Each day, thousands of people around the world grab their clubs and take to the green grass to play a round of golf. In fact, the National Golf Foundation reports there are more than 25 million golfers worldwide. The highest percentage of golfers are age 50 and older, followed by those ages 30 to 49.
Regardless of age, one thing is for sure: amateur golfers are a unique breed of athlete. Most weekend or day-off-from-work swingers go from their car to the green without any thought about their physical condition.
Even though golf is a slow-pace, low-impact sport, it is a full-body sport. Golfing requires the coordination of many major and minor muscle groups during different phases of the swing. Because of the complicated nature of the golf swing – the backswing, downswing and follow through – injuries are common, especially for amateur golfers.
According to the American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine, the most common complaint among golfers is lower-back injuries, primarily caused by the extreme spinal rotation and extension involved in the swing. Shoulder and elbow injuries are the second-most common injuries.
Experts agree: most golf-associated injuries are caused by wrong form, a weak core and poor body mechanics. This means less efficiency, inconsistency and too many unwanted movements that keep the golfer constantly trying to change or fix his or her swing.
Fortunately, fitness experts say golfers of all skill levels and ages can improve their game, increase their drive and stroke, decrease the risk of injury and restore injured muscles and joints by doing Pilates and/or working with a physical therapist who is specially trained to work with golfers.
Kelsey Mercer, certified STOTT PILATES Method trainer and instructor and owner of ROOTS Mind Body Health & Fitness in Flagstaff, explains the connection between golf and Pilates:
“For the most part, golf and Pilates share the same basic principles – flexibility, rotation, core strength and a focus on the breath. Pilates teaches golfers to be mindful in their movements – integrating their pelvis, trunk and shoulders into safe, flowing and progressive movements. The emphasis on the breath helps the golfer maintain focus, relax through the swing and utilize controlled precise movements.
“Traditional athletic training methods often target specific muscles needed for a specific sport, but may not address the stabilizing muscles around the joints or the torso. Pilates focuses on core development and strength, pelvic stability, increased overall flexibility and greater mobility. Exercises strengthen weak areas; promote correct foot, leg and hip alignment; increase movement in the joints and spine; and improve core strength.
“Additionally, because golf is a highly asymmetrical [one-sided] sport, golfers almost always favor one side of the body, which leads to muscle imbalances. Pilates routines create symmetry of strength, balance and flexibility.”
Working with a physical therapist can also improve your game and prevent injury.
Physical Therapist Jordan Williams, D.P.T., owner of Proof Physical Therapy, has advanced training in manual therapy and is an expert when it comes to helping golfers better their swing and increase power and accuracy.
Williams uses a golf-specific physical movement screening and video-recorded swing analysis to determine the physical limitations that can affect a person’s swing, endurance, power and risk of injury.
“Golf is like any other sport: your strength, balance and flexibility are all important factors in determining your performance and reducing your risk of injury,” he explained. “You can spend a lot of time and effort building strength, but if you don’t move correctly, it won’t really matter.
“The swing sequence is the same, but everyone moves differently. That’s why a one-size-fits-all approach to improving the swing doesn’t work. I have my clients do a series of functional movements that show me anatomical joint angles before, during and after the swing, physical limitations, abnormal movements and other functional deficiencies. After the evaluation, I develop a plan of exercises or mobilizations designed to specifically address the issues identified.
“Just one small change in body mechanics can make a big difference on the green.”
Both Pilates and physical therapy are also very effective for injury rehabilitation because they provide individualized no-impact and low-weight-bearing exercises to help repair and restore injured and over-used muscles and tissues.
Want to be under par and above average on the green? Consider adding Pilates and/or physical therapy to your weekly schedule. In most cases, neither requires a physician referral and both can significantly improve your game and your overall fitness. FBN