Pilates for Golfers

Annika Sorenstam

Many of the professional golfers on the PGA TOUR, e.g. Tiger Woods, Annika Sorenstam, Rich Beem, are using Pilates to improve their bodies and their games. Golfers of all levels find that consistent Pilates practice specific to their golfing needs, quickly improves their performance and reduces pain and injuries.

Approximately 60% of all amateur golfers experience injuries playing the game, whereas half of all professional golfers are forced to retire because of golf-related injuries. Golf injuries in amateurs are the result of overuse, poor swing mechanics and/or striking the ground with the club.

The most common sites for injury among amateur men are the lower back (36%), elbows (32.5%), hands and wrists (21.2%) and shoulders (11%). The greatest occurrence of injuries for amateur women golfers are in the elbows (35.5%), followed by the lower back (27.4%), shoulders (16.1%) and hands and wrists (14.5%).

Golf requires force, flexibility and control. In addition to the sheer physicality involved in carrying a heavy golf bag for 18 holes and leaning over dozens of putts, the actual swing is a delicate balance between freedom of movement and body control. Golfers can find great benefit from working with a Pilates professional, who understands not only how the body works, but how the right movements address specific needs on the tee, fairway and green.

As golf is a single-sided physical activity, it’s essential to assess each player’s individual muscular imbalances. Pilates can be very useful in correcting asymmetries in a golfer’s physiology. Mental focus can also improve, owing to the concentration required to move through the fluid movements of each Pilates exercise whilst simultaneously maintaining core stability.

The game hinges on the golf swing, a complex, coordinated movement that on the moment of impact applies compressive forces approximately eight times a player’s body weight.

The golf swing includes several phases:

• ADDRESS: the moments before swing initiation
• BACKSWING: the movement of the club head from initial address to the top of the arc swing;
• DOWNSWING: the club head’s movement from the top of the arc toward the golf ball
• IMPACT: the moment the club head contacts the golf ball;
• FOLLOW-THROUGH: the movement of the club head past impact.

The Biomechanics of a Golf Swing

During the initial address, a golfer isometrically, (i.e. the length of the muscle and angle of the joint don’t change) contracts the forearms, wrists and hands to grip the club. Core musculature stabilizes the lower-extremity muscles to maintain the position. During the backswing, the rotator cuff muscles stabilize the shoulders and obliques, while the spinal extensors and hip rotators are used to rotate the torso. During the downswing, the rotator cuff, trapezius, core and hip muscles maintain torso stability as the pectoral muscles draw the arms down and the leg muscles transfer weight from back to front, enabling the player to make a powerful, yet controlled impact. The hip and trunk musculature supports the body during follow-through and the rotator cuff decelerates the golf club.

A golf pro can help correct a golfer’s technique by altering stance, grip and hip turn ratio. But the underlying fault in any golf swing is in the body itself. The way the ball is hit correlates to physical limitations, such as lack of flexibility, poor rotation, hip instability, general hip or leg weakness, shoulder girdle instability, weakness in the wrists and forearms, and poor core strength. Correcting the swing at the time the swing is taking place will not improve the physical cause. The underlying limitations need to be addressed at their physical source.  In other words, the body needs to be retrained in order to improve the swing, prevent injury and increase overall performance.

Tiger Woods

Both golf and Pilates are mind-body activities that share some of the same basic principles. Golf swing principles are fluid motion, co-ordination, accuracy, stamina and power, whereas Pilates principles focus on control, concentration, core strength, alignment, flow of movement, stamina and proper breathing.

Incorporating Pilates exercises into a golfer’s training regime will promote greater freedom of movement during the swing phase. Pilates will also fine-tune the delicate balance of strength and control that is so key to a successful golf swing. Pilates, like golf, calls for a stable torso while the extremities fluidly rotate, flex and extend in multi-planar movement.

A golfer-specific Pilates conditioning programme that assesses performance, lengthens tight muscles, decreases multi-joint tightness and strengthens weaker muscles for power on impact will improve a player’s game, prevent injury and improve general fitness.

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