Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Jack at the Honda

Earlier this week, Jack Nicklaus was interviewed at the Honda Classic, where he is pretty heavily involved with his charities and of course with the venue. During the interview, he said something pretty interesting from which we can learn a little. When he was asked whether he had ever made major swing changes during his career, he said:

“If you don’t make changes you don’t improve. I don’t care who you are, because your body continually changes. My body at age 46 was certainly a lot different than it was at 25, or at 35, and as is Tiger’s body a lot different at age 35 as it was at age 25….I think [tour players] need to make those [changes]. As their body changes they need to make those changes to keep up with their body, to keep up with the game.”

Coming from arguably the best golfer ever, I think that there are certainly some things that we can take from this. First, overtime your body is going to change, therefore your swing is going to change. We may accept the fact that as we get older we are not going to being able to hit the ball as far, and so we just keep swinging how we always have and let the ball not travel as far it used to. Another option is to keep trying to improve and make changes to lessen the effects of age on our bodies. If we look at Jack for example, we can see that this is possible. In the 1998 Masters tournament, as a 58-year-old man, Jack was in the top 20 in the field in driving distance, averaging close to 300 yards. At age 58!! Improved equipment certainly played a role in him keeping up with the young guns. However, the fact that a 58-year-old with bad hips (which had to be replaced the following year because they got so bad) was able to out drive most of the younger players with equally good equipment shows what is possible if adjustments are made to counteract the effects of an aging body.

Second, we should take from Jack’s statement that the body affects the swing, which may seem obvious, but we can see this truth from a little different perspective here. Even with a tour player, such as Tiger, who stays pretty consistent with fitness routines is going to need to make adjustments with his swing to stay on top. If Tiger’s swing is affected by his body in spite of all he does to stay consistent, how much more is the average golfer, who is probably much less diligent with fitness, going to be affected by time! To lessen the affects of the body on your golf swing, it will be important to stay active and keep yourself limber and strong. It was probably much easier when you were in high school and college to stay active, but the demands of everyday life, including family and a job (which may keep you confined to a cubicle all day), begin to take their toll on your extracurricular life, which often translates into less physical activity.

As you make fitness a part of your golf game, you will not need make as many adjustments to your game as you get older and you will be able to enjoy it longer. We can see this with Jack, or more recently with Tom Watson in the British Open. Even Tom has had to make some adjustments as he has gotten older, but when we watched him contend two years ago at Turnberry, his swing did not look much different than it did when he last won the Open Championship in ’83. Being consistent with an exercise routine as you get older will not just benefit your golf game, but it will positively affect the rest of your life.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Disassociation of Motion

If you have ever read a golf magazine or paid much attention to golf commentators on TV, you have probably heard them talk about getting the golf club “in the slot.” This basically means that on your downswing the club is falling naturally from inside the target line, producing a nice solid draw. The problem with most golfers is that when they swing down, they swing from outside the target line and cut across the ball, producing a large slice. In many cases, this is as much caused by poor fitness as it is technique.

One of the key requirements of being able to find the “slot” is being able to separate the motion of your upper body and your lower body. This is what we call disassociation of motion. Most golfers have heard that you should start the downswing with the lower body. The problem is that if you are not in very good shape, you probably are not flexible enough to keep your upper body from going at the same time as your lower body. This means that if your hips are open to the target line at impact, so are your shoulders, which means that the clubface will be open and you will get a nice big banana curve on your golf shot. If you notice how the pros are at impact, you will see that their hips are turned towards the target, but their shoulders are still square to the target line. This means that, on the downswing, their shoulders are lagging behind their hips. They have disassociated the movement of the upper body with the movement of their lower body.

Here are a couple of quick fitness tests to check your flexibility and the separation of your upper and lower body.
  1. Lie down on your left side, with your knees bent at 90 degrees. Hold your knees to the ground with your left hand and put your right arm to the square. While keeping your knees in contact with the ground, twist your upper body back and try to touch the ground behind you with your right forearm. Keep your right arm to the square so that you lead back with your shoulder and do not just reach behind with your hand. Test both sides.
  2. Get in your golf posture without a club. Cross your arms across your chest. Try to turn your shoulders back and through without moving your hips. See if you can go back and forth at least ten times without your hips moving and without any tightness or strain in your lower back. Watch yourself in the mirror to make sure your hips are not moving. Now try to turn your hips back and through without moving your shoulders. Make sure you can do this easily without any strain or tightness.

Working on these movements and your flexibility will help you find the “slot” more easily and reduce the amount of strain on your back when you play.

If you have any questions about the information above, you may find the following videos helpful.

