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Chip Shots – Is your body ready for some golf?

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J.P. Stowe, program manager for EMMC Sports Health, displays exercise equipment at his desk. J.P. Stowe, program manager for EMMC Sports Health, displays exercise equipment at his desk. (edge photo by Alan Comeau)

It was February 28, 2016 and I and a few friends were at Hermon Meadows playing our first round of the year. Sure, it was a bit chilly and soggy, but we were outside hitting golf balls! At the end of the round, we had some fun hitting low iron shots across the still ice-covered pond. Now, fast forward to the spring of 2017; March has come and gone, and area courses are opening for the season. 

As we prepare to play the game we love, it is an opportune time to address the importance of getting our creaky, rusty golf bodies back into form. Nothing is more frustrating than waiting months to play, only to end up with an early-season injury.

Luckily, there are people in our community who know a lot about sports-related performance and injury prevention. One such person is JP Stowe, ATC, CSCS. He is the program manager for EMMC Sports Health, which serves as a resource for the diagnosis, treatment, rehabilitation and prevention of activity-related injuries and illnesses. They even offer a Sports Injury Helpline, 974-7400, that connects you with one of their athletic trainers, or you can go to: www.sports.emmc.org.

JP has extensive credentials; he graduated from the University of Maine School of Kinesiology and Physical Education with a B.S. in Athletic Training. Not only does he work with your average weekend warriors, he also consults with area high school and collegiate athletes. That and he is an avid golfer!

I recently had the pleasure to sit down and talk with JP so I could share his insights with you, the reader. I was curious to know if he would be able to recommend a good pre- and early-season workout regime that would protest golfers from the typical injuries involving the wrist, neck, shoulders and back. Personally, I have to be mindful of all of these areas, as I not only play golf but disc golf, which stresses a lot of the same muscles/joints.

“Many people tend to not be quite as active during the colder months,” observed JP. “So what happens is that the body becomes far less flexible. Since golf involves many complex movements all working together, flexibility is extremely important. That’s why I recommend focusing on releasing tension in the muscles and fascia [connective tissues within the muscles], regaining range of motion, and strengthening the core prior to getting out there and hitting a lot of shots.”

JP recommends beginning with a two to three-minute warmup activity (jogging, jumping jacks, jumping rope), then spending time using a foam roller on major muscle groups (foam rollers are relatively inexpensive, and can be purchased at area sporting goods stores).

Next, do some research and choose a few activities that will strengthen and lengthen muscles in your legs, glutes, core (abdomen/back) and shoulders.  If you enjoy yoga or Pilates, you can incorporate them into your workout. End your session with some static stretches, where you hold a position for 20-30 seconds. Key areas to stretch are those that you just engaged in your workout.

Many golfers, particularly in the early part of the season, will get to a driving range to “rediscover” their swing, and try to regain their form. While this is a good idea, JP says it can also provide a major setback if not done thoughtfully. 

“Whenever I’m at a driving range, I see some people tip over their bucket of balls, pull out a driver and start swinging away. It makes me cringe a little, knowing they are taking a big risk of injury approaching their range session in this manner.” For JP, preparing the body for a range session or round with friends should always be preceded by a warmup routine.

In both cases, he recommends beginning with some type of dynamic warmup to get the blood flowing and muscles and tendons engaged. When a person feels ready to start hitting balls, JP says to begin with higher lofted clubs with half swings, then progress to full swings with the longer irons, ending with hybrids, fairway woods, and finally the driver. This allows the body to adjust to the progressively harder swings that come with swinging the longer, less lofted clubs.

So now you probably feel like you are more than ready to move forward with your summer golf plans, fully educated about how to get in golf shape and how to prepare for each range session/round. Not so fast.

“I don’t know of many golfers who think about post-activity recovery, which can be just as important as the other factors,” said JP. “First, stay hydrated at all times, as this is a major factor in muscle health and recovery. Water is optimal, and chocolate milk is a great after-round beverage. Next, I recommend static stretching, with longer duration (30-40 seconds) than the pregame routine. If you find you are having tenderness in any particular area after playing, you can also combine icing the area for 20-30 minutes with an anti-inflammatory (aspirin or acetaminophen). Remember - prevention is way more effective than rehabilitation!”

Since speaking with JP and writing this column, I have modified my exercise routine to incorporate some of his tips and plan on taking his advice about pre-round preparation and post-round recovery. I am hopeful it will help me enjoy a full and fantastic golf season.

While these tips may seem overwhelming when taken as a whole, they are actually easy to add to your routine, and once you feel the results that will provide all the positive reinforcement you need to continue. The result will be an injury-free season where you perform better, have more fun and feel stronger.

Here’s to you hitting ‘em long, straight, and pain-free all season long!

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