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Health & Fitness

Fitness Friday: Everything you need to know to protect your knees

Knee injuries aren't terribly common in golf, but knee pain is. Whether it's an overuse issue from walking several miles or excess stress and strain from performing athletic movements on unstable terrain, golfers put their knees to the test on a weekly basis.

Here is a refresher on the most common knee injuries and also what you can do at home to prevent them.



A type of arthritis that occurs when articular cartilage, usually behind the knee, deteriorates. The golfer will typically feel a dull, achy pain and might experience swelling.

This disc-shape cartilage between the thigh and shin bones often tears as a result of being compressed as the knee joint rotates. The golfer will feel a sharp, biting pain.

Decades of joint stress can result in a significant loss of cartilage, often on the inner and outer edges of the knee, causing bone-on-bone contact and deep-aching or sharp pain.

This connective tissue in the middle of the joint can rip if the knee goes beyond its normal range of motion. A popping sound usually accompanies a tear, and swelling will occur within a few hours.

This ligament is located on the inner portion of the joint. Stress placed on the lead knee through impact can rip the tissue, but this is rare and the injury can heal without surgery. Swelling, soreness and bruising on the inside portion of the knee are common symptoms.

fitness-knee-exercises.jpgDO THESE FOR HEALTHY KNEES
Illustrations: Kagan McLeod

Increased hip and calf flexibility reduces the stress and shearing force on the knee. On a sturdy chair, hold this demonstrated position, pushing the hips forward and straightening the grounded leg.

Weak quadriceps and hamstring (or thigh) muscles can lead to instability in the knee joint. Keeping your spine straight, slowly drop the posted knee to the ground. Rise and repeat until fatigued.

Golfers usually have weak, tight hamstrings, but these posterior thigh muscles are responsible for bending the leg. Hold the position above. Try to keep the extended foot on its heel and the extended leg straight.

These muscles allow golfers to get into and maintain a proper address posture, which helps alleviate some compression issues with the knee. Hold the position shown, thrusting your pelvis toward the chair.

Ron Kaspriske is the fitness editor of Golf Digest.
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Health & Fitness

How to stop topping shots

True story: A teaching pro was trying to get one of his students to stop hitting shots where the club made contact with the top half of the ball. This golfer either topped or chunked just about every shot during the lesson. Out of frustration, the teacher went into his office, got a big heavy coat stand and brought it out to the range. He put it behind the golfer and took the back of the golfer's shirt and looped it over one of the hooks. He then asked him to make some slow swings. Then he put a golf ball down and told the golfer to hit it.

With only an abbreviated swing while hanging from a coat rack, the golfer rocketed one off the face. The second ball was even better. This continued for about five more shots until, as you might have guessed, the golfer tried to swing harder and left half his shirt still clinging to the hook.

What the pro and his coat rack were successful in doing was getting the golfer to maintain the posture he created at address throughout the swing—this is key to avoiding tops and chunks.

loop-fix-topped-shots.jpgIn an effort to hit the ball in the air, many amateurs intuitively rise out of this posture during the downswing thinking they need to lift their bodies to lift the ball (see photo). Sometimes golfers also straighten up in the backswing to make a bigger turn off the ball. But there are two more reasons golfers hit tops and chunks. And these issues are physical, not mental.

Golfers who have weak or stiff muscles on the back side of their legs (hamstrings) or issues with their butt and hip muscles will struggle to maintain their address posture when they swing. Another problem stems from poor muscular function in the mid-back region—especially the obliques, which provide a good bit of the power needed to properly rotate the trunk back and through during the golf swing.

So before you get a golf lesson to fix your tops and chunks, you probably should get in the gym and train these areas of the body so you know you're capable of staying in posture when you swing. Even if you are physically fit enough to handle the task, exercises that focus on the hamstrings, hips, glutes and mid-back are never a bad idea for golfers.

Click on the video to see a demonstrate of two such exercises.

Ron Kaspriske is the fitness editor of Golf Digest.

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Health & Fitness

Fitness Friday: Is your low testosterone level affecting your driving distance?

