Too many people underestimate the stress that golf puts on the body; after months of not golfing during the winter, they jump right back in.
To prevent injuries, golfers need proper biomechanics and a specific base level of strength, range of motion and co-ordination. When the body doesn't have the capacity to meet those demands, participants are at greater risk of long-term aches, pains and even injuries. No wonder more than half of novice golfers are suffering from back pain at any one time.
Don't let yourself fall into the all-too-common "participate, get injured, do physio, participate" cycle. Instead, use the four concepts below to increase your body's capacity; rather than golfing to get into shape, get in shape to golf.
Assess your range of motion
When a joint doesn't have the mobility to rotate appropriately, a joint above or below that joint will have to compensate. For example, if you don't have the ability to move through your neck or upper back, or your hip joint doesn't have the range needed, your body will compensate (say, with over-rotation through the lower back) and that will often lead to injury.
Start by assessing your flexibility side to side. Make sure your head, shoulders, hips, knees and ankles have adequate and fairly symmetrical ranges of motion. If one part of your body has less mobility, spend more time stretching it. Next, consider how much motion each of your joints has compared with what is needed to swing the club. If one part of your body can hardly move – and you know it needs to move to golf – work on mobility there.
If your upper back and neck are stiff, try "quadruped backstrokes."
Start on your hands and knees. Keep your pelvis stable as you circle your right arm backward like you are doing the backstroke. Turn your head in the direction of your arm. Aim to move through your upper spine and neck to look at your foot, but don't let the foot move. Alternate sides for 10 to 20 reps.
If your hips are stiff, try the "figure-four stretch."
Sit in a chair. Place your right ankle on top of your left knee. Sit tall. Push gently on your right thigh. To intensify the stretch, lean forward. Hold for 30 seconds, then switch sides.
If you are hyperflexible, your priority should be strength training. Only stretch to maintain, not to increase, your flexibility.
Fitness expert Paul Chek states in his book The Golf Biomechanics Manual: Whole In One Golf Conditioning that hitting a golf ball is comparable to lifting your four-rep max at the gym. You would never attempt to lift your four-rep max for four hours, but golfing asks that of your body.
Don't underestimate the stress golfing puts on your body and the physical capacity golfing requires.
Strength train to increase your muscular capacity and protect your spine, tendons and ligaments. When your muscles aren't strong enough, the body uses tendons and ligaments in an inappropriate manner; causing irritation and pain. A strong midsection stabilizes and protects the spine and allows the golfer to absorb and dissipate the forces accrued when swinging the club. If you can't absorb the forces, you are more likely to overuse other structures, causing microtrauma to muscles and tendons (think golfer's elbow).
Do functional multijoint exercises – such as squats, deadlifts and wood chops – to strengthen and integrate the entire body. Integration is key; golf requires precision, timing, control, accuracy and skill.
As an added bonus, functional multijoint exercises, when done correctly, promote good posture. Posture affects rotation, and rotation is key in golf. Try this: Sit hunched over and rotate right. Now sit tall and try to rotate again; guaranteed you will be able to rotate farther.
Give your body time to adjust to the specific musculoskeletal demands of golf. Yes, golf is a skill-based sport, and, yes, you have to practice to improve your game, but being overzealous is counterproductive. You won't be able to participate if you are injured.
Build gradually; don't play back-to-back 18 holes or spend three hours at the driving range your first weekend out. Think long term. Don't let your ego get in the way. Listen to your body. Stop when appropriate.
Exercise stresses the body. It is only a positive stress if you give your body the ingredients it needs to recover properly.
The more you stress your body – e.g., golfing after a long hiatus or golfing longer or harder, especially with poor form – the more recovery your body requires.
Prioritize sleep – your body recovers while you sleep. Consume a nutritionally dense diet – a healthy diet helps your muscles and connective tissue repair and become stronger. Pack healthful snacks so you can nosh on something immediately after golfing, and have a nutritious dinner already prepared for when you get home.
Get regular body work such as massage and consider investing in a foam roller or "yoga tune-up balls" so you can do daily self-massage.