Golf is my passion from April to September. I try to get out when I see the first sign of green on the public courses. I am not a great golfer, but I find it relaxing and somewhat physical. Every year when I begin a new season, my body seems to take a step backward. I know it is inevitable, but I want to feel ready this spring. Any advice for an old hacker who loves the game? - Jim
Golf is a game that is easy to love. I love it, too. It has the unique ability to invite you to relax as it lures you into a day of physical activity. But, as with any sport, it requires basic conditioning to prepare your muscles and joints for 18 holes and four to five hours of concentrated effort.
When activity is cyclical like golf, resuming where you left off the previous year places unaccustomed stress on your body. Unless you live in a climate that is warm year round, it is impossible to play golf without extended lay-offs. And because it's challenging to keep golf-specific muscles in the swing of things, you must recognize the need for regular conditioning exercise that is not limited to golf season.
Each year that passes adds to the challenge of withstanding the unusual stress a powerful golf swing puts on your joints as they become less resilient and more prone to injury. It is essential that you devote time to your pastime before the first day of golf.
You need to focus on two aspects of conditioning - resistance training and flexibility. Fifteen to 30 minutes spent on a few exercises and a few stretches will go a long way toward pain-free golf. Before you do anything, you need to warm the entire body up for five to 10 minutes - walking, cycling, stair-stepping or jogging.
Golf is spent repeating a series of explosive movements and will over-train some muscles and neglect others. Movement is performed in the same direction each time, therefore continually places more stress on one side of the body. This can result in subtle postural changes and muscle imbalances.
Your lower back muscles may over-develop, which can leave the abdominals under-developed. Ultimately if larger muscle groups take over at the expense of the smaller, stabilizing muscles, it can cause pain and over-use injury.
Resistance training that is not golf-specific has its benefits, but it will not necessarily prevent pain after a day on the links. A training program that seeks to balance the muscles from side to side and mimics the mechanics of a golf swing is the smarter way to prepare for the game.
For instance, does a bench press resemble any movement in golf? No. Rather than performing traditional strength moves, consider the benefits of an exercise that incorporates the whole body, focuses on the core region and rotation of the hips. The idea is to counterbalance the repetitive nature of a one-sided golf swing.
Research has shown that you will gain greater joint flexibility and strength if you follow your resistance training with stretches that include rotation in the core, lower back, shoulders and hips. This approach will give you the best results. Here are two golf-specific stretches that should be done when the body is warm.
The first is done in a lunge position with a rotation and promotes flexibility in the hip flexors, quadriceps and core muscles. Use a middle iron to assist the stretch.
• Place the club vertically on the ground to your right.
• Lunge down with your left leg forward and your back knee in a bent position.