While it is true a round of golf provides minimal fitness benefits, a reasonable level of musculoskeletal conditioning is necessary to prevent both traumatic and overuse injuries. Unlike walking and putting, which are almost risk-free activities, the golf driving action is an unusually complex, explosive and problematic movement that has a relatively high injury potential.
Golf conditioning program
A well-designed strength training program could increase golfers’ muscle strength and decrease their risk of injury.
My friend, Fred Dolan, was convinced some specific stretching exercises could increase golfers’ joint flexibility and likewise reduce their risk of injury. We therefore combined our efforts to develop a basic golf conditioning program that involved a dozen Nautilus strength-training exercises and six stretches on a Stretch Mate apparatus. The total training program required less than 30 minutes for completion, and we had no difficulty finding subjects for our research study.
The middle-aged and older men and women who participated in our first golf conditioning program significantly improved their physical fitness, body composition and personal health status. However, just as important to them, they increased their driving ability (club head speed) by more than 5 mph after just two months of training. Although injury prevention is sometimes hard to quantify, this group of golfers experienced no physical problems during the following playing season.
The next year, Dr. John Parziale, a physician specializing in golf injuries, joined our team and we recruited previously injured golfers into our next research program. The results were almost the same, with all of the golfers attaining higher levels of fitness and driving power, and none of the participants experiencing an injury during the following playing season.
To date, 77 golfers (average age 57) have completed our golf conditioning program. After just eight weeks of brief strength-training sessions (30 minutes, three days a week), these golfers made some impressive physical improvements. On average, they added 3.9 pounds of muscle, they lost 4.1 pounds of fat, they increased their muscle strength by 56 percent and they reduced their resting blood pressure by 4.5 mm Hg. Those who also performed five minutes of stretching exercise averaged a 24 percent increase in overall joint flexibility and a 5.2 mph increase in driving power (club head speed).
None of the participants reported an injury during the playing season following the conditioning program.
Of course, most of the golfers continued to exercise on their own after completing the training study. For example, after 18 months of regular exercise, one outstanding golfer in his mid-60s increased his club head speed from 85 mph to 100 mph and improved his body composition from 21 percent fat to14 percent fat, both really impressive accomplishments.
Clearly, proper muscular conditioning can play a major role in increasing driving distance and decreasing injury risk. Physical fitness also can make the difference between feeling fatigued or energetic on the back nine. If playing longer and stronger are important to you, then a simple golf conditioning program should make good sense.
Consider starting out with the basic strength and stretching exercises that worked so well for the recreational golfers in our studies.
To increase power production, we do the leg press, hip abduction and hip adduction exercises that strengthen the front thigh, rear thigh, inner thigh, outer thigh and hip muscles of the legs.
To improve swing action, we perform the chest press, lat pulldown and shoulder press exercises that address the chest, upper back and shoulder muscles of the torso.
To provide effective force transfer from the legs to the upper body, we perform low back extensions, abdominal curl and rotary torso exercises for the midsection/core muscles.
To maintain head stability, we do neck flexion and neck extension exercises for this important area of the body.
Finally, to enhance club control we do the wrist roller exercise for the forearm and gripping muscles. These 12 exercises are performed for one set of 8 to 12 repetitions each, at a controlled movement speed and through a full movement range.
Add in stretches
For best results, add six simple stretches that enhance overall flexibility. I recommend a front thigh stretch for the quadriceps muscles, a rear thigh stretch for the hamstring muscles, a hip stretch for the gluteal muscles, a back stretch for the upper and lower back muscles, a torso stretch for the chest and abdominal muscles and a shoulder stretch for the neck and shoulder muscles.
Try to complete your golf conditioning program three days a week for consistency and best overall results. However, our recent research studies have revealed almost 90 percent as much physiological improvement from two weekly training sessions. In fact, during your peak playing season, one weekly workout should be sufficient, providing about 80 percent as much benefit as more frequent training.
• Wayne L. Westcott, Ph.D., teaches exercise science at Quincy College in Massachusetts and has written 25 books on physical fitness, including “Strength Training Past 50” and “Complete Conditioning for Golf.”