Managing Tension

Managing Tension

Managing Arousal Levels and Tension

I think an under appreciated but important aspect of any athletes program especially golfers is arousal management. Tension came from many sources both mental and physical. Dan John puts it best in his book Now What, “Physical Tension can improve performance, physical tension can also destroy performance. Tension is a dosage issue: Like Goldilocks you have to search for just right.” There a times during play, practice or in the gym where arousal and tension levels need to be higher or lower. A great example is a power lifter going for a P.R. in the dead lift, he or she will need arousal and tension as high as possible, where as a golfer making a slippery 5 foot downhill putt to win a tournament will want much less. For golfers a certain amount of grip pressure and body tension is needed to hold onto the club and maintain balance especially when it is pulling away from you with significant forces at the bottom of the swing. This is where a properly designed strength training program comes into play. Building up your ability to use the ground will greatly benefit your ability to maintain posture and stability while countering the forces put on your body in the golf swing. This requires some tension and obviously that tension should differ when hitting a 300 yard drive over water vs a delicate chip. Too much or too little tension in either situation can be detrimental to the outcome of the shot.

Managing Tension in the Gym

The gym is a great place to learn how to ramp up or ramp down tension. If you are doing a set of squats, dead lifts, overhead presses etc. you want a high amount of full body tension to safely perform the lift as well as for proper transfer of forces from the ground up just as needed in the golf swing. The plank or side plank is another great exercise to teach maximal full body tension when performed properly. On the other hand when performing mobility drills such as trying to improve hip or thoracic spine mobility I prefer to have my clients focus on breathing and staying relaxed while moving the necessary body part, and keeping the other parts stable. Utilizing breath with these movements i.e. breathing as you move or breathing at end range, is a great way to focus on decreasing tension in the areas you are trying to increase ROM in. On top of that I love exercises that require you to hold tension in one area while moving another freely and smoothly. This sequencing best replicates what the body needs for the golf swing, tension and stability in some areas and mobility in others.

If you look at the research data presented in the article below, to put it as simply, the greatest number of injuries sustained by golfers are overuse in nature. When you look at the research regarding minimizing overuse injuries, strength training has the greatest effect. One thing i have learned in my career as a physical therapist, is the best thing i can do for an athlete returning to any sport from an injury is get them as strong as possible for the necessary movements required for their sport. Simply put "You cant go wrong getting strong".

Managing Tension on the course

There are a lot of great drills to help manage tension and arousal on the course as well. One good one that I like is running to each shot which results in getting your heart rate up then when getting to your ball using various breathing and focusing drills to bring that heart rate down in a timely manner to hit the next shot. Controlling breathing is the easiest way to decrease heart rate and respiratory rate therefore decreasing tension and arousal especially when needed in a pinch. Another good tool is focusing on the basics; Stance, grip, balance and tempo in situations where there is a lot of pressure therefore a chance for too much tension. In their book Be A Player, Pai Nilsson and Lynn Marriott do a great job of discussing this. They talk about being aware of your tension, tempo and balance on the course in every situation. They advise that while playing a practice round, play a few holes focusing on balance, a few focusing on tempo and a few focusing on tension and give yourself a score of 1-10 on each area after each swing. Focusing on these areas rather than focusing on the score or outcome of the shot can help you become better aware of your tension throughout a round. Creating an awareness of when those areas tend to go awry during a round will better help you determine how you need to work on this. Another good drill they promote is to try different grip pressures and swing tempos when practicing to find the one the produces the best results for you. Then using those feels when out on the course to determine if your tempo or grip pressure is off.


Among the many variables that go into performance on a golf course proper tension and arousal levels is one that in my opinion is often overlooked. This is something that I work on with my clients in the gym as well as recommend that you work on while practicing on the driving range, putting green or on the course. Learning how to control arousal levels and tension can help minimize blow up holes as well as help you perform at your best under pressure.

If you want to learn more about how to manage tension or are interested in getting in better shape during the winter off season give us a call at 985 235 7130 or email me at and let me help you hit the ball farther, play more consistently and play without pain.

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John Paul Guidry DPT CSCS TPI