wants to drive the ball farther; and to hit the ball farther you need to generate power. Having stronger and more powerful muscles would obviously help with that. As strength is simply the ability to exert force and power is force multiplied by velocity, it appears that strength is very important in golf! Not to mention, if you cannot express that force/strength quickly, it is wasted within the golf swing, meaning muscular power is essential.
Table 1: Taken from McHardy and Pollard (2005), reviewing the most active lower body and trunk muscles during the golf swing.
Looking at the table above, there’s not a muscle that the OH Squat doesn’t work. Clearly, some of the most important muscles to strengthen are the glutes (bum). Callaway et al (2012) found that better golfers, with lower handicaps, who hit the ball farther, have greater pelvic rotational velocities and greater strength in the gluteus maximus and gluteus medius compared to higher handicapped golfers.
The OH Squat is a great exercise to strengthen both of these gluteal muscles. Swinton et al (2012) showed muscle activation of key core muscles and the gluteus maximus during the OH Squat. The gluteus medius is also used during the squat movement (McCurdy et al, 2010). Clearly the OH Squat could then not only help hit the ball farther, with greater hip rotational velocity, but also be comparable to lower handicap golfers.
Loock et al (2013) found that lower body strength correlated with club head speed. Also stating the importance of the glutes and quadriceps for hitting the ball farther. Other leg muscles including the bicep femoris and semimembranosus of the trail side leg and adductor magnus and vastus lateralis of the lead side leg all play important roles during the golf swing too (Bechler et al, 1995).
These other muscle must not be forgotten in the shadow of the glutes. They certainly aren’t forgotten about in such exercises as the OH Squat, where they are key muscles within this exercise too (McCurdy et al, 2010)!
Core Strength and Stability
The golf swing is an explosive movement that requires strength from the core, to transfer movement from the lower body up to the trunk, arms and club, whilst maintaining stability and unwanted movement. The regular Plank exercise just doesn’t cut it! As mentioned above, the OH Squat requires core muscles such as the rectus abdominis, erector spinae and external obliques, for example (Swinton et al, 2012).
The use of isolated core exercises could be questionable within a strength and conditioning program, where dynamic, integrated resistance training exercises could be more beneficial (Reed et al, 2012). This would be where the OH Squat comes in again; where core muscles are utilized during a dynamic movement.
In my opinion the OH Squat is a fantastic exercise for the core. With the arms in the overhead position, the core is being stretched as well as worked to stabalise the spine and pelvis as you perform the whole movement. As you progress and load up the OH Squat, the greater training stress the core can then receive.
I believe that the number one goal of a strength and conditioning program is to reduce to the risk of injury, followed by improving performance! A good strength and conditioning program will allow the golfer to practice and play golf throughout the year, minimizing the chance of overuse injuries.
Main areas of the body affected by injuries include the wrist, elbow, shoulder and low back (Cabri et al, 2009). Therefore, these should be key areas to be strengthened within any strength and conditioning program for golf. Brandon and Pearce (2009) state that the shoulders, forearms and the core should be strengthened as these are areas at risk of injury.
Strength training could be important for reducing the risk of injury to the knee during the golf swing, in particular the lead side (Lynn and Noffal, 2010). It is also essential the hips are strong, especially the lead side hip, with the internal rotation velocity achieved during the downswing, in order to avoid injury (Gulgin et al, 2009).
Choosing exercises that mimic the golf swing could further increase the risk of overuse injuries dependent upon the whole strength and conditioning program, golf practice habits and many other variables. The OH Squat strengthens the muscles around the hips, knees and core without adding to the rotational stresses the golf swing or any other rotational movements place upon the body; as well as the other recommended areas of the body to strengthen above, which include the wrist, forearm, elbow, shoulder and low back.
What swing characteristics could the OH Squat help prevent or improve?
- Working on the OH Squat to improve ankle dorsiflexion could help with ‘Loss of posture’
- Using the OH Squat to improve t-spine mobility and range of motion in the Latttisimus dorsi muscle could help those golfers with ‘Flat shoulder plane’
- The OH Squat is a great exercise which works the core and glutes, which are muscles used to prevent ‘Early extension’ during the golf swing
- The OH Squat also strengthens and mobilises the hips, improving hip internal rotation and utilizing the gluteus medius, which are important not to ‘sway’ or ‘slide’ during the golf swing.
- The OH Squat is great for improving posture, especially the spine. Through strengthening the glutes and core it can help golfers with ‘S-posture’ and can improve t-spine extension, helping those golfers with ‘C-posture’.
- The OH Squat works whole body mobility and stability similar to the golf swing.
- Key muscles used in the golf swing are worked during the OH Squat.
- The OH Squat happens to be a great exercise for the core.
- The OH Squat can help prevent golf related injuries.
- The OH Squat could help improve certain swing characteristics in the golf swing
- The OH Squat can improve strength and power key for hitting the ball long!
This was simply a position paper. But there’s no doubt the OH Squat is an exercise that gives you “bang for your buck”. I can’t think of a single better exercise that could benefit your golf game the same as the OH Squat could. Already used as a test by many, the OH Squat should be utilized within strength and conditioning programs for golfers.
What you might have realised is that my argument and the research presented is completely correlational! There is still no evidence within the golf literature to suggest that using the OH Squat will improve your golf swing, not to mention overall golf performance. That being said, I think that the evidence presented helps you see that the OH Squat is a pretty great exercise for golf.
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Brandon, B. and Pearce, P.Z. (2009) Training to Prevent Golf Injuries. Current Sports Medicine Reports. 8, p142-146.
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Callaway, S., Glaws, K., Mitchell, M., Scerbo, H., Voight, M. and Sells, P. (2012) An Analysis of Peak Pelvis Rotation Speed, Gluteus Maximus and Medius Strength in High Versus Low Handicap Golfers During the Golf Swing. The International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy. 7, p288-297.
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McCurdy, K., O’kelley, E., Kutz, M., Langford, G., Ernest, J. and Torres, M. (2010) Comparison of Lower Extremity EMG Between the 2-Leg Squat and Modified Single-Leg Squat in Female Athletes. Journal of Sport Rehabilitation. 19, p57-70.
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Swinton, P.A., Aspe, R. and Keogh, J. (2012) Electromyographic Comparison of the Back Squat and Overhead Squat. 30th Annual Conference of Biomechanics in Sport, Melbourne 2012.