Is golf a game for those who can’t take the physical rigours of other sports? Is it played by unfit people with a bottle of beer in one hand and a cigarette in another, gently rolling down the greens in a golf cart?
Golf lived with these stereotypes for a long time, till Tiger Woods burst on to the scene—lean, athletic and muscular. Modern professional golfers are highly athletic, and the game at its top level needs power, endurance and serious physical conditioning. Look around the Indian amateur circuit and you see that the new kids on the block—people like Trishul Chinnappa, Ashbeer Saini and S. Chikkarangappa—can whip up some serious power on the course.
Proper physical conditioning can raise the level of your game, and prevent both injuries and premature performance plateaus, even if you are a weekend golfer. In a three-part series starting this week, we will speak about the physical demands of golf, and show you the best way to train for it.
Consider the following
Key elements: The game requires flexibility, stability, strength and power
• The head of the golf club can travel over 100 miles (or 160.9km) per hour during a drive, an effort that can be compared to fast bowling in cricket or a serve in tennis.
• When driving a ball, amateur golfers generate almost 90% of their peak power—this is approximately the same intensity as picking up a weight in the gym that is so heavy that you can only lift it four times before giving in to fatigue.
Also, consider the game’s demands
• Changing weather conditions
• A varied terrain
• Prolonged mental clarity
• Stable sugar levels
• Precision motor control for hours on end
• The need to generate power without losing balance and stability
• Stress of competition.
Like any athlete, golfers too suffer injuries—most commonly in the back, hips, shoulders, elbow and wrist. Golfers should train like athletes using programmes scientifically designed to improve synchronization and integration of the whole body.
As a fitness professional, I would not dream of sending my client out to the golf course without some physical literacy.
The golf swing, for example, has a powerful functional element, and uses every major muscle and joint in the body, and a golfer needs an exercise programme that is designed keeping this in mind. This means an exercise protocol that ensures flexibility, maintenance of centre of gravity, generalized motor programme development and promotion of good posture. General exercises will not address these issues; neither will a machine-based conditioning programme. In many cases, such programmes can actually decrease the performance of the golfer.
“Unlike golf, bodybuilding does not include a functional component; success in bodybuilding does not depend upon precision, timing, control, accuracy or skill,” writes Paul Chek, an expert in the field of corrective and high performance exercise kinesiology and also the founder of the C.H.E.K (corrective holistic exercise kinesiology) Institute, California, US, in his 2001 book Golf Biomechanic’s Manual—Whole In One Golf Conditioning.
The importance of flexibility
Golf is rotation! To play at full potential, the golfer must possess the ability to rotate almost every joint to its functional capacity. If there are movement restrictions in the shoulder girdle, torso, pelvis or hips, there will be compensations elsewhere in the musculoskeletal system. The result of such compensation is often seen as faults in the golf swing at best, and long-term injuries at worst.
• If the scapulothoracic joint (the shoulder blade area) is limited in motion, then the shoulder joint will have to compensate. Should compensation occur at the shoulder joint, the chances of hooking or slicing the ball increase dramatically.
• Restricted shoulder turn, if compensated with excessive spinal rotation, may lead to spinal injury. Moreover, if the spine cannot effectively compensate for lack of shoulder turn, the result is excessive head motion to maintain the swing plane (the arc the golf club should follow). This leads to both “fat” shots, where the club hits the ground before hitting the ball, as well as “thin” shots, where the club hits the ball on its top edge instead of the middle.
• Another common compensation for decreased range of motion at the hip and back is excessive elevation on to the toes of the left foot during the back swing. This inevitably results in fat shots due to the chopping action on the downswing.
The golf conditioning process
To be a consistent ball striker, a golfer has to have exceptional dynamic as well as static stability throughout the swing. Interestingly, the posture of the arms in the golf swing, as described by American golfer Ben Hogan, is almost identical to the shoulder and arm position optimal for the initiation of Olympic weightlifting techniques like the deadlift or power clean.
The golf conditioning process should follow this sequence: flexibility, stability, strength and finally, power. It is important that the factors are addressed in the correct order. Flexibility is the catalyst for all subsequent aspects of golf conditioning. Once flexibility is achieved and the musculoskeletal system is balanced, then you can work towards static and dynamic stability without risking injury. Stability creates a solid framework for all movements and activities. When stability is achieved, strength can be built using functional movement patterns that will readily transfer to the game of golf. Finally, the last progression is to develop power—the more power the golfer can transfer from his body through the club to the ball, the farther he will be able to drive the ball.
In the next edition, we will outline a plan to improve flexibility and stability for golfers.
Ranadeep Moitra is a certified coach from The National Strength and Conditioning Association of America, and has worked with the Bengal cricket team, East Bengal Football Club, and the Indian Under-21 cricket team. He currently coaches the Indian golf team.
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