You are a dedicated golfer.
You buy the best equipment.
You take golf lessons every week.
You practice every aspect of your game religiously.
You belong to the best golf club.
You still have back and shoulder pain.
You still do not get the distance your clubs deserve.
You still get exhausted during your round.
Something is missing, isn’t it?
What’s missing is the physical conditioning necessary to be the best golfer you can be!
Physical conditioning you ask? For golf? Why?
Proper physical conditioning is necessary because the golf swing is one of the most complex movements in all of sports, both explosive as well as unnatural. The golf swing requires strong, flexible muscles to both produce and withstand the forces generated during the golf swing. Without this strength and flexibility, your swing will never reach its full potential, and your risk of injury is high.
Unfortunately, most recreational golfers (perhaps you, or people you know?) take the physical aspects of golf for granted because of the slow pace of the game. The result: ¼ to 1/3 of all golfers get injured while playing golf, with 40,000 trips to the emergency room each year *( *from Complete Conditioning for Golf).
Women suffer more upper body injuries than men, but are less prone to back injuries than men. In general, the vast majority of injuries are from poor swing mechanics and lack of physical preparation. And, of equal importance, most technical problems with swing mechanics are closely related to a lack of proper strength, balance and flexibility.
While your teaching pro will help you with swing mechanics, who guides you in understanding the physical changes you need to make to be a better golfer? Who advises you on how to remain injury free? Do you know what exercises are absolutely necessary for golf? Do you know which exercises will help, and which will hurt? Most likely not. But, you are not alone! The average recreational golfer does not have the expertise or knowledge to design golf specific exercise programs.
That’s where I come in. As a golfer myself, I understand your specific needs. I also understand that you may not have a lot of experience with strength training, or understand what muscles are used during the swing and how to make them strong without losing flexibility, and flexible without increasing injury risk. This understanding of the game of golf and its specific fitness needs is essential knowledge for any personal trainer who is working with golfers.
Luckily for my clients, I have the golf fitness education to back up my years of personal training experience. In 2007, I became a Titleist Performance Institute Certified Golf Fitness Instructor. The TPI Certified Golf Fitness Instructor Program is the most comprehensive golf fitness certification available, taught by the experts from Titleist Performance Institute, Dr. Greg Rose and Dave Phillips, pioneers in golf fitness. The TPI Certified Golf Fitness Instructor is educated in the latest research and development in the field of golf swing analysis, as well as techniques on how to assess, identify and overcome physical restrictions limiting a golfer’s potential. The physical screening process and assessment is specific to golf, so that the TPI Certified GFI can then prescribe exercises, drills and golf fitness tips to overcome restrictions that affect the golf swing. Techniques used by TPI Certified GFI are applied to tour professionals and amateurs alike, and become the link between the golf pro and golf fitness.
Since obtaining my certification in 1997, I have trained many golfers of all abilities as the staff trainer at the prestigious International Golf Club in Bolton, Massachusetts. I have worked with senior men and women, all of whom gained strength, increased their drives by 20 yards, and most importantly, reduced their risk of injury. I have worked with beginner golfers to avoid the common injuries that occur when first learning the game. And, I have helped experienced golfers learn what areas of their physical fitness need to be upgraded to match their golf prowess.
I’m sure that some of you may be thinking “Why do I need a fitness assessment, I am strong, look at my legs!” Or, “I have no injuries, no serious aches and pains, so things must be working fine, right?” I hear that all the time from my clients, the same clients who fail fitness assessments, who can’t hit the ball more than 150 yards off the tee, or who hurt their backs lifting the laundry. How we look, or a lack of pain, are not ways to assess strength, flexibility and overall golf readiness. True strength, flexibility and balance have specific parameters- guidelines that tell us what is working well, what is not- and thus help steer us to the correct individualized fitness program. Further complicating things is the fact that we have become such a sedentary population. So much so, that many of the strong flexible muscles that we take for granted have become weak, tight or even shut off. Yes! Shut off! Glutes for example, are notorious for “shutting off” because we sit on them all day. Weak glutes, as mentioned previously, can cause back problems, hamstring injuries and a weak golf swing. Are your glutes strong? You’ll never know until you test them objectively. ( BTW, a big rear end does not always mean strong glutes, but a flat rear end does mean weak glutes)
So, you… yes you… the one with the strong “looking” legs, the one who walks 4 miles a day… even you need a golf fitness assessment!
