Sunday, September 28, 2008

Stretching Routine

Upon further reading of “Complete Conditioning for Golf,” by Pete Draovitch and Ralph Simpson, I prepared a daily stretching routine to help increase my flexibility as I begin this crazy journey.

In my preliminary assessment, I found deficiencies in the following areas:

Hip Mobility – After doing the squats required for the test, I couldn’t help but feel that my right hip was slightly higher than my left as I performed the exercise.

Upper Back (Ribcage) Rotation – I experienced tightness in my left side when I turned to the right. At the time, I didn’t see a problem with this, as I could simply wreak havoc with my follow-thru. But, as it turns out, unless I increase my flexibility in this area, I’m limiting my rotation and therefore my ability to coil properly on the backswing. This, of course, can lead to a loss of power, and I’m not freakin’ letting that happen.

Weight-Bearing Lower Body Rotation – Although the angles I created with my hips met the requirements, I still feel I need to loosen them up a bit.

Abdominal Strength – While I was up against a wall pretending to sit in a chair, I couldn’t help but notice how difficult it was to keep my lower back against the wall while I raised each foot. While I would like to blame this indiscretion on my abdominal strength, I think my lower back also had a part in this. If my lower back were stronger, I could’ve forced it to remain stationary on the wall. So in addition to abdominal work, I need to figure out a way to increase my lower-back strength as well, if for no other reason than to prevent it from hurting like a bitch after an hour on the putting green. Standing over the same putts can hurt your back after a while. Man I’m getting old.

Lateral Torso Endurance – In trying to support myself on one elbow, I couldn’t help but notice that my right side felt weaker than my left.

Push-ups – Although I was able to do 30, I don’t think it would be too hard to get above 36 or 40. I remember reading somewhere that push-ups are really good for your golf swing, so it can’t hurt.

Static Balance Test – Again, this test pissed me off more than any other. I mean, how hard is it to balance on one foot? Apparently I’m no Shawn Johnson. My best time so far on one foot is 8 seconds. I have to get over 10. In fact, make it 15 seconds.

Before I share the routine I’m going to use, I thought I’d share a few things from my reading thus far.

Firstly, greater amounts of force can be delivered when a muscle is pre-stretched before performing an activity demanded of it. When a muscle is pre-stretched, it creates “elastic recoil” that applies additional force for a more powerful contraction of the muscle. This pre-stretching procedure is called “preloading the muscle.”

Another interesting concept I found in this book relates to “escape routes.” When there is (or are) a glaring restriction in your range of movement or flexibility, your body compensates by moving around the problem or adding excessive pressure and stress on another area, and that area can become easily injured.

Come to think of it, I can think of a time when I had a GLARING escape route. Maybe some of you can relate: until a friend of mine pointed it out, I was sliding my hips toward the target on the downswing, instead of rotating them. My poor hip rotation caused a lateral “shearing” of my spine. Granted, I was only 25 at the time, so my youth might have saved me a bit. But you get the point: a good range of motion can help prevent injury in the long run.

So, keeping these issues in mind as well as using my previous evaluation, I put together the following routine:

Spine Rotation Recovery

90/90 Side-Lying Stretch – Lie on your side with your legs in the fetal position. Rotate your top shoulder down toward the floor, and stop at the first barrier of movement. Hold for 30 seconds. Then, straighten the knee of your top leg while extending your top arm up and behind you, and hold for 30 seconds. Do the same on the other side.

Standing Wall Twist – With your back 6-8 inches away from the wall, turn like you’re making a backswing, placing your right palm against the wall and crossing your left to reach. Hold for 20-30 seconds, and do the same on the other side.

Extension of Middle Back and Ribcage

Extensions – Roll a towel and place it just under your shoulder blades on the floor. Arch your back, keeping your lower back on the floor; support your head using your hands. Only hold this for 2-3 seconds, and then move the rolled-up towel on top of your shoulder blades, repeating the exercise. Do it once more where the towel is just above your shoulder blades.

