Golf + Fitness

New data from everyday golfers answers question of whether golf offers a complete workout

January 15, 2022

Mike Ehrmann

There’s no denying golf has seen an increase in participation during the pandemic, surveys from around the world showing people coming (or returning) to the game to be able to take part in a safe activity in the time of COVID. For many, just being able to get outside was motivation enough, but new data reveals that the decision to take up the game and play on a regular basis also provided real fitness benefits as well.

Officials with WHOOP, a human performance band worn by several top PGA Tour and LPGA Tour pros, have released their 2021 Year in Review report summarizing lifestyle and behavioral trends among users. Known for helping athletes properly recover from their previous day’s activities, WHOOP disclosed exclusive data from May to August 2021, including statistics specifically from their golf users. Golf was WHOOP’s seventh most popular activity in all participating countries, coming in ahead of yoga and spin.

The public has seen WHOOP data from the likes of Justin Thomas, Rory McIlroy and Nelly Korda, but this is the first time the fitness company has made information available from its overall user base. WHOOP officials pulled data from a global population of golfers in a similar age range as tour professionals, which they determined as between 20 and 45 years old. Over the four-month period, a user’s data qualified if they played golf at least eight times, but not more than 32 times. Although WHOOP did not disclose the sample sizes of its data or membership base, the company currently ships to more than 36 countries across the globe.

Overall, the golf specific data was consistent with what Emily Capodilupo, WHOOPs Vice President Data Science and Research, expected. The data was divided into two categories, general data from average golfers’ daily lives and golf-specific activity data (when users recorded they were actually playing golf).

WHOOP was not able to divide its golf findings into more specific categories such as walking 18 holes or going to the driving range; users simply mark the activity as “golf” when they deem it fitting. However, the average duration from the data was two hours and 22 minutes, so it is safe to assume that there was a mix of playing and practicing included in the findings. During this time, a golfer’s average heart rate was 119 beats per minute, their average maximum heart rate was 156 bpm, and their average calories burned was 770.

By comparison, according to the company, WHOOP users while walking came in with an average heart rate of 113 bpm, max rate of 148 bpm and average calories burned of 200 (during an average of 50 minutes of activity). While taking part in spin classes (44 minutes of activity), the numbers were at 133, 166 and 327, and while skiing (153 minutes) were 103, 154 and 549.

WHOOP also records a statistic called “strain,” which according to the company’s website, “is a true measure of how much stress you’re putting on your body, both mentally and physically.” It’s measured on a scale of 0 to 21, and according to Capodilupo, approaching a 21 would only be possible if you completed an Ironman Triathlon. For golfers, the average activity strain was 10.9.

“If the average golf strain is around an 11, depending on the person and your fitness level, that’s similar to running a 5k,” Capodilupo said. “It’s a different type of strain, but the numbers are very similar.”

Although the duration of other physical activities that reach similar strains tend to be shorter, Capodilupo pointed out that golf is a good example of ways in which you can exercise your mind and body at different paces.

“I think the interesting thing to see is that at the end of the workout, [golfers] do tend to get to those strains that are consistent with other workouts,” Capodilupo said. “It's just happening over a few hours instead of 45 minutes. Our typical workouts are closer to an hour. It’s definitely interesting to see that there are a lot of different paths to get to a similar physiological outcome.”

WHOOP has previously released heart rate data from its professional golfers in their most pressure-packed moments, and the data is fascinating. For example, Korda’s heart rate while winning the Olympic gold medal this summer in Tokyo showed to be lower than expected in the moments before hitting her winning putt. Her heart rate was the highest, however, while she was standing on the top of the podium getting her medal.

“What we actually see is that really good golfers have super-low heart rates when they’re in competition,” Capodilopu said. “There’s a huge neuromuscular and neurological component in golf. Can you connect to make your club and therefore your ball do exactly what you’re trying to make it do? That concentration requires quieting things, so you see this funny pattern.”

Although there is no access to the same precise heart rate analysis for average WHOOP golfers, the data goes to show the importance of heart-rate analysis in the sport. According to Capodilupo, WHOOP’s professional golf heart-rate data aligns most closely with professional shooting. Before shooting a weapon or hitting a golf shot, a calm heart rate is essential to peak performance.