The game of golf is truly one of the best games on the planet; it can be played by people of any age, talent level, or experience. Golf lets you get out and enjoy the sun and the fresh air with friends and provides an excellent fitness workout at the same time.
Yes, that’s right, an “excellent fitness workout.”
Contrary to what people think, golf not only challenges you mentally but also physically. Enormous physical demands are placed on the body at various times throughout the round. From the explosive and powerful drive off the tee, which requires strength and balance, to the cardiovascular demands of walking 18 holes in the blazing sun; golf is a physically demanding game, any way you look at it.
Serious long-term injuries and setbacks are a genuine concern for pro golfers, but to be honest, it’s the amateur golfer who should be most concerned.
The pros put in hours of work in the gym week in week out to avoid injury, and although they still get injured, the extent of their injuries are relatively minor. Alternatively, you have amateur or “club golfers” who rarely perform stretching, let alone preventative exercises; it’s these golfers who are most at risk of becoming injured.
A Holistic Approach to Avoiding Golf Injuries
- 1 A Holistic Approach to Avoiding Golf Injuries
- 2 Improve your fitness and reduce your injury
- 3 3 Common Reasons Why Golfers Get Injured
- 4 3 Common Golfing Injuries
- 5 5 Pre-round Steps to Prevent Injury
- 6 During the round
- 7 Coming back from injury
Injuries can dramatically set back your golfing experience and put a real dampener on the enjoyment of the game itself, so you’ll want to avoid injuries at all costs. However, injuries are an inevitable part of the game of golf, but by taking a holistic approach that incorporates everything from nutrition and stretching to strength and conditioning, avoiding serious injury is possible.
The purpose of this guide is to present practical and straightforward strategies and methods that will have you playing the best golf of your life, injury-free. A good training program is really two sides of the same coin; it not only increases your strength, conditioning, and cardiovascular performance, but it also reduces your chance of serious injury.
The golf swing is made up of a series of complex, explosive, and physically demanding movements which can place a load of stress on your joints, muscles, and tendons. By undertaking a functional fitness program, you can develop key areas of your golf game, both physical and mental.
- Increase your swing range by improving joint mobility
- Increase your clubhead speed by improving your strength
- Increase swing power by improving your posture and
- Reduce your chance of long-term injury by strengthening your overall health and fitness
When it comes to preventing injury, one aspect is not more important than the other. It’s like the chain on a bike; your bike might be in tip-top condition, but if one chainlink is broken, you can’t ride the bike; avoiding injuries in golf is exactly the same.
Your primary focus should be on achieving your fitness goals safely, effectively, and sustainably; what I mean by that is the key to avoiding injury is your ability to perform your stretching and conditioning exercises consistently. These strategies combine to create a training program that results in our ultimate goal of mitigating injury the best we can.
Stretching, correct nutrition, strength and conditioning, and cardiovascular training are integral parts of a holistic golf training program designed to reduce injury and keep you performing at your optimal best.
Improve your fitness and reduce your injury
Being in mint physical condition means you can play 18 holes without getting exhausted and losing the ability to focus and concentrate. However, more consequential is having a body that can repeatedly produce power and explosiveness over the course of a full round.
Pro golfers have high fitness levels, and as such, when they do get injured, their recovery time is exceptionally quick compared to the average club golfer. For lovers of the game, being away from golf because of injury is a bitter pill to swallow, so it’s in your best interests to get yourself in peak physical shape to enjoy the game regularly.
Golf’s repetitive nature predisposes players to injury. The first step to mitigating injury is identifying your physical weaknesses and limitations.
Areas that generally need improvement are:
- Strength and conditioning
- Aerobic fitness
- Flexibility and Range of Motion and
Understanding and identifying your weaknesses means you can now put together a training plan to help strengthen them. Remember, a good program must include strength work, aerobic training, balance and stability movements, functional flexibility, and most importantly, a well-balanced nutritional plan.
