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Five Great Pilates Exercises for Golfers

 Published on Golf Chicago Magazine.

Five Great Pilates Exercises for Golfers, by Shannon Willits, CPT and Club Pilates Owner

As a Functional Golf Specialist and Pilates instructor who happens to be married to a PGA Professional, I’ve helped thousands of golfers achieve their golf-fitness goals. My husband Steve always says that the golfer is “almost always limited in achieving their golf goals due to a lack of physical ability.” When I assess a golfer, I look at their movement in all three planes of motion and apply functional, core-based movement to address any deficits. Posture is extremely important, and I’ve come up with a concept called the “ABCs of Pilates” — Alignment, Breathing, and Core — designed just for golfers. With low-back pain being a top complaint in the U.S., nearly every golfer that I have worked with has had issues with the lumbar spine, whether it is soft-tissue pain or disc issues. With that in mind, I make sure my golfers have a Pilates workout that encompasses the core, feet, and ankles; front and side body; and a focus on stability. Here are my five specially-selected workouts to strengthen your golf performance and avoid injury:

Bridge (Reformer)

This targets the glutes and hamstrings, and is a great exercise to open up the front of the body and work on stability. This exercise also helps to create a strong athletic stance which is crucial to golf. On the reformer, tilt your pelvis posteriorly to flex the lumbar spine, one vertebra at a time to a high bridge position. Then, soften the sternum and roll the spine back down to the carriage, beginning with the thoracic spine. Twist Sitting (Short Box) Helps to stabilize your lower body. In this exercise, the hips are fixed but the torso is rotating, following a similar movement that you would in the golf swing.

Twist and Side Bends, aka Mermaids (Reformer)

An exercise to help lengthen and strengthen the side of your body. This is performed either sitting or kneeling sideways (more advanced) on the Reformer. The arms are in a big circle holding the straps while rotating the torso. When the side of the body is less stiff, the other areas of your body move better promoting better golf form.

Supine Arms in Straps or Mid-back Series (Reformer)

Good for abdominal strength, Supine Arms in Straps is performed by lying supine on the Reformer carriage, with the pelvis and spine neutral. The legs are in tabletop position. One hand is in the loop with an open hand grip. Your shoulder is flexed to 90 degrees. Cross the arm over the torso while simultaneously flexing and rotating the spine and extending the legs. Complete repetitions, and then complete on the other side. These movements combine core stability and breathing and are great for abdominal strength. Lots of golfers end up with back pain due to weak abdominal muscles. Building core strength will help to avoid any back pain and also will help with overall performance.

Eve’s Lunge / Single Thigh Stretch (Reformer or mat)

For this quad and hip flexor stretch, keep the spine stable and hips as level as possible. Press the back leg against the shoulder block of the Reformer while bending the knee of the front standing leg, feeling stretch in the hip flexors of the back leg. Maintain gluteus maximus engagement in the back leg to keep the pelvis pulled forward and to avoid extending the lumbar spine. To increase stretch, lift the inside arm up toward the ceiling and hold for 30 seconds. To get a really good stretch, perform this position with one foot on the reformer, and the other down on the floor. You can also extend the front leg to get more of a hamstring stretch. For golfers, getting a good stretch in these regions is super important. We are highly sedentary people. Without a movement program that offsets all of this sitting, the body, being so adaptive, will stay in the sitting posture, even when standing. Thus, when the sedentary golfer goes out and starts playing, injury usually follows. By regularly incorporating these Pilates exercises, golfers can maintain the spine angle at address, which is essential to efficiently. 


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