July 1, 2015

Fit for Practice

Exercises your students can do on the range to prepare their body to practice and play

By: Tony L. Starks

Remember when golf and fitness didn’t belong in the same paragraph? Or even on the same page for that matter.That has all changed, much thanks to an influx of athletic bodies on the PGA and LPGA Tours.

Take for instance world No. 1 Rory McIlroy. Although McIlroy recently suffered an ankle injury playing soccer with friends, he remains dedicated to his fitness and has been vigorously rehabbing with hopes of defending his Open Championship title this month. The 5′ 9″Irishman has a well-documented workout regimen and the results have been monstrous. During his recent PGA Tour win at Quail Hollow, he demolished a 514-yard par 4 by hitting driver and then gap wedge. In the third round the course played 7,562 yards…he hit 9-iron or less into 15 of 18 greens.

But getting fit isn’t all about adding distance. The common bond between practice and fitness is improved results on the golf course. While your students may never know what it’s like to hit the green in regulation on a 500-yard par 4 using a gap wedge, you can still help them elevate their game by introducing fitness to their practice routine.

Simple Exercises Your Students Can Do on the Range

PGA Professional Dave Phillips is the co-founder of the Titleist Performance Institute and a renowned expert in the field of golf-related fitness. According to Phillips, there are two areas your students should concentrate on prior to warming up on the range: the glutes and the hips.

“Everyone chuckled when Tiger said his glutes weren’t firing (at Torrey Pines), but he was actually right,” says Phillips, a Golf Digest Top 50 Instructor. “The glutes are the king muscle in the golf swing. They stabilize you, they’re the anchor of the swing. If they’re not firing than the core’s not engaged. It creates instability.”

There are several simple exercises you can recommend your students do on the range prior to practicing to engage this important area of the body:

  • 10-15 lunges
  • High steps or walking a staircase 3-4 times
  • Walking briskly across the range a few times
  • Getting up and down out of a chair, or anything that mimics the squat motion

“It’s not about strength building. Have your students do squats before practicing to get the blood moving through the lower half of their body,” Phillips describes. “Anything to get the legs firing and the glutes activating. We’re always talking about power coming from the ground up, these exercises prepare the body for creating that power.” The hips are the other critical part of the body for your students to focus on. For golfers, improper hip function is the catalyst for lower back pain. “Most people get out of this game because they go down with a lower back injury. The reason they get injured, however, is the hip and thoracic spine (or mid back) aren’t functioning properly,” he says. “Those are the two areas above and below the lower back. If those aren’t working, than golfers compensate by using the lower back to swing the club. Which leads to injury.” Here are a few other hip-specific exercises that your students can do on the range prior to practicing or playing that may ultimately help prevent injury:

  • Active leg lowering–While lying on their back, have them raise their legs in the air, then slowly lower one leg at a time. Switch sides and always focus on the side that feels tighter.
  • Active side lying straight leg raise– Have your students start by lying on their left side with the left knee bent, right knee extended and lower back in a good neutral arched position. Slowly flex the right hip forward, keeping the knee extended and lower back neutral. All the motion should come from the hip. Switch sides and repeat with the left leg.
  • 360 Jumps– This exercise is great for preparing the hips to create explosive rotational power. Have your students get into an athletic position with their feet approximate shoulder width apart then perform a 360 jump landing softly on the ground. This exercise requires some athleticism, so make sure your student is physically capable of executing the motion before recommending 360 jumps.
  • Pelvic tilts in golf stance – Your students begin the drill by getting into a 5-iron golf posture and then crossing the arms across their chest. Have them begin to slowly tilt the pelvis forward (arched back), and then backwards (slouched back). Repeat both directions in a slow and controlled manner for several reps, focusing on obtaining as much forward and backward tilt as possible. This exercise helps develop a better range of motion in the lumbar spine.

Ways to Build Strength On the Range or In the Gym

You have to be careful when recommending strength-training regimens to your students, especially if they have preexisting or past injuries. That’s why many golf-fitness experts recommend body weight exercises that don’t over-stress muscles by adding too much weight. Exercises that your students can perform right on the range include:

  • Overhead squats – Holding a golf club above the head with both arms locked, perform a deep squat while attempting to keep the back straight.
  • Lunges – Lunges are a vastly underutilized strength training weapon capable of producing big gains. Your students can use them to strengthen their quads, glutes and hamstrings. Correct form for lunges includes an erect spine with no wavering, bringing the trail knee to the ground to promote proper stride length and keeping the entire lead foot on the ground throughout the motion.

Here are a couple golf-specific strength-building drills your students can do in the gym to improve their performance on the practice range and on the course:

  • Bent arm tornados – Have your students get into a good athletic posture holding a medicine ball in both hands out in front of their body. Keeping lower body stable as possible, rotate the upper body and ball back and forth as fast as possible. Keep the core engaged and lower body stable.

• Cable resisted two arm chop – Using a cable weight lifting machine, set both handles of the cable cross to the high position. Have the student stand with their knees slightly bent and feet approximately shoulder width apart. Grab both handles with both hands and keep posture as tall as possible. Perform a chop across the body keeping the hands close to the chest throughout the movement. Slowly return to the starting position.