Disassociation of motion: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q-nT9V3wF70
Swinging inside the target line: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-k0rfuNyXBM&feature=related

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Anterior Pelvic Tilt

One of the most common effects of spending too much time sitting down is an anterior tilted pelvis. For those of you who spend most of your work week at a desk and do not spend a lot of time exercising, chances are you will have some degree of anterior pelvic tilt. This basically means that the front of your pelvis is lower than the back of your pelvis when you are standing upright. When you spend a lot of time sitting, you are not using your abdominals and glutes, so they get weaker and are no longer tight enough to hold your pelvis in a natural position. This causes your body to be out of balance and can be a major source of lower back pain. If you are a golfer, it can also be the cause of the following common swing faults:

  • Loss of posture – causing you to stand up when you take the club back, resulting in either a blocked shot to the right or a hook to the left.
  • Early extension – causing your waist and hips to shift closer to the ball on your downswing, resulting in the feeling of “getting stuck,” producing a blocked shot to the right or a hook to the left.
  • Over the top – not being able to rotate around your spine properly, you will take the club too far to the inside creating an over the top swing, resulting in either a pull to the left or a slice to the right.
  • Sway or Slide – because of the restricted hip mobility, you may sway on the backswing or slide your hips past your front foot on the downswing.

The easiest, but not necessarily the most accurate, way to evaluate if you have an anterior tilt problem is to look at your profile in the mirror. You can start by looking at your beltline. Does it seem to slope forward or is it level? You can also look at your overall body line from your shoulders down to your ankles. Is it a straight line down your torso, through your hips and thighs, or does the line curve backwards as it goes through your waist and hips? If it does curve, can you get the line to straighten out by sucking in your stomach and tightening your abs and glutes, tilting your pelvis more level? For a more accurate evaluation, consider going to a physical therapists or personal trainer.

Golf fitness is about getting your body back in balance so that you can swing properly and feel better. If your body is out of balance due to a forward tilting pelvis, you will need to do regular exercises to strengthen your abdominals, especially your lower abdominals, and your glute muscles. Doing this consistently for a month or two will get your pelvis in a more natural position and will help improve your golf swing.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Endurance and Conditioning

If the PGA Tour players who spend a couple of hours on the range and play 18 to 36 holes every day are worried about their conditioning, how much more should the average golfer who only plays 9 holes every other day and 18 on the weekend worry about his/her endurance level! Golfers are always striving to gain more consistency in their game. They want to avoid those blowup holes that come from one bad tee shot. They want their last full swing on the 18th hole to be as smooth and controlled as their swings on the 1st hole. They want to feel like they could go a few more holes after their round, instead of feeling glad that the round is over.

If you are the average golfer, improving your endurance and consistency is going to take more than playing a couple more rounds each week. If, like most golfers, you still have a day job, you probably cannot spend as much time as you would like on the course, but there are some simple things you can do away from the course that will help build your endurance level when you do play. Your ability to consistently repeat a good golf swing for an entire round is determined by two things: muscle endurance and aerobic endurance.

Muscle Endurance

The game of golf does not require you to push a 200lb boulder down the fairway, but to swing a one pound club consistently over a period of time. Therefore, when we workout for endurance we are not trying to "max out," but we want to make sure that we can do less weight for more reps without losing our form. A good ratio to work with is to take the weight you would use to do sets of 8 reps, then do sets of 25 reps with half of that weight. Trying to increase the amount of weight you lift in order to build muscle is good and can help you generate greater clubhead speed (as long as you keep your flexibility up), but throughout the year, take time to work on your muscle endurance as well. Not only will this help you on the course, it will also keep your muscles from getting “bored,” as your muscles need variety in a workout for continued improvement.

When looking at your muscle endurance, the most important muscles to consider are your thighs, buttocks, abs and back. These muscles keep your posture stable, which is important for a consistent golf swing. You need to make sure that these muscles stay strong swing after swing, so that you do not start slouching late in the round. This does not mean that you ignore the other areas. We do want to have a balanced workout head to toe. However, those muscle groups can have the largest effect on your game late in the round.

Aerobic Endurance

Being in aerobic shape will ensure that your heart and lungs can deliver the oxygen your muscles need to perform effectively over the course of a round of golf. Because golf is a game of stop and go, you want to make sure that your body can handle aerobic intervals, meaning raising and lower your heart rate consistently over a period of time. Your aerobic training can be as simple as jogging for 20 minutes, but every few minutes, running or sprinting for a minute to increase your heart rate for a short time. This will improve your cardiovascular conditioning, increasing your body’s ability to get your muscles the energy they need to be consistent.