Once the golf fitness assessment is performed, you’ll get lots of great information about what aspects of your fitness need to be addressed. Every golfer is different. Some golfers need better flexibility- mostly men- and some golfers- mostly women-need better core stability and strength. Whatever your individual needs are, there are several areas of golf fitness that every golfer should address in some capacity:
The ability of your joints and their attachments to move smoothly and freely through their normal range of motion. Various joints have greater ranges of motion and more complex movement capabilities than others, but there are norms we should try to achieve in order to move well and prevent injury and chronic pain. Not only does each individual joint have “norms”, it is also important to realize that tightness in one area can cause injury in another. For example, the hips and ankles have the ability to move in multiple directions. The knee does not. Poor flexibility in the hips or ankles could thus cause knee pain and injuries.
Shoulders are also highly mobile and need to retain good flexibility, but because the bony structure of the shoulders is very delicate compared to the hips, shoulders also need a lot of support from the bigger muscles of the torso. Shoulders that lose flexibility due to bad posture or desk work and do not have good muscular support from the strength of the torso muscles, are prone to injury during golf. And, poor flexibility in the shoulders (and upper back) could result in elbow pain, low back pain and neck pain. Everything is attached, and everything impacts the rest of entire body!
Core Strength (also referred to as Core Stability)
The strength of all of the muscles that attach to the spine in order to support and stabilize the spine during movement and during static postures such as sitting at a desk or addressing a golf ball. For our purposes, I am separating out core strength/stability from whole body strength, although there is a huge crossover. I am doing this so you can understand what I believe are the most important muscles to get stronger for golf and for life. For example, I’d much rather see you work on the strength of your upper back or abdominals, than waste time on working on your biceps and triceps. It is just a matter of priorities. While arm strength is important for golf, arm strength can not undo the damage a weak core does to you golf game.
Whole Body Strength
The ability of the muscles of the body to do work and to support the bones during sports activities or daily activities that require movement of the body itself or heavy external loads. For golf, strength has everything to do with power and ball flight distance, but of equal importance, good strength is a key to injury prevention. You could be the most flexible “Gumby” in the world, but if you are weak, you still can get injured due to the repetitive stress of the golf swing.
For women, this is frequently a major cause of injury. While we generally are more flexible than men, we need to balance our flexibility with good strength. And yet, time and again, I hear from women (and men!) that they do not want to do too much strength training because it can make them “muscle bound”. This is one of the biggest myths not only in golf fitness, but in general fitness as well.
Strength training rarely, if ever, makes a woman muscle bound. Genetically, we just do not have the testosterone to make that kind of muscle bulk. Even in men, strength training should not hamper the golf swing UNLESS the man is not addressing flexibility. Unfortunately, this is all too common in men. And, as we discussed earlier, since men generally need more flexibility work than women anyway, this is a recipe for disaster when it comes to golf. There also is a big difference between doing work to get stronger, and doing work to get “bigger”. It is possible to get stronger without building huge muscles. Personally, I added 20 yards of distance by improving my strength without any detriment to my flexibility because I actually stretch after my workouts. Imagine that!
A very important aspect of golf fitness that is actually a compilation of core strength/stability and good flexibility. Good balance is a key to preventing falls and injuries, and moving well in active recreational sports such as soccer or running. For golf, good balance is necessary for a proper golf swing, especially on uneven lies. Even on the tee box, poor balance manifests itself as poor weight transference and a poor finish.
Many people assume that balance is only related to the muscles of the calves and ankles. But balance really starts with our center of gravity, known to you as THE CORE! So, while proper ankle and foot alignment is a part of balance, it is just one component that contributes to good balance. ( Note- balance is also a factor of your eyesight and your vestibular system- the “balance wheel” located in your inner ear. In addition, balance can be affected by neurological conditions and aging itself, which unfortunately we can not control. However, we can and should still try and improve balance even under these conditions.
Now, there are other areas of fitness that are also essential to good health that we did not address in your golf fitness assessment. They are: cardiovascular endurance and nutrition (this includes hydration). We will briefly discuss them in a later column, but let’s just suffice it to say that good nutrition and hydration is essential for our fueling during golf, a game that traditionally lasts quite awhile compared to most sporting events and games. And, obviously, good cardiovascular (and muscular) endurance goes a long way to helping us golf as well on the 17th hole as we did on the 3rd.
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At my yearly physical, my doctor told me if I did not lose weight and begin exercising I would soon become diabetic. I had never exercised and didn’t know where… “Ed, 64, CFO”