Aerobic fitness to reduce injury
Aerobic capacity is an excellent indicator in determining a golfer’s overall level of physical fitness. Having the ability to burn more calories, practice longer, recover quicker and focus for longer periods of time all help to reduce the chance of injury.
It is true that many, maybe even the majority of club golfers, use an electric cart when they play, but that doesn’t mean the physical demands of golf are lessened; they’re not. Swinging the club between 70 and 100 times per round still requires a good amount of strength and cardiovascular fitness. I would highly recommend walking the course every time you play to help build up your aerobic capacity.
Having high levels of aerobic fitness allows you to stay focused longer and helps you maintain correct posture and swing mechanics throughout the 18 holes; these increased levels of fitness result in a reduction of serious injury.
Generally, you should be aiming for at least 30 – 45 minutes of cardiovascular training three times a week outside of golf. The activity doesn’t need to be high intensity; as long as it’s moderate and enough to increase your heart rate, that’s fine.
Examples of aerobic exercise include:
- Brisk walking
- Skipping rope
Conditioning and intensity levels are closely related, meaning an activity like walking that raises your heart rate by 15-20 beats per minute will likely not increase your cardiovascular levels. Now, take that same walk, and do it briskly; you can raise your heart rate by nearly 50 beats per minute which is much more likely to have significant benefits on your aerobic capacity.
If you’re unsure how to calculate your maximum heart rate or your MHR, simply subtract your age from 220; Eg, a 40-year-old would have an MHR of 180. Of course, this is a rough calculation, so be sure to seek the advice of your local health care professional before partaking in any type of physical training program.
3 Common Reasons Why Golfers Get Injured
Although there are an infinite amount of reasons why golfers suffer from injury, we’ll take a look at the three most common.
Tight Tight Tight
Unfortunately, most golfers lack flexibility, and when it comes to the golf swing, that’s the last thing you want. The Golf swing places a ton of stress on many different parts of the body, and if you’re inflexible, you’re going to get more than your fair share of injuries. Many of these injuries are transferred through the hips and back.
Not enough rest
Many golfers continue playing through niggling injuries, leading to more serious long-term problems. We all love the game of golf, and most of us hate taking any time off at all, but you need to understand playing through injury only exacerbates the problem. Next time you feel a little niggle, take a day off to rest up; one day off is better than one month.
Lacking overall strength and conditioning
As mentioned earlier, to outsiders or beginners to the game, golf looks physically easy, but in reality, the demands the golf swing places on the body are incredibly stressful. Because the swing requires so many complex actions, your body needs to be in tip-top condition to fire the sequences in the correct order; if one part of your body is not firing correctly, an injury is inevitable.
3 Common Golfing Injuries
The Upper Body
- Elbow: Similar to tennis, golfers also suffer from golfer’s elbow.
- Wrist: Lacking strength in the wrists and forearms as well as weak grip strength can lead to debilitating wrist injuries.
- Rotator Cuff: Your shoulders can take a real beating in golf, especially if you lack strength and mobility. The repetitive nature of the golf swing can cause real problems to your rotator cuff if appropriate exercises and stretches are not performed.
The Lower Body
- Knees: The continual twisting and rotational forces placed on the knees during the swing are immense. If your knees are in poor condition, they will negatively impact your golf swing, not to mention cause further damage to the joints.
- Ankles: Similar to your knees, the power transferred from the ground up first passes through your ankles. The constant twisting and repetitive nature can cause real damage to your ankles.
- Feet: Ever tried walking 18 holes? What about 18 holes four days in a row? Your feet can take a real pounding in golf, and considering you can walk anywhere from 3-7 miles, investing in a good pair of golf shoes is non-negotiable.
The Core and Lower Back
- Lower back: A weak core and midsection will result in your lower back taking the full brunt of the stress caused by the golf swing. The continual and repetitive nature of the golf swing causes injury slowly over time.
