By Matt Hombach
Top stars on the PGA Tour continue to put a premium on exercise and fitness. Many pros today more closely resemble Olympic track stars than the relatively paunchy golfers of the '70s and '80s.
While the act of golfing in its own right offers a number of proven fitness benefits, players can improve their on-course performances and their overall health by starting, and sticking to, a regular exercise routine.
Late winter into early spring is an ideal time to get serious about getting fit. The coming prime spring and summer golf months offer motivation to get in shape, and even brief workouts can offer a respite from the winter doldrums.
Getting into shape doesn't have to involve logging countless hours in the gym with a personal trainer. There are many ways to get fit that take only 30 minutes per day a few days per week.
"Swimming or aquatics is perhaps the best form of exercise golfers, or anyone for that matter, can do if they are just starting a fitness routine," said Dr. James Nace, an orthopedic surgeon at the Center for Joint Preservation and Replacement at Sinai Hospital of Baltimore. "It offers aerobic conditioning and strengthens the muscles around your hips as you kick and your arms as you pull and paddle through the water."
Nace worked as a physical therapist before becoming an orthopedic surgeon, and often advises patients of all types, including many athletes, on exercise programs that best fit their needs.
While not everyone has access to a pool during the winter, even walking or biking 20-30 minutes several times per week offers a great cardiovascular workout and can strengthen leg muscles leading up to golf season. Moderate weight training focusing on leg, abdominal and shoulder muscles can also pay dividends.
Nace said he recommended swimming, walking and biking as ideal for golfers just starting to get in shape because they are low-impact activities. Running and rigorous weight training can stress muscles and joints and lead to post-workout pain and even injury.
"If you start an exercise program and experience pain for longer than two days, you need to take a break and let your body heal," Nace said. "If the pain doesn't resolve within a week or two, it's a good idea to seek treatment. If the pain persists, there's a good chance you strained or sprained a muscle or did micro-damage to a joint."
Beyond cardiovascular exercise and strength training, Nace said, the best thing golfers can do to improve their game is to keep muscles and joints flexible through targeted stretching exercises.
"Golfers should create a full-body stretching routine that works the calves, hamstrings, knees, hips, back and shoulders," Nace said. "Focus on stretches you can hold for a long time versus doing a lot of real quick reps. Quality is better than quantity." Stretching exercises aren't just for preseason conditioning. Golfers should stretch for 30 minutes 3-4 times per week all year, especially before and after a round of golf.
"It's all about muscle tension relationships," Nace said. "When your muscles are properly stretched, they are at the right length and your joints will function more efficiently. It's like the belts in your car -- if they are too tight, the engine won't work as well."
While the mild winter has afforded golfers in the area the rare chance to hit the links in January and February, there is time to get bodies ready for optimum performance in the spring and summer. Nace said he advised golfers to start slowly and keep it fun, ideally finding a routine to stick to and build upon throughout the year.
Issue 171: March 2012