Sherri McMIllan: Conditioning to improve golf game

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Sherri McMillan's column can now be found among the blogs on columbian.com. Visit http://blogs.columbian.com/sherri-mcmillan/

Spring is here, and that means it's time to dust off your golf clubs and get outdoors. Longtime golfers love their sport so much they spend a lot of hours and money attempting to perfect their swing, fine-tune their skills and lower their score. But very few gung-go golfers spend any time on improving their basic physical conditioning.

The reality is the golf swing is a very complex, explosive and unnatural movement placing significant stresses and torque on the body parts involved. Because of the nature of the sport, golfers are at a high risk for developing overuse injuries to the muscles, tendons, ligaments and joint structures, particularly in the low back, hip and shoulder areas.

Professional golfers are injured on average twice a year and amateur golfers once a year, with the most common injury sites being the wrist (27 percent), back (24 percent), elbow (23 percent), shoulder (8 percent) and knee (7 percent). Most of these injuries are the result of the repetitive nature of practice swings, combined with a poor warm-up and weak trunk, shoulder and wrist muscles.

The stronger, better-conditioned golfer will be less susceptible to injury and will recover more quickly after an injury.

Many golfers wrongly believe that strength conditioning will hurt their game by reducing flexibility and impairing club head speed. Research demonstrates that not only will strength training help to prevent injury, it can also help improve a golfer's power production at impact, increase their club head speed and improve their golf driving performance.

Many golfers also neglect their cardio training program because they know that golf isn't a huffing and puffing sport. But aerobic conditioning is still important to improve the health of your heart, keep your body weight at an acceptable range and improve your last hour of golf play when fatigue starts to set in. Try activities such as cycling, hiking, walking and swimming. Stay fit and strong and most definitely, get some advice from a golf pro. A lot of injuries can be prevented with proper swing mechanics.

Here's a few sport-specific exercises you can do to condition your muscles, improve your golf game and reduce your risk for injuries.

Tube trunk rotation: Wrap an exercise tube around a pole at about mid-thigh height. Stand sideways to the pole holding the tube in the hand furthest from the pole and standing far enough from the pole so there is tension on the tube. Start with your outside arm positioned so it hangs down just in front of your body. Keep your abdominals contracted and slowly pull the tube across your body in an upward motion as your trunk rotates outwards. Perform 13-20 reps each side.

External rotation: This is an important exercise for golfers or for any of you who are at risk for shoulder pain or impingement. Start by standing sideways to a pulley/tube. Attach the handle on the pulley and adjust it so that it is positioned at elbow height. Hold the handle in your outside arm with your elbow at a 90-degree angle and positioned right beside your waist. With your palm facing the pulley, keep your upper arm completely still and your elbow at your side. Slowly rotate your forearm out away from your body. Return to the starting position. Repeat 13-20 times for each arm.

Oblique crunches: Lie on your back with your feet positioned on the floor. Place your hands behind your head to lightly support the weight of your head. Tuck your chin slightly into your chest away and focus your vision at about 45 degrees into the ceiling. Avoid looking straight up to the ceiling or toward the opposite wall. Now slowly lift your torso up on an angle. An oblique crunch does not need to involve a large twisting action. Focus on the upward lift on an angle -- opposite hip to rib. As you lift your upper body, lift your opposite leg a few inches off the floor at the same time. Contract your abdominals on each repetition. Alternate sides and continue for 7-20 each side.

Hips and back stretch: Lie on your back and start with both legs straight against the wall. Now slowly let both legs fall to one side. Bend the bottom leg and keep the top leg straight. Try to feel this stretch through your hips and lightly through your back. Hold for at least 30 seconds on each side.

Sherri McMillan, M.Sc. is the owner of Northwest Personal Training in downtown Vancouver. She can be reached at www.nwPersonalTraining.com or www.ShapeupwithSherri.com.