The question is simple: With so many pros suffering from back pain -- and other assorted injuries -- are they putting in too much time in the gym?
The answer, however, is not so simple. I think it's the result of several seemingly unrelated factors coming together at the same time.
I should point out that this isn't a new debate. I have heard that football coach John Madden -- yes, the guy they named the video game after -- once blamed an overemphasis on weight training for an increase in injuries among football players. Similar debates go on in other sports.
But an overemphasis on weight work is almost certainly a factor in all this. All you have to do is look at the types of injuries we see among athletes in general. It is a fact that you can strengthen muscles with weight work, but not tendons and ligaments. They have to increase their strength over time, at their own rate. And we see disproportionate number of injuries among other athletes that aren't muscle injuries, but rather ligament and tendon injuries. (Rory had one of those over the summer last year, remember?)
So clearly we can strengthen our muscles faster than the connecting tissue can adjust. Failing to allow for that is probably one of the factors.
Likewise, the power game most golf pros use now focuses on using stiffer shafts, which they "load" by increasing the leverage they create during the swing. To increase that leverage, you need to focus the movement at fewer "fulcrums" (or pivot points, if you prefer that term), and that creates more stress on those joints.
GC noted in their Monday night discussion that players in the mid-20th Century tended to damage their hips, and that more recent players tend to injure their backs. That's because swings in the style of Snead and Nelson tended to focus on hip turn, while modern swingers tend to restrict hip turn and focus the motion on their lower backs.
So the change in swing technique -- and the stiffer-shafted equipment built for that technique -- is also a factor.
The increased amount of practice time also contributes. In the book Bobby Jones on Golf, Charles Price noted that:
"It would be the most natural assumption in the world to think that during those eight years Bobby Jones did little other than play golf. In reality, Jones played less formal golf during his championship years than virtually all the players he beat, and he beat everybody in the world worth beating...Jones averaged no more than three months a year playing in, and going to and from, tournaments and championships" (p IX-X).That's significant. The farther back you go, the fewer differences you see between the techniques of the full swing and those of the short game. With the differences that have grown between the full 'power' game and the short 'feel' game, players simply spend far more time on the practice tee than their forebears of a half century ago.
They have to, because they have to maintain two different swings.
Golf is a worldwide sport now. A large amount of time is spent in travel. And while many of these pros can travel in private jets, it still takes a toll when your travel time can take 10-15 hours or more. The pressurized cabin of a jet takes a medical toll on your body, as sitting for that many hours will affect your joints and your body can easily dehydrate. In addition, travel through so many time zones affects your sleep patterns as well
Finally, add the wraparound season to the mix. Players no longer get two or three months (or more) off where they can simply let the clubs sit in the garage for a while. (Well, they don't get it unless they decide to skip a large number of tournaments and put themselves at a large disadvantage in the points races that determine who plays in the Ryder Cup, Presidents Cup, FedExCup and Race to Dubai. For many players, that's a serious problem.)
So the reason for the increase in sports injuries seems to be a combination of factors:
- Too much weight work
- Changes in swing technique
- Stiffer shafts
- Increased practice time
- The effects of increased travel
- No off-season rest time
The solution would appear obvious. Back off a little on the workouts and practice time, move to a less strenuous swing technique that allows softer shafts (that should offset most of the loss of distance the players would expect), and travel and play less often. A simple solution...
But it probably ain't gonna happen. At least, not until somebody tries it and begins to dominate the game the way Tiger did.