- Pelvis: Having good mobility through your core and midsection is critical for your golf swing and your health. Poor pelvic rotation will result in a separation of the lower and upper body during the swing, which can cause any number of painful injuries.
- Hamstrings: Most people don’t realize this, but the primary cause of the lower back is typically tight hamstrings; be sure to stretch your hamstrings during your round continually.
5 Pre-round Steps to Prevent Injury
- Stretch: I know I sound like a broken record, but stretching is your best bet when it comes to preventing injury. It only takes 5-10 minutes to perform some simple stretches; you’ll play better, feel better and most importantly, reduce your chance of injury.
- Get stronger: Strength and conditioning will pay big dividends; now, I’m not talking about walking around like Arnold in the Terminator, but I am saying performing simple bodyweight exercises such as squats, push-ups, sit-ups, and lunges can go a long way to preventing injury.
- Cardio: Boosting your cardio will help reduce your chance of injury and improve your concentration levels after 4-5 hours out on the course. Try cycling, running, jogging, or even a brisk walk three times a week for 30-45 minutes.
- Correct posture: Your swing setup should see your feet shoulder-width apart in an athletic stance and your knees bent. Keep your back relatively straight, and your core and trunk should be slightly bent forward. Never hunch; always keep your core tight but relaxed. Stretching, cardio and strength training all play a critical factor in helping you maintain correct posture during the swing.
- Play within your limits: Don’t head out to the first tee and try to “grip it and rip it” just to impress your playing partners. More often than not, this can lead to a muscle tear and an embarrassing snap hook into the water hazard.
During the round
- Warming up: Not warming up correctly or at all is something every club golfer has been guilty of at one time or another. Most of us jump straight out of the car, have a few practice putts, and step up to the first tee; big mistake. Again, a correct warm-up will only take 5-10 minutes and should include movements like running and some basic stretches. Believe me; you’ll play better and reduce the chance of serious injury.
- Ease into the round: Get to the course early and spend 15-20 minutes on the practice range, hitting a few balls with each club in the bag. If you’re an amateur golfer and haven’t teed it up for quite a while, your body won’t be used to the stresses of playing 18 holes. So warm-up, hit a few balls, and ease into the rest of the round.
- Rythym: The number one mistake I see club golfers make is trying to “muscle” the ball. Not only does muscling the ball result in less power and distance, which is counterintuitive to most players, but it can also result in unwanted injury. Find a good coach who can help you “iron” out your swing flaws. Rhythm and balance create power in the golf swing, not strength.
Coming back from injury
If you’re coming back from extended time off, specifically because of injury, the first thing you need to do is consult with your local physician or a qualified physiotherapist. These experts have extensive experience in the field of injury, injury prevention, and rehabilitation. They can advise you on whether or not you’re ready to get back out on the course. The last thing you want to do is rush the process and end up back at square one.
Take 10-15 minutes to warm up and do some light stretching; this will ensure the blood is pumping and your chance of getting injured is significantly reduced. Basic stretches such as hamstrings, quads, shoulders, and chest should all be performed. Hold each stretch for a minimum of 30 seconds and couple it with some light jogging around the practice area to finish warming up correctly.
Before returning to the game, ensure you’ve put the time and effort into developing some functional strength, particularly through the midsection, trunk, and core. Stretching does help with flexibility, but if your strength is not there to help “hold and maintain” correct posture, you might be looking at another injury.
After every round, one of the best habits to get into is icing your muscles and joints. Even on cooler days, your body still takes a pounding, and inflammation in areas like your ankles, knees, elbow, and lower back are common.
Practice RICER when possible.
Remember, by neglecting your training and fitness programs, you put yourself at a much greater risk of getting injured than those who do. It’s not rocket science; If your muscles are feeling tight, then take 5 minutes to stretch them. If your muscles are feeling weak, then strengthen them, and if you’re in pain, seek medical advice.
At the end of the day, if you truly love golf, then taking the time to prevent injury is non-negotiable.