If you're not hitting the ball as far as you used to, you can blame your ball, clubs or swing--or all three. But Dr. Ara Suppiah says the reason could be more primal: "As we get older, our testosterone levels drop, and this is the hormone you need for power. Even worse, in many cases men accelerate the drop with unhealthy living habits." The natural reduction for men is about 1 percent each year past age 30, the Mayo Clinic reports. But if you're not eating right, sleeping well and exercising, the loss can be more rapid. Suppiah, a sports-medicine specialist who is a consultant for several players on the PGA Tour, says a healthy male 45 to 55 should have a testosterone count of about 500 or higher. Women also produce testosterone but in significantly lower quantities (the normal range is 18 to 70). If your blood tests indicate low levels of testosterone, you might be able to avoid synthetic steroid supplements--and their nasty side effects--by making lifestyle changes to boost levels naturally, Suppiah says. "The benefits go beyond hitting the ball farther. But there's nothing wrong with that being your motivation." Here is Suppiah's three-month game plan for increasing your T count.

fitness-friday-need-more-t-300.jpgWHERE TO START
Get your overall T levels tested—including your level of "free" testosterone--ideally twice. Free T is greatly responsible for sexual traits early in life and is linked to energy, sex drive and bone density as we age.

1. Lift weights: Numerous studies indicate that performing multi-joint exercises such as squats, deadlifts and bench presses stimulate T production. Exercise also can reduce levels of the stress hormone cortisol.

2. Get in the sun: Twenty minutes a day of unfiltered sun exposure will produce sufficient amounts of vitamin D3. This vitamin is known for improving overall bone health and neuromuscular function.

3. Sleep better: Researchers at the University of Chicago Medical Center found that men who slept less than five hours a night for one week had up to 15 percent lower T than those who were better rested.

4. Reduce inflammation: Unhealthy habits such as excessive drinking, untreated allergies and overeating can keep the body in a state of chronic inflammation and hamper T production.

5. Back off the sugar: Refined carbohydrates (think sweetened, processed foods) can make the body more resistant to the role of insulin as a blood-sugar regulator. When that happens, testosterone production also slows. Furthermore, foods high in polyunsaturated fats (think foods fried in cooking oils) inhibit the enzyme 5-alpha reductase from metabolizing testosterone.

6. Avoid gluten: Gluten is a protein found in many grains and is commonly consumed in bagels, cereals, salad dressings and mayonnaise. Any intolerance to this protein leads to gut inflammation and its power-zapping side effects (see No. 4).

7. Remember to buy avocados, almonds, oregano—anything high in omega-3 fatty acids. These acids balance hormone function, including testosterone production.

8. Eat beans or any other foods high in magnesium. This mineral has been shown to boost T levels in athletes as well as sedentary people.

9. Grab a handful of brazil nuts for selenium and good cholesterol. The cells in the testes needed to produce testosterone--the Leydig cells--will function better.

10. Herbs can help: Tap into your inner Eastern philosophy by eating extract from maca and tongkat ali plants. Both are widely believed to be T boosters.

Ron Kaspriske is the fitness editor of Golf Digest.

(Illustration by Adam Voorhes) ... Read
Health & Fitness

Don't rush back to the course after a cortisone shot

A recently published report in the American Journal of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation warns of the potential danger of thinking a cortisone shot is the green light you need to get back on the course after injury.

While it's intent is to speed recovery—or at least mask the pain from inflammation—tendinopathy treatments such as steroid injections could do more harm than good if administered improperly, or if the patient rushes back to strenuous physical activities.

the-loop-health-fitness-cortisone.jpgThe paper specifically cautioned the speedy return to sports activities after an injection near the trigger or index finger. But in general terms, "patients should be warned about returning to sports prematurely, and should be encouraged to gradually resume after the injection to prevent further damage." They cited the case of a 57-year-old golfer who suffered a tendon rupture in his forearm after getting a steroid shot near his trigger finger. The forearm muscles control the finger movements and the index finger is a key player in swinging a golf club properly.

So what's the message? Be careful even considering cortisone. It's been known to weaken soft-tissue fiber and also mask pain that would otherwise deter you from doing further harm to an injured area. Keep that in mind—and the message in the AJPM&R—if a doctor recommends a shot.

Ron Kaspriske is the fitness editor of Golf Digest.

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Health & Fitness

Fitness Friday: The importance of single-leg exercise for golf

After viewing a demonstration video of me exercising on one leg last year, a good friend of mine couldn't help but take a shot: "I like the video," he said. "But when do you need to swing a golf club on one leg?"

Point taken, but here is my response. Single-leg exercise are great for golfers for two reasons:

Zach-single-leg-hip-hinge.gif1. If you truly want to get build stronger lower-body muscles, you have to work out with an external load placed on the body. Almost all experts agree on the concept that you have to lift heavy to get stronger. With that in mind, if you perform something like a Romanian deadlift on two legs, you have hold a heavy barbell or dumbbells to see any real strength gains.

But if you do the same exercise on one leg, your body weight alone is enough to increase muscle mass—at least in the initial phases of strength training. Think about it. Your body is designed to be supported by two legs, not one. So if one leg has to do all the supporting, you've roughly doubled the normal load it's meant to support. I'll also add that it's much safer to learn proper form when you're dealing with only your own body weight.

