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  • Brian Tully, MS, EP-C

Fit for Golf

(As printed in Leland Magazine)

Spring has arrived which for many of you not-so-hard-core golfers means a return to the links after a mini break during the colder months. Your heart and your mind are ready to get back out there, but is your body?

Unfortunately it is not enough to simply know how you should swing. The real road block is whether or not your body can move and stabilize through all the necessary components of a mechanically sound golf swing. And does your body have the muscular stamina to maintain that stabilization through all the swings of a full round of golf. For some of us, that will mean a lot more swings than for others.

When you think about it, the golf swing is really a dynamic symphony of movement consisting of 5 interconnected phases (set-up, backswing, transition, downswing to impact, follow through). A breakdown in mechanics anywhere in these phases will negatively affect the swing, since all the phases are so dependent on each other. It is this breakdown in the swing that contributes to ingrained faulty movement patterns and compensations, which will ultimately lead to pain, injury, inconsistent play, and poor performance.

Although golf is considered a leisure paced sport, injuries are common. Studies show that the areas of injury are typically in the low back, elbow, wrist/hand, shoulder, and knee. It seems no joint is safe from this “leisure” sport. Statistics actually suggest that half of all golfers will experience a low back injury at some point in their playing career. That is a scary statistic. No one wants a back injury.

When you look at these statistics of looming injury, it almost seems unfair to be living here in the middle of 3 beautiful golf courses that seem to be ready to break us…if they haven’t already got to you. Fear not though, there is hope. The main contributing factors to golf injury (overuse and poor mechanics, paired with existing musculoskeletal dysfunction) can be minimized, if they are identified and corrected. Studies have shown that an integrated training program that addresses the demands specific to the sport of golf can have a profound affect on numerous levels; including minimizing risk of injury and improving overall skill and performance.

A well developed golf fitness program takes an integrated approach to incorporate flexibility training for improved range of motion, core and balance training for improved stabilization and force generation, and strength training for improved coordination and stamina.

The hips, spine, and shoulders, must all have good dynamic range of motion to achieve proper takeaway and downswing. While good segmental stabilization is required at transition and downswing to generate the required concentric forces from the ground up. The extreme dynamic movement of the golf swing requires a high level of neuromuscular efficiency (nervous system and muscle communication), also known as coordination. Improving this neuromuscular efficiency creates a more effective and repeatable swing, which leads to an increase in driving distance and a more consistent swing.

So how do you determine where to begin with your own training to improve your game and decrease your risk of injury? There are assessments and tests that will help identify your specific areas of tightness, weakness, and imbalance. Based on the results of these assessments a series of exercises and stretches designed for your specific needs can be put into a succinct routine to follow. With consistency and practice your body should respond rather quickly with noticeable results on and off the course.

In fact, recent studies have shown that you can see results in as little as 8 weeks with a properly developed integrated training program. These results include significantly improved swing mechanics and golf performance by improving club head speed, decreasing trajectory errors, and reducing total golf scores. And a better swing also means a decrease in pain and injury. If you ask me, lower scores and less pain sounds like a win all around.

Of course, if you don’t know how to swing it is best to get a lesson or two from a pro. Just about every decent golf course will have one. However, as I said in the beginning…knowing how to swing properly and having a functional body that will allow you to swing properly, are two different things. Getting your body capable to repeatedly and consistently perform a golf swing requires some element of strengthening, stability, and range of motion training. These elements are found in the fitness world. To have the ultimate success on the course, you need to marry the two worlds of golf and fitness. This will you give many years of pain free and enjoyable golf.

We are very lucky to live amongst these amazing golf courses and have the beautiful weather of our area to go along with them, so let’s get out there and enjoy them. Don’t forget to warm-up before your round and stretch after your round. And remember…if it goes right, it’s a slice; if it goes left, it’s a hook; if it goes straight, it’s a miracle…or was it your excellent golf fitness training program you have been following?

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