Steamboat Springs Golf used to mean 18 holes of driving and one hole of drinking. Though this is a convivial formula, many golfers now are trying to link the game to a total fitness program. Leaving the cart behind and playing 18 holes on foot can give you four to six miles of healthful walking. And what you do before you hit the green can really improve your fitness and your game.
The term "golfer-athlete" shouldn't be an oxymoron, yet golf was one of the last sports to recognize that it needed a fitness component. Too many longtime golfers now have musculoskeletal injuries. Their bodies are breaking down. Excessive practice, explosive swings and bad posture can trigger injuries. The lower back, shoulder, elbow, hand, wrist and knee are particularly vulnerable.
A total fitness program focused on golf can yield dividends both on and off the green. To best address the needs of golfers, however, strength and conditioning programs must be specific to the mechanics, velocity and energy systems used in the different facets of golf.
Dr. John Parziale of Brown University and Dr. Wayne Westcott of the South Shore YMCA in Quincy, Mass., found that coupling strength and flexibility training boosted golfers' performance. Golfers who participated in only 16 total hours of exercise over an eight-week period increased by 5 mph the head speed of their golf club. This translates into hitting the ball about 10 yards farther than golfers who didn't work out.
Increasing hitting distance allows the golfer to use shorter woods or irons, leading to better accuracy. Greater hitting distance combined with accuracy means better golf.
Golfers need to learn proper exercise technique. Pre-round stretches do more harm than good when the lack of a warm-up routine strains cold muscles. The warm-up phase of golf may be the most beneficial for the recreational golfer, as half of back injuries occur on the practice tee. It is a good idea to do some light calisthenics such as arm circles, torso twists, leg kicks and circulated swings before you pick up the club.
Terry Sherrill and Lynn Davis, of Steamboat Springs, frequently golf together. They learned a new way to warm up through the Golf Fit classes offered at the Yampa Valley Medical Center. "We both enjoyed the warm-up and felt it prepared us to play better golf," Sherrill said.
Most sports conditioning programs place emphasis on specific strengthening and stretching exercises. Golf is an activity in which movement or muscle stabilization occurs from your feet to your neck, making golf fitness a total conditioning endeavor.
Poor posture and imbalance sap stroke power and consistency, leading to injury.
Strengthening postural muscles in the back and shoulder can pull golfers who hunch their backs into a neutral posture. Stretching the pectoral and anterior shoulder muscles will help open up the chest for better posture.
A golf fitness program initiated in late winter will help you to improve your golfing strength and flexibility, drive the ball farther, develop golfing endurance, significantly lower your risk of injury and add more years to your golf game.
Mark Jones, M.S., is an exercise physiologist who formerly trained amateur and professional golfers in southern Florida. He is a wellness counselor with the Yampa Valley Health Plan and operates Optimum Fitness.