As an aside, I really didn’t get the point of that last one, but I did feel SOMETHING happen. So I guess that’s good.

Pectoral and Neck Stretch – Grasp your hands behind your back and move them away, keeping your shoulders stationary. Turn your head to the left and hold, and then do the same on the right side.

Hip Rotation Recovery

Supine Figure Four Hip Rotation – Lie on your back with the towel supporting your head. Your legs should look as if you’re sitting in a chair, at 90 degrees, with your feet flat against the wall. Raise your right foot and rest it on your left knee, pressing against your right knee to feel the stretch in your hips. Do this on each side at least once.

Crossover Stretch – Similar to the last stretch, except after you rest your right foot on your left knee, you’re going to pull your knee toward your chest. Stop if you feel a pinching sensation in your groin (definitely). Repeat exercise on the other side.

Hip Extension

Kneeling Hip-Flexor Stretch – Kneel with your right knee on the floor, and lean forward towards your left foot. Raise your right arm and bend your upper body to the left. Do the same on the other side.

Side-Lying Quad – Get on your side in the fetal position, and prop yourself up on an elbow. Grab the ankle on the top leg and pull the heel toward your butt, keeping your bottom leg in the fetal position. Repeat 1-2 times on each leg.

And that’s about it. Other than spending 5-10 minutes with a brisk walk outside to get the muscles ready to stretch, I think I can get this whole routine down to under 20 minutes a day. The book recommends doing it every day for 4-5 weeks, because after that point, even if you’re only able to stretch for 1 day per week, you will have still attained long-range benefits from your exercises. Granted, I’m not going to be stretching like this before I go out to play. I would imagine there are pre-round “minor” stretches I’m going to learn soon for that.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Baseline Evaluation

Today I performed an initial “screening” to determine different areas of restriction that currently exist in my golf swing. The test was designed by Pete Draovitch and Ralph Simpson, who wrote “Complete Conditioning for Golf.” The evaluation assesses components of flexibility, strength, balance, and coordination. So basically, today is the day I officially start this whole process, determining my physical golfing deficiencies and customizing a work-out plan to improve these areas before I start focusing exclusively on my golf game.

It’s go-time bitches.

I would be interested to hear some feedback on people who try these tests alongside me, just to see how common or uncommon my results are. After you read through this list, performing the actual assessment for yourself should only take 10-15 minutes.

Cardio-respiratory Endurance

In the book, they say that you should be able to walk 1 mile in 16 minutes or 2 miles in 34 minutes. Now, I’m not a hardcore runner by any stretch, but after all of the caddying I’ve done and my regular running routine of 1.5-2 miles 3 days a week, I think I’m alright in this category.


Hip Mobility – Perform a squat with your legs shoulder-width apart and your feet flat on the floor. When you reach your lowest point in the squat, see if one hip is higher than the other.

When I performed this, it was hard to tell, but if anything, I felt like my right hip was slightly higher than my left.

Upper-Back Mobility – Perform another squat, this time holding a golf club over your head using both arms (I used a long-iron for comfort). During the squat, pull your arms back as far as they will go, and notate your limit (the easiest way to tell is if you check the position in relation to your ear). After you’ve found the farthest point, take a quick breather, and then sit up against a wall (without the club this time), making sure your lower back is flat against the wall. Perform the same exercise, and see how far you can bring your arms back towards the wall. If you are unable to achieve the same result, then your upper-back should be targeted in training.

For me, I was able to achieve the same result both times. It was, however, a little tricky to get my lower back flat against the wall. Hope my spine isn’t screwed up.

Upper-Back (Ribcage) Rotation – Hold a long-iron against your upper back, keeping your shoulder-blades squeezed together. As you lean with your butt up against a counter top or bench, turn to the right and turn to the left to see the angle you are able to create relative to the countertop (or whatever you’re leaning against). This means, that if you are able to turn so that the club is perpendicular to the counter (which I hope that isn’t the case, because then you belong in a circus), that would be 90 degrees. When performing this test, 45-55 degrees is preferable. In addition, try to get a sense if one side feels tighter than the other.

