Are You Fit to Tee Off?

Golfers spend a lot of money on equipment and private lessons just to improve their score. However, according to Gregory Florez of First Fitness, a company that deals with professional athletes, golfers tend to neglect their most important asset – their bodies. Golf fitness expert Neil Chasan says a golfer should regard his body as the 15th club in the golf bag.

While golf is not a physically demanding sport like soccer or basketball, it is still places tremendous strain on the elbows, shoulders, spine, and knees.

Being fit will not guarantee a 100 percent improvement in your handicap or completely protect you from injuries, but it will help you play better golf and reduce your risk of injury.

According to Wayne Wescott, Research Fitness Director of the YMCA, “Golf is far from a huffing and puffing activity so cardiovascular conditioning has little practical application for improving golf performance’’. However, he points out that aerobic exercise can be “beneficial with respect to heart health and may help reduce fatigue during the last hour of play”. Stamina during the last couple of holes of the last day of an important tournament may make all the difference between winning and losing.

Flexible strength
Westcott says that in 1995, only two professional players were lifting weights. By 2000, almost every pro player was pumping iron. The inspiration for this change in attitude was Tiger Woods who, according to StrengthFit.com, put on 20 pounds of muscle in one year of weight lifting and used those added pounds to make par-5s obsolete.

Credit for the attitude shift towards strength training should also go to Westcott’s landmark study conducted with amateur and professional golfers. The 8-week study used two protocols: strength training alone and strength training plus flexibility.

His research team discovered that the strength training alone group improved clubhead speed by 3 miles per hour without adversely affecting flexibility. It also produced a six-percent improvement in resting blood pressure.

The strength training plus flexibility group achieved an increase in clubhead speed of 5 miles per hour. They also increased hip and shoulder flexibility by 24 percent.

The golfers involved reported “longer drives, lower scores, less fatigue and no injuries during the following golf season’’.

Golf research
The Centinela Hospital biomechanics laboratory started to research the golf swing in 1983 after noticing that they were treating a large number of golf-related injuries. The lab has since published many papers on the subject. Here is what their research has found.

Contrary to the popular opinion that it is the left side of the body that is mainly responsible for the power in the golf swing, the muscular output of the left and right side of the body is equal. Therefore, training exercises of any kind (strength, flexibility, or golf drills) should be balanced.

The move towards the ball occurs first at the hips and is followed by the arms. Power is generated in the legs as they push into the ground and the energy created travels up the body. The trunk and arms are not responsible for power in the swing. Instead, they are used to transfer the power from the legs, buttocks, and hips out to the club.

The largest physical difference between highly skilled players and less skilled players is the amount of trunk rotation. Poor trunk rotation and flexibility produces a shorter arc within which the club can gather speed.

In order to get the clubhead to high speed within a shorter arc, the less flexible player has to ‘’muscle’’ the club or use more of his arm muscles to get the ball to fly a longer distance. This leads to early fatigue, poor golf skills, and increases the chances of injury.

The scapular (muscles that attach to the shoulder blades) and rotator cuff (four small muscles that surround the shoulder joint like a cuff) muscles are crucial in the swing but they are weak in most people. They are one of the most easily injured muscles in golfers.

The muscular patterns used by men and women are the same. There is no need for different exercise programs for male and female golfers.

Ideal golf fitness program.
The ideal program would include aerobic exercise, strength training, flexibility exercises, and core exercises that improve rotation, balance and coordination.

Twenty minutes of aerobic exercise is enough to improve stamina and heart health unless weight loss is also desired (forty to sixty minutes would be more appropriate).

The focus of the strength training exercises is to get stronger muscles without making them significantly bigger. Flexibility training should include “dynamic” flexibility exercises that are done while moving.

Yoga, Pilates and stability ball training are excellent core conditioning programs to achieve flexible strength and rotation.

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