Pilates for Golfers—A Mind-Body Approach to the Game
by Zoey Trap
Golf is a mind game that requires the body to be under complete control, with a blend of precision, rhythm and timing. Mastery of the sport demands an ability to work with a quiet mind and with physical ease and efficiency.
Golf is a one-sided sport, with a complex and unnatural movement pattern required of the golfer. If a golfer is having trouble with his clubs, for example, he can go buy a different set of clubs. But if a golfer is having trouble with his swing, the only recourse is to address the limitations of his body. Lastly, if a golfer struggles with the mental aspects of the game, he must then learn how to discipline his mind, so that he may stay relaxed and inwardly focused.
Use of traditional Pilates can help deepen the connections between the body and mind and enhance performance on the golf course. How? Traditional Pilates is a mind-body practice which is taught as a movement system. It strengthens, stretches, and improves the body’s endurance and the ability of the body to work as a whole. Good performance in golf demands that the athlete be focused and in control of their entire kinematic chain. When properly practiced, Pilates educates the body in proper movement patterning and develops the ability of the deep muscles to stabilize during motion.
Addressing the body’s physical limitations through mindful movement can help improve flexibility, rotation, core stability and strength, joint stability, general weaknesses and wrist and forearm weaknesses. Correcting the body’s underlying limitations and addressing them at their root source will benefit posture, movement and sports performance, as well as reduce the chance of certain injuries.
Develop Club Head Speed with Pilates
Let’s take the example of developing club head speed and examine how Pilates can impact the golf game in this regard. Biomechanically, rotation and lateral flexion provide a key to performance and play a strong role in developing club head speed. Limited swing rotation is one of the most common physical limitations in golf, and because the power of a swing must come from the range of motion of the torso, addressing hip and spinal flexibility will provide a major payoff. The core strength and flexibility exercises found in a typical Peak Pilates® session will address all the movements of the spine, and develop the strength and flexibility of the flexors, extensors, and rotators of the spine as well as all of the muscles surrounding the hips. Many of these exercises can help a golfer to discover how to better initiate rotation from the core and work with a larger range of motion, again contributing to the development of greater club head speed.
Coordination is required to correctly sequence movements that are essential to maximizing impact force. Motor coordination involves the integration of the muscles interacting with the skeletal system and the neural processes of controlling these movements in the brain. Coordination demands mind-body interaction. The ability to properly sequence the intricate series of movements required throughout the golf stroke requires the utmost in concentration and precision. A mindful movement workout will include challenges to improve mental concentration and coordination (which are often neglected fitness components), leading to better synchronized golf movements.
Balance also plays a vital role in a golfer’s ability to deliver a powerful stroke. An off-balance golfer will generally struggle with the weight shift during their backswing, leading to a loss of club head speed. Pilates exercises provide a variety of overload to challenge balance with variations that alter the center of gravity, narrow the base of support, and challenge the student to find balance in a variety of positions. The result? A stronger center, a better developed sense of balance, and a more powerful golf stroke!
Develop Mental Focus with Pilates
A golfer needs an acute ability to focus, to quiet the mind, to assess the situation and calmly move into action. The quiet of a traditional Pilates session invites the student inward and requires them to focus on the details of each and every exercises and transition. Their mental muscles that concentrate will develop stamina and learn to attend in the moment. Because over half of sports performance is the mental game, this aspect of Pilates cannot be overlooked. This is another good reason to keep background distractions, such as music, or chatting to a minimum.
Golf and Pilates are all mind-body activities that share some of the same basic principles: concentration, centering, breathing, body awareness and control, precision and alignment and movement efficiency. Develop the ability to wield these principles and you will be able to translate those skills into better movement patterns both on and off the green.
Pilates is an ideal mode of training for not only the golfer, but for everyone. Sessions work to:
• Increase the ability of the deep muscles to guide and control movement.
• Improve motor control.
• Focus on quality over quantity of movement.
• Teach people how to produce and control movements within their functional training range.
The sequencing of the exercise order and the structure of the class formats provide a unique template that allow movements to be mastered and progressed, leading to not only functional fitness, but to sports specific improvements.
The emphasis on a systematic foundation to create a disciplined approach provides the key to success. The Pilates instructor must understand how to balance and focus on flow to develop endurance, stability, stamina, and dynamic flexibility, with a keen blend of precision and control to hone alignment, concentration, and technical form. Teach each student as an individual, help each student reach their goals, and you unlock the movement potential of his or her body and mind.