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Opinion & Analysis

Golfers and distance running

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This article isn’t about “should golfers do cardio?”. The answer to that is an unequivocal yes. Cardiovascular fitness is, to simplify, the way in which the body supplies oxygen to working muscles for the energy you need to move (for all you science folks out there, send me a message and we can get deeper into it). The more efficiently and easily this happens, the easier every active activity will be. Even golf. This article is more about how to get good cardio and why longer, slower, distance running is not what I’d choose for high performing golfers almost ever.

Firstly, there are two categories that activities/exercises fall into: anaerobic and aerobic. Anaerobic means that the oxygen supplied to the muscles isn’t sufficient enough to sustain the work for a long period of time (think sprinting, or a max speed driver swing; as much as you might want to you, the intensity will have to lower to perform longer). Aerobic means that the supply is plentiful enough for long sustained activity (think jogging or walking a round of golf).

Obviously, golf has both, leading to the crux of this article. In my experience, golfers tend to focus on the 4+ hours that a round takes, decide that this requires significant stamina (they are absolutely correct), and then go run 3 miles in about 20-30 min.
Here’s my problem with this philosophy: the level of cardio necessary to play a competitive round of golf is low. In other words, no one shoots 90 because they can’t get enough air.

The level needed to play a majority of professional golf is even less because of caddies or carts (mini-tours/senior tour). I liken golf to a mixture of shooting free-throws, kicking field goals, and pitching a baseball. All outrageously pressurized, all highly demanding in skill and the ability to control oneself, but not completely necessary to be in primo shape to do. Therefore, what is truly needed is to be cardiovascularly fit, but only so that the body recovers more quickly and operates more efficiently, to then be an explosive athlete for longer.

In a study conducted by Potteiger et al. (1992), (thanks Eric Cressey and Rob Rabena for finding this one), it was found during simulated baseball games that the Vo2 levels (measured in ml.kg.min) reached ? the levels associated with endurance athletes. Meaning cardiovascular endurance isn’t really a factor in pitching late into a game.

While a real game probably elevates the consumption and expenditure, it obviously doesn’t raise the levels to that of the Tour de France. And while I do not have any reliable data on VO2 for golfers during a round of golf, I have seen data indicating that VO2 max reaches about 35-46 ml.kg.min during a round of golf, indicating that cardio isn’t a major player in finishing a round of golf as strongly as started, or rather, that whatever your cardiovascular fitness level, that the endurance of it will have a major effect on your round.

So yes, cardio is important, because it will make your round easier, and because it will make everything easier. But far more important is your anaerobic system, and your strength and flexibility, for these, are what are responsible for hitting the golf ball, and particularly hitting the golf ball far. There were correlations found in elite player’s ball speeds and even in their proximity to the hole on chip shots based on something as simple as their anterior core endurance. (Wells et al. (2009)). Chip proximity! Due to ab strength! Do your planks and chip it closer, easy right?

Everyone is probably nodding their head right now, “Yep, we get it, being stronger makes the ball go further, and will give me better stability, and help my golf game.” But the original point of the article was to train differently. Because golfers are anaerobic power athletes.

There’s a saying, “What you do is who you become.” Same thing with training, if you train slow, you’ll be slow, and I don’t care if you run 7 minute miles, it’s not that fast. Golf is explosive and should be trained as such. So if you want to be fast, train fast. Train for strength, and explosion. (As a side note, I have seen most of my athlete’s heart rates peak in the 140-160 range or higher during an hour’s strength session, which is around the peak of a pretty solid run anyways.)

So, instead of distance running, I would prefer intervals and explosiveness. Run fast for 20 seconds. Rest for 20 seconds. Run a 50-yard sprint, rest, recover, and then do it again. Bike sprints. Assault Bike sprints. 10 seconds on, 20 seconds rest, etc. The more stuff we can do where we fire every muscle in our body quickly, or at least faster than we did before, the better off we’ll be. Explosively lift weights, perform low rep-high explosion box jumps. There is no limit to how we can get moving faster, and not have our muscles relax into an aerobic 30 minute “slow” workout.

