The Rotator Cuff

We all know the clubface must be square at impact and the club releases thereafter. Generally speaking a large amount of golf swing mechanics center upon returning the clubface to square at impact. Additionally, the golf swing is a “total body” movement incorporating every joint in the body. In order for the clubface to be square at impact all of these joints must work in coordination to allow this to occur.

In relation to the body, specific muscles are very active in returning the clubface to square. One joint directly involved in the squaring of the clubface at impact with the golf ball is the shoulder joint. The shoulder joint is a “ball and socket” joint allowing for the arms to move through a large range of motion. Review of the biomechanics of the golf swing, it becomes very evident the arms move through a large range of motion.

That being said, there are specific muscles involved in the rotation of the arms. Again, these are not the only muscles involved in squaring the clubface, but from an anatomical perspective, these muscles are active in the internal and external rotation of the arms during the golf swing.

Going back to squaring the clubface, internal and external rotation of the arms is required. To get a sense of internal and external rotation, simply stand up with your arms hanging at your sides. Rotate your hands inward and outward. This is a simple description of internal and external rotation of the arms. Now if you relate this movement to the golf swing you can see how the arms internally and externally rotate during the backswing, downswing, and follow through.

Certain muscles within the shoulder complex have a direct effect on internal rotation, external rotation, and stabilization of the shoulder complex in the golf swing. The muscles we are talking about are the rotator cuff muscles. Yes, the rotator cuff.

Not necessarily a group of muscles that go “hand-in-hand” with the golf swing and probably more thought of when we talk about baseball and pitching. Nevertheless, these muscles are an active in the golf swing. The rotator cuff is a reference to four muscles in the shoulder complex. For those of you that love the science behind this stuff, the four muscles that comprise the rotator cuff are; supraspinatus, infraspinatus, teres minor, and subscapularis.

The rotator cuff has a couple primary functions when it comes to the shoulder complex. First off, they act to stabilize the shoulder capsule. The skeletal structure comprising the shoulder is a ball and socket joint. The “socket” part of this joint is very shallow. As a result the muscles of the rotator cuff in addition to muscles in the “back-side” of the shoulder assist in stabilizing the shoulder during movement. An over simplification would state these muscles assist in keeping the arm in the socket. If the rotator cuff muscles did not assist in stabilizing the shoulder, the arm would literally come out of the socket every time you swing a golf club.

Secondly, these four muscles are actively involved in elevating, internally, and externally rotating the arms. All of which are movements involved in the golf swing. Beginning in the take-away and completing with the follow through, the muscles of the rotator cuff are active in every phase of the golf swing. That being said, we know the muscles of the rotator cuff are under stress each every golf swing.

It is important to understand the muscles of the rotator cuff are very small. They are not big muscles such as your quadriceps or deltoids. They are very small muscles asked to perform a myriad of activities. As a result of the size and workloads placed upon these muscles. They can become fatigued quite easily. Once muscles become fatigued they begin to falter in performing their required activities. In addition once muscles are fatigued, they can easily become injured.

During my years on tour, I have never seen someone injure a cuff muscle from swinging a golf club. I have seen rotator cuff injuries impede a golf swing, and if you have ever injured a rotator cuff muscle you know how debilitating an injury it can be. The point being this: The rotator cuff muscles are actively involved in the golf swing. Injury to a rotator cuff muscle can be very debilitating to your golf swing or any activity for that case.

Knowing what we know about the mechanics of the golf swing, the rotator cuff, functions of the rotator cuff, and how they affect the golf swing. This information invariably indicates to us it is necessary to keep the rotator cuff healthy and strong. How can one achieve this goal? Simply by adding a golf fitness program incorporating rotator cuff exercises.

Rotator cuff exercises will focus on these four muscles. These types of exercises will develop higher levels of strength and endurance within these muscles. This will assist in these muscles handling the workloads placed upon them during the golf swing or any athletic activity. So I strongly suggest if you are an avid golfer or a weekend warrior. Add some golf fitness and rotator cuff exercises to your training program. This will help keep you in the game and off the sidelines.

Sean Cochran