Conditioned for competition

How does a golfer start a fitness program? How does any person, regardless of his or her golfing ability, get in shape to become a better or more consistent player?

David Ostrow, CEO of Body Balance for Performance, one of the leading organizations in golf fitness, has some answers.

Across the United States, Body Balance includes 32 franchise operations that focus on golf as well as other sports activities. Ostrow saidmany Body Balance clients begin their fitness programs in the winter, a perfect time for most people to initiate a fitness routine.

Ostrow, a physical therapist, is certified bythe Titleist Performance Institute as a level-3 medical professional. He also is a member of the medical advisory board for TPI, which organizes and conducts the biennial World Golf Fitness Summit.

The first step, according to Ostrow, is to find a certified fitness professional. TPI (www.mytpi.com) certifies golf trainers. So does Body Balance (www.fitgolf.com) and facilities such as the Chek Institute near San Diego (www.chekinstitute.com).

The next step: Golfers must choose carefully between a physical trainer and a medical professional, says Ostrow, who is credentialed in both fields.

“A medical professional focuses on range of motion,”Ostrowsaid. “A physical trainer is more concerned with the ability to move fast. A medical professional deals with movement dysfunction, injury prevention and injury rehabilitation. I call them restorative programs.

“In simple terms, a medical professional is concerned with range of motion, while a physical trainer tries to improve a golfer’s ability to move fast. You might say a physical trainer super charges the body.”

How does a golfer evaluate range of motion? Ostrow mentioned three basic tests.

Test No. 1: Try to touch your toes without bending your knees.

Test No. 2: Stand in front of a mirror and adopt the posture of a 5-iron stance. Cross your arms over your chest. Then attempt to rotate your hips to the left and right without moving your chest.

Test No. 3: From the same position as No. 2, try to move your chest to the left and right without moving your hips. “If you cannot do these drills, you need somebody who can help you through the basics of how to move,” Ostrow said.

“If you can do them and you have that range of motion, then you probably areready to choose a physical trainer who will concentrate more on strength and will improve your explosiveness and quickness.

“Most people need some basic restorative work before they can think about faster, explosive work. We have become a society with tremendous range-of-motion problems, and this has a great effect on the way people play golf.”

The hips remain a widespread concern for physical trainers and therapists.

“The No. 1 area that most people don’t address is the hips,” said Randy Myers, director of fitness at Sea Island Resorts in St. Simons Island, Ga. “Lackof mobility in the hips is something that relates directly to golf. It relates to hip speed.

“The biggest difference I see between touring pros and most amateurs, particularly older amateurs, is hip speed. When you lose speed, you lose distance.”

George Kidd, owner of Giants Gym in Portland, Ore., also tells golfers to focus on the hips.

“Most people don’t walk, don’t run, don’t stretch,” Kidd said. “So the hips get tight. The position of our legs when we sit at a desk doesn’t help – this actually strains the hip flexors.

“Unfortunately the men who exercise don’t usually work the smaller muscles such as the hip flexors. Male golfers mistakenly concentrate on big muscles when they train. Educating golfers about proper overall training is the key.”

A few words of caution: Golfers easily can hurt themselves if they try and work on strength and explosive drills without having basic conditioning and range of motion in place. “The hurt golfer is not a golfer,” Ostrow said.

“The hurt golfer is on the couch watching golf, not playing.”

Touching the toes, as simple as it sounds, is a basic indicator of golf flexibility and golf fitness. “Golfers who can’t touch their toes are likely to suffer from bad posture (during the golf swing) by 15 to 18 degrees,” Ostrow said.

“Golfers who overcome this aredoing some really great compensation during the swing.”

At Body Balance and in other fitness programs, an initial assessment will reveal physical weaknesses and pin point specific lack-of-motion problems.

Ostrow starts with 12 to 15 functional tests such as toe-touching. He then conducts anatomical testing to identify the causes of any short comings. Finally, he tests the golf swing using two swing-training devices: the K-Vestand the Dynamic Balance System.

“What this does is provide complete information and confirmation about how the body is affecting the golf swing,” Ostrow said.

In essence, this is what physical training for golfers is all about –to get the body in syncwith the golf swing, to allow the body to accomplish the movements that are necessary in a fundamentally solid golf swing.

“In so manycases, it’snot the golfer’s lack of understanding in making the proper swing,” Ostrow said. “It’s the body’s lack of ability to do what the golfer wants it to do. We are prisoners of our body’s inability to move with a full range of motion.”

Ostrow always asks his students: Why are you here?

The top four responses:

“I want to be more consistent.”

“I want my handicap to come down.”

“I want to feel better. (It hurts to play golf.)”

“I want to hit the ball farther.”

“We are quick to blame our problems on the aging process,” Ostrow said, “but I never want to do that. With good training and good exercise, a lot of those variances go away. Fitness can make us more consistent on the golf course and help us feel better at the same time.”

After an initial evaluation, Ostrow and other fitness professionals provide a work out plan that is individualized for each golfer. Individual exercises are aimed at correcting specific problems.

These problems typically exist in areas such as poor hip rotation, weak core or abdominal muscles, tight hamstrings, weak shoulders and limited spine rotation.

“Tomakemeaningful change, I ask golfers to spend a minimum of 20 to30 minutes three or four times a week,” Ostrow said.

“If you give people too much work, they don’t do it. Our responsibility is to create programs that people can actually do. So a program might include five or six different exercises, with a minute of cardiovascular work in between each exercise. With high-intensity cardio work, people can get in shape while they improve their bodies.”

Ostrow said most golfers, after they start their programs, “see us in the office between two and four times per month. We evaluate their progress, change their exercises and make sure they are doing everything correctly.”

Ostrow’s clients pay for a specific program, the cost of which is based on the amount of length and structure of the program. For maximum benefit to the golfer, it is reasonable to expect that a program will continue for six months or so.

“This is how most golfers can start to effectively and permanently improve their ability to play golf,” Ostrow said. “To get the most out of golf instruction, you need to get your body in shape first.”

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