The Stretch Reflex : Utilizing Your Muscles’ Own Protective Mechanism to Your Advantage

Written by Kyle

If you’ve been reading my blog and watching my videos, you’ll have noticed that a good portion of the information I’ve shared focuses on how to develop more power in your golf swing. Well today I’ll continue along those lines with a crucial mechanism called the stretch reflex. While the science behind it may seem a bit complicated, I’ll explain what you need to know for a basic understanding of how to train properly using it.

Your muscles contain receptors called muscle spindles which are responsible for detecting changes in muscle length and the speed of change in muscle length. When these spindles are appropriately stretched, they send a neural message to the central nervous system. In turn, the spinal cord sends a message back to the muscle to contract with a greater force in order to slow the rate of stretch in the muscle and return it back to an appropriate length. In a nutshell, this stretch reflex causes a more rapid firing and recruitment of motor neurons resulting in a more powerful contraction. This reflex is the muscle’s automatic protective mechanism in order to prevent injury to the muscle from being overstretched. So the benefits of training it for your golf swing are two-fold: preventing injury and increasing power.

You can train the stretch reflex in virtually all exercises you’re already doing. All you need to do is appropriately stretch the muscle in the loading phase and “explode” out of the stretch in the contraction phase. In other words, you must go to your limit of range of motion in the joints you’re training and quickly contract the muscle from that position. In the chest flye for example, let your arms go out to your sides until you feel a good stretch across the chest through the pectorals, then contract powerfully to bring your arms back together out in front.

Now, the key to properly training your stretch reflex is speed, both in loading and contracting the muscle, so you need to be very careful when starting out in order to prevent injury. I would recommend spending some time exploring the limits of your range of motion in the given exercise. For the chest flye example, this means starting with a low weight and getting familiar with how far down you can get your arms, controlling the weight slowly on the way down. From this position, perform your reps quickly and powerfully on the way up. Once you’re comfortable doing this, you can start to increase the speed with which you lower the weights, as this will better utilize the stretch reflex. Only when you’re very confident moving with these increased speeds should you think about increasing weight.

Your golf swing can benefit greatly from training your stretch reflex. It will not only help you develop more power in your swing, but it will also give you greater flexibility and help prevent injury. Give it a try during your next strength training session and leave us a comment to let us know how it went!

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