Friday, June 26, 2009

Prepping like a pro for golf


The mechanics and complexity of a golf swing could make your head spin. Elite players use nearly every joint in their body to propel nearly 2,000 pounds of force to hit a ball in half a millisecond or so at impact.

At the elite level, the club-head speeds can exceed 100 miles per hour, all the while taking only two-tenths of a second to accelerate the club to this speed. Furthermore, throughout the game, elite players maintain a consistent club-head alignment within 2 degrees from shot to shot. At this level of playing, the game requires core strength and stability, power, flexibility and balance.

So it's no surprise that today's top players take their preparation for the game very seriously. They are leaner, more flexible and muscular than previous generations. They are training like athletes to play at a consistently high level.

To excel at any sport you love requires preparation and training, and new research offers some training ideas. The Canadian National Golf Team was recruited for a study published in The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research this past May. The testing of these competitors looked at limb length, abdominal strength, pull-up strength, cardiovascular fitness, flexibility, balance and leg power and how it all affects golf performance. The testing showed genetics gave some advantage to players with long limbs and height. Those long limbs generate much more force at impact in both men and women. The results of a run test showed a relationship between a good cardiovascular base and total score, short game and putting average.

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The abdominal-muscle-endurance tests involved variations of forearm planks, in which the body is held stiff using arms and toes as pivot points. Strong internal and external oblique muscles on the dominant side of the female golfers helped swing power and drive distance. These muscles act like an anatomical girdle around your middle.

There were also correlations between putting distance and 5-iron distance, in both men and women, showing that core strength and stability are important in training. The balance test had the athlete stand on one foot, with the foot of the other leg against the lower part of the support foot. The test began when they were asked to raise the heel of the support foot from the floor, and to balance as long as possible. Given the weight shifts and balancing primarily on the dominant leg that occur during backswings, and sometimes uneven ground, balance training was found to be very beneficial to performance.

Leg power was found to be more crucial for men than for woman for power during the golf swing. Upper body strength—as in pull-ups and push-ups—was correlated with drive distance. Forearm strength was different between the men and women, suggesting that very different recruitment patterns may be happening for the different sexes during different aspects of the game. (Distance in the male group, only putting in the female group.)

It all sounds somewhat complex. However, you can start to practice at least one good habit this summer by keeping your warm-up simple. Another study of competitive golfers warmed up with 10 practice swings, then 15 full swings with their competitive clubs to longer, lighter clubs, as opposed to a 20 minute stretching routine. (Less force can be applied to the bone because of the slack in the tendon after static stretching.) It's just a game, after all.

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