If you struggle during golf's pressure-packed moments, the problem might not be your putting stroke--it could be the way you breathe, says sport psychologist Dr. Leah Lagos. Improved breathing techniques can prevent nervousness and the typical loss of fine motor skills that occur when the pressure is on, she says. Lagos trained a college golf team for a 10-week period to test her theory. And it was more than just learning to take deep breaths. The golfers were asked to perform two 20-minute breathing sessions per day and visit with Lagos once a week for evaluation. The results were overwhelmingly positive, with nearly every golfer improving their driving distance and putting.
"This isn't a relaxation exercise," says Lagos, who works with PGA Tour pros as well as other top athletes. "It's a scientific and evidence-based method for controlling your body's braking system. It allows golfers to put a stop to their stress response and reduce distractions in their mind."
You can also try this method. Download the BreathPacer app
($2.99 in the iTunes App Store) and use it for 20 minutes before each round. Lagos says learning how to breathe when tension builds will override the body's natural reaction to lock up. Don't want to purchase the app? Lagos has two more tips that will help you play better.
(1) Clear your mind after a bad hole with a "Power 10." Inhale, slowly counting to four, then breathe out for six seconds. Repeat this nine times. This helps deliver oxygen to the brain to improve your focus. Counting uses the same part of the brain that we use to worry. It's difficult to do both at the same time.
(2) Whenever you feel tense, recall two of the best moments of your life. Focus on the joy you felt as you inhale, and feel as if any negative thoughts are being forced out as you exhale.
Fitness Editor Ron Kaspriske responds to recent Twitter questions using 140 characters or less.
__Q: Should I feel pressure at the bottom of my spine when I address the ball?
A: No. An arching of the spine is the result of tight hip flexors and can lead to lower-back pain. Try to keep your spine neutral.
__Q: Do you have any advice for improving tracking problems in the knees?
A: This is usually caused by strength imbalances in the thighs, a common issue for golfers. Focus on single-leg exercises to regain symmetry.
__Q: How many holes does it take to burn the calories in a slice of white [pizza]?
A: Assuming it's an average-size cheese slice with no sauce (400 calories), it would take five holes walking or nine riding.