By Pam Owens, Special to Lone Star Golf
Do you feel a connection to the ground at set up and throughout the swing? Do your ankles allow a deep backswing and finish without sliding, swaying or standing up? This month’s video examines the ground/foot connection for golf performance because great foot/ankle proprioception means more stability, more core involvement and better balance in your swing.
The feet and ankles are often overlooked in the pursuit of more clubhead speed. The ankles and toes should move in a wide range of directions and play a major role in concert with the knees and hips to connect to the ground for loading then vertically thrusting your body into rotation.
If you’ve ever stood on one foot for one minute, then you’ve seen the vital role ankles play in balance as well. Another important fact for golf performance is the foot’s deep connection to your core for balance. Dr. Emily Splichal, author of Barefoot Strong, states the foot to core sequencing uses proprioceptive data from the feet since the only contact point with the ground is the foot.
It’s important to train the toes, feet and various ankle positions needed in both the backswing (loading phase) and downswing (exploding phase). When moving into our backswing or loading phase, our ankles roll away from the target and go deeper into dorsiflexion. When transitioning into the downswing or exploding phase, our feet push down into the ground. The trail ankle then plantar-flexes and rolls through the great toe while the lead ankle rolls toward the target to manage the weight shift and pelvic rotation at the finish.
When your ankles don’t optimally roll and use the ground, there is a loss of power and potentially a set-up for injuries to the knee, hip or back. Chances then increase that you will “borrow” movement from the knees or somewhere else up the chain. When we see a slide or sway swing pattern, a lack of loading into the backswing or balance issues, we would be remiss not to test proprioception and train mobility of the ankles and toes.
With a partner, test your balance to see how well you can connect to the ground through your feet. Stand on one leg with your arms down, but away from your sides. Raise one knee up to hip height and establish your balance. Here’s the tricky part: now close your eyes. Your partner can count how long you maintain your balance without moving your foot or hopping. Record the number of seconds and repeat on the other foot.
Titleist Performance Institute notes that world-class golfers can balance for 25 seconds or more on each foot. During this test, information is received and read through the foot and not via our eyesight. Your foot, ankle and core react to the data to adjust to shifts in weight to maintain your balance. No matter how well you performed on this test, you can benefit from maintaining or regaining ankle/foot/toe mobility. I have three exercises in this lesson.
The first exercise, called “Ankle Rolling,” helps build more range and control. The second exercise is more advanced. It adds elevation or plantar-flexion to the rolling and is called “Loaded Ankle Circles.” The third exercise is actually a series of movements to create more toe and intrinsic foot strength and called “Toe Series.”
Sit on the front edge of a chair with feet and knees hip distance apart. With bare feet, roll your ankles in and out without moving your legs and limit motion from the toes. If needed, stabilize your legs by blocking knees with your fists. If you have difficulty controlling the movement, then work one ankle at a time. Do 8-10 rolls to each side.
Stand near a wall or use a golf club for balance. Moving slowly, roll your ankles while elevating then descend as shown in the video. Make full circles to the outer limits of your ankle and toes. Repeat the circles going clockwise and counter-clockwise. Maintain parallel feet throughout and roll through each toe as best as you can. Try not to bend your knees or hinge at the hips. Do 3-5 rolls in each direction.
Sit on the front edge of a chair with feet and knees hip distance apart. Start with a solid connection to the floor from the heel, ball of foot and toes. Do these three moves 5-10 times limiting any ankle movement:
Lift your great toe as high as possible without moving your other toes.
Lift your four other toes as high as possible without moving the great toe.
Curl all your toes under then flex your arch without rolling your ankles.
It’s quite normal to experience mild cramping as you contract some of these weaker muscles around the feet and ankles. In that case, just reset, breath and go at it again at another time. Soon your feet will become stronger and gain the feel you need to connect to the ground to build the foot/core sequencing. Be sure to closely examine your great toe mobility on your trail foot! You will want to strengthen that toe as much as possible for a more solid pivot and finish. Please reach out if you have any questions.
Pam Owens is the Director of Fitness for
Royal Oaks Country Club in Houston and the owner of Pam Owens Fitness. A
two-time Golf Digest Top 50 Fitness Professional, Pam helps golfers all over
the world get lean, bendy and powerful with online or in person coaching. For a
free golf warm-up and for more resources, click here.