FITNESS FOR GOLF
with SUSAN HILL (Susan Hill is a nationally recognized fitness trainer, CHEK golf bio mechanic and sports nutrition specialist.)
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If you’re serious about ‘not sucking’ at golf, then improving your fitness is a great place to start. The good news is that we are way past the 80’s, so you won’t have to pull out that left over sweat band for your head or break a sweat listening to the oldies. These days, golf fitness is serious business. Just look around on tour.
Maybe it was destiny that one day golf would be treated like a sport and golfers would one day see themselves as athletes. Maybe it was just one really fit guy that made the difference. I think it would be fair to say that Tiger Woods has had an enormous impact, no matter how you viewed it.
Hi! I’m Susan Hill and I am fortunate enough to make a full time living working with golfers on fitness and nutrition. I can’t really think of a better job because I get to combine my two of my favorite things-golf and fitness. I have worked with hundreds of recreational to competitive golfers in person, then turned to the internet so I could work with more people through my web site, http://www.fitnessforgolf.com.
I have golf fitness members in 25 different countries, have trained hundreds of top ranked juniors at an internationally recognized academy, worked with several collegiate golf teams and now work with a handful of touring pros. I have even trained a number of PGA teaching professionals. There is one thing all these golfers have in common-a sincere desire to play their very best and see where it will take them. I have been featured on ESPN and have hosted my own radio show. My work has been featured in Resort Living, SELF magazine, Pacific Northwest Golfer, Golf Illustrated and many others. I have consulted with the South American Golf Federation and was selected as the Sport Science consultant to the PGA of Mexico.
Fitness isn’t one simple concept, but many things wrapped up into one. Overall fitness includes being able to move your body through a full range of motion, produce strength through this same range of motion and have the stamina and energy to keep up with the best as well as produce consistent performance when it really matters. Everybody needs something just a little different. There are some golfers who are so tight and wound up that a few simple stretches could unleash a brand new golfer. Yes, for some of you, it really is that simple! Some golfers just don’t have the strength they need to power through the ball. A little strength could make the ball go a whole lot further.
Whether you’re 18 or 78, you might be surprised at how fitness can affect your game. Let me know if you have interest in specific articles or information that you think will help you. I’ll be glad to help where I can.
How to increase hand strength
I wanted to know what you could recommend for loosening up prior to teeing off on the first hole, especially when we go off early and sometimes don’t have time to hit balls at all. Also what is a good stretch for a tight left shoulder. Mine is always tight, especially if I were to reach up high for something. To give you an idea I do sit ups about every other day….. I’m sure you are familiar with the “stretch for you abs” that you do when you lie on your back with your arms out to the sides, then drop your knees to one side while looking away. You are supposed to feel the stretch in your sides. Well I do on my right side but my left side I feel it in my left arm/shoulder. It’s like the tendons are too short. It did go away for a while, then came back after about a year. I’ve been to physical therapy, which didn’t help at all. I’ve had it for years. Any thoughts? The only thing that seems to help is stretches. I’m very tight all over by the way. Fit otherwise.
Thank you very much,
Thanks for your question. Regarding a stretch for tight shoulders, here is one of my favorites that you can do right on the driving range using a golf club. It’s called my rotator cuff warm up. Grab a golf club with one hand and place the club behind your back so that it is vertical. Reach behind with your top hand and take hold of the club on the grip. The opposite hand will also reach behind your back and hold the opposite end of the club. Pull the club up with the top hand for a count of 1 to 2 seconds, then slide the club down with your lower hand.
Regarding the general tightness you are feeling everywhere, I would really encourage you to find a stretch program that addresses all the major areas that affect the golf swing-mid back, shoulders, hamstrings and hips. I think you will be surprised at how much your swing will ‘free itself up’ once your body is warm and can move with a greater degree of freedom.
Dear Susan Hill,
Hi, Thanks for taking my question. Are there any exercises I should be doing to increase my distance? I’m rather slight built (5’11, 160lbs), and I hit my driver about 240-250. I’d love to add another 20 yards or so! What would you concentrate on. I run regularly so I think my legs are good, but I think I need better/faster hands and wrists, forearms etc. I don’t want to just start pumping iron without knowing if I’m making it worse by doing so!
This is a great question and one I get asked most frequently. Most of us are constantly working for more distance, including me. Distance is directly related to the swing speed and the ball velocity the golfer can generate off the face of the club. There are four basic elements that affect swing speed. They are your athletic ability, quality of your swing movements, strength, and properly fitted equipment. So, the question comes back to ‘what do we need to do to improve the quality of your swing movements’. For most golfers, they find tight areas that just need to get unlocked or they just need to create more freedom of movement in their swings. When you combine good quality body motion with a solid impact you have the absolute best opportunity to achieve your optimal swing and create the distance you desire. You might want to check out my newest release, www.101stretchesforgolf.com.
