SLASH YOUR HANDICAP

Research suggests golf-specific conditioning can knock as many as 7 shots off your handicap within a few months!

Sounds too good to be true? Far from it!… and here’s why:

sedentary-lifestyleThe sedentary nature of modern life means that the vast majority of club golfers lack the levels of strength and flexibility demanded by the golf swing in key areas of their body.

After the age of 30, unless offset by muscle conditioning workouts, ALL ADULTS lose 3-8% of their muscle mass per decade in a natural, age-related process of muscle wastage known as Sarcopenia. (It can often start in people as young as 20). Over time, this loss of lean tissue contributes to a decrease in muscle strength and power. As a result, balance also deteriorates. Inactivity further accelerates the rate of atrophy and by the time we get to 50, we can lose 4 ounces of muscle every year.

No wonder then that, as they get older, most golfers start to lose distance off the tee!

  • Prolonged periods of time in a seated posture stretches and weakens the muscles in the posterior chain – muscles that are vital for stability and power in the golf swing.
  • At the same time, it shortens muscles in the front of the body and makes maintaining balance throughout the swing extremely difficult.
  • poor-postureSimilarly time spent at a desk, especially at a computer keyboard, ruins posture and inhibits much-needed flexibility in the upper back and shoulders.
  • Owing to the fact that it is an unnatural movement, few have either the rotational range of motion required, or the ability to achieve adequate separation of their upper and lower body (the so-called X-factor).
  • Playing golf doesn’t help! In fact, because the swing is an asymmetrical action, in the absence of restorative conditioning, it only serves to increase existing imbalances in the body’s musculature, thus increasing instability and the risk of eventual breakdown.

A properly designed, golf-specific conditioning programme restores requisite levels of balance, stability, strength and flexibility.

golf-conditioningImproved balance and stability translates into greater accuracy and consistency

Stronger wrists and forearms give you greater control of your swing plane and swing path.

Stronger leg, thigh and hip muscles generate more power from the ground up and stronger trunk muscles transfer that power more efficiently to the upper body, while improved flexibility in the upper back and shoulders lengthens the swing and thereby increases clubhead speed – all of which means extra distance.

Greater distance and increased accuracy means you find more fairways and hit shorter approach shots, making it easier to target the pin and enjoy more birdie putts.

And that is how appropriately designed golf-specific conditioning can knock as many as 7 shots off your handicap in just a few months!

Still not convinced? Then maybe the professionals can change your mind!

  • “Being in good physical shape helps me to be a better player.” – Rory McIlroy[29] Rory McIlroy
  • “Following a gym programme…I feel a lot stronger and more stable in my swing. I work on my balance, swing mobility and injury prevention. I think it’s vital.” – Charlie Hull
  • “My fitness and my gym routine is just as important to me as practising. You have to be in shape to play well.” – Stacy Lewis
  • “I’m always trying to improve my conditioning… It’s as important to my training as practising my swing.” – charley-hullTiger Woods
  • “Those who think golfers are not really athletes are wrong… you need to be strong and in good shape. [You may] not be a professional, but you can still work hard at being the best golfer you can be in 2017.” – Suzann Pettersen

WHY WINTER SHOULDN’T LEAVE YOU OUT IN THE COLD

Chingford Golf Course in snowsnow-golfPlaying golf in mid-winter can be no fun at all, especially if the ground is frost-hardened and the wind’s finger-numbingly cold. However, it’s the perfect season for working on your game and realising your game-improvement ambitions.

Change takes time. For one thing, a single swing ‘fault’ will often come wrapped in a bundle of other compensatory issues, so, when changing the fault, you must be patient and allow yourself time to resolve these other issues too. Also, a swing change requires countless painstaking repetitions before it becomes ingrained in your neuromuscular memory and no longer needs conscious thought and effort.

impact-bagmirrorWinter is the perfect time to schedule in this kind of work on your game, not just because you have more off-course time available, but also, crucially, you don’t need to worry about outcomes, so the inevitable short-term drop in performance can be accommodated more easily. It allows you to focus fully on the movement itself. You can practise at home with an impact bag and a mirror to really ‘groove’ the swing change, before eventually progressing to hitting air-flow balls off a mat in the garden.

It is always advisable to work on improving your game under the kind of expert supervision that your local teaching professional can offer you and here again winter is your friend because it allows you the time to undertake a series of lessons to iron out any technical issues.

Now, a word of caution. For any game-improvement effort to be fully rewarded, it is important to understand the inextricable link between physical and technical ability.