Improving your muscle and aerobic endurance does not need to take a lot of time each day, but it is something that needs to be focused on if you want to reduce the number of mistakes you have late in the round.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Muscle Strength and Coordination

Nobody likes to think of themselves as being uncoordinated. When we struggle to hit the golf ball well, we say that it is either because the game is hard or we have not been playing since we were two years old. We do not usually admit that we just are not coordinated enough to play well. The fact of the matter is that it really could just be our own coordination.

We have all met other golfers on the course who have been playing fewer years than we have and have never taken a lesson, but yet they can hit the ball longer and straighter than we can. They usually like to gloat about the fact that they have never taken a lesson, which makes you feel bad for spending hundreds of dollars on lessons over the years. The bottom line is that they are probably just more coordinated than you are, for now.

Mike Malaska, one of the top PGA professionals in the country, is one of the few professionals who are willing to be honest with students and tell them that they just are not coordinated enough. However, he does not do this to discourage anyone. Although coordination can come naturally, it is not limited to those who are born with it. Mike has a series of videos, sponsored by GolfersMD, in which he explains some of the coordination necessary to produce a good golf swing and avoid some common swing faults, as well as some exercises and drills you can do to improve your swing and coordination. (See link below.)


Being coordinated, especially in golf, can be just as much, or more, a matter of strength and fitness as it is natural ability. According to Dr. Gabe Mirkin, certified Sports Medicine specialist, “Coordination is controlled by the ability of your brain to direct the more than 500 muscles in your body…. Stronger muscles use fewer fibers for the same task and therefore are easier to control.”

So, if you are having a hard time implementing instruction you have received in a golf lesson or a tip you read in a golf magazine, it may be that you are not coordinated (or strong) enough to get your body to do what it is supposed to. When you are working on your swing and cannot get your body to do what you are trying to, do not get frustrated and say to yourself, “I’m never going to get this,” or “I’m never going to be a good golfer.” Take a step back and realize that before you stress too much about it, you may want to think about improving muscle strength, which is a crucial part in any golf fitness program.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Golf Fitness vs. General Fitness

Since the coming of Tiger Woods, golfers everywhere have realized the effects of fitness on golf performance. Now, professional golfers on every tour are talking about how they are trying to trim their waste lines, strengthen their muscles, and build endurance. The amateur golfer has also followed suit, joining the local gym and running through the neighborhood. But, is there a difference between the Tour players who spend their working days at the range and on the course, and the weekend warriors who still have a day job sitting in an office all week?

Our body is an incredible machine that adapts to our lifestyle. You may have noticed that since getting married and starting your desk job, it’s been harder to keep your waistline inside of your beltline, especially if you aren’t motivated enough to find the time to work on it. Even if you do exercise regularly, your body may be changing and adapting to what you are doing the majority of your day. Those golfers that generally stay in good shape, running a 5K everyday and lifting weights on regular basis, for example, may not think they have anything to worry about. The fact is that if you are running or biking and following a general weightlifting routine, but sit at a desk for 8 hours each day, you still may be losing some mobility in your hips, back, and shoulders that would allow you to twist and turn effectively through the golf ball.

Most guys when they workout do the following: bench press, squats, bicep curls, lat pull-downs, military press, a tricep exercise, and some kind of abdominal exercise. They may add one or two others for variety, but in general, this is what I see most guys doing at the gym. That is because those are the money exercises, the ones that will make them look big and impress the girls. The problem with this is that all of these exercises keep the body linear, facing forward, with the exception of possibly doing a twisting abdominal exercise. Additionally, those guys who are focused on “getting big” may find that they are losing needed flexibility because they are building strong, tight muscle. We see those guys all the time on the tee at the golf course. We watch them closely, expecting to see them crush the ball, and are disappointed when we see that the ball travels farther to the right than it does forward. Although they are strong and can generate the clubhead speed, they aren’t flexible enough to get the golf club through the ball effectively.

Women, on the other hand, who are conscious about fitness, tend to do a little better than the guys in this area. They regularly go to aerobics classes that have them twisting, turning, hopping, and sliding. Their body gains flexibility as they get in shape. However, they may be neglecting to build the strength they need to control the club through the golf swing.

Golf fitness requires you to not just be in good shape, but to also understand and focus on how the body moves and needs to move during the golf swing. This means working on strength, balance, flexibility, and endurance. If you look at your swing faults and tendencies when you play golf, it may be a physical obstacle keeping you from hitting the ball better, even if you are generally fit. Don’t be fooled when you hear the Pros say in interviews that they are working on getting in better shape. They mean that they are getting in better golf shape. They are not doing an everyday weight loss and fitness program. They are looking specifically at their strength and flexibility in terms of how they move in the golf swing. You should look at your own fitness in the same light and realize that because your body is going to be different than a tour player’s, it may not be a good idea to just copy their workout routine. They are working on their body’s specific needs and so should you.