The Stress Effect

By David BreslowFebruary 23, 2005, 5:00 pm
There is one thing that affects the golf swing as much or more than any other single factor. What is it? The stress effect.
Managing stress is high on the priority list for many golfers both amateur and professional. Some teaching professionals have expressed to me that students could speed up their learning if they could reduce their muscle tension during a lesson.
Stress is a very individual matter. While one person may love the thrill of flying, another person may become a wreck at the very thought of it. While one golfer may love the challenge of sinking a three foot putt to win, another may experience high anxiety and stress resulting in a poor stroke.
Stress itself isnt all bad. Positive stress can help you perform better because it triggers feelings of excitement, optimism and challenge. Positive stress is a natural response to a situation that is perceived as exciting or a good challenge. Negative stress however, can interfere with your performance by producing tension and anxiety. The perception is quite different when negative stress is triggered. Our perception has everything to do with whether we trigger a positive stress or negative stress response.
Negative stress can affect your game on so many levels. Thats how pervasive it is. When our grip is too tight on the golf club we create tension in the hands and arms which interfere with a smooth and powerful golf swing. We see the affects of stress in putting when it causes the infamous yips to occur. Reducing stress can easily be overlooked as an area of performance development. While many are focused on being mechanically sound and technically solid, its stress that can play a role in sabotaging even the best swing mechanics.
Here are some of the ways negative stress can affect your game:
1. Reduced Power
The more tension you have in your muscles the less power you have. Tight muscles reduce oxygen flow, blood flow and energy flow. Think back to when you hit the ball with power. Were you feeling relaxed or were you feeling tight and tense over the ball? Power occurs when our bodies are relaxed not when they are stiff, tight and rigid.
2. Reduced Rhythm and Feel
What happens when you try to kill the ball? This often results in hitting a less than desirable shot. Muscles that are too tight create movements that are stiff and lack fluidity. When hitting shots that require more feel, stress reduces our ability to use our fine motor muscles effectively.
3. Reduced Energy
When are over- stressed we lose energy and feel more fatigued than we normally do. Have you ever been really upset on the golf course? Did you notice how much this sapped your energy? It takes a lot of energy to be angry, nervous frustrated and upset. If that negative energy is not channeled into constructive avenues it will take a toll on the mind, body and emotions causing them to function ineffectively.

4. Restricted Breathing
Stress affects our ability to breathe deeply and comfortably. Instead of deep relaxed breathing the breath becomes short and can feel stuck because the chest and abdominal muscles are constricted. Sometimes we even hold our breath without realizing it. More players are learning the value of proper breathing and the positive effect it has on performance. Proper breathing shouldnt be used for pressure situations. It can be helpful in relaxing the muscles, calming the nervous system and is important over every shot.
Next time you play pay attention to the following:
  • Tension level in your hands

  • Tension level in your upper legs

  • Tension level in your feet

  • Tension level in your neck/shoulders

  • Whether your finish is full and smooth
Your awareness of your tension levels in these areas can help you reduce it and restore energy flow.
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