Dear Cindy, I love golf, but every spring when I start to play, I suffer from hip and back pain. I am 47 and it seems to get worse each year even though I stretch before I play. Any advice? - Tom Dear Tom, As with any sport, golf requires basic conditioning to prepare the muscles and joints. When activity is cyclical like golf, resuming where you left off the previous year places unaccustomed stress on your body. Unless you live in a climate that is warm year-round, it is impossible to play golf without extended layoffs. And because it's challenging to keep golf-specific muscles in the swing of things, you must recognize the need for regular conditioning exercise that is not limited to golf season. Each year that passes adds to the challenge of withstanding the unusual stress a powerful golf swing puts on your joints as they become less resilient and more prone to injury. It is essential that you devote time to your pastime before the first day of golf. You need to focus on two aspects of conditioning: resistance training and flexibility. Fifteen to 30 minutes spent on a few exercises and a few stretches will go a long way toward pain-free golf. Before you do anything, you need to warm the entire body up for 5 to 10 minutes - walking, cycling, stair-stepping or jogging. Golf is spent repeating a series of explosive movements and will overtrain some muscles and neglect others. Movement is performed in the same direction each time and, therefore, continually places more stresses on one side of the body. This can result in subtle postural changes and muscle imbalances. Your lower back muscles may overdevelop, which can leave the abdominals underdeveloped. Ultimately if larger muscle groups take over at the expense of the smaller, stabilizing muscles, it can cause pain and overuse injury. Resistance training that is not golf-specific has its benefits, but it will not necessarily prevent pain after a day on the links. A training program that seeks to balance the muscles from side to side and mimics the mechanics of a golf swing is the smarter way to prepare for the game. For instance, does a bench press resemble any movement in golf? No. Rather than performing traditional strength moves, consider the benefits of an exercise that incorporates the whole body, focuses on the core region and rotation of the hips. The idea is to counterbalance the repetitive nature of the one-sided golf swing. Research has shown that you will gain greater joint flexibility and strength if you follow your resistance training with stretches that include rotation in the core, lower back, shoulders and hips. This approach will give you the best results. Here are two golf-specific stretches that should be done when the body is warm: The first is done in a lunge position with a rotation and promotes flexibility in the hip flexors, quadriceps and core muscles. Use a middle iron to assist the stretch.
Place the club vertically on the ground to your right.
Lunge down with your left leg forward and your back knee in a bent position.
Shift your weight onto your forward leg.
Extend your arms to the club until you feel a stretch in your backswing muscles.
Hold for 15 to 20 seconds as you breathe deeply and relax.
Repeat with the club vertically on the ground to your left.
Switch lead legs and go through entire sequence again.
The second exercise is a seated hip stretch.
Sit on a chair or use a tee bench.
Place your right ankle on the top of your left thigh.
Place gentle pressure on your right knee with your right forearm.
Lean forward hinging at your waist until you feel a stretch in your right hip.
Repeat on the opposite side with left ankle on top of your right thigh.
During the off-season, activities such as yoga and Pilates are exceptional ways to condition your body for golf. These practices target core muscles and strengthen while incorporating trunk rotation. They also promote equal strength and flexibility on both sides of your body.
While a golf strength-training program will not cure all of your aches during golf season, it is perhaps your best for pain prevention. Focusing on restoring optimal balance and joint resiliency will keep you on course for years to come.
Cindy Boggs, fitness consultant, author and Activate America director, has been an ACE-certified coordinator/instructor since 1989. Send your questions about fitness, training or health to YMCA of Kanawha Valley, 100 YMCA Drive, Charleston, WV 25311, or e-mail email@example.com. Look for her fitness advice book, "CindySays ... You Can Find Health in Your Hectic World" on her Web site www.cindysays.com or contact the YMCA at 340-3527.