Professional golfer Tiger Woods pulled out of the first round of the Farmers Open last month due to back pain. He blamed his pain on lack of glute activation.
“My glutes are shutting off and they they don’t activate and then hence you know it goes into my lower back.”
Maybe he should have checked out my recent blogs on why glutes shut off and how to activate them!
Listen to full the interview.
Interestingly, back in 1998, Pete Egoscue noticed Tiger’s potential for back pain. Egoscue included this observation in his book Pain Free: “Woods will probably end up [...] with back or shoulder problems. [...] Tiger’s right shoulder is forward and lower than the left. This asymmetrical state is evidence of compensation and improvisation.”
Golf is a one-sided sport. Tiger is always turning his body in the same direction and building strength in his movement. Without balancing this muscular development on the opposing side, his posture becomes crooked, and he is prone to injury. Golf is not the cause of his back pain. His lack of muscular balance and function - probably more than just his glutes - makes him hurt.
Athletes in sports that should use the body symmetrically are also suffering. Running, which is one of the best sports in regards to alignment, has very high injury rates. I’ve read that a whopping 70% of runners get hurt at some time during their career.
What are athletes doing wrong?
It seems a bit counter intuitive. Athletes know how important their bodies are to success in sport. They have coaches and structured training programs; they watch their diets, monitor their intensity, and practice technique and skills; they get adequate rest . . . Yet they are dysfunctional and hurt. Why?
The problem is athletes are doing too much of the same thing. Like Tiger, they have built up their bodies unevenly, which has affected their ability to move efficiently. Egoscue tells the story of having NFL players attempt the Arm Circles exercise in his book The Egoscue Method of Health Through Motion: “He can’t do it. His shoulders are locked in the forward position.”
Sports repeatedly take your body through the same movement sequence or keeps it locked in a static position for long durations - think cycling. To stay healthy, balanced and injury-free, the athlete needs to perform actions that counteract their sports motions and postures, and maintain function beyond the demands of their sport.
Are you keeping your body in balanced alignment? Recall the free sports exercises you received when you signed-up for my newsletter? No? Register by filling out the form on the top right corner of this page.
Every day that you play a sport, you should also be doing movements that offset those patterns. If you are hunched over a bike for hours, do something where your spine is extended. If you swim, ski or run with your upper body rounded forward, make sure to oppose that action with chest-opening stretches. The longer you stay in a static position, the more likely you are to get stuck there.
Related Blog: Cross Train for Better Posture and Performance
Athletes move to their dysfunctional side
When kicking a soccer ball, taking a high step, or making a quick turn, the athlete will use her stronger, more aligned and stable leg as a support and move away from it to her weaker side. This is important to know as an athlete and as one who plays team sports. You might even be able to tell by looking at an athlete which side she will favor. A turned-out foot, ankle pronation or a rotated knee can all be signs of the dysfunctional side.
When you come up from the floor to standing, which leg do you use more?
How’s your balance? Can you stand on one foot more easily?
If you had to jump a creek, which leg would you thrust forward to clear the water?
Stand a couple feet from a wall and lean forward. Which foot darts out to keep you from hitting the wall?
Run out to a cone and back. Which way did you turn around the cone?
Whichever leg you used for stability is your more functional side. Functional athletes are so talented because they can move equally to each side with expert quickness and skill.
I was highly dysfunctional!
If you have been following my blog or have read My Athletic Story, you know I have had many challenges with my body. One of my last hurdles to a full recovery was having the ability to cross-country skate ski without pain. I am excited to tell you that recently I was able to ski 64 km with no discomfort and minimal post-activity soreness. We can all heal and overcome our dysfunctions!