Integrating Yoga and Pilates to Improve Your Golf Game

Reduced flexibility in the torso. Strained and tight shoulders. A stiff or painful back. Unfortunately, that’s the description of many golfers. Golfers habitually bend and twist, bend and twist; all the while straining their back and shoulders, forming muscle imbalances and instigating injury.

A healthy golfer’s body begins with full body strength, flexibility, and the maintenance of muscle balance. Players need strength in their upper and lower body musculature, their postural and rotational muscles, and need to be mindful of their muscular symmetry.

The stronger muscles are tighter, while the weaker muscles are more flexible. Swinging a golf club efficiently also necessitates full range of motion of the spine and ribs, shoulder rotators, forearms, wrists, and hips. Flexibility in these areas is of utmost importance and will help reduce the frequency of tears and strains of ligaments and tendons.

While flexibility enables motion to occur, sufficient strength of the shoulder muscles is essential in controlling the club. The abdominals and back muscles are used in concert to stabilize the trunk, while hip muscles are extremely important during the downswing and to maintain balance. In the absence of strong hip musculature, your low back and arms must make up the work and risk a back strain.

The Principles of Yoga

In addition to gains in flexibility, yoga offers an increased mental focus that can develop from practicing these postures. Many, if not all, golfers struggle with the mental hazards of the game…loss of concentration due to fatigue, distractions from a nerve-racking day, and interruptions from those around us. The intent of all the poses is to take us away from the unending chatter of the mind which can distract us from the focus required in a flawless golf swing.

The Principles of Pilates

Pilates strengthens the core, increases flexibility and builds stability within the pelvis and torso. Pilates requires concentration, control, and the ability to effectively stabilize your torso during movements of the extremities. Using these exercises to strengthen your center will help lengthen the torso and improve your posture.

Suggested Yoga Exercises

The following yoga poses performed 2 to 3 times a week are just a few of the many that can enhance a golfer’s performance.

Lunge: Begin on your hands and knees and step the left foot forward between your hands. Have the shin perpendicular to the floor. Curl your back foot’s toes under and press the heel down. Draw your hips forward, descending the right thigh toward the floor. Place your hands on your left knee and lift up through your chest. Hold for 30 seconds and switch sides. Stretches the hips and challenges balance.
Half Wall Stretch (Ardha Uttanasana): Place your hands on the wall at shoulder height and shoulder width apart. Step back until your arms are completely straight, while keeping your feet directly under your hips. Keep your back straight as you to bend forward. Take several breaths, then, walk toward the wall to release the pose. Lengthens the spine, stretches the shoulders, hamstrings, and calves.
Tree Pose (Vrksasana): Stand with your feet together and shift your weight to the left foot and bend your right knee. Place the right heel on the left thigh as you turn the right hip out. Keep your hips facing forward. Raise your arms overhead. Stay in the pose for 30 seconds, breathing deeply. Repeat the other side. Challenges balance and mental focus.

Bridge (Setu Bandha): Lie on your back with both knees bent and feet hip distance apart. Place your arms by your sides, palms facing down. Inhale and press down through your hands and tuck the tailbone. Exhale and press your heels down and lift your hips, sacrum and spine off the floor. Press down through your arms and feet to help lift your chest up. Breathe for 20 seconds, then, lower your hips. Repeat 3 times. Lengthens the spine and strengthens the hips, gluteals, hamstrings, and low back.

Suggested Pilates Exercises

Perform the suggested exercises 2 to 3 times a week, keeping your abdominals contracted while maintaining a neutral spine position. A neutral spine refers to alignment of the body between postural extremes; it’s in between a flattened back and an arched back.

The Saw: Sit tall with legs extended slightly greater than hip width apart. Extend your arms open about 45 degrees from the plane of your body. Keeping the spine lifted, exhale and drop the right arm down over the left leg as if to saw off the left pinky toe with the right pinky finger. Using your abdominals, roll up and return to starting position. Repeat 4-5 times on each side. Increases flexibility of the torso and rotational muscles and improves posture and alignment.
The Mermaid: Begin sitting on your left hip with your legs folded to the right side. Place your left hand on the floor adjacent to your left hip and relax your right arm at your side. Exhale and lengthen up out of your hips, straightening your legs and extending your spine. Repeat 5 times on each side. Challenges your balance and strengthens your shoulders, abdominals, and torso.
Alternating Opposite Arm and Leg lifts: Begin prone with navel to spine. Reach both arms out in front of you. Exhale and extend the left arm and right leg up while maintaining a stabile torso and without rocking your hips. Keep shoulder blades together and down. Inhale and lower. Alternate sides. Repeat 5 times on each side. Strengthens the back and shoulders and lengthens the spine and hips.

A balanced, flexible, and strong body is the foundation a serious golfer needs to take his game to the next level. Integrating yoga and Pilates into your exercise regimen will improve your game both physically and mentally. Take our free ten day diet plan here.

Catherine Fiscella, MSPT, is a licensed physical therapist and certified Pilates instructor and personal trainer at Cioffredi and Associates at the River Valley Club in Lebanon, New Hampshire.  She also wrote, researched, and choreographed the DVD series “Keeping Fit in Your 50s” and has been featured in Shape Magazine’s Target Training column on multiple occasions.