Maintaining your golf body in the winter

Even though you’re not playing golf in the winter months in the Capital District doesn’t mean you should neglect your body and hope that when you swing a club in the spring, your muscles and posture will be the same. The saying, “If you don’t use it, you lose it,” applies in golf’s offseason. It’s important to fine-tune your golf skills, but in the off months it’s more important to fine-tune your golf body. Here are some simple, functional, golf-specific exercises to perform better at your golf game:

  1. Moving your body will lubricate the joints, muscles, nervous system, and brain. Take a nice rhythmic walk outdoors, weather permitting, or on a treadmill (without holding on to the treadmill). Incorporate walking backwards and sideways to create balance in your legs, hips, and back; this can decrease your risk of injury.
  2. Mobility work before stability work, meaning rotate your joints in a circular manner, in both directions: ankles, hips , shoulders, upper back. Move them forward and backward, side to side. Your body moves in multiple directions so it’s best to train in multiple directions.
  3. Find tight muscles and make sure they get movement. Allowing tight muscles to remain tight will restrict normal joint movement, which can result in injury and poor golf performance. Common areas that are known to be tight are calf muscles, hamstrings, quads, lats, pecs, hands, neck, and shoulder muscles. When stretching, hold for 10 to 30 seconds with proper posture and alignment. An example is a standing hamstring stretch on the stairs. Stand in front of the stairs, toes forward, raise the right leg to the third step, keeping your toe pointed to the ceiling, never reach your fingers to your toes, as that can hurt your back. Lean forward into the stretch with you back straight. Remember, a rounded back hurts your golf swing, so don’t stretch with a rounded back. Repeat on both sides.
  4.  Strength training will add power and speed to your golf swing. Get out your exercise tubing, wrap it around a pole. Hold both handles, and while standing, pull your elbows back to the wall. Generally, golfers need pulling exercises more than pushing, especially if you have rounded shoulders and bad posture. Push-ups, for example, can tighten the pecs, making rounded shoulders worse.
  5. You should also exercise using the tubing in a rotational, diagonal chop. Since golf is rotation, you should incorporate that motion into your routine.

Keep in mind that we all have limitations and tolerance to load and movement. If you exceed that, something will break. Be gentle with yourself. These winter workouts will make you a better golfer, but they can also make you a safer and better snow-shoveler.

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Some exercises not worth doing

I was recently asked by a reporter at The Active Times what workouts I always avoid.  All of you know by now that I advocate functional training over the typical grinding away at the gym, so my answers shouldn’t come as a surprise.  That said, I’d like to share them with you.

Bench Presses and Lay-down Pec Flies
The reason I avoid bench presses is that you do the exercise while you’re lying on your back on a bench.  Unlike pushups, for example, bench presses don’t engage your core at all.  Both bench presses and lay-down pec flies can also create a muscle imbalance that leads to rounded shoulders.  The motion and resistance supplied don’t mimic anything a person would do in real life, and I can’t think of any sports that you play lying down, except maybe luge, and those guys aren’t known for their huge pecs.

Overhead Presses
Many, many people have less-than-optimal range of motion in their shoulders.  If you have a shoulder issue and you can’t have full range of motion without any weights, it doesn’t make sense to put resistance on already poor posture.  That will just exacerbate dysfunction.  If you happen not to have a shoulder issue (although most people do, even if they don’t know it) overhead presses won’t hurt, but athletes who make a living raising their hands over their head like pitchers, golfers, and tennis players, don’t do this exercise because it doesn’t resemble their actual motion in play, and it carries with it a substantial risk of injury.

Machine training
Machines only work muscles in one plane, while our body works in three planes.  Building muscle the way that machines do, it’s very easy to get a muscle imbalance.  In functional training, we emphasize stability and balance.  You can’t build stability and balance if you don’t exercise the companion muscles that your body requires to stabilize itself.  I also avoid the treadmill and the ellipticals as they do not mimic the movements that you actually perform while running and jogging.  Again, functional training emphasizes the body’s own ability to stabilize itself and maintain good posture, and machines do nothing to help you develop that.

Crunches on the floor
I avoid crunches on the floor, because they only exercise your core in one direction: flexion.  Most people already spend too much time with their abs under flexion from sitting and standing with bad posture.  The body needs to extend as well as flex the core muscles to remain in balance.

There you have it.  It’s not an exhaustive list, and only your fitness professional can tell you what it’s okay for you to do, but it’s important to keep in mind that there’s no use in taking one step forward only to take two steps back.

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Breaking the Problem Down

Today’s team approach to player development has changed from what it was in the past. In the early 1990’s, most instructors believed there were three components to address in building the ultimate golfer.
1. Instruction – teaching all aspects of the game: short game, basic fundamentals, specialty shots, etc
2. Mental – Dealing with how to handle the mental stress placed on great players.
3. Equipment – Making sure the golfer is fit properly and has the appropriate set make up.

Later on, as amateur golfers deepened their understanding of how great pro golfers train, golf instructors broke these three ideas down further, making instruction into four parts: course management, shot making skills, basic instruction, and physical conditioning. As the field was refined, in became clear that training was the result of multiple interdependent factors, each relying upon the other to create success.

Similarly, the body itself is composed of multiple interdependent parts, each of which relies upon the others for success. In fact, the golf swing relies on eleven separate body zones, alternating between stable segments and mobile joints. Here they are:

Foot Stable
Ankle Mobile
Knee Stable
Hip Mobile
Pelvis/Sacrum/Lumbar Spine Stable
Thoracic Spine Mobile
Scapulo-Thoracic Stable
Gleno-humeral / Shoulder Mobile
Elbow Stable
Wrist Mobile
Cervical Spine Stable

That’s a lot to keep track of. No surprise, then, that TPI found, in a survey of amateur golfers, that 64.3% lose their posture during a swing, 64% early extend, 56% cast or early release, 45% of players have a flat shoulder plane, and many other swing defects are prevalent as well.

If you want to keep improving, you have to keep finding new ways to break your problem down. Maybe there’s just one link in your chain holding you back. You won’t know until you have an understanding of all the interconnected parts of your golf swing.

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