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Golf Studies, Facts, Tips & Trivia

Calories Burned Golfing

Did you know that walking an 18-hole round of golf covers about 5 miles and burns 500 calories, plus another 100 if you're carrying your bag (U.C. Berkeley Wellness Letter, May 1996). Sitting at your desk for 4 hours burns only 90 calories by the same calculation method (McArdle, et al., 1981).

Golf to Your Way to Better Health

A study done by Wescott, Dolan & Cavicchi in 1996 showed that golfers with a mean age of 57 years, who participated in a strength training and stretching program during their off season, improved their club head speed, body weight, body composition, muscle strength, joint flexibility, and resting systolic blood pressure in just eight weeks. (IDEA Health & Fitness Source, October 1998.)

Back Pain & Golf

More than half of golfers were found to experience lower back pain when they make contact with the ball or in their follow through, according to a report presented at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. They believe the pain is caused by a combination of rotation of the spine and the high velocity of that rotation. They suggest trying to stand up straighter on your follow-through. New golfers will have an easier time learning this way, as opposed to the seasoned golfer whose handicap could be sent skyrocketing with a major change in stance. Long-term benefits of a healthier back may make it worthwhile though! (ACE Fitness Matters, May/June 1998.)

Strengthening, Stretching & Golf

A study conducted at the South Shore YMCA in Quincy Massachusetts found that golfers who engaged in a three times a week strengthening and stretching program for two months increased their average club head speed by 5 miles per hour. They also lost about 3 pounds of fat, gained 4 pounds of muscle, increased strength by more than 50 percent, enhanced shoulder and hip flexibility, and reduced blood pressure. (Tufts University Diet & Nutrition Letter, August 1996.)

Think Success

Psychologists have started teaching how paying attention to several mental aspects can help your golf game. There are many psychologists who specialize in golf psychology now. Steve Hendlin, Ph.D., says that visualizing the shot and using relaxation techniques are helpful. The ability to concentrate over crowd noise is one of the things that makes the difference between an amateur and a pro. Hendlin says simply closing one's eyes between shots to help keep the focus on the here and now, and having regular patterns of behavior like taking deep breaths or cleaning your spikes to help limit distractions, can be immensely helpful. He also stresses that it's important to not let fear of being behind or playing poorly prevent you from finding your rhythm. Mark Frazier, Ph.D., suggests finding simplicity in your swing and never letting it vary (once you've got it down of course), by cognitively repressing any urge to whack the ball hard, and making your swing predictable. Frazier also says learning to calm nervousness and adrenaline are important in the sport, which could be impeded with a "fight or flight" reaction. Bob Rotella, Ph.D., says "Confident athletes let the brain and nervous system perform the skills they have rehearsed and mastered without interference from the conscious mind." (American Psychological Association Monitor, July 1996.)

Back Pain & Golf

The idea that a golf swing should be precisely replicated is a recipe for pain. Any motion repeated exactly the same way hundreds of times over the course of a golf day, puts stress on the muscles and joints involved. Lower back injuries are the most common for golfers. A 1990 survey of PGA Tour players showed that 59 percent of players had injured their lower backs. Fred Couples has had to limit the number of tournaments he plays in when his back troubled him, and Greg Norman had to withdraw from a game due to back spasms. Don Pooley, Rocco Mediate, Dan Pohl, Lee Trevino, & Fuzy Zoeller have had to resort to back surgery. Even Tiger Woods has already had back problems. Jack Nicklaus keeps his back injuries at bay with a regular exercise program. (New York Times, June 1, 1995.)

Three Components of Fitness

Golf takes skill, but also a great deal of strength and stamina. Golfers should focus on three components of fitness: strength/power, flexibility, and cardiovascular endurance. Strength and power will help you generate faster club head speed and increase the distance you can hit the ball. Increasing your flexibility by stretching your muscles when they are warmed up on a daily basis, can help increase the range of motion in your swing and help prevent injury. Cardiovascular conditioning helps keep your energy up during a long round of golf, and helps you cope with the stress of making a crucial putt or getting out of the sand trap. (ACE Fitness Matters, Vol. 2(3), 1996.)

The U.C. Berkeley Wellness Letter recommendations for optimal golf:

  • Strengthen your abdominal and lower back muscles.
  • Engage in brisk walking, running, swimming, or cycling to build endurance and leg
  • Keep your rotator cuff muscles strong and flexible.
  • Strengthen your wrists and muscles surrounding your elbows.
  • Warm up and stretch before playing.
  • Watch your swing posture; keeping your back as straight as possible, and bending at
    your knees and hips.
  • Whenever you bend over, whether it's to lift your bag out of your trunk or pick up a tee,
    save your back by bending at your knees.
  • Control your trunk motion better.
  • Make sure you shift your weight correctly during the swing so more power is generated
    by your hips and legs.
  • Walk the course as much as possible.
  • Make sure the weight of your bag is evenly distributed on your back if you carry it.
  • Become ambidextrous: practice swings in the reverse direction.
  • From time to time while walking the course, hold a club across your back with the
    crooks of your elbows to help your posture and stretch your back muscles. (U.C. Berkeley Wellness Letter, May 1996).

Prevent Injuries

The American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) stresses the importance of year-round conditioning and stretching to prevent golf injuries. Recreational golfers between the ages of 35 and 50 are more prone to injury than any other age group according to the APTA. Golf enthusiasts who sit behind a desk most during the week and play only on weekends, or seasonal golfers who let themselves become deconditioned during the winter, are particularly vulnerable. Physical therapists recommend exercising on a regular basis; warming up and stretching your back, shoulders and legs before playing; walking the course rather than riding in the cart; dressing to keep your muscles warm on cool days; starting your season at the driving range - beginning with a nine iron and working up to a five iron; being aware of other lifting activities which could cause back pain; quitting playing as soon as you experience discomfort or pain; and seeing a health care provider who specializes in sports medicine if you do get injured. (Penn State Sports Medicine Newsletter, 1995.)

Condition for Good Form

A golf swing analysis by Wayne Wescott, PhD.: "First, the initial movement comes from the legs, driving the hips forward. The force from these large muscle groups is then transferred through the midsection muscles to the torso. The three big torso muscles (pectoralis major, latissimus dorsi and deltoids) are responsible for the arm swinging action and actually move the golf club through its elliptical pathway. The arm and forearm muscles assist in the swinging action and are the real keys to club control and hitting accuracy. All of these muscles combine their efforts to accelerate the golf club. Muscles of the legs, midsection, torso and arms also work together to decelerate the golf club during the follow-through phase of the swinging action. It is therefore important to condition all of the major muscle groups for increasing driving power and decreasing injury risk." (ACE fitness Matters, May/June 1997.)

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