Golf specific fitness is not just for tour players anymore. Any golfer can tune their body to improve performance by following a golf specific training program. Obviously the average recreational golfer does not have the time or money that a tour player has to invest in a high-tech home gym or spend hours a day working out, but a little work using tips from golf fitness articles or other reliable resources will go a long way.
Have you seen some of the tour players laately? There are definitely more slim and trim PGA and LPGA players out there than 20 years ago. Just look at Tiger Woods, Camilo Villegas, Annika Sorenstam and Natalie Gulbis. These golfers take their fitness routines seriously and they have the success to show it makes a difference.
With the advent of numerous technological advances in golf equipment one might think that the average handicap over the last 15-20 years would have dropped sharply. The fact is there has been minimal if any change in the average American golfer's handicap. The clubs do not swing themselves; new technology still requires a human body. The most important piece of equipment you own is your body and to maximize your golf performance potential, youought to strictly consider training it for golf specific movements.
A golf fitness program should have a number of different variables, which create a comprehensive plan to improve your overall golf performance. When I say improve I mean your improved ability to safely make a powerful swing that is biomechanically sound, that will avoid potential injury and give you maximum distance with each club. A sound basic golf fitness program will incorporate exercises to improve flexibility, strength and balance.
Are you flexible? Or more technically, do you have appropriate muscle length in multiple planar movements that make up the golf swing? If you are not working at it, you might be surprised at how little flexibility you actually have. The classic linear planar static stretches (20+ seconds long held in one position) are not the primary flexibility exercises golfers should needarily use when trying to improve their golf specific flexibility. The golf swing moves in multiple planes all at the same time with the transverse (rotational) plane dominating throughout. Golfers should there before work to improve transverse plane mobility with exercises.
The stiffness of our tissues is increasing with our age, so our flexibility is diminishing with each passing year. We are, however, able to maintain or even reverse our decreasing flexibility with consistent and proper stretching techniques.
What I see most often when working with injured patients and clients wishing to avoid injury are muscle length impairments and imbalances in the hip and spinal musculature. Often the imbalance in length can be attributed to imbalances in strength of their antagonists (the muscles that oppose their action). So in order to normalize length, you must also normalize strength. Too much of one and not enough of the other is a recipe for potential injury.
To make a great turn on the ball we need to get separation between our upper and lower body. If controlled, the separation will create power similar to how a spring creates energy when wound and let go. There is maximum coil in the back swing when the rotation of the hips is somewhat limited and the upper body is allowed to rotate further (shoulder turn). This is facilitated by flexibility in the thoracic spine and shoulders. There is maximum uncoil as the hips turn toward the ball and there is some lag time before the upper body follows.
A general rule is that the shoulders should turn twice as far as the hips. So if the hips turn 45 degrees, ideally the shoulders should turn 90 degrees, which puts your mid-back facing the target. In order to make an ideal turn there needs to be transverse plane rotation. This occurs in the hips, in the spine / ribs, in the shoulders and the neck. Therefore, gaining motion or flexibility in these areas is important to create an environment for a healthy turn on the ball. It is important to know which area (s) you may need specific work to improve.
The golf swing does not just occur in the transverse plane, however. It also is a forward bending axis that requires length in the hamstrings (back of the thigh) from address through impact and then length in the hip flexors (front of the hip) at the finish in order to avoid multiple swing losses and compensations, which may lead lead to injury.
Again we need balance between the length and the strength of our tissues. If you have a great turn as described previously but do not possess good hip or trunk rotational strength, you will have difficulty creating a powerful uncoil as well as even staying stable over your feet. With a decrease in hip / trunk stability you will also see an increase in the amount of sway, slide, and other various lower body compensations that extremely bring your club off plane and therefore do not give you optimum ball striking ability.
"Core strength" is obviously a buzzword in the fitness and rehabilitation industries and has made its way into the mainstream. It is nice to see fitness and rehabilitation professionals using more core stability exercises as a basis for strengthening various other body parts. If we are not strong at the core, we can not be as strong away from the core. Core stability helps give us the ability to transfer power in the transition zone of the golf swing-from coil to uncoil. It will also give us protection from injuring the low back, the most common golf injury I see clinically.
The core is made up of a number of different muscle groups. Most importantly the core is made up of the three layers of abdominals and the lumbar paraspinal muscles but also includes the lateral hips, the gluts, and the pelvic floor. When specifically strength training the core for golf, it is best to try to mimic the swing as much as possible. In other words use rotational movements when possible such as oblique crunches on a physioball, rotational lunges and cable system diagonal patterns.
A golf specific strength-training program should also include exercises for the shoulder and hip rotators. There is a pattern here; rotational strength is critically important to improve power off the tee and provide protection from injury including but not limited to rotator cuff tendonitis, tennis / golfer's elbow, lower back pain and hip bursitis.
In order to be able to stand over the golf ball and progress through the golf swing, where weight is initially balanced then transfers right partially and then back to the left almost completely finishing with 90-95% of your weight on the left leg, a considerable amount of balance must be achieved. I see a lot of recreational golfers unable to finish the golf swing mostly because they can not stand confidently on that left leg (for right handed players). If the body knows that it can not basically stand on one leg for any length of time, it will avoid it. And without the smooth weight shift transitions, the bio-mechanics of a good swing can not be achieved, therefore creating compensation that lead to swing faults, mishits and possibly injury.
To enhance your ability to transfer weight onto your finishing leg, practice at home just standing on that leg. Progress this by standing on that leg while the rest of your body rotates to the finish position and even more so by standing on an uneven surface like a pillow or couch cushion. Typically, when you are practicing on the range or even playing a round, try to hold your finish position for at least five seconds or until the ball returns to turf. This can make a huge difference in your ability to confidently finish your swing, which then enhances your consistency and power.
In order to enjoy this game of golf a little more, I believe we could use more golf specific fitness found on reliable sources like articles and others. It does take commitment and compliance to fully reach your physical golf peak. Even a little work will boost your overall fitness and will help your golf performance. It does help to have someone trained in the biomechanics of the golf swing and in strength and conditioning to guide you through a safe and successful program (like that in Bend, Oregon). Here's a happy and healthy year of golf in Central Oregon.