Golf and Fitness are two terms that can finally go hand in hand, thanks to one Tiger Woods and his famous mystery workout routine, and the other professional and amateur players who have followed his lead. Once an activity perhaps identified more with pot bellies, motorized carts and cups of beer on the course than physical strength and a good physique, there is now no question that golf has entered the world of a full fledged sport that requires physical training to perform at its best. Golfers on the professional tours look like athletes now, with more and more toned athletic bodies being seen on TV crushing the ball down the longest, most difficult courses in the world. Spending some time in the gym has been shown that it can make as big a difference in a golfer’s score as time on the range or putting green. The game itself has changed, and the way players approach it has changed, as well.
As a personal trainer and avid golfer, the relationship between fitness and golf is a natural one to maintain, but it wasn’t that way when I started playing the game as a junior. I first picked up clubs when I was about 5, then started playing seriously by about the seventh grade. By seriously I mean it had become the obsession that many golfers feel when they realize they would rather be golfing than just about anything else. A group of friends and I played regularly, and by high school, we were not only on our golf team together, we were some of the best players in our entire small town.
I was never able to hit the ball as far as my friends on the team, and one thing they told me over and over was that I should lift weights and get stronger, which at the time they did because they also played on the basketball team in the winter. As a skinny cross country runner at the time, I saw no need nor had any interest in lifting, as the weight room intimidated me in high school. I look back almost 30 years later as a much stronger, longer and better player than I was then (because I lift weights!) and wonder what might have been had I listened to them.
What my friends on the golf team did in the high school weight room in the early 80’s was primitive to the workout science and programs that are available to golfers now, but they were definitely on to something. One way to look at it was that before it became popular, they were athletes who happened to play golf, and it showed in the length they had off the tee. This athletic approach can be applied to any golfer’s game in the present day and immediately improve their ability to play better. With some examination, it is easy to see why.
The golf swing itself is actually an incredibly complex movement that combines virtually every muscle in the body into one coordinated action. The requirements of balance, coordination, flexibility, stability, strength and power all come into play in just one swing. Over the course of a practice session or round, endurance becomes a factor as well. Having some physical fitness in all of these areas can make for a much more effective swing. It is a bit ironic that golf itself does not require you to be in shape to play (unlike running a 10 k race, for example, which needs a level of fitness to even be attempted), nor will it really get you in shape by playing regularly (unless you walk rather than ride a cart). Yet working out overall dramatically increases the ability to perform the golf swing itself. So many players look to the next big expensive driver to add yardage off the tee. Well, what it they could hit it harder by being in better shape, and straighter, too?
Getting into the specifics of golf fitness, flexibility is paramount in the modern golf swing. The ability to turn the body through the trunk away from the ball, storing potential energy on the backswing, while maintaining an anchored, solid stance through the legs and hips, is what has been shown to generate the most power. Tiger Woods has a tremendous shoulder turn on his backswing which sets him up to uncoil with great speed through the ball on the downswing.
A person taking golf lessons and attempting to emulate Tiger’s shoulder turn typically doesn’t even have a body physically capable of doing that motion effectively! They may be taking lessons, yet are prevented from practicing the motion that they are learning by a lack of flexibility and fitness in the muscles of the trunk and back. Only by improving their fitness in these areas through proper training can they then expect to perform the proper motion.
In addition to flexibility, core strength and stability throughout the body are essential as well. These fitness terms refer to the body’s strength in the trunk and the ability of the muscles of the entire body to operate in a coordinated, athletic way, which provide a stable “platform” in the body for hitting the golf ball. The more coordinated and stable the body is, the less motion is wasted during the swing and the more effort goes straight into hitting the ball where it is meant to go.
After flexibility is attained and a good amount of core strength and stability as well, more basic strength can then be added into a fitness routine. This could be along the lines of the classic term “lifting weights” that my high school buddies wanted me to do. A flexible and stable body that gets stronger, as long as the flexibility is not lost, can add significantly more effort to the golf swing, especially in situations where the ball may be in the rough or have a lie that requires more effort than the typical swing. If you watched Tiger Woods during the US Open in June, 2007, his physique from his fitness routine looked more muscular than ever, yet was very flexible. There were comments from the TV announcers many times on the level of his fitness and how it played out in making his game more effective. He is quite capable of hitting shots no one else on earth can because of his fitness level. As a result, he has more shots available to him to help him score.
So we know now how fitness has changed the game of golf and what is available to the player who chooses to add more fitness to their routine and golf game. Anyone can benefit from some exercise that is golf specific, and can participate at the level that they want. A person doesn’t have to workout like Tiger Woods to get better. Sometimes even just working out regularly itself can make all the difference.
Copyright (c) 2007 Charles Carter