2. In order to swing the club effectively, each leg has to support a large portion of your body weight on its own.
When professional golfers take the club back, roughly 80 percent of their body weight is supported by their back leg. And when they transition from backswing to downswing, the left leg takes 80 to 90 percent of the load. This weight shift is key to creating, storing and then transferring energy from your body into the club and eventually the ball.

zach-lateral-hinge-optimize.gifFor these two reasons alone, Golf Digest fitness advisor Randy Myers (@randymyers_) believes you should incorporate single-leg exercises into your workout routine. He advises you start with simple movements and then slowly build to more dynamic exercises. As you do them, pay attention to balance and how proprioception plays a role in making an effective golf swing.

Former Masters champion Zach Johnson (@zachjohnsonpga), who trains with Myers, offered to demonstrate two great single-leg exercises for golfers (right, top image). The first improves hip mobility and hamstring strength—not to mention balance. The second trains the body to move laterally with power, as it does it most good golf swings. Note how Zach lands cleanly on each foot when he leaps and then rotates his upper body. (right) This mimics the multiple planes of motion needs when you swing the club.

Ron Kaspriske is the fitness editor of Golf Digest.

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Health & Fitness

Fitness Friday: Know before you roll

Manual soft-tissue therapy, otherwise known as foam rolling, has been gaining in popularity as a way to increase flexibility and speed recovery from muscle soreness. But does it work and is it worth your while? The short answer is ... maybe.

Here's a longer answer:
Studies show it can increase flexibility for up to 10 minutes after the foam rolling is completed. And if performed regularly, it might be able to increase flexibility long term. As far as aiding in recovery from muscle soreness, testing has shown it has had some success in reducing "perceived" discomfort, as well as increasing pain thresholds so athletes can work out harder and get back to the gym, field, golf course, etc., faster.

These conclusions come from Chris Beardsley of Strength & Conditioning Research after compiling data from a number of studies from 2002 to 2014 on the technique known as myofascial release. Simply put, muscles are surrounded and adjoined by a soft tissue called fascia. When you feel tight or sore, fascia might be the culprit and localized massaging is believed to help loosen things up, as well as increase blood flow and its healing agents to the area. Some athletes do it before their activity in hopes they will move freer and perform better (although no study has definitively proven it acutely affects athletic performance). Other athletes do it at the conclusion of their activity as a way of reducing pain and soreness.

The reason I say "maybe" as to whether you should foam roll is because you should consult with a professional first. Getting evaluated on your physical limitations is key. With that caveat out of the way, if you're looking to increase your range of motion when you swing a golf club, or not feel as sore after you tee it up or work out, then you might want to incorporate a short foam-rolling program into your fitness routines and see if it helps.

To that end, we asked PGA Tour rookie Tony Finau (@tonyfinaugolf) to demonstrate a great foam-rolling program for golfers. Finau is a "Team Captain" for the sports-training-equipment company SKLZ (@sklz) and is launching a campaign to help golfers prepare better for their rounds.

To see him walk you through a foam-rolling routine, click on the video below.

Ron Kaspriske is the fitness editor of Golf Digest.

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Health & Fitness

One thing to remember when squatting

Squat reminder: To correctly perform a basic squat, your torso should line up roughly parallel to the shin bones as you drop into your available range of motion, says Golf Digest fitness advisor Ralph Simpson.

"If the torso is too upright, you can't produce a lot of power or have much mobility. You're also at a greater risk for injury. So remember: Poke your butt out."


Ron Kaspriske is the fitness editor of Golf Digest.

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Health & Fitness

Fitness Friday: Wind (don't turn) when you take the club back

When it comes to the backswing, "turn" is a bad word, says Golf Digest Teaching Professional David Leadbetter (@davidleadbetter). It leaves golfers with the impression that all they have to do is take the club back with their bodies and arms and they've made good backswing. "I like to think of the backswing as coiling or winding instead of turning," Leadbetter says. "The idea is that you want to generate some energy and store it for the hit. You can't do that if you simply turn off the ball."

A good visual to understand what he's saying can be seen here. When he winds off the ball, the stretch band is nice and taught. When he turns off the ball, there's slack—in other words, very little energy has been generated.


From a swing-mechanics standpoint, Leadbetter says the core muscles should initiate the backswing. The chest and the big back muscles should feel as if they are twisting and torquing as they coil over the right leg. You should sense some pressure building in the right leg, too. Although the hips also will turn back, they shouldn't turn nearly as much as the upper body. It depends on your level of flexibility, but the hips should only turn about half the distance as the shoulders. The length of the backswing isn't nearly as important as having that wound feeling when you reach the top.

