Golf Stretches & Exercises to Keep You in Playing Shape
Being stuck inside all winter is a drag, but it doesn’t have to set your golf game back to phase zero. To keep you motivated for the next two months, I’ve compiled some of my favorite golf stretches and exercises that will keep your heart rate up and your muscle fibers long and limber.
Of course, it would be easier to sit on the couch until then, dreaming of golf vacations and watching television. But not this year. We are going to start the season off strong, by putting to good use all those stay-at-home hours. For me personally, I plan to start off the season strong. Without room in my house for a swing trainer or outdoor space to hang a net, I have decided to move away from at-home golf practice and join the Bryson DeChambeau school of packing on muscle.
But I also know that as I get older, and especially after a 2020 spent largely working from home, one of the most important things I can do is keep my body limber. So the exercises I’ve selected are all about strengthening the core golf muscles while getting more flexible than I’ve been since at least my early twenties. Are you ready? Let’s do this!
Remember: Always consult a physician before undertaking any exercise routine
Golf Stretches and Fitness Exercises
There are a lot of things one can do to prepare for the game of golf. From cardio to swing training, balance exercises to yoga poses, there’s no “right way” to train for golf. I have a bad lower back (perhaps the only similarity between my and Tiger Woods’ game), so I will spend a lot of my winter working on my core strength and lengthening my hamstring/glutes to eliminate stiffness in my swing. But maybe you have neck, shoulder, arm, knee or foot issues that you deal with. In your specific instance, it is important to do your research, talk to a medical professional, and do exercises and stretches that focus on your particular strengths and weaknesses.
Start from the Ground Up
You might not think much of your foot strength, but the swing really does start from the ground up. So it is really important to keep your lower body properly stretched. Ankle mobility is critical to the golf swing, and that mobility starts in the soles of your feet.
Golf Stretches: Toe Sit
This is going to hurt. Your feet were “designed” to easily withstand holding you up, so it makes sense they can be extremely strong. Because we spend so much of our day sitting down, wearing shoes and walking on hard surfaces, our feet take a lot of punishment.
The big toe sit has been extremely helpful with lengthening my plantar fascia as well as the tibial tendons that run along the soles of my feet. Good news first: it’s an extremely easy exercise. Like yoga’s Vajrasana (or, thunderbolt depending on your yogi) pose, the big toe sit requires no action on your part. You’re just kneeling on the ground, heels under your butt. Here, however, instead of keeping the tops of your feet flat on the ground, you are going to tuck your feet under you, so that the bottoms of your toes are flat on the ground (think sprinter in a starting block).
Now the bad news: sitting back on your heels as much as you can tolerate will HURT. Unless you practice, or were born with foot flexibility, this won’t be pleasant. When I first started, this stretch made me physically ill, but with repetition the pain has given way to great satisfaction. And my feet feel a lot more stable to boot.
Golf Stretches: Ball Roll
This is just as easy as the big toe sit, but also just as painful. I use a handy trigger point muscle ball for this, but you can just as easily grab a tennis or lacrosse ball out of the garage. Place it on the ground, step on it with one foot, and start rolling it around with as much pressure as you can. Things might get a bit crunchy, but that’s good for you – it’s the tendons and ligaments stretching out, while the muscles between your metatarsals lengthen.
As this video from 18Strong demonstrates, use this golf stretch in conjunction with calf rolls to help strengthen those ankles:
Golf Exercises: Mini Band Leg Warm-ups
Working our way up from the bottom, it is time to engage some of our leg muscles. Mini band workouts are great because they provide an increasing resistance as the band stretches, without putting a lot of pressure on joints or taking up much space in our cabinets. A simple set of bands is all you need, so the barrier to entry here is extremely low.
Doing a simple leg warm up like this will help your glutes, hip flexors, and lower back slowly ease into a state of exercise, lessening your chances of injury. Doing mini band walks can help to alleviate some of the lower back pain caused by a sedentary lifestyle (also known as 2020). Simply loop your band of choice around your legs (either just above the ankle and/or just above the knee), and you’re ready to go. The video below has several variations to add some spice to your golf workout routine:
Golf Exercises: Hip Mobility
A lot of golfers struggle with lower back and hamstring tightness leading to a variety of swing issues. By doing a variety of hip mobility exercises, you can lengthen those hamstring muscles, strengthen the lumbar back, and a achieve a healthier pelvic tilt.
