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Fitness Friday: Golf's Best Cardio Machines

By Ron Kaspriske Illustrations by Brian Stauffer
December 18, 2015

Most commercial gyms offer a variety of equipment designed to make your body leaner and your heart stronger. But which cardiovascular-training machine is the best for golfers? We asked a dozen golf-fitness experts, and nine out of 12 ranked the treadmill first or second.

"The best piece depends on the individual," says Golf Digest fitness advisor Ben Shear. "But the treadmill is great for golfers because walking is such a huge part of the game. It can simulate hill walking and be used for steady-state cardio training or high-intensity interval training."

Adds Golf Digest fitness advisor Ralph Simpson: "It also gets the nod for versatility and specificity. You can increase speed, elevation, train laterally or backward. Its only knock would be that golfers with lower-limb issues should use something with less impact on the joints, such as a stationary bike."

Not surprisingly, stationary bikes finished second in the poll because of their joint-friendly design and ability for users to interval train or focus on endurance. "It's the best option for the money," says strength coach Mike Boyle. "Mostly because it's hard to get injured using one."

Says Mike Voight, a clinical physical therapist from Belmont University: "Low compression on the joints is key. I like the stationary bike because most golfers will tolerate it as a warm-up versus other cardio equipment."

As for cons, Shear says that riding a stationary bike is probably not the best thing for people with desk jobs or those who suffer from kyphotic posture, which is a rounding of the spine.

Ellipticals and arc trainers finished third in the ranking, mostly because of their ability to train posterior muscles like the glutes (butt) and hamstrings (back of the thighs). These muscles are often ignored, says Trevor Anderson of the David Leadbetter Golf Academy. "You can propel them with a forward or backward motion of the legs to create a balanced workout."

Next on the list were climbing machines, though Boyle says VersaClimbers or laddermills are too strenuous to use regularly for most golfers. But climbing machines are probably the best in combining strength and cardio training, says fitness consultant Karen Palacios-Jansen. They also can move joints through a range of motion—especially key areas for golfers like the hips and shoulders, says Cody Carter, a fitness advisor for the SKLZ sports-equipment company.

What equipment should golfers ignore? Stair-climbing simulators and rowers did poorly in the poll. Most experts pointed out that users often operate these machines with compensatory movements instead of the intended muscle groups.

Jordan Spieth's trainer, Damon Goddard, said most of the experts polled would probably prefer golfers get cardio training the old-fashioned way: jogging, sprinting, swimming, etc. "Our top guys rarely, if ever, use cardio machines," he says.


*POLLED: Trevor Anderson, Mike Boyle, Cody Carter, Michael Cummings, Damon Goddard, Dave Herman, Randy Myers, Karen Palacios-Jansen, Dave Phillips, Ben Shear, Ralph Simpson, Mike Voight.