I noticed more tightness in my left side, as I turned right (which would be my backswing). For me, turning right only yielded 30-40 degrees, and turning left was normal, around 45-55 degrees. I guess that makes sense, as a follow-thru is more or less a ballistic stretch for your entire body…and I do like to rip it from time to time.

Weight-Bearing Lower Body Rotation – This is very similar to the last test, except now you’re holding the iron against your chest with both hands, keeping your shoulder-blades pinched together as much as possible. Now, however, you’re focusing on turning your navel only, first to the right, and then to the left. Now you’re noticing what angle you can achieve with your hips relative to the club you’re holding. In this case, a 45-degree angle is preferable.

While I could achieve the range of motion necessary, I definitely felt that my hips were a little stiff. It’s not like I WANT to have hips that’ll fire to 90 degrees (unless of course I want to swing like Camilo Villegas, for all those who watched the BMW and saw his swing in slow-motion), but I think they need to be a little looser nonetheless.

Non-weight Bearing Rotation – This one is going to be difficult to describe without using pictures, so I think I’ll use a weird example to see if I can bring these images into your head. Alright, say you’re sitting in a chair, and your arch-rival comes by and pushes you to the ground (don’t worry about him/her, cause you’re going to kick his/her ass on the golf course anyway). Strangely enough, when you hit the ground, you maintain the same posture you had while sitting erect in a chair. So, in other words, you’re lying on your side, looking like you’re sitting in a chair. Now take your free hand and use it to pull your knees a little past 90 degrees (towards your chest), while keeping your back straight. Now with this exercise, try to move your “top shoulder” towards the floor by rotating your upper body, stopping at the first “barrier of movement.” I had a hard time figuring out what this meant until I did the exercise. What this means is, if you’re trying like a maniac to get that shoulder really close to the floor and you feel a strain in your lower back, you’ve gone too far. The first barrier of movement is when you stop moving your shoulder comfortably to the floor. Tour players get to 1-2 inches from the floor, and the recommended distance is 3-4 inches. Perform this test on both sides.

I was able to get within the recommended range. This test, however, does not make any sense to me yet. I mean, I look like I’m in the fetal position and I just want to hit the crap out of the ball. That’s not very manly.

Strength and Stability

Abdominal Strength – Perform a squat with your back flat against a wall. So basically, it’s like you’re sitting in a chair, but there’s no chair. Now raise one foot (only slightly…like 4-6 inches), then the other for 2 seconds each. If you are unable to do this without moving your back away from the wall, you need to strengthen your abs.

Now, I could DO this…I swear…but again, I had a hard time keeping my back flat against the wall. Not sure if I have an abdominal weakness or just a strange skeletal structure.

Abdominal Endurance – This book is obsessed with this whole “chair” image, because here it comes again: this is where you’re trying to hold a sit-up for as long as you possibly can. Now, unless you have someone holding your feet, you’re going to have to wedge your feet underneath a couch or a heavy chair to do this. Remember that chair image? Flat back, 90 degrees with the legs? That’s what the sit-up position should look like.

Bottom line: I went 10 seconds before I went, “Okay, I’m freakin’ done.”

Lower-Back Endurance – To be perfectly honest, I was unable to do this exercise. The main reason was because my apartment isn’t a gym, and I didn’t have a big enough table or a partner to help me with this. This exercise is the mirror image (kind of…if you’re in a fun-house) of the last test, except this time you’re testing your lower back. You’re supposed to lay face down on a table with your upper body hanging off the end (obviously, this is where I needed a partner to hold my feet). You cross your arms over your chest, and see how long you can hold that position with good posture before your body goes limp like a…deflated balloon. Any-hoo…if anyone out there has the ability to do this test, go for it. The main thing is that your Abdominal Endurance time and your Lower-Back Endurance time should be just about equal, or there’s an imbalance in your “musculature,” and you should work on that deficiency to bring them up to being equal.

