Pilates and Golf: A perfect match

May 23, 2007
By Mike Wright and Lynda Lippin Titleist Performance Institute

Most of the professional golfers on the PGA TOUR are exercising to improve their bodies and their games, and many of them (Tiger Woods, Annika Sorenstam, Rich Beam) are using Pilates. Golfers of all levels find that consistent Pilates practice improves their games and reduces pain and injuries. However, golfers practicing golf specific Pilates experience superior results in less time.

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The golf swing is a complex, asymmetrical, full body movement. For the right handed (left side dominant) swing, the left or leading side of the body is more commonly injured than the right or trailing side, and vice versa.1 Golf stresses the body in unique ways that can lead to acute and chronic injuries. Luckily, preventive measures can minimize golf-related injuries of the back, shoulders, elbows, hands, and wrists. For example, maintaining optimum dynamic posture and spine angle can reduce lower back strain and improved shoulder girdle stability can relieve shoulder, wrist and elbow pain. Proper mechanics and swing plane require strength, flexibility, and a strong core, all of which can be attained in 15 minutes a day of golf specific Pilates exercises combined with technical ssistance from a PGA Professional. Golf specific Pilates gives golfers the edge they have been looking for.

Joseph Pilates was born in Germany and developed what he called Contrology in the early 1900s. Pilates principles match perfectly with golf and golf exercise (more on this in the next article). Due to its effectiveness Pilates is now one of the fastest growing fitness systems in the world, nearly doubling in participants every year. Pilates lengthens and strengthens muscles while building a uniformly developed balanced body, focusing on core strength----abs, gluteals, lower back, pelvic muscles, inner thighs, and intrinsic, deep stabilizers throughout all joints of the body. Pilates is whole body exercise just as the golf swing is. Pilates works all 7 physical performance factors and demands integration of breath, control, flexibility, strength, precision, and body awareness. When you develop awareness of moving from your core first, you will initiate every shot or putt from the same place, leading to increased repeatable and consistent shots and putts.

While classical Pilates is great for all around conditioning and will certainly help you perform better in all aspects of your life, golf specific Pilates is functional because you are mirroring functional golf positions relating to various swing phases. The Golf Pilates mat requires no equipment and can be done anywhere. Joseph Pilates also developed machines and equipment to work the body in various other ways that challenge balance and coordination while lengthening and strengthening muscles. Hundreds of exercises can be done using the Universal Reformer and other Pilates apparatus. Individualized instruction by a qualified specialist is critical. In a future article we will explore the apparatus of Joseph Pilates and its relation to golf.

Look for our next article, where we will delve into the core and relate the principles of Pilates directly to the principles of Golf. In the meantime, here is a great Pilates exercise for you to try at home. The Roll Down to Push Up may look like a traditional push up, but it has a twist. The rolling down and walking out and back requires balance, flexibility, stability, and strength due to the dynamic sequencing. It's not easy, but the results are worth it!

Begin standing with feet hip bone width apart in good posture with abs pulled in and shoulders down. Inhale and as you exhale bow your head and roll down your spine until your hands touch the floor (bend knees if necessary). Walk out hand after hand until you are in a straight plank push up position, breathing as needed. Keeping buttocks squeezed and abs engaged, inhale as you bend elbows until chest is close to the mat, exhale to extend arms. Repeat 3-5 times. Return by piking hips to ceiling and walking back towards your feet, finally rolling back up to standing one vertebrae at a time.