As we noted previously in the section titled “Move to Live and Live to Move” in the The Vestibular Section the function of our spinal stabilizers and overall core is greatly influenced by the function of our vestibular (balance) system and our ability to position our head properly. So we will reiterate in this 1st paragraph that a strong and functional core is not something you attain from lying on a matt and doing traditional ab crunch exercises. Instead, it is attained by increasing your body awareness through a more developed vestibular system and a core that reacts more quickly and effectively to changes in your body’s relation to gravity.
The performance of our core is dependent on the sensors in our hands, feet, neck, spine, vestibular and limbic (emotions) systems all functioning as a single unit.
I am a big fan of teaching people how to roll efficiently. It is amazing how many people with lower back, neck and shoulder complaints have a very difficult time rolling in one or more directions. Often these people have performed extensive rehabilitation for these injuries and have experienced minimal if any improvement in the function or pain level for these injuries. After learning to roll properly and improving both their vestibular and core function their injuries have either cleared up or are able to clear up quickly when they return to their more specific rehabilitation. With my players I have seen specific golfers who struggled when attempting to make swing changes with their golf coach but after learning to roll in concert with some of the other fundamental patterns were able to make the technical changes seemingly effortlessly.
Many of my top Tour players use rolling as part of their morning reboot when they get out of bed or use it as part of their pre-round warm up. Rolling from our stomach to our backs and from our backs to our stomachs is a skill we learn at a very young age. It is what allowed us to reach the flashing light or toy that was on the floor next to us. The neck movement engaged our vestibular system which, in conjunction with the arm or leg movement, engaged the core.
We will illustrate two individuals in this section. The first person (video 1) is a golfer who has had chronic low back discomfort, inability to recreate swing positions or changes effectively and has decreased core control (even though he can do a normal / side plank easily for 30 seconds). The second (video 2) is a golfer who used to suffer from acute back pain, had an inability to recreate swing positions or changes effectively and had significant dysfunction in her core. She has been performing rolling as part of her morning routine for the past two months and no longer has back pain, has shot in the 60s during tournament play and is making the changes her swing coach is asking her to do because her vestibular system and core are working much more effectively.
Video 1: Poor Rolling Pattern
Video 2: Better Rolling Pattern
In this type of rolling we are looking to divide the body into 4 sections or quadrants: Two involving the upper body and two involving the lower body. The right upper body quadrant consists of the right arm, shoulder complex, head, neck and upper back and the left upper quadrant consists of the left arm and shoulder complex, head, neck and upper back. The right lower quadrant consists of the right leg, pelvic girdle and mid to lower back and the left lower quadrant is the left leg, pelvic girdle and middle and lower back.
Right upper quadrant rolling:
On back (supine) to on stomach (prone) rolling using right upper quadrant:
The start position is to lie on your back with your arms straight and stretched flat on the ground beyond your head. Begin with your head lifting off the ground and turning to your left looking under your left arm while simultaneously lifting your right arm to the ceiling and then as far across your body to your left as you possibly can. Continue to roll onto your stomach while NOT using your lower body or left upper extremity at all. It is often helpful to feel as though your legs are not part of your body and that you have no influence over their actions. Perhaps think of them as foreign sandbags that are dragged by the motion attained through the spine.
Initially you may find this difficult to do. Your lower body may want to become overly involved or you may not be able to lift and rotate your head properly. Your core may not engage effectively or your body quite simply may have no idea how to move the way you are asking it because the neurological wiring is so convoluted and ineffective.
One of the ways I like to describe the body’s neurologic mapping that develops over time for most of us is to compare it to an old house that has had many “patch ups to the wiring” done to it with each new renovation or owner that moved into the house. We have all seen these types of homes. When looking at the walls everything seems to be pretty normal and there is nothing that would really prevent you from buying the house. Maybe there is a slightly different shade or angle of the paint job covering the drywall patch covering the hole used to get to the wiring. This is the same as most of us that look pretty decent from the exterior but may have some slight postural issues noticeable while standing.
The most obvious problems arise when you get behind the drywall and notice all the cross connections, loose wires, wires that aren’t grounded and a convoluted interstate of tangled wiring that needs to be dissected to know which wires you are actually needing to work with in order to do the job you desire.
In the human body this mismatch of crossed wires, ineffective routings and loose wires can only be seen when we “strip off our own drywall” and attempt a new movement that prevents us from using the mash of compensatory neural detours we have encoded underneath our exterior. The Rolling exercises is a great way of bring this out. IF the wiring is good the Rolling appears seamless and smooth. When the wiring is bad the Rolling seems very difficult and it is impossible to get the body to move as separate units.
Video 3: Right Upper Quadrant Supine to Prone
On stomach (prone) to on back (supine) rolling using right upper quadrant:
Again, you begin in a fully outstretched and flat position with your arms flat on the ground beyond your head. You initiate the movement by rotating your neck and head as far to your right as possible attempting to look past your right shoulder (think of looking over your right shoulder while you check your blind spot driving your car) while also taking the right arm and raising up and behind you as far as possible. Your lower body and left upper extremity should not be used at any time as you complete the roll onto your back.
Video 4: Right Upper Quadrant Prone to Supine:
Right Lower Quadrant Rolling:
On back (supine) to stomach (prone) rolling using right lower quadrant:
Begin in the same position as you did for the upper extremity supine to prone rolling. This time, lift the right leg up towards the ceiling and then across your body to your left as far as you can to initiate and complete the rolling.
When performing a lower body initiated roll you should feel as though the upper body is passive and dragged by the spine in much the same manner as the legs were while performing the upper body directed rolling previously. You upper extremity and left lower extremity should remain passive throughout the roll.
Video 5: Right Lower Quadrant Supine to Prone
On stomach (prone) to stomach (supine) rolling using right lower quadrant:
Begin in the same position as you did for the upper extremity prone to supine rolling. Lift the right leg up and across your body to your left as far as possible to initiate and complete the rolling. The left lower and both upper extremities should remain passive throughout the roll.
Video 6: Right Lower Quadrant Prone to Supine
As I mentioned earlier, the Rolling exercises are one of my favourite to allow increased function of the vestibular system, segmental spinal motion, increased awareness, activation and efficiency within the core musculature and better overall body awareness. The best part is that there is no gym membership required, no fancy equipment and they can be done anywhere in the world you may find yourself preparing for your next golf practice or tournament round.
Image of the Right Upper Quadrant (above) when viewed from the front and the left upper quadrant when viewed from the back(on the right).
Take Home Points:
- Function of our core is greatly influenced by our vestibular system and our ability to position our head properly
- A more finely tuned vestibular system will result in a more finely tuned core
- Rehabbing back pain patients and preventing back pain can be largely enabled through the development of more efficient rolling strategies
- Poor rolling patterns
- Efficient rolling patterns
- On stomach (prone) to on back (supine) rolling using right upper quadrant:
- On stomach (prone) to on back (supine) rolling using right upper quadrant:
- On back (supine) to stomach (prone) rolling using right lower quadrant:
- On stomach (prone) to stomach (supine) rolling using right lower quadrant: