5 Reasons for Golfers to Swing into the Pilates Studio
Golf is a favorite pastime of many clients at The Pilates Collective. Our number one goal is to empower you to both inside and outside of the studio, so we so we took a look at how golf affects the body to see how Pilates can help.
The most noticeable thing we saw was rotation: at the hips, knees, ankles, ribcage, spine, shoulders, and neck. Nearly every central joint in the body is rotating at several points during the golf swing. For some joints, like the shoulders and rib cage, rotation is an important component of healthy motion. For knees and ankles, however, rotation poses risk, and it’s essential that it’s balanced with linear movement to emphasize alignment. Enter Pilates.
We recommend exercises on the Pilates equipment in this post, but please do not try them without the supervision of an instructor.
1) Pilates strengthens your outer hips
To protect your knees and ankles from too much rotation, we recommend that avid golfers prioritize exercises that strengthen the outer hips. By strengthening the glutes, iliotibial tract (IT band), and tensor fascia latae, you can rotate through your knees and know you have stability to prevent you from overdoing it.
To work these muscles, we recommend side lying leg work, specifically on the Reformer. When lying on your left side, you’ll have your right foot in the strap. Sweeping the leg up to a 90 degree angle at the hip and then down towards the footbar engages the outer hip muscles.
While in that position, clamshells are another ideal exercise for keeping the hips strong. Some instructors keep the strap on the foot, forcing you to stabilize and keep the Reformer still, while others move it to the thigh so the carriage slides with you as you move. Either way, clamshells work glute muscles essential in maintaining stability of your pelvis.
2) We work on rotation of the torso and pelvis
When we rotate through the waist in class, we almost always emphasize keeping the hips square, but that’s not proper form in a golf swing. Instead, players rotate simultaneously through their hips, ribcage, and shoulders. To facilitate this movement in a safe way, we recommend strengthening the internal and external obliques.
My personal favorite series for strengthening the abs includes side overs on the short box. You’ll have the box set up the short way, so the longer side is against (or over) the shoulder blocks. Sit on the box facing the footbar, then turn to your right. You’ll fold your right leg up on top of the box and extend the left leg until your left foot can slide under the fuzzy strap. With all the springs loaded and your top foot in the fuzzy strap, the carriage won’t move. Shift your weight over your right cheek until you’re balanced on the outside of your right hip. Take your right hand down to the headrest and your left hand back behind your head. When you’re ready (and that might not be right away), take your right hand back behind your head as well.
You’ll do a side bend to dip your right elbow down into the well of the Reformer, inhaling as you lower, and exhaling to return to the diagonal. To properly isolate the obliques, keep both hip bones pointed squarely in front of you. I like to teach 10 sets of these, resting between if needed. You can also practice rotating your chest down towards the floor for even more abdominal engagement and holding in either position for a few breaths. As an added benefit, your top foot acts as a stabilizer, strengthening the entire outside of the leg as you work the obliques.
3) We correct imbalances—especially in rotation
Though our bodies are symmetrical, it’s amazing how much our left- or right-handedness causes imbalances in muscle development and mobility. Think about the hand you use to brush your teeth. If you were to suddenly switch to the other hand, you’d probably feel like you’d never brushed your teeth before. With a movement as large and full-bodied as a golf swing, repeated asymmetric patterns can make a significant difference.
To even out the rotation you typically practice on the course, spend time in the studio rotating in the opposite direction. If you swing from right to left, you’ll want to do more repetitions of exercises that have you rotating from left to right.
A great exercise for practicing this rotation involves kneeling arm work on the Reformer. Kneel sideways, with the outside of your left leg against the shoulder blocks. Holding onto the front strap with both hands, exhale and engage your abdominals to twist towards the foot bar (in this orientation, to your right). While we would normally cue to keep your hips square and rotate just from the waist, it would be beneficial to do a few reps both ways—both keeping the hips square and letting them twist with you. Repeat on both sides, but feel free to add extra reps on the side you don’t favor in your golf swing.
4) You’ll strengthen your abs
With all the time you spend on your feet while playing golf, it’s important your core is strong to keep you from sinking into your lower back. Physical Therapist Lea Klein recommends (golfers and non-golfers alike) practice something called a pelvic brace: any time you move from sitting to standing, bend down to pick something up, or climb the stairs, gently engage your pelvic floor, abdominals, and glutes. When walking around the course, think about the same thing. Slight engagement in your core can prohibit your lower back from taking the brunt of the work and prevent overuse.
5) We reinforce alignment through the lower body
Because the golf swing requires rotation through the ankles and knees—joints we otherwise make a habit out of not rotating through—use your time in the Pilates studio to hone your alignment. Footwork on the Reformer is a great time to practice keeping your hips, knees, and ankles in line, both in a parallel orientation and in external rotation. It can be hard to see these joints when laying down, so ask your instructor to keep an eye on your if you’re not sure of your alignment.
Next time you’re in the studio, request that your instructor include some of the above exercises in your workout. Your body—and golf swing—will thank you.
What other exercises have you noticed are beneficial to your golf game? We’d love to hear about them!