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Golf Smart
That's Right: Warm Up.

By John Winters

Injuries are a part of golf, whether you're talking Greg Norman, or the hacker up the street with green pants and a 23 handicap. In fact, medical studies show that more than half of all golfers experience low-back pain when they make contact with the ball or in their follow-through. And that's just one of many possible problems.

Golf requires a lot of repetitive motion, with much bending and twisting of the spine and rotation of the hips and shoulders. The result of all this contortion can be overuse injuries. Common among them are bursitis of the shoulder; tendonitis of the rotator cuff and elbow; and chronic back pain. Muscle strains and neck, spine and joint irritations have also sidelined a good number of duffers.

Add to this the fact that many golfers are only part-time athletes at best, and you begin to see the problem.

"Golfers are all weekend warriors who don't warm up, and then pick up their heaviest club and start whacking away," said Dale Huff, co-owner of Nutriformance, a personal training and sports nutrition company in St. Louis.
Busy dads are in particular need of a smart warm-up. Here are some tips on how to do it:

Pre-game Show

Most golfers get to the course and head straight for the driving range for a few dozen John Daly-like swings. If that's your idea of warming up, you're almost certain to land on the couch with an ice pack. You need to leave time for some proper prep work, the experts say.

"Get to the course a little early," suggests Dr. Randy Wroble, an orthopedic surgeon from the American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine. He prescribes a pre-round stretching routine that limbers up the muscles of the upper body, the lower back, knees, hips and ankles.

Stretching is only half the story, however. You also need to warm those muscles, which is different from just stretching them. A brisk walk, or anything that will allow you to break a sweat will do.

When you're ready to start swinging, take your lightest club and work your way to the heaviest driver. Increase the rate of the swing slowly until you're at full throttle and ready for that first tee.

Mechanics At Work

All the game day warm-up won't mean a thing, however, if you're out there swinging like Gumby. Good posture, a proper stance, and a biomechanically correct swing will keep you in the game longer.

"If there's one little flaw in your golf swing it's going to show in a part of your body as a potential aggravation down the road," Huff said.

That rounded posture and drooping head are the cause of many problems. When swinging, you should be relatively straight, able to lay a club flat from your head to your tailbone. This will put less stress on the lower back.

And, like your Little League coach used to tell you, use those hips. It'll make your swing easier on the rest of the body.

The Right Stuff

In recent years, golf courses have become like the Land of the Giant Clubs. Oversized drivers may lower your score, but they also raise the toll on your body. The bigger the club, the more stress it puts on the body when you swing it and then decelerate it after striking the ball. Weigh the risk versus the benefit of pulling that monster club out of your bag. The best bet is to work with your pro and choose a club that fits both your body and your game.

Drink (No, Not That Cold One)

Don't be afraid to pass when the beer wagon rolls up. Alcohol has a dehydrating effect, and it's tough enough to keep from sweating out all the good stuff when you're playing in the hot sun. Pack some water and a few healthy snacks in your bag, and save the cold ones for the 19th hole.

The Game Never Ends

Many golfers workout in the off-season but give it up to play more golf once spring arrives. This results in the golfer losing strength as the season rolls on. To compensate, the swings get harder and harder, and the strain on the body greater. Eventually, there's a breakdown.

And even when there's three feet of snow on the ground, you should be thinking "golf." A year-round workout regime will go a long way to avoiding problems during the season. This should include stretching, especially the hamstrings and upper body muscles; some regular aerobic activity; and exercises to strengthen the back, abdomen, arms, forearms and wrist muscles.

John Winters lives in Massachusetts and writes about health and fitness.

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