How you work at 50-plus can lead to under-par scores.
By Neil E. Wolkodoff
THERE ARE NOW days where you can actually hit balls outside. However, rather than just jumping in with the ball-zilla sized bucket and pounding them till your hands bleed, perhaps a bit of strategic preparation will improve the long-term results.
Some factors of how your body works now, compared to your 20s, will help you adjust your physical routine, so your practices are more effective and reduce the chance of injury. If you have been staying physically active at five hours per week with formal training, then a simple train- ing modification/addition will yield results. If you have not been active, then the next 60 days are really your last chance to amp it up so that by the time you’re playing in the late spring, the physical changes are working well enough to allow you play better.
What’s different about hitting balls from just general exercise, especially if you are over 50? The first factor is posture. Not having a physical job that requires you move into different positions all the time, especially with your torso, means you might not be able to hold the proper golf stance. Spine angle and shoulder position are not normal, they require muscular stabilization.
The core muscles are organized as small, very precise movers, somewhat like the small thruster rockets on a satellite. Although some of the large ones, such as the erector spinae, the major muscle in the back, do have that function, core muscles are more aligned for stabilization, balance and setting a position. Many of the muscle groups in the core have a righting function— get slightly out of balance, and they want to fire to right the ship.
It’s easy to work on the core on a fitball, as the unstable surface forces more muscles to engage—as opposed to training on something stable, like a sit-up board. The key with using the fitball is to perform short bursts of exercise, such as eight or ten repetitions in different directions, interspersed with rest periods. Your own body weight is actually best, as heavy medicine balls are a bit counter-productive to firing the fine and small muscles to maintain a posture. A mix of different directions of movement performed this way for five minutes per day is surprisingly effective.
Because the golf swing has a bit of tilt for- ward with the spine and hips, that can benefit from training—but with a twist. In golf, this is as much about awareness as it is muscular ability. Gravity is the prime means for determining if you are in the right golf position. So, it makes sense that exercises like “good morning” stretches, or anything else that has a back-extension compo- nent would help with both muscular conditioning and awareness.
Another forgotten component with the golf swing (and likely ignored over the winter) are training the shoulders to have a retracted position. Actually, that is neutral, but in today’s world of computer crunching forward, very few people are shoulder neutral. Very rarely does any golfer perform consistently with the shoulders slumping forward or rounding in that direction. For the golf swing to be effective, the shoulders have to be drawn back to a neutral position where they can be turned by the spine and core to create consistent, and powerful leverage.
Given that COVID-19 has probably put you in front of a computer more than normal, the slump of your shoulders is probably more than normal. Fortunately, the first level of fix is a re- boot at the gym or home in terms of resistance training exercises. Simply perform more sets of exercises like high row, low row and a lower angle latissimus pulldown. A good ratio would be five sets of a pull exercise to three sets of a push exercise. For example, if you normally perform three sets of chest press, then perform five sets of a medium row to counterbalance the chest and pull back the shoulders. The key is to get the shoul- ders back to this neutral position without hav- ing to think about it (Thinking about pulling the shoulders back during the golf swing would lead to incredibly deviant swings.).
It’s also likely your forearms and hands aren’t ready yet to take 80-100 swings in an hour while controlling and accelerating the clubhead. Twice a week, take light dumbbells, say, eight pounds, and perform 3 x 15 repetitions of wrist curls and reverse wrist curls. Alternatively, you can use a rope on a cable machine and perform triceps ex- tensions and biceps curls using the rope without gripping the very end. Since the rope is a cylinder in shape, it’s akin to gripping the golf club.
Another area that’s rarely practiced is basic balance. In golf, you have to load the non-target side, then transfer back to the target side and rotate along the axis in line with your left leg and hip joint. Chances are during the winter, you haven’t practiced many balance exercises that work on this left-to-right and back again movement. You can change that by getting a balance, or rock- er board and moving slowly from right to left for two sets of 20 repetitions every other day.
Neil E. Wolkodoff, PhD, is the Medical Program Director for LivingVital, a longevity performance program in Denver, Colorado. Wolkodoff focuses his efforts on helping people, especially golfers, 50+ live better, perform optimally, and live longer.
This article was also featured in the Spring Issue of Colorado AvidGolfer.