Relax. Take a deep breath. We're going to discuss how controlled breathing can reduce tension and improve your game.
Everyone gets nervous on the golf course, whether it's a pro standing over a putt to win a major, a low-handicapper facing a do-or-die shot over water, or a beginner teeing off in front of a restless audience. While butterflies take flight in the stomach, they're born in the brain as the offspring of our thoughts and emotions.
When nerves strike, we tense up. When we tense up, we don't think as clearly. We also grip the club a little tighter, swing with a quicker tempo and, often, hit a poor shot or putt. Then we blame ourselves for failing to handle the pressure, even though we did nothing to alleviate our jitters in the first place.
It may be a cliché to respond to someone under stress by telling them, “Take a deep breath.” But it's really the best thing you can do. And it's quite simple. Any time you feel nerves and tension creeping up:
1. Breathe in slowly and deeply through your nose, filling your diaphragm (belly).
2. Hold your breath for a couple of seconds.
3. Now exhale, slowly, through your mouth.
In fact, there's no need to wait for a stressful moment. Work deep breathing into your normal pre-shot routine to release tension, and to prevent it from building up over the course of a round.
You can even practice deep breathing away from the course. Whenever you've got a few minutes to spare, take a seat and go through the above steps 10 times. Not only will deep breathing become automatic on the golf course, it'll do your body good. It's been shown to lower blood pressure, among other benefits, and anything that relieves stress is a major positive.
Proper Deep Breathing for Tension Free Swing
There is a lot more to the task of making a good golf swing than just putting your body and the club in the right static positions from start to finish. Many people think of the golf swing in this way – as a collection of positions that must be hit in order to find success. And to be sure, it is important to be in the right positions at key points in your swing. However, if you fail to add rhythm and tempo to your swing to go along with those positions, you will also be disappointed in your results.
One of the best ways to improve the rhythm and tempo of your golf swing is to remove the tension from your body prior to starting the swing. Tension and the golf swing do not get along, as you need to be as relaxed and free as possible before the club starts to move back away from the ball. This is a difficult task, of course, as golf is a game that is well-known for its ability to make you nervous. The successful golfer will find ways to set aside those nerves in order to make a tension free swing which unleashes all of its potential power into the back of the ball at impact.
In this article, we are going to look at how you can use deep breathing to prepare yourself to make a tension free swing. Breathing techniques are commonly used on the course by professional golfers, but their usage is less common among amateur players. Even though you may not be playing for millions of dollars in prize money like the top pros, you are still prone to getting nervous during your rounds – just like every other golfer. With that in mind, it only makes sense to have some deep breathing techniques available for when you feel the nerves start to creep in to your game. You don't necessarily have to use your deep breathing methods before each and every shot that you hit, but they will be nice to have when you really need to calm down prior to a swing.
It is important to point out that you never want to do anything within your golf game that is going to slow down the pace of play for others around you. Slow play is already a serious problem in golf, so you don't want to make it any worse by taking extended amounts of time to go through a complicated breathing routine. Fortunately, there is a way to accomplish both goals on this point, as you can formulate a helpful breathing routine which will only take seconds to perform. In the end, you should be able to successfully use deep breathing to take the tension out of your swing while still keeping the pace of play moving right along.
Any specific golf instruction that is contained below is written from the perspective of a right handed golfer. If you play left handed, please take a moment to reverse the directions as necessary.
Watching for Signs of Nerves
As mentioned above, you really don't need to go through a deep breathing exercise every single time you prepare to hit a shot. After all, the time you use while deep breathing would quickly add up if you performed the routine 80 – 100 times throughout the day. Instead, this is something that you can save for particularly important or 'scary' shots that you happen to face. When used at just the right time, deep breathing is an incredibly powerful tool. But how do you know when to use it? You have to watch for signs of nerves, as those nerves are going to translate into tension in your golf swing.
It is easy to associate nerves with the pressure of playing in an important golf tournament, but you can get nervous just the same if you are out playing a casual round by yourself during the middle of the week. If you are like most golfers, you always want to play your best – and that determination to do your best can turn into nerves in some situations. For instance, if you are facing a long shot over water, it is almost inevitable that you will feel nervous in some way. Or, if you have been playing one of your best rounds and you are getting down to the final few holes, the nerves are sure to settle in. It is okay to be nervous – it happens to everyone – but you have to know how spot the signs of nervousness so you can deal with them appropriately.
