Golf fitness: Two key areas of the body any golfer can target to shoot lower scores
There are plenty of fitness routines that come with the promise of tightening your abs, improving your cardiovascular health, shaving 20 pounds off your mid-section and making you feel 10 years younger.
But this isn’t one of them. This one is all about the exercises that can make you a better golfer without having to spend hours and hours in the gym. For this workout, you’ll be focusing on only two areas of the body, says performance coach Tyler Campbell. That’s it, just two. And if you do this quick-and-easy routine regularly, your golf game will improve through osmosis.
“Exercises that improve hip mobility and rotation through your mid-back will give you the best chance to make a more efficient swing with proper sequencing,” says Campbell, who trains clients at the Golf Performance Center in Ridgefield, Conn.
With that in mind, here are eight exercises to get you and your golf year off to a great start. And if you want more, sign up for Campbell’s bigger, three-part “Fast-Track Fitness” work-out series at Golf Digest Schools.
Struggle with scapular stability? Tyler Campbell explains it here.
“The bretzel is great for improving your ability to rotate the upper or lower body separately,” Campbell says. “Although we categorize this as a thoracic-spine exercise, it has great benefit for the flexibility of the lower body, too.” Lie on your left side with your right leg flexed up toward your waist. Place your left hand on the flexed leg to help it stay on the ground. Reach for your left foot with your right hand and pull the heel toward your hips. Finally, take a breath and exhale as you rotate your right shoulder toward the ground. Do eight to 10 reps, and then repeat on the opposite side.
Kneeling Side Bends
“I like this exercise not only for isolating the thoracic-spine region, which is a key to good rotation in the golf swing, but also because it improves lateral flexion, which means being able to stay in posture as you rotate. It should go a long way for your ball-striking,” Campbell says. Kneel with your torso upright and your hands behind your head, elbows flared to your sides. Laterally bend to the right so your mid-section contracts on that side above your waistline. Return to the start position, then slightly rotate your torso to the right, and laterally bend down again. Do 10 reps in each direction, gradually increasing the rotation of your torso with each rep.
“These improve mid-back and lower-body mobility. And if you add resistance like holding a dumbbell or an anchored band, you’ll challenge your shoulder blades’ stability. That stability is key to proper rotation and control of the club throughout the swing,” Campbell says. Begin in a tall-kneeling position and then step forward with your right leg so it’s bent 90 degrees in front of your tor-so. Your left leg also should remain bent at 90 degrees. Place your left hand next to your right foot while reaching upward with your right hand (your torso will rotate toward your right leg). The goal is to keep your right leg still as you reach. Do eight to 10 reps, then repeat with the opposite arm-and-leg configuration.
Step-outs to step-ups
“This is the most challenging of the mid-back exercises. It will test your ability to be mobile and stable in a dynamic way—just like you need to be when you swing a club at faster speeds,” Campbell says. “Go slow and use a mirror to check your form. It’s OK if you can’t complete a full rep at first. Keep trying.” Start in a tall-kneeling position with a 5-iron extended over your head. Keep-ing the club level, step forward with your right leg into a half-kneeling position and rotate your torso toward that leg. Once you feel stable, push off of the right leg and stand up, balancing on that foot as you raise your left leg up to waist height. Once you have your balance, rotate your body toward the raised leg. Do 10 reps, posting on each leg.
Supine pelvic tilts to bridges
“When you swing, it’s diﬃcult to create an eﬃcient energy transfer from your body to the golf club if your pelvis is unstable,” Campbell says. “This exercise is base camp for hip and pelvic stability.” Lying on your back with your spine in a neutral/flat position, arch your back for a couple of seconds, then press it into the floor for the same amount of time. Then let your spine return to a neutral position, neither arched nor pressing into the ground. Next, squeeze your glutes and raise your pelvis toward the ceiling. Hold this bridge position for several seconds and then slowly lower yourself back into the neutral-spine pose that started the exercise. Do two sets of eight reps.
Supine leg lifts
“We haven’t talked much about the role of the abs, but this exercise will strengthen them for better swing stability. It also improves your awareness and control of the pelvis,” Campbell says. “The ability to hinge from the hip joints of the pelvis into a quality address posture is key to a functional golf swing.” Lie on your back with your legs completely straight and flat on the ground. Without using any rocking momentum, raise both legs simultaneously until they are perpendicular to the ground (or as high as you can raise them without letting them bend). Keeping the right leg in this vertical position, let the left slowly lower to the ground while staying straight. After a couple of seconds, return to the start position. Do 16 reps alternating the leg that’s lowered.
“To ultimately improve hip rotation, it’s critical that the joint move through as much range of motion as possible without compensation,” Campbell says.
“Improving control of this isolated hip motion is a big step toward swinging in the correct lower-body-to-upper body sequence in the downswing.” Starting with your hands and knees on the floor in a quadruped position, lift your right leg off the ground and use your right hip to move the leg in a circular pattern around the side of your body. The key is to do this while keeping your spine neutral and your arms straight and pushing into the ground. Don’t arch your back or let your elbows bend. Do 12 full circles with each leg.
Standing pelvis tilts and turns
“I call this the ‘Big Three’ for the pelvis, because it trains front-ward and backward pelvic tilting and rotation in one exercise,” Campbell says. “Using a golf club to steady the body is great because it lets you isolate the hips to train independent motion from the upper body. Every golfer knows that the lower body has to lead the way in the downswing.” Get in your golf address posture with your hands planted on top of a club. Keep your upper body still as you arch your lower back, extend your lower back and then finally rotate your hips in the direction of your downswing. If you feel vibration in your pelvis or generally struggle, return to doing supine pelvic tilts until you can graduate to these. Do 10 to 12 reps, and then repeat with the pelvis rotating in the opposite direction.