I've always been an avid weightlifter. In the past, my golf swing has worsened proportionately to how much I lift. Recently I've changed my workout routine to be more golf friendly... lighter weight, more stretching, balance and cardio. I'm tired of being the "big gorilla" who can only drive the ball 230 yds.
My question is: Is it better to workout before or after I practice/play?
As I see it, there are really two questions here. One is regarding the age old question and concern about weightlifting and golf and the second is when weightlifting should happen relative to play. Let’s answer your main question first.
When is it better to workout? I would normally recommend working out after your golf. However, there are a few caveats to that depending on how long you have been weightlifting. If you are a seasoned weightlifter, then it shouldn't’t really matter. Typically, a golfer is pushing him/herself in the gym during the "‘off’ season when little golf is being played. Then they can battle the side effects of fatigue or soreness without any real thought to their game. Once a golfer is "in" season, workouts continue, but with much less intensity. So, for many professional golfers, they will work out according to their weekly practice schedule regardless of when they play. So, if they normally work out in the morning, they will typically work out before play. If they normally work out in the late afternoon or evening, then their workouts would begin after play. If a golfer is new to exercise, then I would recommend working out after play until a golfer gets accustomed to the way their body feels after exercise.
Now, regarding your other concern with weightlifting and golf. I do not validate the age old concern of golfers needing to worry about bulking up and this having an adverse affect on their game. I have personally found that golfers tend to not push themselves enough, much less too much. But, here is what happens, in my opinion. As weightlifting takes a more prominent role in a golfers’ schedule, they dedicate less time or no time to stretching so the tightness affects their golf swing, not the weightlifting itself. A perfect example of this is Mike Dobbyn, the 2007 ReMax World Long Drive Champion. He is 6’8 and around 300 lbs. He lifts weights 5 to 6 days weekly and with significant amounts of weight. But, he is a huge believer in flexibility and makes a concerted effort to use this as a compliment to his strength training program. And, by the way, he also hits the ball over 550 yds. Keep up the great work, but make sure you address your flexibility needs as well.
follow up question...
Thank you for your well, detailed response. You are obviously very knowledgeable with golf fitness. But I'd like to dig a little deeper.
Over the years I've asked several golfers, competitive and weekenders, "Should I workout before or after hitting the driving range"? And it's been split 50/50 for both groups. Some say that you should always workout after golf. This way you will never get yourself tired through the final holes. As your body and mind does not see that you are nearing the end. On the other hand, I've been told that muscle memory is the most important factor in this situation. For example, after doing the repetitive movements with the weights, you should end with the "muscle memory" of a golf swing.
I wish I had time to workout before and after practicing, but unfortunately I don't get paid to (like all of us dream). So time is limited.
BTW - I've been lifting for about 22 years. And playing for about 15.
I thought I saw a book you have written on golf fitness. Is it still in publication?
I am happy to dig deeper with this question as you obviously have a great thirst for knowledge and nothing is more enjoyable than helping golfers play better golf. The reason why you are getting a 50-50 response is because there is not a black and white answer. As an example, I work with many pros. There is one pro who is a well seasoned golfer and well experienced from a fitness perspective. This player has always worked out in the morning. So, this is the schedule that we follow. It is their ‘routine’. As you know, a well practiced and rehearsed routine is one of the key components to playing great golf. Routines are developed for mental preparation, practice swings and workout schedules. Regardless of when the tee time is, we work out in the morning. The only exception is if the tee time is so early it really isn’t feasible. I can also tell you from my connections and insider knowledge in the industry that most successful pros are also working out in the morning, even before a Major tournament. Why? Because it is their routine. It is more disruptive to not work out then it is to work out. It disrupts the way their day normally flows. It can also take the edge off of competition by getting a form of relief through exercise.
On the other hand, I have worked with another pro who is a well seasoned golfer but who is still relatively new to exercise. I rarely recommend exercising before play. The reason is because the player is still learning about movements in the gym and not feeling quite comfortable with putting it all together. Sometimes this player feels sore, uncomfortable and has concerns about losing their feel if the last thing they touched were dumbbells and now they are ready to tee off holding a light club. In this case, it is more important that the player get through these adjustments and begin feeling comfortable with how their body responds before we start altering the exercise routine and times.
Regarding the issue of muscle memory, this comes from repetition. When we repeat correct movements in the gym, then our body learns this. Same with the golf swing. It becomes programmed so to speak. So, in your case, you have extensive experience playing golf and exercising. It has less value to you because of your experience. I would suggest it is a non issue for you specifically. Choose which one you prefer and keep the routine.
