Better fitness leads to better golf

The power and fitness of Tiger Woods has changed the look of the 21st century PGA Tour player.  Credit: Craig Jones/Allsport

It was Mark Twain who once penned, "Golf is a good walk spoiled."

Twain was a much better writer than a golfer, but even he understood the physicality of the game and that it entails more than just a Saturday stroll in the park.

Until recently, few players believed that fitness even mattered in golf. But almost overnight, today's PGA Tour professionals started to morph themselves from beanpoles and beer bellies into chiseled athletes. It has resulted in record-breaking scores on the PGA Tour for several seasons.

Tour players have admittedly taken the exercise phenomenon to the extreme.

Just ask Paul Calloway, who served as the PGA Tour's first physical therapist from 1984-88, and now runs his own golf therapy business called Body Balance for Performance, a fitness program specific to golfers.

Calloway's program, which is sold to physical therapists across the nation, asks the more ambitious golfer to meet with one of his sports medicine specialists to determine: standing posture (viewed from the front, back and both sides); standing balance (tested with eyes open and closed); and flexibility, mobility, strength and stability of the muscles and joints of the lumbar spine (low back), pelvis, hips, thoracic spine (mid-back), cervical spine (neck), shoulder complexes, elbows and wrists.

Sound complicated?

It is, but Calloway's claims have been used by such champions as Tiger Woods, Jack Nicklaus and Raymond Floyd.

At the lesser extreme, the electric cart has removed the need of cardiovascular health for most weekend hackers.

However, if exercise can shave strokes off Tiger's and Jack's game, it's difficult to argue that a simple stretching and exercise program to improve flexibility and stamina can do same for the rest of us.

Rick Bowser, R.P.T., of Aspen Ridge Physical Therapy in Layton, helped create the following set of stretching, flexibility and cardiovascular exercises. We made them as simple as possible for the golfer of any level. (Weights and resistance bands can be added to most of the exercises as needed. However, Bowser suggests you contact your physician or therapist before beginning any vigorous exercise program.)

Cardiovascular improvement

Competitive golfers from the professional level to the junior level are required to walk each round of a tournament. Even the part-time hacker should take pride in walking at least nine holes. It's guaranteed to improve your game.

Bowser suggested cardiovascular improvement can be achieved quickly and simply by walking or riding an exercise bike each day. A duration of about 20 to 30 minutes each day should accomplish your needs.

Posture

"This is all about aligning the ears with the shoulders and the shoulders with the hips," said Bowser. "It is important to strengthen the erector spinae muscles."

In layman's terms, Bowser said he works with many golfers who have hunched shoulders, which results in back and shoulder pain following a round of golf.

  • Corner stretch: Facing toward the corner of a room, place the elbows on each side of the wall with forearms flat against the wall. Then with the head and chin up, push forward to force the shoulders backward over the hips.

    Perform the exercise for 20 to 30 seconds and complete three to five repetitions at least a couple times per day.

    Balance

    At clinics across the nation, pros talk about balance being among the biggest flaws for amateur golfers. Watch the professionals swing and they almost never fall to one side or the other on their backswing or upon completion of the swing.

    Maintaining proper balance over every shot can lead to a more consistent swing plane.

  • Leg swings: Stand on one leg and swing the other leg forward and backward (in front of, and then behind the torso) repeatedly while keeping the head still and maintaining solid balance through the hips. Continue swinging the right leg until the left hip begins to tire. Then swing the same right leg to the left and right across the left leg until fatigue sets in. Then switch legs.

    Once this exercise is mastered, try it again with the eyes closed.

    Hip-torso rotation

    A full hip turn is crucial to a powerful swing. Golf analysts constantly diagram and rave about the amount of flexibility Tiger has through his torso. It's not uncommon to see Tiger perform the following exercise during his routine.

  • Trunk rotation: Place a club behind the back, holding it parallel to the ground between the elbows. Then, keeping the feet stable on the ground and the head facing and staying forward, turn the hips from side to side. Stretching firmly, hold on each side for 20 to 30 seconds and then release and turn fully to the other side.

    Repeat for three-to-five repetitions on each side. Do this exercise at least two times per day.

    Leg drive

    While many instructors teach that power is generated through torso rotation, strong leg drive is often over-looked. If nothing else, exercises for the legs will help during long walks on hilly courses.

  • Forward lunges: Stand erect with the hand on the hips. Then, while keeping the back flat and straight, step forward and bend the knees to feel a stretch in the muscles and joints of the hips and legs. Continue on one leg until fatigued, then switch to the opposite leg.

    PGA Tour workouts

    The following is a sample of several PGA Tour players' workout schedules:

    Stuart Appleby

    Two hours a day, three to five days per week, Appleby does intense riding on the stationary bike for 45 minutes.

    He also adds general weight lifting -- the bench press and squats -- to improve the arms shoulders and stomach.

    During a tourney, Appleby will decrease the intensity of the workout and exercise mostly following his round.

    Rocco Mediate

    He works out five or six days per week, emphasizing abdominal muscles. He does 100-rep crunches each workout and performs aerobics for 40 minutes. He also lifts light weights using high-intensity repetition.

    Grant Waite

    Waite works different body parts on different days. Monday: chest and shoulders; Tuesday: cardiovascular; Wednesday: back and very light arms. Later in the week: Plyometrics, weights for legs and more cardiovascular work.

    Other than a light warmup, Waite won't workout before a round and takes at least one day off during a tournament.

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