Golf is exercise, not just a game

You’ve probably heard Mark Twain’s infamous description of golf: “A good walk spoiled.” It’s often trotted out on the 19th hole, along with half-baked excuses about how the round went.

“Well,” you say over a cold drink and a bag of chips, “I may have spoiled it with my putting, but at least I got a good walk.”

Many people see golf as a way to exercise. And they’re right, but you have to work hard to get the most out of a day on the course.

Walk, no carts
Getting around a course can be a four-hour walk, a good way to get that cardiovascular system working, as long as you go at a good pace. A good pace means walking, not carting around the course.

Tyson Hilhorst of the Radium Springs course in Radium Hot Springs B.C. says the walk is one of the main physical benefits of a round of golf. Hilhorst is a certified fitness consultant and weight training instructor at the course, one of the top in Canada.

“Golf ties in very well (to an exercise program) because if you golf three days and walk every round, it’s a four-mile walk around the course, so a total of 12 miles a week,” he points out. And those pace-of-play regulations shoulkeep you moving at a good clip. If the course insists on a cart, alternate walking and driving with your partner, so everybody gets some exercise.

But even if you do walk, golf is a game with a lot of waiting (Ever get caught behind a foursome who take an eternity looking for their ball?) In cases like this, you should keep moving. Walk around, pace back and forth, it doesn’t really matter. Moving will burn fat cells-over 1,000 calories on a full 18 holes. And moving enough to elevate your heartbeat for 15-20 minutes can help keep your cardiovascular system healthy.

Above all, stretch
And above all else, stretch. In fact stretching is probably more important than keeping your pace up. Because golf is a game that is fraught with dangers – and I’m not just talking about that big pond by the 15th green.

“Golf is not a natural activity,” says Fred Coradini, an athletic therapist in Oakville Ontario. “(A golf swing) is not a normal range that we’re born with, it’s something we have to adapt to.”

The swing involves twisting the hips and the lower back, something that we don’t do in day-to-day life. Putting those demands on underused muscles can lead to injured tissues and joints.

Proper preparation
Another thing to bear in mind is that you can’t lead a sedentary lifestyle and then say, “I get my exercise three times a week on the course.” Golf has to be part of a generally active lifestyle. In fact, a sedentary lifestyle can give you something that will hurt both your body and your game — a spare tire around your mid-section.

“It throws your centre of gravity off,” says Coradini, “that means you have more force pulling on your lumbar spine…. you have to have really good abdominals to maintain your swing through that range of motion.”

Coradini sees many golfers in his practice, including professionals, senior tour golfers, and amateurs. He says the key to maintaining and enjoying your golf game is proper preparation.

“Mainly what I do, is give people a lot of stretching, and then give them a strengthening program to balance the muscles that are too tight or too loose,” he says. And if they say it’s too much trouble? “Then I say, well, I’ll see you here in about three weeks to a month.”

But it doesn’t have to be that way. “Golf is a sport, it’s not an exercise program,” says Coradini. Stay in shape to stay on top of your game.

Proper stretching
He says many people spend their days sitting at a desk, and then go out and play 18 holes without stretching at all. Coradini says it’s only a matter of time before something hurts. And when it does, golfers come running (or hobbling) into his office, usually, with some sort of lower back injury, or wrist or elbow injury. Again, the culprits are lack of preparation, and repetitive movement.

The sad part is, these injuries are avoidable. Be sure to stretch out your lower back, abdominal and hamstring muscles. These all work in combination to keep your back flexible. Your back, hips and elbows are the main areas to focus on. For those with sensitive backs, talk to your doctor about what stretches would work.

  • To do static stretches, slowly flex a muscle, and hold for 10 to 20 seconds, then slowly release. These are a good way to get started.

Don’t forget your neck and shoulders

  • Slowly lower your chin toward your chest. Hold for a few seconds. Lift your head. Slowly look to the sky, and hold. Return your head to an upright position.
  • Also, slowly turn your head to look to each side, or touch your ear to your shoulder. Remember to do these things slowly, and hold each for 10 seconds.

Do static stretching every day, and active stretching as much as you can, and on the day you play.

  • Active stretches involve practicing your golf swing, and sport-specific preparation. Sit-ups are the classic way to work your abdominals.

Sources for exercises
Get stretching exercises from your doctor, from a fitness consultant, or from a golf book. Easy stretches can be done anytime during the day, even at your desk.

“But before you start any activity, check with your doctor. A fitness consultant who can put you through a series of tests… and find out your base of health,” says Hilhorst. Then design an exercise program to meet your needs.

But, Hilhorst says, don’t push yourself too hard. “If it hurts, don’t do it. Your body is telling you something. Go to your doctor and find out. You’re out there for fun, not to hurt yourself.”