Pilates and Golf

By: Beth Begelman

Pilates is one of the most popular exercises of choice these days. Madonna does it, Jason Kidd does it, and you may have heard that Tiger and Annika do it. It is documented that Camilo Villegas does it . . . you need to be pretty strong and very lithe to lay down on a green and read putts the way Camilo does! He is in top physical condition, you can tell by looking at him. Pilates and golf are a natural blend. All of the muscles required for golf are trained during Pilates. Both matwork and apparatus work fit the bill for training golfers.

What is Pilates and what makes it great exercise for golf?

Pilates is an exercise system in which all work is based from the core or center of the body. Generally these muscles include the abdominals, obliques, lats and glutes. While the extremities are distinctly involved, the base of movement, the core, is always stabilized to allow for maximum range of motion (ROM) and support. The Pilates system of exercise was developed by Joseph Pilates, a German émigré who was born in the late 1800s and came to the US in the mid-1920s. Pilates requires control, concentration, mind-body awareness, flowing movement and precision which sounds a lot like golf. There are many benefits to doing Pilates, one of which is correcting imbalances in the body which can be monumental in keeping golfers healthy and playing longer!

What are the best Pilates exercises for golfers?

Because men and women generally differ in strength and flexibility, we’ll present some Pilates matwork exercises for each that address those differences along with step-by-step instructions on how to perform the exercise. Before beginning the exercises it is important to talk about breathing and how it should be done; breath will facilitate and enhance the movements. In the Stott Pilates instructor training manual, breath is explained as follows:

“A relaxed and full breath pattern focuses the mind and allows concentration on each task. Exhaling deeply can also help activate the deep abdominal muscles. In all exercises the breath and awareness of stabilization should occur before the actual movement.”

How to Breathe:Lay on your back with your hands around your ribcage, knees bent with feet flat on the floor. Inhale deeply through the nose and try to expand the ribcage laterally. You should feel the spaces between the ribs open and the back ribs expand toward the floor. The chest should be still; avoid breathing into the chest and shoulders. Exhale through the mouth making sure to expend ALL the air in your lungs. You will feel the ribcage contract and the spaces between the ribs close, the bottom front ribs will pull down toward the navel. If you have trouble finding this breath, try to perform it seated (or standing) with a towel wrapped around your ribs. You should feel the pressure against the towel on the inhale and then feel the pressure decrease on the exhale.

Ladies:Women tend to lack upper body strength because they have fewer muscles fibers in their upper body relative to men. However they are usually quite flexible and sometimes even hyper-mobile, especially young golfers. Therefore it is important to focus on increasing upper body strength while increasing stability. Some mat exercises that will address those issues include:

Push-ups – a great overall strengthener. When done properly, works on shoulder and hip stability as well as targeting strength in the triceps, biceps, shoulders and lats.

• Starting from a standing position, crown of the head lifting toward the ceiling, spine long, take an inhale breath

• Exhale, nod your head and sequentially release the spine forward, releasing all the way down until your hands are on the floor (bends your knees when you need to)

• Inhale and walk the hands forward into a plank/push-up position (for those who find it difficult to maintain the position with legs fully extended, the knees can be on the floor)

• Exhale for a count of 3 as you lower the upper body, maintaining a neutral spine (no dipping in the hips to overextend the low back)

• Inhale and press back up to fully extend the arms

• Repeat 3 times

• Inhale to walk the hands back to come to the forward bend position (knees bent however much you need them to be)

• Exhale and slowly start to stack the spine from the tailbone to the crown of the head, coming back to the tall, standing positionLeg Pull Front - also a great overall strengthener. The exercise addresses stability in the entire torso, mobility in the calves and hips, and strength in the arms, shoulders and spinal extensors.

• Begin in a push-up position. Inhale and lift one leg as high as possible without letting the hips rotate. Keep the lifted foot flexed (toes toward shin bone)

• Exhale and point the toes of the lifted foot while simultaneously pulling the toes on the bottom foot more toward the shin bone and shifting the entire body back slightly.

• Inhale, shift the body back forward while flexing the toes on the lifted foot

• Exhale and return the lifted foot to the floor.

• Repeat 5 times, alternating sides each time.

Leg Pull Up– similar to leg Pull Front but facing upward, this exercise requires hip and shoulder stability, deep core engagement and upper body strength.

• Sit on a mat with arms behind you, shoulders over wrists and legs extended, slightly turned out with toes pointed. Lift hips off of mat to bring the ankles, hips and shoulders in a line.

• Exhale and lift one leg as high as possible without dropping hips or letting them rotate.

• Inhale and flex the foot of the extended leg as you lower it down, not touching the floor.

• Repeat the lift & lower motion 3 times, on the last one, release the foot to the floor while letting the foot return to a pointed position.

• Repeat the exercise 4 times, alternating sides each time.

Men:Men tend to have less body awareness than women. Therefore, the breath and breathing techniques will be a major component of Pilates work for men. Learning to articulate the spine (move one bone of the vertebrae at a time) will increase awareness and mobility of the pelvis. Some exercises to increase this awareness and to help increase hip strength include:

Hip Rolls – although considered to be a warm-up exercise, this will help you understand how to articulate your spine as well as strengthen the glutes (muscles required for power and stability in a golf swing) and hamstrings.

• Lay down on your back on a mat with your knees bent and feet hip-width apart, a comfortable distance from your rear end

• Inhale and feel your spine lengthen

• Exhale and tilt your hip bones back towards the mat (think of flattening your low back). Continue to exhale as you lift the tailbone, then low back, then mid-back off of the mat. Think of peeling your spine off the mat one vertebra at a time. Coming to rest on the upper back.

• Inhale and hold in the lifted hip position feeling the breath expand the ribcage

• Exhale and slowly return the spine back to the mat, again thinking about sequentially releasing one bone at time down to the mat

• Repeat approximately 5 timesBridge – this exercise is similar to Hip Rolls but adds a greater strength component for the gluteal muscles.

• Lay down on your back on a mat with your knees bent and feet hip-width apart, a comfortable distance from your rear end

• Inhale and feel your spine lengthen

• Exhale and lift the hips, trying to bring them in a line with the shoulders and knees (NO pain should be felt in the low back)

• Inhale and lift one foot off the floor, bending the hip. Extend the leg reaching the toes toward the ceiling without dropping hips or letting them rotate.

• Exhale and flex the foot of the extended leg while simultaneously lowering the leg to bring it in line with the thigh of the supporting leg

• Repeat the lift & lower motion 3 times, on the third repetition bring the extended leg back to the floor and repeat on the other leg.

• Inhale and feel the spine lengthen

• Exhale return hips to floor

• Repeat the sequence 3 timesRoll Up – this exercise really challenges the deep abdominal muscles and shoulder (scapular) stabilizers. The two phases of the exercise, the up motion and the down motion challenge the body in different ways.

• Lay on your back with arms extended over your head, legs extended with heels resting on the mat, feet flexed. Make sure the shoulder blades are pressed down with the top of shoulders moving away from the ears.

• Inhale and lift the arms toward the ceiling, wrists in line with the shoulders, feel the spine lengthen

• Exhale and nod the head, slowing begin to peel the spine off the mat one vertebra at a time (sequentially rolling up). Reach the hands toward the feet flexing the spine forward, keeping the arms parallel to the floor.

• Inhale and stack the spine, initiating from the tailbone, lift the crown of the head toward the ceiling.

• Exhale and pull the hip bones back (pelvic tuck) and slowly place one bone at a time back to the mat (sequentially rolling down). Once the head is back down, reach the arms overhead.

Repeat approximately 6 times.

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