You still will gain cardio, just by working out, and as we’ve seen, it’s not like golfers need to have marathon levels of cardiovascular fitness anyways. But, if you prefer to be that sort of athlete, you can get there with shorter faster runs/bikes, learning to lift weights properly, and using a few circuits to gain some explosiveness with a high heart rate.

In summary, I argue against distance running and would have my golfers get their cardio from strength sessions, or faster interval type training. In-season sprints have been shown to increase lower body strength while long slow distance running has shown to lessen it in baseball players. (Rhea et al. (2008)) If we want to be fast, and I believe that all of us golfers want our swings to be fast, then we have to get serious about training the system that produces that, and spending most of our time in this way.

So spend some time doing some box jumps, or sprints (if you have the form and capability to do so), and definitely some strength building if you actually want to hit the ball further, and even chip it closer.

REFERENCES:

1. Potteiger, J., Blessing, D., & Wilson, G. D. (1992). The Physiological Responses to a Single Game of Baseball Pitching. Journal of Applied Sport Science Research, 6, 11-18.

2. Wells GD, Elmi M., Thomas S. (2009) Physiological Correlates of Golf Performance. J Strength Cond Res. 2009 May;23(3):741-50.

3. Rhea, M., Oliverson, J., Marshall, G., Peterson, M., Kenn, J., & Ayllon, F. (2008). Noncompatibilty of Power and Endurance Training Among College Baseball Players. The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research , 230-234.

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  1. Frank

    Sep 12, 2020 at 6:33 pm

    Tiger directly said that if he never ran as often as he did, he could have extended his peak for a lot longer than he has. Cycling and/or swimming is much more low-impact on the back than running. Also, if you want to induce golf specific conditioning, why would you run when literally no one runs during a 4 day 72 hole golf tournament; they’re always walking?

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Podcasts

On Spec: Club fitting isn’t magic! Also, Lydia Ko and Stewart Cink win again

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On this week’s episode, host Ryan Barath covers everything from Lydia Ko’s comeback win on the LPGA tour, to why club fittings aren’t some magical thing that’s going to instantly lower scores.

It also covers Stewart Cink’s win at the RBC Heritage and offers a sneak peek at the GolfWRX Best Iron list of 2021.

Want more GolfWRX Radio? Check out our other shows (and the full archives for this show) here

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Fix your golfing back pain, Step 2: Early stage rehab

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This article is co-written with Marnus Marais. Since 2011, Marnus has worked with some of the world’s best players on both the PGA Tour and European Tour, helping them to maintain optimal health and peak physical performance. His current stable of players includes Dustin Johnson, Patrick Cantlay, and Louis Oosthuizen, amongst others. 

You can find more information on Marnus and his work at marnusmarais.com

This article is No. 2 in a 4 part series.

Step 1 – The Importance of Assessment

Step 2 – Early Stage Rehab

Step 3 – Essential Strength and Golf Movement Patterns

Step 4 – Building global strength for prevention of future injury

Introduction

Now that we have identified the source of the back issue through assessment, it’s time to start working on the underlying causes, in order to reduce pain and decrease the likelihood of re-injury further down the track. 

In our experience, mechanical back pain in golfers caused by physical issues is most often caused by one or more of the the following 4 issues, with many amateur players displaying the entire collection!

– Lack of Mobility at the Hips and Mid / Upper Back

– Poor Posture

– Misalignment and Muscle Imbalances

– Weak Core Muscles

Because pain is likely still a factor at this stage, we need to proceed with caution and focus on rehab work that is low intensity and has a low risk of causing a pain flare up.

With that in mind, in ‘Step 2: Early Stage Rehab’ we are going to address Mobility, Posture and Misalignment / Muscle Imbalances. These 3 areas can be improved upon, and should have a positive impact on pain reduction, even if back discomfort is still restricting larger, more global movements.

Step 2.1 – Improving Mobility in Hips and Mid / Upper back

Certain areas in the body need to be more stable, and others need to be more mobile. The lumbar spine (lower back) falls into the stable category, partly due to its limited capacity for rotation and lateral flexion (side bending). We know the unnatural golf swing movement imparts both rotational and side bending forces on the spine, so it’s an area we need to keep stable and protected.