The following list includes some of the most common signs that you are getting nervous on the course.
- Butterflies in your stomach. You certainly know this feeling of nervousness from other areas of your life – that fluttering in your stomach that takes place when you are anxious about a certain event. While the butterflies you feel on the course may not be as strong as when you walked down the aisle on your wedding day (for example), they can still have an effect on how you are able to swing the club.
- Moving quickly. One of the biggest signs of nerves in the golf world is moving quickly as you prepare to play a shot. If you start to walk faster, talk faster, and even breath faster in the moments before you make a swing, it is a safe bet that you are nervous. Moving quickly is a natural human reaction to nerves, but those quick movements can easily destroy a golf swing. Through the use of deep breathing, it is possible to calm yourself down so you can make a swing that is relaxed and has the proper rhythm and tempo.
- Shaky hands. This symptom of nervousness is only going to show itself in extreme situations. If you are extremely nervous about the outcome of your next shot, you may notice your hands begin to shake slightly when addressing the golf ball. This is something you will only notice as you attempt to hold the club perfectly still behind the ball before starting the swing. Although the minor shaking really isn't going to do anything to affect your swing, it can get in your head as it will make you realize just how nervous you are at the moment.
You need to know when you are getting nervous so you can deploy your deep breathing plan at just the right time. While the three points above are commonly seen in nervous golfers, there are plenty of other symptoms that may pop up in your own game. Pay close attention to the way you feel as you go around the course and take note of your own personal nervous habits. Getting to know yourself in this way will help tremendously as you work toward the goal of making tension free golf swings.
An Addition to Your Pre-Shot Routine
You should already have a pre-shot routine that you use before every swing you make on the course. This routine should include a few simple steps that can be completed in just seconds, again to avoid slowing down the pace of play. Most people use their pre-shot routine as a transition from shot planning (checking yardage, picking a club, etc.) to the address position. While you don't necessarily need to include deep breathing in your pre-shot routine before every shot, you can consider it an add-on to be used when tension makes its way into your body.
So, when you notice that you are feeling nervous prior to hitting a given shot, you may decide that you are going to add deep breathing to your routine. When should it be added? Ideally, you will use a deep breathing exercise at the last moment before you walk up to take your stance. By saving the breathing process for the end of your routine, you will be doing it as close as possible to the time when you are actually making a swing. The benefits of deep breathing are going to wear off rather quickly, so there isn't time to waste.
Of course, everyone's pre-shot routine is slightly different, so you are going to need to think about your own process and how you can add deep breathing to the progression. Pick a point where you think it will be easy to add this step without disrupting the rest of your shot preparation. As always, you should practice this addition to your routine on the driving range before you consider putting it to use on the course during an actual round of golf.
Aside from wanting to make sure you aren't holding up the pace of play, there is another reason to keep your pre-shot routine compact and concise – you don't want to 'ice' yourself before any of your shots. If your routine starts to drag on and on, you will actually be adding to the nerves that you feel, rather than taking them away. So, since you may need to add deep breathing into your routine from time to time, make sure the rest of the process is as compact as possible. During your practice sessions, work on various types of pre-shot routines until you settle on something that you are comfortable with using on the course. Over time, this routine will get more and more familiar, and you will hardly have to think about it at all.
It should be noted that you will likely need a different pre-shot routine when putting as compared to when playing any other kind of shot. A full swing pre-shot routine is usually going to include elements that won't be necessary when you are on the green, so work on creating two unique routines and keep them separate in your mind. As long as both routines are comfortable to you, and as long as you take some time to practice each, it should be no trouble at all to have one for your full swing and one for your putting stroke.
Learning How to Breathe
Before you can add deep breathing into your pre-shot routine, you need to first understand some of the key points related to breathing for relaxation. Obviously, you are breathing on a constant basis throughout the day and night, whether you are golfing or not. However, when trying to use breathing as a way of calming down and relaxing your nerves, there are some points you need to keep in mind. The list below should help put you on the right track when it comes to utilizing breathing to maximum effect.
- Take it slow. Breathing quickly is exactly what you are trying to avoid during this exercise, so be sure to breathe slowly in and out while trying to calm yourself down. Take deep breaths while focusing on giving your lungs plenty of time to fill up and then expel out all of their air. It might be hard to breathe slowly while you are feeling the nerves, but that is exactly the point – forcing yourself to slow down through some measured breathing should give you better control over your nerves prior to starting your swing.
