So I’m assuming with the small snowstorm we had in Central Oregon before Thanksgiving that most of you were not on the golf course last week.
It’s time to move golf indoors.
To make the winter fruitful for your game next spring, I talked with a local fitness expert to get some advice on workouts that all of us can do to keep the strength and flexibility required for a strong swing.
Chris Cooper works out of the Therapeutic Associates office at the Athletic Club of Bend, is a certified fitness and medical professional through the Titleist Performance Institute (T.P.I.), and hosts regular talks on fitness as it relates to the golf swing at the Tetherow Golf Academy in Bend.
Obviously, Cooper is not the only fitness trainer in Bend, but he is one of the top experts locally on fitness and how it relates to the golf swing.
At the athletic club, he showed me a series of workouts designed to help golfers get ready for when there’s not 15 inches of snow on the ground … I’m guessing May.
Cooper stressed that while many view golf as a nonathletic endeavor, the truth is that the game requires you to be in shape to perform at your best.
Most golfers on the PGA Tour today regularly work out to improve their fitness for golf.
“Some people don’t think golf is a sport or you need to be athletic … I would disagree,” Cooper explained. “The golf swing is super ballistic, it happens very quickly and lot of things happen when you move.
“The offseason is a great time to work on the things that during the season you are too busy golfing or doing other outdoors activities to get to.”
Exercises to increase mobility, or flexibility, in four mobile areas of the body can help anyone’s swing, according to Cooper.
The ankles, hips, spine and shoulders are all key moving parts in the golf swing that should be strengthened during the offseason, according to Cooper.
“What I think are most important are the mobility areas, the ankle joint, the hip joint, the thoracic spine and the shoulder joint,” Cooper said. “Those are the most important to gain mobility in. Essentially, the most important tool in a golfer’s bag is their body. Maximum improvement happens with physical fitness tailored to golf.”
Cooper recommends stretches and exercises that work those four key areas of the body, building strength and flexibility and helping to prevent injury or back problems in the future.
For the ankles, a classic runner’s stretch, with the knees flexed and the heel on the ground, will stretch out the lower calves and around the ankle. Stretching both ankles three or four times a day for 30 seconds is recommended.
A “figure-4” stretch works the hip joint and allows for better rotational movement in the golf swing.
From a standing position, move the right or left foot up to the opposite knee to create a “4” with the legs, then lean forward from the hip, keeping the back straight to feel the stretch in the hips.
“Keep the chest up, the butt back and just lean forward,” Cooper explained. “We could do that sitting too, it’s just important that you keep the back straight to feel the stretch. As soon as I stick my butt out and lift my chest up I can feel that a lot more in my hip.”
For the spine, an “open book” stretch will stretch the muscles around the middle (or thoracic) spine used in the golf swing. Lying on your side, bring both knees up toward your chest into a fetal position, using the lower hand to grab the top of the knees, keeping them together and rotating the chest toward the ceiling.
“That’s my most important golf rotational stretch,” Cooper said.
The shoulders can be stretched in various ways in multiple planes of motion. To increase flexibility in the backswing, reach across the body with the lead arm to a fixed object at shoulder height and bend forward into the golf posture, thus stretching the shoulder joint.
Cooper also recommends strengthening the core and the glutes with a “chop” exercise to protect the spine and create more rotational power and strength.
Using weights on a pulley system or a resistance band, begin with the arm above the body and pull the pulley or band downward across and to the opposite side of the body (see photo), while keeping the lower body still. The upper body rotates while the lower body does not move.
“It’s called a chop and is a high-to-low movement, so it’s going to use the front core,” Cooper said. “I can also do a low-to-high movement, called a lift.
“It’s essentially the same thing. I’m just pulling up (instead of down) without letting my lower body move. When you pull low to high, it works more of the posterior (the back); when you pull high to low, it works you more in the front.”
Golfers can do those exercises with a regular golf stance or with the feet together, using both the right and left sides, and can bump up the difficulty by standing on just one leg to improve balance.
“Usually if I’m working with someone I will make sure they can hold stable (with a regular stance) before I would progress them to the next step (feet together or on one leg),” Cooper said.
Cooper also recommends other exercises using a push-and-pull motion with the arms and shoulders.
He assesses each of his students to see what they can and cannot handle in their strength and stretching regimen.
“A comprehensive fitness program is going to cover flexibility, it’s going to cover strength and balance and have some cardio in there as well,” Cooper said. “It all starts with an assessment. I take about an hour and a half with people and look at them head to toe for flexibility, strength and balance.”
He works locally with golf professionals to assess each student’s swing and determine how best to help a student improve his or her strength and flexibility.
“The fitness is just a component,” Cooper said. “But I think people can be limited in just meeting with their golf pro, or getting their clubs fit to them, without working on their body.”
Check with your trainer for the exercises that can help your swing, or contact Cooper at firstname.lastname@example.org .
—Reporter: 541-617-7868, email@example.com