While it feels great to become better at Pilates, for example by becoming more proficient at Rolling Like a Ball or the Teaser, the point of Pilates is not to become better at Pilates. Rather, Pilates helps us cultivate reliable, functional movement for doing life, and to improve function and strength for our other activities, including sports. Golf is a perfect example. As Pilates practitioners and champion golfers Tiger Woods and Annika Sorenstam can attest, Pilates hones many of the skills that are essential to playing golf at a high level. Every golfer, whether a tournament regular or weekend player, can benefit from Pilates to his or her workouts.
The word golf may conjure up an image of someone riding in a golf cart, bag of golf clubs in one hand, a cocktail in the other. Beyond the “men in plaid pants, walking” stereotype (as American stand-up comic Rosie O’Donnell once described the sport), golf requires skill, power, finesse, and body awareness. Lack of flexibility, poor core strength, and misalignment or restrictions in rotation can drag down one’s golf game. The good news is that they can all be improved with a dedicated Pilates practice.
Kathy Corey, founder of Kathy Corey Pilates, has seen this play out in real life. An expert on Pilates and golf who has worked with golfers from all over the world, Corey’s clients rely on Pilates to maintain strength and function in order to continue to play golf at a high level.
From the mechanics and power drive of the swing, to the agility required to line up to the tee, golf isn’t about just standing and hitting a ball. Corey focuses on foot and leg alignment, core strength, joint and spinal flexibility, shoulder rotation, and arm, wrist, and hand strengthening exercises.
“The swing is a complex, coordinated movement that on the moment of impact applies compressive forces approximately eight times the body weight,” Corey says. In addition, spinal alignment is fundamental. “The spine coils and uncoils 110 to 130 times in one direction over an average four-hour game,” she adds. That’s a lot of spinal rotation.
Integrating Pilates into your regular routine is the first step in making it part of your training for golf. Corey recommends two to three sessions per week, preferably with a teacher who is familiar with the game of golf. While Corey herself is not a golfer, she has spent a great deal of time watching golfers, researching the biomechanics, and learning about the game. As a result, she understands what needs to go into a Pilates program for golfers. Surprise: most Pilates instructors already have the tools in their toolboxes.
“The Pilates Mat work addresses balance, agility, core stabilization, rotation, and spinal mobility,” says Corey. In other words, all of the essential movement patterns required to play golf.
As a group, golfers can benefit from maintaining a Pilates practice that encourages movement in all four directions of the spine and mobility across all planes. On the Mat and on the equipment, there are lots of exercises that relate to golf-specific movement patterns.
These patterns include:
Golf is a game of repetition and asymmetry. Most golfers will swing only with their dominant arm. Over time, this can create imbalances in the body. “Golf is a left-handed game for a right-handed society,” says Corey. “For a Pilates program to be effective, both sides of the body need to be trained for the specific jobs they need to accomplish.” For example, in a right-handed golfer, the gluteals, adductors, latissimus dorsi, and hamstrings on the left are working, while the rotator cuff, pectorals, and quadriceps on the right are working. Given the repetitive patterns and muscle endurance that golf requires, without training off the golf course to rebalance and strengthen appropriately, injuries are likely to occur.
The benefits of Pilates for golfers are not limited to the physical component of training. The mind-body connection is crucial for success in this strategic sport. Pilates cultivates mind-body awareness and creates enhanced neuromuscular connections. Continued practice forges mental toughness, resilience, and confidence in one’s own abilities. All of these qualities are vital to experiencing one’s full golf potential.
Have you improved your golf game with Pilates? Let us know about it in the comments below.
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