Yes. I have written about 10 or so books on different segments of the golf fitness market. You will see my most recent book on the book shelves of Barnes and Noble around Father’s Day. In the meantime, my main golf fitness resource is http://www.fitnessforgolf.com.
Hi Susan, I have been working for about two months, in a kettlebell class, run by Mike Gerometta, in Winchester, Va. We do allot of core, back, legs, and shoulder strength training, but I feel like were missing some other crucial areas. What do you think? Also, do you know any exercises (besides core exercises) that will improve my spine angle throughout the downswing, it is getting a bit rounded.
ps. What type of college degree do you have?
I love kettlebells for golf! Sounds like you are on the right track with your exercise routine. As far as anything missing in your routine, the only thing glaring to me is flexibility. By using kettlebells, you have the opportunity to move the weight through a full range of motion which is why many people prefer this fitness style. However, if you are not using the full range of motion, then you have the potential to strengthen your body through a shortened range of motion therefore creating a flexibility issue down the road for your golf swing.
Regarding your spine angle, it is critical that every exercise you perform is completed with good posture. So, if you are performing an exercise with a rounded spine, then you are re-enforcing poor posture as well as making it worse because you are also strengthening it in a poor position. Whether you are working legs, arms, core, back or whatever, always check your body position before moving into the exercise and check it throughout. So, there is not a specific exercise to do per se, but a way of ‘doing it’ that is the most important thing to consider.
P.S. I have a B.S. degree in Economics. Not sure what it has to do with fitness, but it is where I started in life. While I now have most every fitness, nutrition and biomechanic certification under my belt, my real knowledge comes from working on the range with some of the top touring pros and top 100 golf instructors learning how to make great players play better golf.
(Article by Susan Hill)
For best competition performance on the golf course, maintaining proper nutrition is very important. There’s no one specific food or diet that will fit every golfer’s needs. A golfer’s nutrition plan should be individualized to meet the needs of training and competition or recreational play. Since carbohydrates are the primary fuel for performance related activities, they should be the primary consideration of a golfer’s diet.
Listed below is a breakdown of the amounts of food sources a golfer should have to maintain optimal performance on the course:
• 20-30% of daily calories from proteins.
• 20-25% of daily calories from fats.
• 50-60% of daily calories from carbohydrates.
These ranges leave you some room to create the ratio that works best for you. Here are some common ratios. They are listed in the order of carbohydrates, protein, then fat: 50-30-20, 55-25-20, 60-20-20. Each of these combinations promotes balance, while favoring carbohydrates to promote better energy.
Whether eating for weight loss or to improve performance, here are 3 rules to follow which will guide you to a greater level of success:
1. Eat 5 to 6 small meals throughout the day.
2. Eat every couple of hours to increase your metabolism and keep energy levels constant.
3. Eat well balanced meals containing some carbohydrates, proteins and fat.
Other healthy eating tips include drinking plenty of water, taking a daily multi vitamin/mineral, limiting or eliminating alcohol from your diet and choosing whole, unrefined grain products over highly processed options.
Sweat losses may be considerable especially when tournaments are played in hot and humid conditions. While you can always pick up drinks or snacks on the course, they may be at lengthy intervals and not allow sufficient opportunity for fluid replacement during a round.
Since players will usually miss a meal while playing a round, they may be faced with no carbohydrate intake for five or six hours. Combined with exercise and nervous stress, this situation may cause a drop in blood-sugar levels in susceptible individuals affecting brain function and skill. Packing a small snack in your golf bag will help to prevent this problem.
See also Eat Your Way To Better Scores by Becky Fox
I have a question for you about possible helps for my golf game. I was in a car accident a few years ago and some of the injuries resulted in poor flexibility. My flexibility in my left hip (I am a RH golfer) is almost non existent. Instead of rotating on my left hip, I pivot my left foot to try to turn into the shot. I also incurred a fracture to my right heel which restricts a proper weight shift. Do you have any suggestions that would help me better my consistency and provide more power to my game.
Thanks so much for any help that you can offer.
I am so sorry to hear of your accident. I am also happy to hear you are still able to play golf, although it is more frustrating for you now. I have seen the swing faults you are mentioning here with golfers of many different levels. I worked a few years ago with a +4 handicap golfer trying to get on tour who had a tight left hip and also opened his foot for more clearing room. Instead of giving you a solid answer, I’m afraid I need to ask another question. I understand that your flexibility has changed, but isn’t it possible to regain some flexibility in your hips with some patience and guided stretching exercises or is this a chronic structural issue that can’t be changed as a result of the accident? In most cases, flexibility can be restored with the right stretches and regular attention to the proper areas.
