With apologies to Gary Player, the golf fitness trend really took off with Tiger Woods. Tiger looked like an action figure from his vigorous workouts, and others took notice. Now Rory McIlroy is the face of working out in the gym for golf, and he has reshaped his body for better performance.
But not all workouts are the same. Some are better than others depending on what you want to achieve from your workout. With that in mind, we’ve included key exercises you should include in your workout regimen, some exercises to avoid, and some fitness tips from some of our Explore Minnesota Golf Alliance teaching pros.
Best Exercises to Start the Season
The muscle groups we use most often in golf are the arms, legs, abdomen, and back – with a strong core being the most beneficial to a good consistent swing. “Weakness or lack of flexibility in one part of the body affects the golf swing, as stronger muscles try to compensate,” according to Brian Hill of Golfweek.
“The biggest difference between golf fitness training and general fitness training is that after each exercise of 12 to 20 reps, a golfer should complete a stretch that corresponds to the muscle he or she is working,” says the PGA Tour staff that compiled this article. “This allows the blood to flow to the muscle and encourages good flexibility and stamina. You want lean, pliable muscles, not bulky ones.”
Golfweek.com suggests some basic off-season exercises for your upper body (chest strengthening exercises), core strength (stomach crunches, leg lifts, and isometric exercises), lower body (quad strengthening) and flexibility exercises for all parts of your body. The idea is to strengthen the whole body so that no one part of it dominates your swing.
The PGATour.com website offers an informative piece on gym exercises for golf called “The Golf-Gym Workout.” The piece focuses on the back, abs, arms and legs, offering exercises for each muscle group – including the seated row for the back; the triceps dip and dumbbell shoulder press for the arms; the dumbbell shoulder press (on leg to improve stability) and single-leg extension for the legs; and then working the abdominal machines to strengthen the abs.
“I prefer swinging a weighted club, both left-handed and right-handed, throughout the winter to stay somewhat golf strong. By doing this I feel like I am closer to full speed and have a better range of motion in my swing once the snow melts.”
– John Kendall, PGA Professional and Director of Golf at Giants Ridge Golf & Ski Resort in Biwabik
“My favorite offseason drill is one that I have borrowed from Hank Haney. It would be to make 100 practice swings a day. What I suggest is to 25 in slow motion, making an effort to be very precise with ‘the perfect swing.’ Fifty at regular speed and the last 25 swinging as fast as they can.”
– Christopher Foley, PGA Master Professional and Director of Instruction at Cragun’s Legacy Courses in Brainerd
“After a long break from golf, I like to start out with a lot of short irons – and hitting them no more than 75 percent. I really focus on hitting them solid and working on my rhythm and timing, so I feel that those are good before I try to hit longer clubs and start swinging harder. Take it easy the first 30-40 balls, the long ball will come with solid impact.”
– Don Berry, PGA Professional at Edinburgh USA Golf Club in Brooklyn Park
The season will be upon us before we know it, so there is no time like the present to start prepping for it. Try some (or all) of these exercises each day, and your body will gradually get back into golf shape, and that first tee ball outside this spring might surprise you — by going where and as far as you intended it to.
But while you’re focusing on your fitness, be careful. Golf requires an interesting balance of strength, flexibility, and skill, so it’s actually possible to do too much in the gym. Some exercises may not be right for you physically, and others are not great for a golfer, at all.
Five Exercises to Avoid
Sit-ups and Crunches
Just about every golf fitness resource recommends staying away from sit-ups and/or crunches. A golfer needs to protect their spine from unnecessary flexion, and crunches can often increase back pain. What’s good for the abs isn’t necessarily good for the health of your back.
Leg extensions build your quadriceps, which are already stronger than your hamstring at the back of the thigh and weak hamstrings can lead to poor golf posture. In addition, the compressive force of the leg extension movement occurring under the kneecap can wear down the cartilage and contribute to patellofemoral pain.
Seated Lat Pulldowns
According to Ron Kaspriske at GolfDigest.com, this popular gym exercise can ruin your golf posture: “When your pelvis is locked down, the back muscles being trained to rotate and ‘round’ your spine, which can lead to a steeper, armsy golf swing.”
Biceps Preacher Curl
You perform the biceps preacher curl by sitting and leaning over an angled bench and then doing bicep curls with a bar. According to Walter Lis, from ChicagoGolfReport.com, the exercise is not good for you. “The thing I don’t like about this is the forward shoulder position it puts you in,” says Lis. “You get a lot of unnecessary stress in the shoulder capsule and overstretch the biceps tendon and rotator cuff. It leads to muscle imbalances by pulling the shoulder blades forward, and it can also hurt the neck.”
Heavy lifting of any kind during the golf season is generally frowned upon by fitness experts offering advice on which exercises to avoid, and the chest press is another on that list. According to Chris Costa at GolfWRX.com, the chest press is actually counterproductive during the golf season as “hypertrophy has a tendency to decrease flexibility.”
Costa recommends a band trunk rotation, which involves using a machine or stretch bands at chest level with feet planted and rotating of the trunk.
“This exercise is an eccentric, isometric chest activator,” Costa says. “You use your pec muscles to assist in stabilization while you’re focusing on increasing rotational flexibility and maintaining strength.”
The season will be upon us before we know it, so there is no time like the present to start prepping for it. Try some (or all) of these exercises each day, and you will body will gradually get back into golf shape, and that first tee ball outside this spring might surprise you – by going where and as far as you intended it to.