Golf is upping its game when it comes to fitness, writes Tom Robertson
Gone are the days when professional golfers would trundle down the fairway sporting a paunch under which their caddy could take shelter if it rained. Like any other game in the modern era, in which the financial pressure and rewards are high for both the players and their sponsors, golf is taking fitness seriously, very seriously.
Just as in tennis, where the players are pursued by an entourage of personal trainers and physios, golfers too are now spending more time with fitness professionals. Some to maintain a basic level of athleticism, others that hope to make the extra effort to carve out a new stage of increased fitness in their sporting careers.
Rory McIlroy, former number one and winner of two majors, is one of those who took the decision to boost his physical prowess on the course. With his trainer, Steve McGregor, he set about rebuilding his body to help him secure the number one spot in the rankings. McGregor set about analysing the muscle groups in Rory’s body during his swing. But imbalances were found, his left side being weaker than his right.
It’s this imbalance and the need to retain physical symmetry that’s receiving a great deal of attention in golf. Keith Kleven, the personal fitness trainer of Tiger Woods, the current World Number One, designed a program for him that would keep his upper body and lower body in perfect balance, without one muscle group or part of the body dominating another. When he’s lifting weights, he’s not looking to bulk up but instead insists: “I lift to enhance my entire body, because golf requires upper and lower symmetry. I also develop my right and my left sides equally because it improves how I strike the ball.”
But it’s not just about weights: raw muscle power in the arms and shoulders aren’t enough to thump a ball down the middle of a fairway. Tiger has attributed core strength to his ability to drive the ball long distances, “Core muscles help control movement and transfer energy from the center of the body out to the limbs, which can obviously impact how well you strike the ball.” In addition to this, he’s putting in 40 minutes of stretching before he even sets foot near one of his legendary training routines in order to maintain flexibility. And his fitness routines are indeed notorious on the golf circuit.
On any one day, the former winner of the U.S Masters, can be up at 6.30am for an hour of cardio work involving endurance runs or biking. Then it’s another hour of weight training followed by a high-protein breakfast and two hours on the driving range to practice his swing. There’s also some putting practice before lunch. The afternoon consists of three or four hours on the golf course followed by another 30 minute weight training session in the evening with low weights and high repetition.
Such attention to fitness hasn’t always been par for the course in the world of golf. “When other players saw my weight-training programme back in the 50s, they though I was crazy”, says Gary Player, one of the sport’s most famous sons and often accredited for being a forerunner in golf fitness.
Here in Muscat we have our own pioneers in golf fitness. Fully aware that there’s no need for golf-related exercise regimes to be the preserve of the professionals, Muscat Hills Golf & Country Club has recently started a brand new exercise class called ‘Golf Fit’.
As a golfer – and I use the term loosely – I volunteered to try out this new class. A 6am start in order to make the 7am class found me rueing the day I had ever picked up a golf club. But as the sun gathered momentum in its climb above the hills surrounding Muscat, I found myself at the Muscat Hills golf academy with a small and dedicated group of participants warming up for the class. Under the watchful eye of Jade Lucas, the class instructor, the group was led through some essential warm-up and stretching exercises before launching into an all out fitness session.
The program developed by Jade is circuit training designed to target and exercise the muscle groups predominantly used in golf and to build some of the attributes needed for the sport, such as stamina and endurance. Under the mistaken assumption that I was in for an easy ride, I was soon feeling the calories burn and the muscles tire as instructions were barked from Jade to ‘keep your knees up’ when running on the spot or to ‘rotate your body fully’ when holding a medicine ball and rotating the upper body. The exercises are timed, varying in length and it wasn’t long before my ‘easy ride’ mentality had, with increasing fatigue, soon dilapidated into simply longing for the end of the exercise.
But does it really help? I asked one participant. “I hate to say it, but yes”, she responded firmly. “When I’m on the course, I can feel the familiarity my body has with these exercises when I take my swing at the ball.”
But it’s not just a class for golfers. Though the majority were training to keep fit for the course, others were there to maintain a basic level of fitness. “As you get older”, Pauline explained very politely to me, “things seem to get harder, so it’s good to exercise and keep yourself fit. Being up this early also leaves you the rest of day to do other things”.
While fitness is the very raison d’etre of the class, there seemed to me something far greater at play. Here, there was a sense of camaraderie among the participants, all sharing the common aim of maintaining their fitness. To do so in lush green surroundings, and as the morning sun crests the surrounding mountains, makes it all the easier to break a sweat.
Cores strength exercises – Help to strengthen and stabilise the core muscles for better posture, balance and rotational speed in the swing. The more speed that’s produced through this rotation, the further the ball is hit.
Cardio exercises – Including running on the spot with high knees, in order to boost general fitness and reduce fatigue over the course of an 18-hole round.
Rotation exercises – Linked to upper and lower body dissacociation. In an ideal golf swing, the hips should seperate from the upper body to create what’s called an ‘x-factor stretch’, which maximises distance and power.
Upper body exercises – Help to strengthen the arms and prevent the arms working separately from the rest of the body.
Lower body exercises – To improve balance and encourage the golf swing to start from the ground upwards. The gluteus maximus are considered power muscles in golf.
Muscat Hills Golf and Country Club
Every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday • 7.00 – 8.00
RO4 per session or RO25 per month
+968 2451 4080