In between working on this winding action on the range, you can also help your cause in the gym with this easy dumbbell exercise. Click on the video to see me demonstrate it.

Ron Kaspriske is the fitness editor of Golf Digest.

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Health & Fitness

Two new energy bars for your golf bag

The problem with most energy or meal-replacement bars is perception—people think they're healthy alternatives to eating whole foods. In short, they're not. NOT. EVEN. CLOSE. Most are overloaded with sugars, toxic chemicals, cheap chocolate, genetically modified organisms and gluten.

For example, one extremely popular chocolate-covered energy bar contains maltodextrin, fructose, dextrose, GMO wheat and soy protein isolate. To say any food containing these ingredients is a "healthy alternative" to a whole-foods meal is laughable.

"The chocolate in these bars can also create health problems, because commercial processed chocolate is laden with harmful ingredients," says nutrition expert Lisa Sulsenti (@drlisasulsenti).

That being said, two new bars on the market are trying to actually live up to their healthy reputations.


No Cow Bar
($30 for a pack of 12, is a dairy-, soy-, and gluten-free product that has 20 grams of protein from plants and nuts and only 1 gram of sugar (from stevia). It's also low in calories (170 per bar) and packed with dietary fiber (about three-fourths of your daily requirement). The only knock on No Cow is that it's not the most appetizing. The "blueberry cobbler" did not invoke thoughts of grandma's house. But I'll gladly sacrifice gourmet taste for more nutrition.


The other newcomer is from Omnibar ($39 for a pack of 12, These bars have a higher sugar content (8 grams per bar) than No Cow, but are made of entirely natural ingredients. For example, the cranberry-rosemary bar contains ground beef, dried prunes, almonds, dried sweet potatoes, oats, flax seed, sugar, salt, cranberry concentrate, apricot concentrate, garlic powder and onion powder. That's it. It has 9 grams of protein and 3 grams of dietary fiber. As far as taste, Omnibar would probably fall under the category of "acquired." We sampled the cranberry-rosemary, chipotle-barbecue and mango curry in the office and all three fell short of tasty. The chipotle-barbecue was my favorite, and very reminiscent of beef jerky with a softer, easier-to-chew texture. I can't say I'd want to eat these bars all the time, but in a pinch on the back nine, they're a heckuva lot better choice than most meal-replacement bars, and certainly better than a hot dog.

Ron Kaspriske is the fitness editor of Golf Digest.

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Health & Fitness

Fitness Friday: How to keep jet lag from ruining your next golf trip

NASA scientists estimate that for every time zone you cross in your travels, you need an equal number of days in your new location to recover from jet lag. Think how that affects Californians going to Ireland for a dream golf vacation. The last thing you want to do is spend half your trip in a sleep-deprived fog. Dr. Ara Suppiah, who works with PGA Tour players Henrik Stenson Justin Rose, Steve Stricker, Ian Poulter and Hunter Mahan, gave us tips for minimizing jet lag's impact.

travel-advice-1.jpgBEFORE TAKEOFF
1. Book a flight that lands in the daytime, morning preferred. It's like getting a bonus day to overcome the time difference.

2. Don't change your sleeping habits before your trip to
get in sync with the new time zone. Sleep normally.

3. Two days before flying, boost your immune system with a daily dose of vitamin C (1,000 milligrams) and vitamin D (5,000 milligrams).

4. Over 40? Consider taking a baby aspirin to avoid a blood clot from prolonged sitting.

travel-advice-2.jpgON THE FLIGHT
1. Drink plenty of water. Dehydration compounds the effects of jet lag.

2. Take a prescription diazepam (Valium) or an over-the-counter diphenhydramine (Benadryl or Sominex). It will relax your muscles and help you sleep.

3. Avoid sugary food and drinks, including alcohol. Blood-sugar spikes increase inflammation and disturb sleep cycles.

4. Need to have a drink? Then eat peanuts (unsalted, if possible). Nuts slow down the absorption of alcohol in the bloodstream.

travel-advice-3.jpgAFTER LANDING
1. Glimpse directly toward the sun at dawn or dusk. Doing so will increase activity in the pineal gland, helping regulate melatonin (the sleep hormone).

2. Drink a liter of cold water with a squeezed lemon (skin included). This alkaline mixture helps rid
the body of acidity and germs.

3. Exercise, but avoid a big workout. Try walking barefoot on grass or sand for 30 minutes to reduce lingering in-flight stress.

4. Take one more Valium or Benadryl when you go to sleep on the first night of the trip.

Ron Kaspriske is the fitness editor of Golf Digest.

(Illustrations by Todd Detwiler) ... Read
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