- Close your eyes. While you are going through your breathing process, consider closing your eyes to help yourself relax even further. It can be hard to relax, for example, when you are staring ahead at a large water hazard that is guarding the fairway or green. By closing your eyes, you can block out everything around you while focusing on the task of calming your nerves. You don't need to have your eyes closed for long – just a second or two – but that can be enough time to get things under control once again. When you open your eyes back up, lock your vision on the target and get ready to hit a great shot.
- Breathe through your nose. When you breathe through your mouth, it is easy to breathe in and out too quickly. So, to force yourself to slow down, try breathing through your nose while you focus on calming your nerves. It will take longer to fill and empty your lungs this way, meaning you will have a bit more time to calm down and focus in on the task at hand.
- Use good posture. It can be difficult to fill and empty your lungs properly when you are hunched over, or when you are sitting, so be sure to stand with good posture as you go through your deep breathing process. Keep your shoulders back, your chin up, and your chest stuck out in front of you. It is important to pay attention to the small details such as posture in this process in order to make sure your breathing will be as effective as possible.
You shouldn't need much practice to learn how to deep breathe properly prior to hitting a high-pressure shot, but it is still helpful to work on this skill a bit when you visit the range. It is important to be comfortable with your breathing process so that you don't have to think about it consciously while on the course. With the deep breathing process down pat before you hit the first tee, it will be just like another club in your bag – something you can call on when you need it.
As far as how many times you should breathe in or breathe out as part of the process, that is a decision that is best left up to the individual. Some golfers will feel relaxed after just a single deep breath, while others will need two or three before they are ready. The points listed above are what is really important, rather than having a specific breath count in mind for the process. Be sure to fill your lungs with air and fully expel them each time, and close your eyes to relax further. As long as you follow those directions, you can trust your instincts on how many breaths you need before you will be ready to make a great swing.
Other Ways to Relieve Tension
There is no doubt that deep breathing is a great way to relax your mind and body prior to hitting a golf shot. However, a breathing routine is not the only thing you can do in an effort to take the tension out of your swing. If you would like to have some other options in your arsenal to use in addition to the breathing process, check out the points listed below.
- Relax your grip pressure. This is a tip that is important for all golfers to take to heart, no matter what situation they face on the course. When you make a golf swing, you want to have your hands nice and relaxed around the grip of the club. This kind of light grip pressure is going to help you to release the club properly through the hitting area. While many golfers are afraid that they will lose control of the club with a light grip, that is rarely a problem. If you are worried about that possibility, teach yourself to use a light grip in the short game first before working up to longer and longer shots.
- Put the game in perspective. Most golfers take the game very seriously – and there is nothing wrong with that. However, it is important to keep the game in perspective at the same time, as it is just a game at the end of the day. This is especially true for amateur golfers who aren't trying to pay their bills with their performance on the course. Remind yourself of why you play the game, and think about all of the positives that come along with being a golfer. So what if you hit a poor shot from time to time? Once you have some perspective on the game in the back of your mind, you just might find that much of your tension has floated away.
- Chat with your playing partners. It always seems to happen that the group in front of yours slows down right when you are facing a tough shot. For instance, if you are standing on the tee of a par three where the green is surrounded by water, you may find that you have to wait for several minutes before hitting. If you simply stand on the tee and stare at the water, you are going to have plenty of tension in your body by the time you are able to hit. As a better option, try to strike up a conversation with the other golfers in your group. By chatting for a few minutes, you can take your mind off of the shot that you are about to hit. Once the group in front of you has moved out of the way, you can regain your focus and get ready to strike a great shot.
- Play more golf. Just like anything else in golf, or in life, you are going to get better at dealing with pressure through practice. Players who only hit the links every once in a while usually have trouble dealing with pressure situations. Experienced players, on the other hand, tend to handle those situations without a problem. If you can carve out more time to play rounds of golf, you should find that your overall tension goes down and your performance goes up.
Deep breathing is one of the best tools you can use to deal with tension in your golf swing. Taking the tension out of your swing is a great way to improve the overall performance of your game while out on the course. Most players swing without tension on the range, which is why they manage to hit better shots during practice than they do during rounds of golf. Work on adding deep breathing to your pre-shot routine before stressful shots and you should find that you quickly become a better clutch player. Good luck!