PILATES FOR THE PITCHING WEDGE SET
Want to play better golf? Build a better body!
Been around a golf course lately? The plaid pants and pork-pie hats are gone. Gone too, are pillow-soft bellies hanging over those snazzy white belts, at least among the more serious practitioners of the sport. Golf today is not just about titanium drivers and elastomer-covered golf balls. These days, better golfers know it’s also about bulging biceps, sculpted pecs, and abs of steel.
To find out how to get in great golf shape, I went to the health club Tiger and Phil used when they were in Westchester for the US Open last year. Tiger’s yacht was anchored a three-wood away in Mamaroneck Harbor and Phil Mickelson stayed in a home overlooking nearby Hampshire Country Club, but they did their daily grunting and sweating with the mere mortals at the gleaming Equinox Fitness Club in Mamaroneck every day before heading up the road to Winged Foot.
The boys were gone by the time I got there, but I did catch a workout with Paul Alexander, head pro at Brae Burn Country Club in Purchase, and his trainer, Jennifer Mongeluzo, who runs the Pilates program at Equinox as well as her own studio, the Pilates Centre, in Norwalk, Connecticut.
Wait a minute! Pilates?! Isn’t that for girls? Yes, particularly svelte, limber dancers and other contortionists, but it’s quite the rage around the driving range now, too, especially since Pilates practitioner Camilo Villegas bounded onto the PGA Tour. Pilates, the body-building technique that focuses on increasing strength and flexibility in the abdominal and lower back muscles, is how the ripped 25-year-old Villegas came to be known on the tour as Spiderman.
If you can keep your testosterone under control long enough to listen to the experts, you’ll find that Pilates may be the perfect exercise regimen for golf. “Pilates improves the golfer’s flexibility, core strength, and balance,” Mongeluzo points out. “It builds up your back muscles, which is where a lot of golfers have problems, particularly as they grow older.” A stable core helps the golfer maintain a constant spine angle while turning, something Alexander says is essential both to controlling your shots and gaining distance.
The traditional Pilates approach uses large spring-loaded studio machines, but you can get many of the same core-building benefits from some simple exercises Mongeluzo recommends.
Golfers tend to slouch over the ball—a bad idea. To lengthen your abdominals and stretch the extensor muscles in your spine, lie on your stomach and raise a bar or ball using your lats and triceps to lift your chest. When you come back down, bend your elbows to open up your chest.
Many golfers do crunches, but this variation, a side crunch on the Bosu ball, isolates the obliques, which makes for stronger rotation in your swing. Lift your arms over your head for a few reps, and you’ll lengthen your obliques, lats, and triceps, too.
Power in the golf swing comes from a twisting torso above stable hips. To build power, pull an elastic band called the Theraband across the body with your obliques, not your arms, while you keep your hips square. All the rotation is in your waist and shoulder, but not in your hips.
Few golfers think about their hamstrings, but they should. This routine with the Theraband stretches and strengthens not only your hams, but your glutes, and your ischial tuberosity, too. You probably didn’t know you had those, but it’s where your hamstring joins your hip.
This back bend over the Bosu ball is the reverse of what golfers do all day long. Instead of slumping forward over the ball, this move opens your chest and shoulders and promotes a straight, stable spine, which should produce straighter, longer drives.
Sam Snead reputedly practiced golf in his bare feet—an interesting way to build a solid foundation for your swing. Another way is by standing on one foot on the Bosu ball for 20 seconds, switch feet, then repeat. It will strengthen your ankles while improving your balance.
Nothing can be worse for your handicap than a pulled muscle or a sprained tendon. We asked Dr. Larry Foster, orthopedic surgeon at the Westchester/Putnam practice of Somers Orthopedic and author of Dr. Divot’s Guide to Golf Injuries, for the most common golf-related injuries and how to stop pain from keeping you off the links.
“Basically, problems boil down to these factors: inadequate conditioning, improper swing technique, overuse, and inadequate warm-up,” he says. “Make sure you’re in good basic condition and that you do head-to-toe stretching before you start a golf game.” For more information on how to avoid problems, visit www.doctordivotmd.com.
Shoulders, Wrists, and Hands
Though lower back and elbow problems make up the majority of golf injuries, shoulders, wrists, and hands are the next most vulnerable. Most injuries occur on the left side, the lead side for all golfers. Dr. Foster advises that you make sure you have the proper posture and swing techniques to avoid problems in these areas.
The swing places a lot of stress on elbows, the site of approximately one-third of all golf injuries. Due to overuse and repetition, they are especially prone to injuries and tendonitis. Dr. Foster’s advice: “Avoid excessive practicing and too much play.”
“The lower back is the most common place for golf injuries,” says Dr. Foster. More than one out of three golf injuries occur to the back. “The golf swing places a lot of stress on it with regards to torque and constant twisting. Also, as golfer get older, they lose flexibility here.”
Knee injuries do account for roughly nine percent of golf injuries.