Swing when you’re winning

Golf and tennis could hold the key to recovering from a stroke… especially if patients practise their backswing, according to new research.

Players who focus on the movement perfect their skills twice as quickly. Apart from the implications for sport, it may boost rehabilitation for neurological conditions.

Previous studies have found golf and tennis improve balance, coordination and stability, as well as arm and leg strength, after a stroke.

Neuroscientist Professor Ian Howard, of the University of Plymouth, and colleagues assessed the speed at which people learned the basic skills which allowed them to achieve consistent results.

Those who were able to perform consistent ‘lead-in motions’, or backswing’ took half the time to learn new techniques as those who couldn’t.

Prof Howard said players wanting to shoot below par or smash their way past opponents should concentrate on this.

And while a good backswing is vital for sportspeople to produce optimum results, he said it also demonstrates that any immediately preceding movement has to be reliable to achieve fast learning.

Co author Prof David Franklin, a sport and health scientist at the Technical University of Munich, added: “These findings may also have implications for stroke rehabilitation, where fast relearning, or recovery of movement, is desired, but this also needs to be balanced with generalisation to everyday tasks.”

The study published in Scientific Reports followed research by the same team that demonstrated the nature of the follow through has significant influence on the extent to which new skills are acquired.

Speaking from Munich where he has given a talk on the findings, Dr Howard said: “With stroke and other neurological conditions there has been a focus on the main action of a movement.

“But what leads up to it, such as a backswing before the follow through, is just as important and is good practice leading to improved performance.

“What we also found was just looking at a consistent backswing on a screen can have almost as strong an effect.”

This could have implications for watching physical activity, such as sport, on TV, although Dr Howard said more research is required in this area.

He added: “Rapid learning can be critical to ensure elite performance in a changing world or to recover basic movement after neural injuries.

“And while learning a new skill such as golf or tennis takes considerable practice, the rate at which we can compensate for environmental changes and learn new skills plays an important role in our performance.

“This research shows the final, or main, movement is only one part of the learning process and that generating a consistent lead in allows us to learn new skills faster.”

For the research, 72 healthy men and women were asked to make two successive movements while grasping the handle of a robotic device.

These included a lead in, or backswing, followed immediately by the main follow through.

A second experiment then examined if watching a computer generated backswing before actively performing the main movement would have the same effect.

In both tests the researchers found increasing the variability of the backswing slowed learning dramatically.

They said it demonstrates for the first time for the first time that an inconsistent backswing reduced the rate of motor adaptation.

Earlier studies have found even putting, chipping, walking and picking up balls during a round of golf can boost co ordination and fine motor skills after a stroke.

Physical sports, such as golf, actually help stroke survivors get closer to a normal life again.

Stroke survivors are often reluctant to go back to the golf course with the disabilities that have resulted.

But a study by the University in Regensburg, Germany, showed playing golf had many positive effects.

Participants improved both physically and mentally. Apart from the physical improvements, golfing in a group also contributed to the social and emotional well being of the patients.

Tennis has also been found to be an ideal sport for stroke survivors, increasing exercise and socialisation.

The sport provides a good cardiovascular workout strengthens muscles and improves balance and coordination, just like golf.


by Mark Waghorn