This simple set of exercises from golf fitness trainer Andrew Hannon will help to align your pelvis and make a lot of exercises much “cleaner.” As Mr. Hannon states, these aren’t for everyone. What might present as “tight hips” in one golfer might be pain or stiffness in another. At the bottom of his caption he goes into much more detail about whether or not these exercises will work for your particular issues.
Golf Fitness: More Legs and Core
Any golf pro will tell you that a strong core is crucial to a controlled, powerful swing. A strong core also has the added benefit of helping “brace” your back leading to less strain on the disks between your vertebrae. The result is simple: less overall pain.
Combine that with strong legs, and you have the foundation for a really powerful swing. Being able to quickly rotate your upper body starts from the ground up, and as some of the largest muscles in your body, legs help translate that angular momentum into serious distance.
This article from Dicks Sporting Goods outlines some great at home workouts that require very little equipment, while also providing a good deal of variety to make sure you are engaging all those smaller stability muscles in your legs and core.
Big Bad Back
For many golfers, a bad back can take a lot of the joy out of the game. From making an 18 hole walk seem daunting to trepidation about bending down to tee it up, preventing back pain is a priority health concern for many a golfer. The more limber and pain free your back is, the better you’ll feel on the course, and the better your game will be in the long run.
Golf Exercises for Speed and Power
This set of easy, at-home exercises will help you develop a wider range of motion in your core, and help ready your back for the rotational strain of a swing. The video features golf fitness expert Rachael Tibbs outlining a set of easy exercises to improve your power and speed. With little necessary equipment, these will provide a welcome break from Zoom meetings, and something fun to do with a partner.
Golf Stretches for the Over-50’s
Golf has long been renowned as a way to stay healthy into old age. As a low-impact sport, golf is relatively easy going on your joints, and the typical course provides miles of scenic walking potential.
In this video from 18Strong, Jeff Pelizzaro walks us through a series of golf-specific workouts for those golfers entering their golden years. Designed to be low impact and easily done at home (a huge bonus for the Covid cautious), this workout routine will help keep your game strong and your body limber for years, or decades, to come.
Golf Strength Training: Single Leg RDL
One of the simplest workouts for strong hamstrings (which will, in turn, help strengthen your lower back and add stability to the entire erector system) is the Romanian deadlift (RDL). These can be done with some dumbbells, a bar, or even with just your bodyweight.
The standard RDL has the “user” stand with legs shoulder-width apart and holding a barbell (you can do this with your palms facing in, or use mixed-grip). While keeping your back straight, you bend forward at the waist to lower the bar along your thighs. Unlike a traditional, straight-leg deadlift, the RDL requires a slight bending of the knees to activate the glutes as the primary muscle group.
To modify this for one leg is a bit complex in writing, so I will defer, here, to this video:
Golf Exercises for The Glamour Muscles
Legs and core are good for functionality, but arms are what gets you the looks. Certainly, golfers have to be careful with working out arms too much as any loss in flexibility can really start to impact your swing. But done with care, working out your upper body will add a lot of power to your swing to translate that last bit of momentum from your shoulders down your arms and into the club.
It is hard to talk about golf and exercise without constantly bringing up Bryson DeChambeau. He is a freak of nature, and if he continues to be successful in adding such incredible speed and length to his clubs, you can bet a slew of golfers will begin to convert to his particular school of training.
For now, he is still a golfer and not a personal fitness guru, so we have to take his workout tips in small, bite sized chunks like this video he made with Dicks Sporting Goods:
Hungry for More?
Just as there are many ways to play the game of golf, there are just as many, if not more, ways to train. Every golfer’s physiology is unique, and everybody has strengths, weaknesses, and pain. This article is not a be-all-end-all of the best things you can do to improve your game, but hopefully you will be able to find some exercises that you can adopt over the coming months to increase your confidence when Spring gets back into the air.
If you want to go further, the good people over at Golf Digest ranked their favorite golf fitness trainers in America. Maybe you can find someone in your area who can work directly with you to get that golf body of your dreams.