The swing fault that plagues a golfer’s game is often the result of a physical limitation, rather than being purely a technical issue. It will be absolutely vital when correcting any swing faults that your body can easily accommodate new swing positions and move freely and effortlessly through the requisite new movement patterns.

Luckily, winter also affords you time to ensure that the most important item of golf equipment you own – your body – is totally fit-for-purpose.

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If  you go to the ‘Game Improvement’ drop down menu on our Homepage (see above) you will find a page entitled ’Are your Problems Physical or Technical?’ Simply hover over that title and  it will open up a list of pages covering all the most common swing faults and their most likely physical causes. You can then download our free self-assessment screening tests to confirm whether the problem you are having with your swing is indeed the result of a physical restriction. Once identified, you can target that limitation with the appropriate conditioning module from our comprehensive programme. All the modules in our Foundation Programme have been specifically designed to be done at home without any need for specialist equipment, so there are no obstacles to overcome and you can begin immediately.

Posture ExercisesOpening up an appropriate dialogue with your teaching professional is vital. If you are serious about improving your game, make it clear that he/she doesn’t need to compromise in any way and that you are fully prepared to undertake golf-specific conditioning in order to facilitate any swing changes that ideally need to be made.

Winter’s the perfect time to start a golf-specific conditioning programme that will improve your balance, stability, strength and mobility. So, why not start next season hitting it longer and straighter than ever before, enjoying shorter approach shots into greens, really attacking those pins and taking full advantage of more birdie putts.

GIRLS AND GOLF

Despite having around 3,000 golf clubs in the UK and Ireland a 2013 study found only 14% of the 1.2 million members are female, which sadly leaves the ‘home of golf’ lagging behind other European countries. So what can be done to encourage them into the game?

wigi-logopeter-dawsonIn 2005 a WIGI survey found that many women left the sport because of the attitudes they faced and more needed to be done to make women feel welcomed on the course. If last year’s debate about whether or not men-only golf clubs should remain and R&A President, Peter Dawson’s view that “For some people, it’s a way of life that they rather like" is anything to go by, it doesn’t seem much has changed since then.

sue-tibballsWhilst only 1% of UK golf clubs have a single-sex membership policy, the fact that they exist conveys an outdated and frankly unwanted message that will do nothing to attract women into the game. The issue troubles Women’s Sport and Fitness Foundation CEO, Sue Tibballs. “While it may be lawful for private member clubs to remain men-only, it is clearly damaging to the sport’s reputation. A number of golfing bodies are working very hard to break down the traditional perceptions of the sport and encourage a new generation of female participants, and these clubs do nothing to help that cause.” Statistics released by England Golf last year bear this out, showing that the average club in England has only 3 female members under the age of 16.

county-golf-partnerships-logoQuite rightly, there are organisations working to educate course owners and staff on how to better support female participation. In 2012, Hays teamed up with City Golf and were inundated with applications for their “Golf for Girls” initiative, which aimed to engage female talent. The County Golf Partnerships reported that 54,000 people were inspired to “Get into golf” last summer, 35% of which were women. The key though is getting these new players to continue playing and that is where the attitude of existing members is so important.

Schools could (and should) play a vital role in re-educating girls. In 2013, the ‘Taking Part’ survey reported that the most common sport for 11-15 year olds was football, played mainly by boys who were also more likely than girls to take part in inter-school sports competitions. Secondary pupils participate less as they got older and, even more worryingly, the difference in boys’ and girls’ participation widens as they move up the school. It begs the question: are schools doing enough to try to redress this trend?

Golf has not been a traditional sport for schools and remains very much the ‘poor relation’. It did not make the top twenty sports in terms of participation, with only horse riding and angling recording a lower figure! The 2010 PE and Sport Survey found that, on average, schools had links to clubs for nine different sports. Golf barely featured.ssp

However, government investment in the School Sports Partnerships and School Club Links programmes provides an opportunity to start changing this situation and golf’s governing bodies must take full advantage of it. Given impetus by the work of the Golf Foundation, the last few years have seen some encouraging signs, but the improvement is from such a very low base that there is an awful lot more still needing to be done.

golf-xtremetri-golf‘Tri-Golf’, and ‘Golf Xtreme’ are innovative and attractive projects for primary and secondary schools respectively. They make golf easy and fun to play. However, as I have pointed out in a previous article, it is unproductive to light a spark in schools unless there is a progressive framework in place that will thereafter continue to nurture both interest and skill development. At present that framework is patchy at best.