Lateral Torso Endurance – Get into a side-bridge position—meaning you’re holding your body up on one elbow and keeping the rest of your body as straight as possible—and stagger your feet so that the “top foot” is in front of the other. Place your free hand on the opposite shoulder, and see how long you can hold this position with good posture. After timing yourself on both sides, add the times together, and see how they relate to your lower back endurance test. If you figure out the ratio (in seconds) to be .75 or greater, you have an imbalance in these muscles.

Alright, first off, I was not able to compute this ratio because I could not perform the Lower-Back Endurance test. Secondly, just to go over this “ratio” again, this means that your muscles are imbalanced if you’re able to hold each side-bridge position long enough so that the total time for both sides is equal to your lower back endurance time. At first, I was confused, because I figured hey, the longer you can hold this “side-bridge” position, the better off you are, right? Well, I guess what they’re trying to say is that your lower back should always be stronger than the muscles you utilize doing a side-bridge. At any rate, when I performed this test, I was able to hold the right side for 12 seconds, and the left side for 15 seconds. Obviously, being a right-hander, my right-side isn’t utilized as much as my left during the swing. But again, both sides have to be balanced to help avoid over-compensation or injury in the future.

Push-up Test – We all knew it was coming. Push-ups are a great exercise for your golf swing. I’ve heard that since high school. According to the chart they provided, men from ages 20-29 should be able to do 22-28 push-ups on average before they stop and need a break for…oh I don’t know…5 hours?

Somehow, I was able to do 30, which put me in the “above average section.” The “excellent” ranking was if you were able to do more than 36. To get a look at a chart for comparison, click here. Now bear in mind, this is not the same chart found in this book. It does, however, give you a basic idea of where you stand.

Static Balance Test – This was the most annoying test of all. Technically, golfers should be able to do this for at least 10 seconds. That is the minimum. Standing on one foot with your hands on your hips, raise your free foot to just below the knee of the supporting leg and raise your heel. You have 3 consecutive attempts with each foot to record your best time.

My best time for my right foot was 8 seconds, and my best time for my left was 7 seconds. Apparently I have balance issues. And honestly, I’m not surprised. Balance has been something that has plagued me over the years. If anything, I tend to fall forward after my follow-thru. I guess I need to start working on that.

Thank you for sticking with me. The preceding tests constituted a “baseline” evaluation. The book also has a second evaluation, which you need a partner for because you need to notate specific things like spine alignment and overall posture. I might share that test in a later post, as that is more of an “in-depth” assessment. But for now, these tests should give me a good of my limitations and areas of restriction. Knowing this information will make it much easier to determine what exercises I need to focus on in order to obtain a balanced golf-swing.

Alright. Rock-on.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Initial Reading and Range-Time

Over the last few days, I’ve been surfing the net and reading different books regarding “golf fitness,” and finally came across a book I think I’m going to stick with, cover to cover, because it’s incredibly thorough and helps me design a custom-made fitness regimen based on my areas of weakness.

While this book and my subsequent training program may appear to be a little hardcore, I assure you that will not be the case. Despite my lofty intentions of getting my game in shape, I don’t have the time to spend 2 hours in the gym each day and hours upon hours to spend at the range. Now, I WISH that were the case, but it isn’t. So whatever fitness program I decide upon, it has to be manageable. The book is called “Complete Conditioning for Golf,” and it is written by Pete Draovitch and Ralph Simpson. The book starts out by listing the seven main components of a successful golf training program. These points are listed below.

1. Cardio-respiratory Endurance, which means you get your heart pumping to the tune of 20-30 minutes a day, 3 days a week at your training heart rate (220 minus age, multiplied by .70).

2. Postural Imbalances / Symmetry. Because golf causes the body to use certain muscles more than others, “muscular imbalances” are inevitable and you need to focus on practicing good posture regularly.

3. Golf-specific Strength: while your hips and legs produce the most force, a well-rounded strength training program helps to assure a proper power transfer during the downswing.

4. Functional Flexibility: obviously, a fluid golf swing is the result of a free-range of motion, and so daily stretching exercises are recommended.

