Want to Improve Your Golf Game? Try Pilates!

In honor of today’s 6th Annual Chenega Invitational Golf Tournament benefitting Azalea Charities Aid for Wounded Warriors (the yearly fundraiser for my full time job), I wanted to dedicate a post to the benefits of Pilates for golfers.

Pilates can be beneficial to golfers in a number of ways. Both are mind-body activities reliant upon core strength, with basic principles that cross over to one another; while golf focuses on fluid motion, precision, accuracy and power, Pilates is based in control, concentration, centering, flow of motion, and breath control.

Though golf is seen as leisurely, serene sport, it does carry risks – nearly 60% of amateur golfers experience golf-related injuries (most commonly in the low back, shoulders, wrists and elbows) throughout their lifetimes, and nearly half of all professional golfers are eventually forced to retire as a result of injuries sustained on the course.

Why such a high number of injuries? A large percentage are the result of overuse, but there are a number of underlying faults in an individual’s golf swing that can lead to injury. Many golfers suffer from a lack of flexibility, poor rotation, hip or shoulder girdle instability, or weaknesses in the hips, legs, wrist, forearms, or core muscles. The good news? Pilates can address – and correct – each of these issues.

Here are a few Pilates exercises that can help correct some physical instabilities or weaknesses that may be hindering your golf game:

Rollup: Start lying flat on the floor, belly button tucked tight into your spine, with arms extended long behind the head. As you inhale, reach the hands toward the sky, and as you exhale, slowly lift the upper body and reach toward the toes, keeping the abs scooped (as if you are reaching over a ball and past the toes). Inhale, lifting the hands back to the sky, and exhale, lowering the body back to the starting position as slowly as possible. Make sure to keep the shoulder blades pressed down and back, and the legs firmly on the floor (they will shift back and forth slightly; you just want to make sure they don’t come off of the floor – if they do, you are using your legs to lift you, versus your abs). If you find yourself struggling to keep the legs down, you don’t have to roll all the way up – as long as the abs are engaged, you are still getting the benefits, even if the upper body is only coming two inches off of the floor.

Saw: Start seated, legs extended straight in front of you, about hip-width apart (toes can be flexed or pointed). Imagine a string is attached to the top of your head, pulling you to the ceiling, so your vertebra are stacked one on top of each other, shoulders pushed down and back, with arms extended to your sides, parallel with the floor. As you exhale, twist the torso in one direction, reaching the opposite arm past your baby toe. Inhale, twisting the body back to center, and reach forward and past the opposite toes. Be sure to maintain a strong core throughout the entire exercise, keeping the abs tucked tight in toward your spine. (Want a little tricep work along with it? I like to torture my classes by adding 2.5 lb. weights – the motion remains the same, but on the reach forward, the back arm rotates so the palm is facing the sky. 2.5 lbs. gets pretty heavy pretty quickly.)

Single Straight Leg Stretch: Lie on the ground, head and shoulders up, one straight leg a few inches off of the floor, the other leg extended toward the sky, with hands reaching behind the leg. Imagining there are markers on your toes, switch the legs, drawing straight lines up and down in front of you. The low back should maintain contact with the ground at all times – if you feel it pulling up, you can simply raise the bottom leg higher to the sky to bring the back flat.

Side-lying Leg Circles: Lie on one side, legs extended at a slight forward angle to the upper body. Upper body can be supported by the bicep, the upper arm (with the head resting in the hand) or propped up on the forearm.  Life one leg approximately six inches, and keeping the hips stable and stacked, draw small circles with the toes in one direction. Once you have completed 6-10, reverse the direction of your circles.

Still looking for a reason to add Pilates to your golf conditioning routine? Pilates can help to restore muscle balance, lengthen tight muscles, strengthen weak muscles, enhance balance and stability and increase strength and power. All of which translate to a more fluid, controlled swing … and ultimately, a better golf game. So get to the studio … and see you on the links!

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