For those of us who sit on our butts all day behind a computer screen, "glute activation" is a legitimate concern, according to Sean Riley, Titleist Performance Institute certified fitness expert and owner of Swing Fit performance institute in Tulsa.
"The king and queen of the muscles of the golf swing are the abdomen and the glutes," Riley said. "They provide the stability, speed and power."
Riley said those of us who sit too long do have trouble with the glute muscles working properly, leading to compensations by other muscle groups and increasing the likelihood of injury. Tiger Woods, on the other hand, works out religiously and has concentrated hard on making his glute muscles as strong and active as possible to protect his lower back.
"I think the easiest way to understand glute activation is to look at the opposite which is what we call glute inhibition," said Ryan Smith, Riley’s partner in Swing Fit. "Normally your glutes are super strong and fire quickly. This is the muscle set most responsible for keeping us upright so we can walk on two feet.
"They are the primary power generator in the golf swing. However, glute inhibition is a shutting off or delay of firing of the gluteus maximus muscle. This most commonly occurs as a result of our modern lifestyle of too much sitting. That isn’t Tiger’s issue. The other reason is due to low back pain and injury. Once this occurs, you can an inhibition of shutting off of the surrounding muscles including the glutes. This is a protective reflex in the body."
So what does Tiger mean when he says he couldn’t get his glute muscles to "activate?" Basically, Riley said, he means his back hurt so badly the signals get crossed and he started losing activation of his glute musculature.
In other words, a strong glute can’t overcome an inflamed disc or whatever the back injury is.
"If he had an aggravation or exacerbation of the back injury, the brain goes into protective mode," Riley said.
For the future, Riley said Woods needs to come up with a "new norm," meaning a swing that is probably 80 percent of his current effort. He also needs to eliminate the "massive spine tilt to the right, which is putting an unreasonable amount of stress on the discs and joints in his lower back."
"I feel bad for him," Riley said. "I’m doing what I’m doing because of Tiger and all the attention he brought to combining fitness and golf. You know he’s been working hard in the gym and has one of the best teams in the world surrounding him. But with his current swing he has the potential for continued reaggravation. Then you’re looking at a fusion or worse."
Riley and partner Smith write a fitness column in Golf Oklahoma and are also sponsors of the Swing Fit Golf Oklahoma Hour on The Sports Animal.
Some Oklahoma teaching pros were asked what they would tell Woods to do if he were willing to listen.
"The amount of head movement, up and down and even backward, does not lead to consistent striking of the ball or the ability to square the clubface consistently," said Michael Boyd, director of golf at The Club at Indian Springs in Broken Arrow. "From what I’ve seen, I would say stabilize the head and then try to swing with more rhythm
"Tiger’s swing looks violent. When he was with Hank Haney, I think that was the best as far as his arm and hand synchronization, rhythm. He never looked violent. He was graceful."
Pat McTigue of GolfTec in Tulsa said he would encourage Tiger to cease bodybuilding and take up yoga.
"I would first tell him to quit making swing changes and get back to playing with his incredible feel. He didn’t win all those tournaments chasing perfection, he won by getting the ball in the hole faster," McTigue said. "I think he simply lost touch with what the game is about."
Tracy Phillips, director of instruction at Cedar Ridge Country Club, said Woods has no chance for improvement without major swing changes.
"He’s dropping in the backswing and the downswing. The compression is a huge issue. Everything he’s doing in the backswing is putting tremendous pressure on his lower back. He has a huge forward shaft lean at impact. The fix would be to get the shaft at impact more straight up and down so his right side could stay straight and high.
"To some degree, he’s got to start swinging like a 39-year-old and not a 24-year-old. For him to be concerned about his speed numbers at this point in his career is just ludicrous. You would have thought the biomechanics guy (Chris Como) would have figured that out."