The School Club Links Programme led by the Golf Foundation in association with EGU/EGWU and club PGA professionals has met with some success, but a lot more needs to be done (with more specific targeting of those groups traditionally unlikely to have had exposure to the sport). More club PGA professionals, especially female professionals, need to get out into schools and promote the sport, especially through after-school club activity, while clubs need to forge improved links with schools and find ways to open their facilities to them via youth programmes. If the popular perception that golf is a game for the privileged few is to be challenged and the decline in participation that has been evident in recent years is to be reversed, then a number of clubs need to cast off their overly insular and elitist values and embrace the public more wholeheartedly.

young-girlyoung-boySociety’s attitude also needs to change. The 2015 research mentioned earlier showed that girls tend to stop playing sport outside of school as early as 8 years old and the drop-off rate increases as they get older. The reasons for this are just as worrying as the figures themselves. The media in general, but more specifically advertising, is often guilty of peddling gender stereotypes and exacerbating image issues in young women. Perhaps as a result, UK society simply doesn’t do enough to dismantle such stereotypes and convince girls that it doesn’t matter what narrow-minded people think or say. The result is that far too many girls have personal issues about participating in sport. They don’t want to be seen sweating, without make-up and with untidy hair because they think it makes them unattractive to boys.

lexi-thompson-2natalie-gulbisthisgirlgolfsIn reality, playing sport tones the body, including those parts that, when in great shape, men find sexy – as magazine photoshoots featuring golfers like Lexi Thompson, Paige Spiranac and Natalie Gulbis testify. Equally important are the videos posted by these same ladies showing themselves without make-up, their hair scraped back, exercising hard and getting hot and sweaty. The two are definitely not mutually exclusive.

The ‘This Girl Can’ campaign, launched last year by Sport England, was all about changing attitudes and inspired England Golf’s irreverent #ThisGirlGolfs video, which ridiculed the conservative and male-chauvinist values that sadly still persist within the game, representing golf in a rather more modern and ‘edgy’ light!.

Every golf administrator should be made to watch it!

‘THIS GIRL CAN’ CAMPAIGN: WOMEN IN GOLF

Sport England LogoWomen DriversOn International Women’s Day, we at Fitter Golfers want to ‘flag up’ Sport England’s “This Girl Can” initiative, which aims to get women and girls moving, regardless of shape, size and ability.

Research reveals a huge difference in the number of men and women playing sport in the UK (two million fewer 14-40 year olds). And it's not because females don't want to get active (>75% say they do). The sad truth is that millions of our women and girls are afraid to exercise because they fear judgement. “Worries about being judged for being the wrong size, not fit enough and not skilled enough came up time and again,” said Sport England CEO Jennie Price.

I Kick BallsTheir nationwide campaign tells the real story of women who play sport by using images that are the complete opposite of the idealised and stylised images of women we are used to seeing. Neither does it hold back in trying to encourage women to beat their barriers: "I kick balls, deal with it", “Talk to the backhand” and “Damn right I’m hot” are among the hard-hitting lines used to change attitudes and help boost women’s confidence.

Damn Right I Look HotJennie is keen to point out that “women who exercise and play sport… come in all shapes and sizes and all levels of ability… This campaign says it really doesn’t matter if you are a bit rubbish or completely brilliant, the main thing is that you are a woman and you are doing something, and that deserves to be celebrated.”

At Fitter Golfers we think the game of golf provides a perfect opportunity for girls and women to get active. Whilst Cameron Diaz, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Celine Dion, Sharon Stone, Denise Van Outen and the current Miss Universe, Jennifer Hawkins, are just some of the hundreds of famous women who are keen golfers, you don’t have to be rich and famous, or even especially athletic, to enjoy the game at recreational level.

