Although we’re lucky in the Hill Country that outdoor activities, including golf, can be done nearly year around, and April just personifies perfect golf weather. Temperatures are warm (but not hot), grass is green, flowers and shrubs are in bloom – and the golf course is calling! We can finally put away the cart covers and warm-up jackets and really enjoy pleasant days on the course. Whereas winter golf can be sporadic because of the weather, limiting your weekly rounds, Spring allows for much more consistent play.
ARE YOU READY? Or should I ask - is your body ready?
WHAT DOES GOLF DO YO YOUR BODY?
Even though golf may seem like a rather tame sport – after all, it’s not a contact sport like football – it doesn’t have the jarring impact of tennis, and certainly lacks the danger factors of snow skiing. It’s just a walk in the park – with a set of clubs – right? Well, not exactly. The golf swing is actually a complex and rather unnatural series of movements that work the entire body. From the feet all the way up to the shoulders, every joint in between must be either mobile or stable in order to execute the swing properly and to avoid injury. Every major muscle group is also involved, holding those joints in place or allowing freedom of movement.
There really is more to the game than just getting the proper set of clubs and shoes, learning the rules, and then setting out on the course. Even going to the expense of lessons from a golf professional and hours of practice will not guarantee a satisfactory experience. A golf pro will instruct you on proper set up and swing techniques, but success will be limited by what your body allows you to do. Most golf pros will have to adjust your swing to compensate for bodily limitations, but that just reinforces poor movement patterns and further increases the risk of injury.
As with any other sport, exercise will help you become better and safer, and the proper conditioning must be golf-focused. Only by knowing what is required of the body in an effective golf swing can you understand which types of exercise are needed. Many golfers only focus on POWER. “I want to hit the ball farther.” DISTANCE will come, but only when the body has enough fl exibility, joint mobility and stability, muscle endurance, and balance to execute the proper swing.
Do golfers need aerobic exercise? Defi nitely! Any exercise which elevates the heart rate for an extended period of time will enhance fi tness level, whether it is brisk walking, running, bicycle riding, swimming, or elliptical use. Golf is usually a four hour sport, necessitating a proper fitness level, especially in hotter weather.
Do golfers need strength training? We all need to work on building muscle mass and maintaining muscle strength, especially as we age. However, golfers need to focus on light weights with more repetitions in order to avoid building bulky muscles, which will limit their ability to maintain flexibility, essential for a fluid golf swing.
So, what kind of exercise is particularly suited to golfers? Pilates-Based Exercise
WHY PILATES? Pilates is a method of body conditioning that strengthens and tones muscles while, at the same time, increasing fl exibility and balance. The exercises encourage the use of the body as a whole unit, developing strong, lean muscles, rather than allowing individual muscle groups to develop isolated strength and become bulky. Here are fi ve Pilates’ concepts that specifi cally correlate to golf:
• Core Strength – If all the cor e muscles, including abdominal, low back, hips and buttocks, are strong, the body has a solid foundation from which to swing a club.
• Strength with Flexibility – Muscle groups are stretched as well as strengthened, resulting in fl exibility. • Lengthening the Spine – The exer cises lengthen the spine and separate the vertebrae, which, along with core strengthening, lessen the chance of back pain.
• Alignment and Postur e – Proper spinal alignment and posture is emphasized, leading to effi cient movement and increased rotational ability.
• Stability and Balance – The deep abdominal muscles are worked, which stabilize the pelvis and back, preventing injury and improving balance.
Every Monday morning at Comanche Trace, a group of club members gathers in the clubhouse for Pilates class. Some have been attending for over four years, while new members are welcomed at any time. Some are golfers, some are not, but all of them benefi t from the series of exercises which emphasize the above-listed benefi ts. Although not specifi cally golf-based, the exercises help to condition their bodies not just for golf, but for everyday life activities. Here are a few of their stories:
Trish Butler – Trish lived overseas when she started playing golf, which meant walking and carrying her bag – four to fi ve miles per round. That ended when she moved back to the states, but she still tries to walk regularly outside of golf. She’s taken Pilates for over four years. The benefi ts she has recognized include increased balance and more effi cient breathing. Her neck and core muscle strength have improved, leading to better range of motion and fl exibility.
Chuck Williams – Chuck has consistently exercised for the last thirty years. In addition to Pilates, he does aerobic exercise on the elliptical and stationary bikes, strength training and stretching. He has taken Pilates classes for twelve years. He used to have lower back issues most of the time, but Pilates has nearly eliminated that problem. Eleven years ago he began to have knee problems and a doctor predicted a knee replacement would occur within ten years. So far – same knee! He also feels that Pilates has enhanced his shoulder and trunk fl exibility.
Margie Hirsch – Margie claims to be the oldest in the class. I’m not sure about that, but I can affi rm she is one of the strongest! You should see her in a full plank position – impressive! She has had a regular exercise program for at least twenty-fi ve years, which includes stretching, light weight training, and walking. She’s done the Pilates class for over three years and feels it has given her greater fl exibility, better core strength, and fewer back problems.
Steve Hultquist – Steve moved to Comanche Trace in 2011 and won the MGA Championship later that same year, so obviously he had already mastered the game of golf. What did happen to him, however, was a back injury shortly after that. He began a doctor recommended stretching program, and then last December joined the Pilates class. He found that the stretches were compatible to what he was already doing, and the core strengthening was also helping him to recover. His biggest benefi t so far is not having to take ibuprofen every time he plays golf! Maybe there is something to this Pilates…
Four different golfers and four different handicap ranges, but very similar conclusions. Pilates can help with physical conditions that limit the golf game, primarily lower back issues. The core strength gained will enable golfers to extend their years of playing time, and the greater fl exibility makes the game even more satisfying. From a golfer’s perspective, who could ask for more?