5. Balance: other than being an absolute necessity in the golf swing, a positive side-effect of a balanced golf swing is that the swing itself is steady and controlled easily.

6. Motor Learning: by using these drills, you’re helping yourself produce and repeat the easiest movements with the least amount of stress. Stress, as it relates to joints and muscles. Not STRESS, as in: I just chunked a wedge into the water from 60 yards away and I’m freakin’ flippin’ out right now.

7. Nutrition: well yeah I guess…but I just want to pound my driver 350 yards…who cares if I want an extra piece of chocolate cake?

Just as an aside, I remember one of my teachers back in high school telling me that golf was not a “sport,” but a “game.” He, of course, was a baseball player, and thought that golf was for pansies. Well, I found a great quote from this book that will alleviate some of the emotional trauma my teacher caused me on that day:

“There is perhaps no single action in sport that requires more overall muscular strength, joint flexibility, and movement coordination than a perfectly executed golf swing.”

End-quote. Boo-yeah.

After getting pumped up by that quote, I went to the range to start getting a feel for my golf-swing again. I think one of the hardest things for an amateur to do is to slow down their swing and be patient on the range. What I mean by that is, after a few missed shots, the average golfer’s muscles tighten up and the driver comes out of the bag to wail away at 70 golf balls. Or, at the very least, the average golfer will start swinging faster and harder to try and make up for the 7-iron they just shanked.

That was the case for me today. I started out slowly, using a 7-iron to hit easy punch-shots with half-swings. I always love doing this, because it’s easier to focus on my impact position and really try to feel like I’m “pinching” the ball against the turf on the follow-thru. Once I get a solid feel for a good impact position, I start trying to shape shots around the range. Low hooks, high fades, whatever. It’s funny, but the last thing I try to hit is a straight shot at my target.

In fact, as I was watching the Ryder Cup today—ahem, GO USA—I kept hearing Johnny Miller say things like: “He’s going to try and play a high fade into this green.” Now, I understand the reasoning: a high fade will bite much faster on a green than a draw. But to an amateur, shaping a shot into a green doesn’t really compute. It’s not really something we think about. I mean sure, if there’s a hard right-to-left wind up near the green, I’ll be sure to aim right or try to play a fade, but I don’t usually think about shaping shots into greens. Sounds like a cool concept, actually. But I’m more accustomed to shaping shots under or around trees than having a great look at a flagstick from the middle of the fairway—with no wind—and saying, “Yeah, let me curl it in there from the right just for shits-and-giggles.”

Then again, hitting a straight shot into a green is always much harder, as even a small deviation in your swing can send the ball ANYWHERE. At least with shaping a shot you know what to expect.

After 20-30 balls, I moved onto my wedges, trying to hit crisp 100-yard shots along with several flop shots to make sure I can still pull those bastards off.

Bottom line: today was a day to get back in the saddle and take those first few steps towards a controlled golf-swing. But like I mentioned before, I think the fitness aspect of my game comes first. I have a feeling my swing will be much more pliable when I start getting into the nitty-gritty of swing mechanics if I can nail down a manageable fitness regimen now.

Take care all.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008


In order to help me start this whole crazy process, I went to the bookstore today and picked up a few books on the game of golf. One focused on tempo, one claimed that it was the only instructional book I would ever need, and one was a logbook to help me track absolutely everything in my game, right down to the amount of obscenities I use in an average round of golf.

After buying my incredibly expensive cup of coffee and finding a quiet area of the store to sit down and begin to absorb the material, I became paralyzed. It was weird. I opened the first book, skimmed the table of contents and began to read the foreword. It was at that point that I began to feel queasy. I paused, set the books on the floor, and promptly left the store.