Here are just a few reasons why we think golf is a good option:Girls & Golf

  • Playing golf gets you outdoors in the fresh air and is proven to improve mood, stress levels and self-esteem. It brings some impressive health and wellbeing benefits that can help you look and feel your best. It combines, the core ingredients that doctors recommend for optimum physical and mental health and wellbeing. Indeed, according to a Swedish study, playing golf regularly will add five years to your life expectancy.
  • Golf is a great way to stay in shape too. [A round of golf will burn over 1,000 calories if you walk with a trolley.]
  • Golfers Make Friends Easily: With plenty of opportunity for conversation, golf is a great way to make new friends, or grow closer bonds Get into Golf Look Good Feel Greatwith people you already know. It can afford you quality time with your boss, colleagues, boyfriend, or family far removed from the stress of everyday living. And if time is at a premium, it does not need to take all day: playing just 9 holes is increasingly popular and will only take you a couple of hours.
  • Golf is fun: It’s an easy way to make exercise enjoyable. It’s like sex in that you don’t have to be great at it to enjoy it! And remember, only 10% of golfers ever get below 100 on their scorecard, so you can relax and have fun, knowing you’ll more than likely be in good company!
  • Golf needn’t be expensive: you can spend as little or as much as you like. Beginner courses start from around £25 for five weeks, with equipment provided through the ‘Get into golf’ initiative. There are playing options, equipment and Get Into Golfclothing to suit all budgets. So, golf is great value when compared to many other activities and its unique handicap scoring system means that men and women of all ages and ability levels can play together either socially or competitively.
  • On a more frivolous note, as anyone who has watched LPGA Tour events on TV will know, golf fashion is big business and taking up the game is the perfect excuse for going out and buying some amazing new outfits!If you are career-minded, golf is one of few sports widely accepted in the workplace as a way to Golf Fashionbuild relationships and close deals quickly. Adrienne Wax, co-author of ‘Even Par: How Golf helps Women Gain The Upper Hand In Business’ says "If you can talk about golf, all of the sudden you have a reason to talk to the CEO or your boss two levels above you.”
  • And finally, golf gives you even more reasons to travel the world. There are so many amazing and beautiful courses around the world, golf gives you the perfect excuse to go visit them!

So get out and play girls! Remember #thisgirlcan
NB: To find out more about ‘This Girl Can’, go to www.thisgirlcan.co.uk where you can get also tips on how to get active and join the national debate. You can use the hashtag #thisgirlcan to join the conversation on Twitter.

 

Stacy Lewis – a role model for all golfers

Stacy Lewis 2ScoliosisAs all golfers should do, world number 3, Stacy Lewis takes good care of her back through regular stretching and strengthening exercises. However Stacy has even more reason than most. When she was eleven, a school screening exam revealed a spinal asymmetry when she bent forward. Subsequent x-rays confirmed that she had scoliosis, an excessive rotational deformity of the spine. Stacy’s spine had a 30% curvature, which meant she was forced to wear a brace 18 hours a day for the next seven and a half years until she stopped growing. Unfortunately for Stacy, when the brace was finally removed, her spinal deformity continued to worsen until, in 2003, a titanium rod and five screws were inserted in her back to straighten it. For many that would have been the end of their professional golfing dream, but Stacy is a fighter and was determined to put her back problems behind her: “I like a challenge. I’d consider myself a grinder, a fighter.”

Scoliosis BraceAfter 3 more months back in her brace and a further 6 months of rehabilitation, Stacy began to chip and putt (which was all her doctors would allow her to do) while working out to build up her fitness. Her road to recovery was thus travelled step by step until she turned professional during the 2008 season.

The following year, while working with Joe Hallett, her coach to improve her takeaway, it became evident that a number of her ‘swing issues’ were owing to a lack of strength and stability. She had a problem keeping the trail scapular down and flat up against her back/ribcage. She also needed greater stability in both the shoulder and pelvic girdles and better trunk rotation. So fitness coach David Donatucci, from the Florida Institute of Performance at PGA National was hired to strengthen her body so she could actually make the moves she was working on.

Stacy Lewis 3Donatucci says his role was to make her a better athlete and in turn make it easier for her coach, Joe Hallett, to make her a better player. He is convinced that golf fitness has been a vital part of Stacy’s success and it seems that Stacy would agree: “For me my fitness and my routine in the gym is as important as hitting balls and practising… Since… working with Dave, I’ve played better golf and have gotten a lot stronger. I am physically able to make moves at the golf ball that I couldn’t do before… I’ve seen success: I’m hitting the ball better, I’m hitting it further…”

Good posture is vital for efficient movement and, because of her shoulder stability issues, a lot of Stacy’s posture work had a shoulder focus. Their goal was efficiency of motion to enhance her golf swing – whether that be improved shoulder girdle stability, rotation or whatever else was needed.

Accordingly, Stacy put in a lot of work to stabilise her scapular through range of motion, because she could only begin working to generate more power (strength and speed combined) once she had attained the requisite stability.

Stacy LewisShe does a lot of exercises and drills in which the shoulders move the hands at speed. In the gym, she frequently uses a medicine ball for explosiveness. Then, when out on Tour, imitates a lot of those same exercises using resistance bands. One of her favourites is a combination row and extension, which works her back, arms, and shoulders all at once.

Stacy does a lot of resistance training on her ‘core’ – abs and back – and squats, squat jumps and lunges to strengthen her back, shoulders and legs. “I focus a lot on squats, lunges and throwing a medicine ball against the wall and the ground, since having strong legs and a solid core help me hit the ball farther.”

“Flexibility and core strength are both key to rotate through the swing properly, [so] I stretch before and after every time I play.”