In order to avoid excessive low back rotation forces in life and especially in the golf swing, it’s very important that we try to maximize the range of movement in other areas, most notably the joints above and below the low back, where the majority of rotation in the golf swing should take place:

Hips

We need sufficient range of movement to turn into, and out of, both hips. For example, if we can’t turn and load into our lead hip due to a lack of internal rotation mobility, we tend to compensate with excessive rotation and side-bending in the lower back.

Suggested Exercise Circuit – Hip Mobility

1) Self Massage Glutes – 45 secs each side

2) Cross Leg Glute Stretch – 30 secs each side

3) Prone Glute Stretch – 30 secs each side

4) 90 90 Hip Mobility – 5 reps each side

Thoracic Spine (mid to upper back)

Having sufficient rotation in our thoracic spine to both left and the right is extremely important. The thoracic spine has significantly greater rotational capabilities compared to the lumbar spine (low back). If we maximise our mobility here, we can help protect the lower back, along with the cervical spine (neck).

Suggested Exercises – Thoracic Mobility

1) Self Massage Mid / Upper back – 60 seconds

2) Upper Back Extension – 30 seconds

3) All Fours Rotation – 5 reps each side

Step 2.2 – Improving Posture

Posture can be described as the proper alignment of the spine, with the aim of establishing three natural curves (low back, mid/upper back and neck).

The 3 major spinal curves: 1 – Cervical, 2 – Thoracic, 3 – Lumbar

Modern lifestyles and the associated muscle imbalances have pushed and pulled our spines away from those three natural curves, and this has had a damaging effect on our spinal health. Our backs are designed to function optimally from the neutral illustrated above, and the further we get away from it, the more stress we put on our protective spinal structures.

Aside from promotion of pain, poor posture also does terrible things for our golf swings; reducing range of motion in key areas (hips, mid back and shoulders) and creating inefficiencies in our swing action, to give us a double whammy of back pain causes.

The muscles responsible for holding your posture are located deep in the body and close to the spine. Strengthening them can be tricky, as we don’t really have a lot of conscious control over their activation. Hence posture being such a difficult thing to remember! The combination of the 4 exercises featured below help provide the stimulus to those deep muscles that, if trained often enough, will automatically hold your posture in a good position.

Suggested Exercises – Strengthening posture muscles

1) Wall Posture Check – 30 secs

2) Posture Cue – 60 secs

3) Posture Cue Knee Lifts – 10 reps each side

4) Arm Press – 15 reps

Step 2.3 – Fixing Alignment Issues and Muscle Imbalances

Imagine a car with wheel alignment issues; front wheels facing to the right, back wheels facing to the left. Not only will the tires wear out unevenly and quickly, but other areas of the car will experience more torque, load or strain and would have to work harder. The same thing happens to the lower back when we have body alignment issues above and / or below.

For example, if we have short / tight / overactive hip flexors (muscles at the front of the hips that bend our knees to our chest) on one side of the body; very common amongst golfers with low back pain, then this would rotate the pelvis forward on one side, which can create a knock-on effect of imbalance throughout the body.

If the pelvis rotates in one direction, the shoulders naturally have to rotate in the opposite direction in order to maintain balance. Our low back is subsequently caught in the middle, and placed under more load, stress and strain. This imbalance can cause the low back to bend and rotate further, and more unevenly, especially in the already complex rotation and side bending context of the golf swing!

Below is a pelvic alignment technique that can help those with the afore mentioned imbalance.

In the next article; Step 3: Essential Strength and Golf Movement Patterns, we will show you the progression of exercises and key technique principles to build up the strength and movement patterns to return to regular exercise and golf.

If you would like to see how Marnus can help with your golfing back pain, then check out the resources below:

Marnus Marais – marnusmarais.com

If you would like to access training programs designed for elite and recreational players, then check out the following resources and services from Nick at Golf Fit Pro:

Articles
Golf Fit Pro App (iOS)
Online Training
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Opinion & Analysis

A golfing memoir in monthly tokens: March (belatedly)

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Editor’s note: All latency on the publishing here is the fault of the Editor-in-Chief.

As some might say, if you don’t take the plunge, you can’t taste the brine. Others might not say such a thing. I’m taking the plunge, because I want to taste the brine.