I knew at that very moment what was wrong: I’m scared to death to analyze my golf game. That may sound ridiculous, as the main point of this blog IS to analyze my golf game and get it in shape enough to try and qualify for a US Open. But at this point, I feel that analyzing my game the way I know I have to would be an unproductive effort with a crap-load of bad side effects. Why? Because at this point, I have a 6 handicap. Although my practice and playing times are limited, I can go out on any given day and shoot a 78-80. Now, obviously, that isn’t anywhere near good enough to try out for a US Open. But my point is this: if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

Right now, the deficiencies you will find in my golf game involve feel around the greens, putting, and distance control with my wedges inside of 100 yards. All three of these things can be practiced without having to dissect my golf swing. So I figure, other than working on these three weaknesses, why deconstruct my golf swing and make the job of improving my game that much more difficult?

So, if I’m not going to devour every golf magazine and instructional manual out there—at least for now—what am I going to do to improve my golf game?

After careful thought, I have a 4-step plan I’m going to enact prior to dissecting my golf swing, IF that day ever comes. These steps are: fitness, activities at home, practicing at the driving range, and finally, playing consecutive rounds of golf.

Once I left the bookstore, I jumped into my car and drove to the nearest driving range. While I worked my way through the bucket, one thing became very apparent to me: fitness. Bottom line: I should be able to get through at least a bucket of balls before I start to feel fatigued. In fact, I would go so far to say that unless I can get through 200 golf balls before I start to feel tired, my endurance is not where it needs to be. So my first step in this process is fitness.

Over the next week, I’m going to be researching the fitness side of golf to see if there are any other exercises I would like to add, but for right now, I’m going to be focusing in on only a few areas: legs, lower back, abdominals, endurance lifting, stretching and cardiovascular fitness. In my experience, a strong lower body pays huge dividends in your golf game. In addition, having a strong lower back and abs can really help with posture, and help you stay fresh and focused while you pound away at 200-plus range balls (and on-course swings as well). Stretching is obvious, as flexibility plays a huge role in a good golf swing; endurance lifting and cardiovascular work will be my way of toning up and feeling comfortable walking 36 holes any day of the week.

Another thing I’ll be researching this week are drills you can do inside or just outside your home that can help improve your golf swing while you’re away from the course. Things like posture, checking and re-checking your grip, or swinging your golf clubs both with a weight and without are all things that can help re-groove a golf swing. As I said, I can go out and shoot a decent round right now, but my swing still feels derailed. I need to feel comfortable with it once again if I am to focus on other aspects of my game.

When I do finally make it to the range, I need to make sure I have a plan, because as I mentioned before, my time available for practice is quite limited, and I need to make the most of it. First and foremost, I feel I’ll be practicing consistent contact, hitting a lot of half-swing shots with my 7-iron to focus on a good impact position. I’ll also be shaping shots and making sure I’m comfortable hitting anything from a low stinger to a high slice. And, as I mentioned before, I need to regain some feel with my wedges, so in addition to laser-ing in yardages with my pitching, sand and lob wedges, I’ll need to work on my “Dave Pelz 9 o’clock swings” as well as practicing flop shots, bump-and-runs and regular pitch swings.

And, when I finally reach a point where my swing feels good, I’m back in shape and I feel like I can finally attack a golf course again, I plan on playing 4-5 rounds where I keep track of everything (things like GIR, fairways hit, 3-putts, sand saves, etc) in order to analyze this information and determine where my game stands. It will be at THIS point that I will pick up a book or two or enlist the help of a certified PGA Instructor (as a last resort) to find drills or practice routines that will help with my glaring weaknesses.

Once I get to that stage, I’ll have to reassess where I am and then go from there. And I do realize that certain parts of this plan—such as all of the things I hope to accomplish at the range—may seem too general. Part of the reason for this is that although I have a good idea of what I need to do to improve my game, I still need to research a bit to really nail down the actual reps, drills and practice routines I’ll need to use to make it all happen.

And that’s the whole reason for this site: to share with you my findings and my progress along the way. As I mentioned in my first post, there is a very real chance that regardless of how hard I work, I may never be able to get down to a 1.4 index to try and qualify for the US Open. But hey, it’s always been a dream of mine and it’s worth a shot. It’s a win-win either way.

That’s it for now. Take care everyone.