A common question often asked over the years is if dramatic differences lie between male and female golfers from a coaching perspective. In answer to this I have generally found that a slight pattern has evolved in how each attempt to gain extra power and distance, and how they approach it in a slightly different way based on how men and women are built differently. Due to the physiological differences, we do at times try to seek out those extra yards in different ways. Of course every individual is just that – an individual, and it doesn’t necessarily apply across the board in every situation. There are female body builders and petite gentlemen all across the world who find their own ways of hitting the golf ball! However as a general rule of the thumb, in my experience there are a few patterns that appear due to the differences in physiology.
Owing to the hormonal differences between men and women there are a couple of key physiological comparisons that can place an impact on how the golf club is swung. Testosterone and oestrogen play major roles when it comes to muscle size and flexibility. Testosterone, which naturally shows itself in greater quantities in men, increases everything from the size and mass of muscles to the male skeleton. Oestrogen, which shows itself in greater quantities in women, means women’s bodies are potentially less muscular, but joints are more flexible with a greater range of motion. In particular, oestrogen widens the hips of females adding greater muscle mobility in abdominal regions and increased hip flexibility (in preparation for pregnancy).
According to the U.S. Office of Science,
‘The male-female muscle comparison becomes particularly polarized when it comes to the upper body where muscle fibres and lean tissues are much larger in the male physique. In contrast, oestrogen widens the hips of females adding greater muscle mobility in abdominal regions’.
‘When it comes to hip action females dominate the range of motion scene at all ages. Increased hip flexibility is a by-product of female hormones that for millennia have been working their magic to prepare women for pregnancy’. Nancy Reese et al; 2002, ‘Joint range of motion and muscle length testing’
So what impact does this have on the golf swing? With the above in mind, owing to the overall flexibility, particularly in the pelvis and hip region, when striving for distance, the female golfer has a greater tendency to create excessive body motion both rotationally, laterally and vertically during the backswing. A good range of motion can certainly be a positive, and of course it is important to have mobility in the hips, however if overdone and where it is not combined with stability, power and consistency can be compromised. The golf swing works from the ground upwards where the lower body acts as a relatively stable base. In the case of excessive mobility without stabilisation, where the upper and lower body turn in equal amounts during the backswing (hips and shoulders), resistance, power and consistency are reduced.
Strengthening the core abdominal muscle area and the gluteal muscles would greatly assist in stabilising the body, both dynamically during the swing, and also statically within the set up and posture, generating a more stable and efficient power house. This of course does apply to both male and female golfers however due to the greater mobility within the hip region within ladies this can certainly be advantageous. Pilates can provide a fantastic option to develop core/glute strength and stability. This can also be beneficial where injury prevention is concerned.
Stabilisation of the upper body can also be an issue for female golfers. Studies at the department of sports medicine at Ohio State University Wexner Medical Centre, show through magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) that women have about 40 percent less upper-body mass than men do. This means that in general, a woman’s natural upper body is only about 50 to 60 percent as strong as a man’s. As mentioned previously, we must remember that every individual is different and there are some women who do not fit into this generalisation. With this in mind, increasing upper body strength in order to stabilise and support the golf club during the backswing, would be an advantage. Simple exercises supporting ones own body weight would be sufficient to make a significant impact. No need for heavy weights at the gym! A great positive is that in relying on timing and rhythm versus sheer muscle power and strength, a greater amount of pressure can be applied to the ball at impact, along with the potential of a more centered hit , both ultimately producing a greater chance of improved distance and accuracy.
Developing wrist and forearm strength can also assist female golfers with supporting the correct hand action and the golf club during the backswing. (Simply squeezing a squash ball or similar alternative repetitively is a great exercise).
As a comparison, gents upper bodies are generally a little stronger and at times with greater bulk. Stability and strength are great attributes; the only downside is if mobility is compromised in some shape or form. Gents can also tend to be a little tighter in the hip and pelvis area. This potentially creates a more upper body dominant motion, particularly when striving for extra yardage. The swing can get a little on the short side due to any potential limitation in mobility or alternatively the body will find another cheating mechanism to find its way into the backswing. There can also tend to be the inclination to use the dominance and power of the upper body to lead the transitional movement into the downswing.
Increasing the range of motion and flexibility within these areas, opening up both the hip and upper body (shoulder/chest) areas could help improve overall mobility, relying less on muscular, and often, tension filled bulk.
To stress once again, these are generalisations and simply observations in patterns of how male and female golfers, due to the physiological/hormonal differences, can have slightly different swing patterns when attempting to gain distance. Power and distance are not reliant on muscle bulk, excessive speed or excessive body motion, but a simple combination of stability, mobility and efficiency, allowing both men and women to maximise their strengths and get the most out of their game!