Should Golfers Push, Pull or Carry Their Clubs?
Thu Dec 1, 2016 by Dr. Josh Nelson
To push, pull or, carry.... That is the question! As a golf specific health professional this is something I get asked on almost a daily basis. Firstly, it's important to understand that golf is a game that requires all of your muscles, joints, and other soft tissues to work in synergy in order to give you the best chance of reaching your peak performance. Gone are the days where you almost needed a senior citizens card to use a buggy, and carrying your clubs on your back was looked upon as a sign of your golfing ability and toughness! All you need to do is take a stroll around your local golf course these days to see the amount of people now utilising the latest in push/pull buggy technology to realise that more and more people are using golf as a way to stay active and healthy whilst chasing that elusive single figure handicap.
The first question that needs to be answered is whether or not it is better to carry your clubs or use a buggy of some sort. In almost all situations I believe it to be much better (and safer) to use a buggy rather than lugging your clubs around 18 holes. Carrying your clubs not only places a huge amount of compressive force on your spine, but also causes lactic acid build up in the surrounding muscles causing fatigue and you guessed it..... Injuries! As a Sports Chiropractor, I am always looking at people's posture around my local course and I cringe when I see our juniors lugging around a set of clubs half their body weight, hunched forward with their head two feet in front of the rest of their body. There is also the issue of dropping and lifting the bag potentially over 100 times throughout a round which places even more torsional stress on the spine (especially considering the average golf bag weighs between 8 and 15kgs). This could potentially be the beginning of a lifetime of spinal health issues if not addressed early enough! The latest research out of Europe also shows that carrying your bag leads to a decreased ability to score and an increased chance of injury!
Dr. Neil Wolkodoff, medical director of the Colorado Center for Health and Sports Science, conducted a study on the physical effects of using a push cart vs carrying a bag. His findings indicate that physical benefits of carrying your bag are minimal. Golfers in his study who carried their clubs burned an average of 721 calories over 9 holes compared to 718 calories burned by golfers who used a push cart.
"One of the suprising realizations was that just swinging a club about 100 times uses up a significant amount of energy," Wolkodoff said, "The golf swing is tough on the back no matter how you look at it. If you can use a push cart and keep one more stress away from the back that's a great thing."
Additionally, research suggests that golfers who carry increase their risk of injury to shoulder, back and ankle.
Overall, the case for carts was compelling enough that in 2009 the American Junior Golf Association decided to change it's policy and allow non-motorized carts in tournament play.
The next step is to work out whether it is better to push or pull your buggy around the course. The answer to this is fairly straight forward and all you have to do is observe the posture of someone walking with a push buggy compared to a pull buggy. The main difference that you will notice is when pulling, you are creating a twisting effect on your spine which causes muscle imbalances and a lot more pressure placed on your shoulders, elbows, and knees (leading to an increased chance of injury). As golf is a game that is predominantly played in one direction, the last thing we want to do is anything that causes a greater asymmetry within the body! Push buggies however, offer an advanced alternative to the traditional pull buggy by taking advantage of the forward momentum of walking and thereby reducing muscular fatigue. Pull buggies are also generally harder to manoeuvre and control (I'm sure most of us have had an experience of a zig-zagging buggy almost running over our feet as we walk up the fairway), and the latest research also shows that players tend to shoot lower scores whilst using a push buggy rather than a pull buggy!
When it does come to using a push buggy, there are a few points to keep in mind:
Ensure that the handle sits around 'belt' height so your arms and shoulders can stay relaxed;
Keep the buggy close to your body with your elbows at 90 degrees and use your big stabilising muscles to push the buggy along (predominantly your core and leg/buttock muscles);
Invest in a good quality push buggy (they are worth their weight in gold);
Always take time to warm up correctly before each round (stay tuned for my next article on the 'Ultimate Golf Warm-Up' routine);
If you are a senior player or you play on a fairly hilly course, look at motorised push buggy options that will allow you to expend less energy when walking up those dreaded hills!
My last piece of advice would be no matter whether you push, pull, carry, or ride, at least take every opportunity you can to stay active and walk as much of the course as possible. We should feel so privileged to be involved in such a great game, and my mission through these articles is to keep as many of you moving and playing as well as possible for as long as possible!
Dr. Josh Nelson is a Sports Chiropractor and Level 3 Golf Medical Professional through the Titleist Performance Institute. He is the owner of CORE GOLF Injury & Performance based in Brisbane, Australia and he specialises in Injury Management/Rehabilitation, Golf Specific Screenings/Assessments, and Training Programs for Golfers of all ages and levels.