Thanks for your response and empathy. In reference to your question, the main problem causing the reduced range of motion in the hip is mostly because of a structural issue. After reconstructing the acetebulum (sp?) the doctor said that he would normally "shoot" the area with radiation to retard some of the bone growth. However, due to other injuries that I sustained my body was in a weakened state that would not allow this procedure. Consequently, the bone around the hip joint "grew" more than it should have and this limits my range of motion in the hip. I'm not sure what the proper term is, but the rotation inward toward my right leg (as to cross my left leg over my right knee at my left ankle) is not possible. I could probably gain some flexibility in my hamstring, calf, and quads with more stretching. I also have a long screw through my right hip into my spine where the spine and pelvis meet. This limits my upper body turn on the backswing.
I look forward to hearing from you again. Thanks so much for anything that you can offer.
My support of golf fitness through the years has always been to educate golfers on how to get the ‘most’ out of their bodies. The ultimate goal is get the best range of motion that is possible for each individual given their personal constraints, optimize their body strength and teach them how to conserve and manage energy on the course through fitness and nutrition. In your situation, you clearly have some physical constraints that won’t allow you to get the best range of motion available. This is where it gets a bit tricky. There are a couple of different approaches in my opinion. First, I have read research that senior golfers can generate a tremendous amount of hip speed to enable them to continue to hit the ball far. This applies to many senior golfers who do not have the flexibility to mimic a true modern swing. Yet they can still accomplish their goals by learning how to essentially ‘spin’ their hips to create momentum. Unfortunately, I am not an instructor, but I would be willing to bet you can find some help with this. Secondly, there are many ‘body friendly’ golf coaches out there that can adapt the golf swing to better fit your physical limitations. I have not seen this material in person, but I have been told that this DVD series is in promotion of a body friendly swing. http://www.peakperformancegolfswing.com/
I wish you the best of luck and look forward to hearing of your progress.
I am a 16 year old and male, and have been doing kettlebell training for quite some time. I fell strongly that my core is of sufficient strength to maintain my spine angle throughout my golf swing. Unfortunately on my downswing my spine/back gets rounded?!? Could this be a lack of core strength or am I simply putting to much effort into the downswing with my arms?
ps. I am 6 foot 2, doesn't body type determine required core strength?
I would have a tendency to agree with you. Kettlebell training is an excellent way to train your core and I would assume you are well developed in this area based on your comments and experiences. I would be curious to see your golf swing in action so I could see for myself what is happening. I am wondering if you are doing a casting maneuver in the transition from your backswing to your downswing. If you find yourself relying more on your hands and arms in this position, then the likely cause is lack of flexibility in your trunk rotation or, specifically, mid back. I would also be curious if you have tight shoulders. Any of these restricted areas can cause you to change your swing plane at the very top and create the situation of a rounded back. My best guess based on the little information I have is to check out the flexibility in your shoulders.
If you have any additional information on the status of your current flexibility, feel free to write again and share this information. Also, include your current handicap as this will tell me a few things as well.
I’m ready to hang up the clubs for the season. ;0(
I want to really work hard over the winter to get in shape to play better next year. I’d like to work on Flexibility of my shoulders and torso so I can make a better turn, and also my strength in any areas you feel would be most helpful for the golf swing.
Great question! The most honest answer I can give is to get a physical evaluation of your strengths and weaknesses as it relates to your game. I offer this on my website, fitnessforgolf.com. Why? Because this is the way that professional players are trained. In the off season, every player starts with a post season reflection and evaluation. Then, based on the results of the tests, a program is put in place to focus primarily on weaknesses. (from a physical perspective)
In the absence of this information, there are 3 main areas that plague most golfers: tight hips, tight shoulders and a tight mid back. So, stretching these areas and maintaining what I call 'normal' flexibility is the goal. Most golfers think they have to be
'gumby' and I don't agree with this. Normal flexibility and range of motion is good enough to play really good golf.
On the strength training side, there are two important rules to follow:
1. always use weights through a full range of motion
2. try and use single muscle strength as much as 2 leg or 2 arm dominance. For example, try a 1 leg squat as opposed to always doing 2 legs. This allows you to develop muscle strength independently which is important.
Hope this answers your question.
Do you have any tips for me to increase my hand strength? I think I’d be a better player if I could improve in that area.
Thanks for your question. I have a couple of suggestions for you. First, I like to see women in general develop a bit more upper body strength for golf. The best way to do this is through good old fashioned push ups. Women seem to hate them, but I think it is really awesome when you see women with the strength even to do just a few. You must rely on strong hands, arms, shoulders and a good solid core. Next, if this isn’t your thing, then you can just focus exclusively on the hands by purchasing one of these webs that are very popular for developing hand strength.
Hope this helps.
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For more information on golf specific nutrition, exercises or stretches, visit http://www.fitnessforgolf.com