2004: Workouts that stretch the limits
Five minutes into a workout, Paige Mackenzie’s 5-foot-7 frame contorts into a pretzel-like pose. The silence of the studio begs her to block out all tinges of pain and focus on the only thing that matters in Bikram yoga – breathing.
It’s difficult to concentrate when you’re exercising in a locked room where the temperature is a stifling 100 degrees, but Washington coach Mary Lou Mulflur has her seven-member squad right where she wants them, gaining a competitive edge.
Like many coaches, Mulflur has spent the last few years searching for the perfect conditioning program. Her latest experiment, Bikram yoga, also known as “hot yoga,” received mixed reviews from Huskies players last fall.
“It has a lot of benefits that maybe not every 20-year-old will realize,” said Mulflur, who is in her 21st year of coaching. “If it saves us one shot a round somewhere because someone is a little stronger, or a little sharper mentally, that’s four shots a day.”
Mulflur says the extreme heat allows muscles to stretch more and conditions athletes to block out their surroundings. The 90-minute class consists of 26 postures that last 20 to 60 seconds apiece.
“Learning how to get in and out of focus is somewhat like being able to focus over the ball, and then being able to let go of it and walk down the fairway,” said Mackenzie. “It takes a long time to learn how to let go of everything and just focus on your breathing.”
Because of its hectic spring schedule, Washington has taken a break from mandatory hot yoga classes. Mackenzie, however, says she and her teammates take the breathing techniques they’ve learned onto the course and into the classroom.
Washington isn’t the only women’s program on the alternative workout bandwagon. Santa Clara’s Polly Schulze hired a personal trainer to work with her team, which also does a half-hour of yoga twice per week. Duke and UCLA, Nos. 1 and 2 respectively in the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings, both practice Pilates.
“When I first started nobody worked out,” said Mulflur. “Maybe you ran or whatever, but nobody trained as a golfer.”
Michigan State coach Stacy Slobodnik-Stoll says it’s only in the last five years that her team has moved away from the “modified football workout.” Indeed, finding a trainer on campus who is knowledgeable in golf is the first hurdle for many coaches.
Enter John Stemm.
The Oklahoma State rehabilitation coordinator combines his knowledge of physical training with his passion for golf. The result is a complex strength and conditioning program used by OSU’s men’s and women’s teams that has attracted the attention of coaches around the country.
Stemm, who spoke at the National Golf Coaches Association convention in January, says the biggest problem he sees in college conditioning is that teams do a modified version of the same workout year-round – going full-force in the winter months, and scaling back in the fall and spring.
“We don’t train any other sport like that, why would we do that for golf?” asks Stemm. “Let’s look at the sport, look at the season and design (a program) around that.”
Stemm’s solution is a five-phase program with segments lasting anywhere from four to eight weeks. Stretching and cardiovascular activities continue throughout the year, while phases concentrate on speed development, trunk stabilization, strength training, plyometrics and balance.
“A lot of people are doing a lot of power training, or Olympic-style training, and I think your risk-reward is lopsided,” said Stemm. “You have a higher chance of getting injured doing that type of lifting than the reward that you get from it.”
OSU players concentrate on strength training in the offseason, but incorporate a variety of exercises throughout the year that don’t involve a free weights or machines. Swiss balls, rocker boards, Dyna-Discs and foam rollers are used to keep athletes and their muscles from getting bored.
“Some of those guys who already hit it a mile aren’t necessarily going to gain a lot of distance,” said Stemm. “But what they have found is that they don’t have to swing as hard so they can keep a better tempo.”
During the plyometric phase, where muscles are trained to be explosive, Stemm integrates anaerobic training into the workout. On stationary bikes, players train for intervals of 30 seconds. Because golfers rarely do any physical activity for more than 11/2 minutes at a time during a round, Stemm’s goal is to settle their heart rate faster than the average person.
Central Florida men’s coach Nick Clinard also is fond of “mixing it up” at a quick rate. Since 1995 Clinard has taken his cues from Keith Kleven, physical trainer to the stars. Once per year Clinard makes a pilgrimage to Las Vegas in search of the secrets Kleven has revealed to PGA Tour heavyweights such as Tiger Woods, Mark O’Meara and John Cook.
The result has been an emphasis on fast-switch muscle training. Players do anywhere from eight to 25 repetitions of exercises moving as fast as possible in an effort to make muscles more explosive.
“I always thought you were born with speed,” said Clinard. “Now I realize the longer, leaner muscles you have, the faster you can move your body and the less prone you are to injury. . . . I will never swing the golf club as fast as Tiger Woods can, but I can get pretty close just through physical training.”
UCLA women’s coach Carrie Forsyth saw the fruits of her team’s conditioning last month at the San Jose State Spartan Invitational, as UCLA improved 14 strokes in the second 18 holes of the tournament’s opening day. The Bruins, who run wind sprints to stay in shape, went on to defeat the field by 21 strokes.
Forsyth brought in a trainer from the PGA Tour fitness van to meet with the school’s conditioning coach, and players are tested to mark progress.
“For them, workouts can be drudgery,” said Forsyth. “Unless you’re really charting the improvement, you don’t always see it or feel it.”
While coaches, trainers and athletes scour the country for the latest fitness craze, top-ranked Liz Janangelo swears by one of the most primitive pieces of equipment in Duke’s weight room – the bench press.
“I’m very competitive. We have a board with the bench press records, and I think it would be kind of funny to see a golfer up there,” said Janangelo, who has lost 5 percent of her body fat since last year. “I think the stronger you are the farther you hit it. I don’t see Tiger doing reps of 10 pounds with his biceps.”
Because of irritation in her wrists, Janangelo stays in the gym while her teammates practice Pilates. By lifting weights four days each week, the sophomore has gained 10 yards with each iron since coming to college.
Though a far cry from the college norm, Washington’s “hot yoga” is symbolic of what is and what’s to come in golf athleticism. Players and coaches now approach conditioning with open minds and able bodies.
“I told them, ‘I know this will be good for your golf game, but I’m hoping to expose you to a lifelong habit that is good for your mental and physical health,’ ” said Mulflur.
“It’s to help them not only as a golfer, but as a person too.”