Here you’ll find the third installment of “A Golfing Memoir” as we trace a year in the life of Flip Hedgebow, itinerant teacher of golf. For January, click here. For February, click here.

Absolutely. Meet me up north (and, to himself, what have I got to lose?)

No sense in putting the cart before the horse, as the old pro used to say, as cirE “Flip” Hedgebow used to ignore. As March came to a close, as cirE locked the pro shop for the last time until November, he took a leap of faith. How big of a leap? Let’s get through March, and find out.

Speaking of carts and horses, March for Flip always came in like a lamb, and went out like a lion. That ran contrary to the folklore but, all things considered, there was always a 50% chance of things running contrary.

No, the best reason for topsy and turvy in March, for Flip, was explained by his birthday. Being born in the middle of the month might suggest balance to some; for him, it was a constant reminder of the chaos that led up to his earthly arrival, tempered only by the madness that ensued. If that’s balance, you can have it.

In Flip’s world, March was about the arrival of the most seasoned of snowbirds, the ones with more than five years of retirement under their growing-shrinking belts. Some were expanding, as they had given up on fitness; the rest were shrinking, as the truest effects of age caught them up. In each case, this pod arrived with military precision, knowing where and when nearly every penny would be spent. No frivolity remained in their schedules, no ambiguity survived from younger, budgeting days. No longer minnows, they recognized that uncertainty stalked them, and that all of their remaining wits needed to center on a small and precise target. The smaller, the more precise, the better…for the women.

Like all men, the old guys appreciated the consistency and precision their wives brought to their worlds.

Like all men, the old guys detested the ever-encroaching, loss of control over their own destinies.

They would enter the pro shop, grab the latest hat like a modern-day Judge Smails, and set it at a rakish angle, atop their sleek domes. Flip learned quite early on that the only way to ensure the sale was cash. When the wives invariably came to complain and demand a refund, Flip could “only” offer a pro shop credit, guaranteeing that something would be purchased. If they bought it on account or on a card, the sale was irretrievably lost.

Flip expected these purchases from his March gam: the cheapest golf balls, when their supply of northern culls ran out; the attire from last fall, or even the previous summer, ready to be shipped back to the manufacturer when March 20th arrived; and some odd or end that the pro had overlooked, lost to some sort of missionary of time. The only thing stronger than the will of the spouse, was the desire of the old guy to make some sort of purchase, to re-establish some semblance of power and control, for at least a moment.

How did you get your name, and why is the last letter, and not the first, capitalized?

(silence. he rarely heard the first question, as everyone knew him as “Flip;” he never heard the second one, as no one paid attention anymore.)

Two stories are a lot to tell. Let’s save both answers, even if it’s just a little while.

(silence. she wasn’t satisfied)

If the red hair caused his eyes to move from the mundane nature of packing and sealing boxes, everything else physical compelled him to put down the tape gun, sense that his throat was dry, know that he would not clear it without a squeak, turn away for a bottle of water, take a swig for lubrication, and, finally, turn back with his finest Axel Foley smile, and greet her with: How long have you been retired?

It was an incalculable risk. There was a 90% chance that she would react with an I’m not that old sort of affront, turn on her heels, and march out the door. There was a 5% chance that she would get the joke, and would stick around for another exchange, before smiling awkwardly and departing. There remained a 5% chance of something else. On this 21st day of March, that final 5% wafted in.

Wafted in, in the guise of a lesson he thought that he had planned. Planned for one of the wives, a late-sixties model whose swing was frozen in time: the unlikely combination of a forward lurch of the torso, a reverse pivot of the feet, and right in the middle, an impossible heave of the hips in one of four unpredictable directions. If anyone were to discover a fifth cardinal point, it would be Agnes Porter. Until this moment, Flip Hedgebow gave thanks that the world was blessed with just one of her; more than one might have tilted the globe off its axis. Now, he offered up a different type of gratitude, thanks to the visage of her granddaughter, who bore no resemblance to the matriarch, beyond the title of Agnes Porter.

They write that a story may be deemed worthy for its inerrant language, or for its compelling events. The story of Agnes Porter the way-younger and Flip Hedgebow benefitted from both, along with an overdose of peripeteia.

 

Artwork by JaeB

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