Exercise for older golfers

Dave Tutelman
Started -- December 1, 2013

Posted -- July 24, 2014
The exercise I do is not all that golf-specific. It is really body maintenance, to keep me in shape as I age. But it certainly helps me play golf, and walking golf at that. The exercises include muscle strengthening, stretching, and warding off back problems.

Please bear in mind that I have no credentials in exercise science, personal training, physical therapy, or anything else related to exercise. Everything here is personal and anecdotal. I have years of successful experience with my own exercises -- and I had three knowledgeable experts review this before publication. So now you have some idea of how much to trust the information herein.

In my bio I say, "I'm more an engineer than an athlete." That is very true. And I have never been an enthusiastic gym rat.

On the other hand, I realize the human body needs more maintenance as it ages. When I turned 41, I realized I was fully a year past "the big four-oh", and decided I needed to look after my body if it was to continue to serve me. Now at 73, I'm still far from being a gym rat, but I do enough exercise to stay in reasonable shape. Of course, I am old -- and getting older by the day. If I'm reasonably healthy today, I can point to the right exercise that has kept me away from the cardiac care unit and the orthopedic surgery center. (I have had short visits to both. My exercise program can take most of the credit that they were short and not repeated.)

This is the exercise program -- more properly the body maintenance program -- that I have been using. Before I say more about about what it is, let me mention a few things it is not:
  • First and foremost... It is not going to take over your life. Too many exercise books insist that you spend a quarter of your waking hours in order to get some benefit from it. Too many golf conditioning books have a program that makes sense only if your goal is to qualify for the US Open. This program will not do that. I spend less than an hour and a half per week on this, a daily average of only 10 to 15 minutes.
  • It is not specifically a set of golf exercises. The exercises were designed to keep me in good shape generally. Yes, I have tried to be sure to include exercises that help me with golf. But it should help with any sport an older human being might want to participate in.
  • It is not going to make you an animal. Body maintenance is not body building. You won't get muscle-bound from this, nor even physically impressive -- just physically fit. You may consider this point a plus or a minus; that's your choice.
  • It is not a weight loss program. These exercises fit into a weight loss program well. But two things are missing that are very important for weight loss -- burning calories and reducing calories. They are better accomplished by:
    • Aerobic exercise: These exercises will burn some calories, but not nearly as many as extended aerobics. Just walking a couple of miles a day will do more for your weight than the exercises herein. A round of walking golf (about four miles, pushing my clubs on a cart) is great for this. Running or cycling will burn calories even faster, but my knees don't permit them any more.
    • Diet: Even with a generous aerobic schedule, exercise is not going to do the lion's share of weight loss. My schedule, including three rounds of walking golf a week plus a 5-10 mile walk on the weekend, is worth only seven pounds of weight (for me, YMMV) without changing my intake of food. You must find a diet that you can sustain long term, not a crash diet to lose weight in a hurry.
  • It is not terribly demanding. No exercises here use weights heavy enough to require a spotter. But I should warn you not to dive in and do the exercises full-bore, with the heaviest weights you can handle, right away. Ramp up to them sensibly. And some of them you might not be able to do if you have a weakness or injury in the body part being exercised. To exercise that body part properly, you should see a physical therapist to prescribe an exercise that works for you.
  • It does not even include pre-golf-round warmups or stretching. There are plenty of books, articles, and videos that deal admirably with the topic, presented by people who know a lot more about it than I do.
Here is the philosophy behind my exercise routine:
  • As I said up front, I am not a gym rat. To be more specific, I don't enjoy any exercise that is just for the sake of exercise. For instance, I love long walks (5-10 miles), but I go nuts after five minutes on a treadmill. Before my knees acquired 70 years of experience, I loved long bicycle rides (15-50 miles), but I went nuts after five minutes on a stationary bike. So this needs to be a program that doesn't require too much time, or I won't stick to it. Which brings me to...
  • My Saturday morning bike rides -- and now my Saturday morning walks -- involve seeing how many yard sales I can visit in some target number of miles. Over the years, my yard sale purchases have included plenty of exercise equipment: weights, weight benches, spring resistance devices, even golf training aids. In every case, I got a great price because the owner claimed, "It never did anything for me." The appearance of the owner generally had me biting my tongue so I would not say, "Just owning it won't do you any good. You have to actually use it -- and regularly." That is the philosophy behind this program; it is small and simple enough so I actually use it -- and regularly.
So I've based my program on the law of diminishing returns... More specifically, the 80/20 rule, which says, "Eighty percent of the result comes from the first twenty percent of the effort." We're going to spend the first 20% of the effort, and get us 80% of the way to where the physical trainer from hell would want us to be. If you want more and are willing and able to put in the effort, you probably want a different program.

The next three pages address the three components of the program:
  1. Weight training. This is what people usually think of when they think "exercise". I use very little in the way of specialized equipment: just a few dumbbells and a simple weight bench. (The bench doesn't even need a rack for a bar. The program does not use barbells.) I have recently added a golf club (a fairly heavy wedge) for a golf-specific exercise; that exercise is optional if you don't play golf, and you already have the equipment if you do.
  2. Stretching. I always do stretching after a weight training session. These stretches can also help when certain muscles get tight or cramp up.
  3. Back exercise. I have a bad back, like a majority of my contemporaries. But golf does not irritate it, and my back does not hurt during my golf swing. I have fewer and less serious back episodes than most of the back sufferers I know. And I can point to these back exercises to thank for it.
The remainder of my exercise, aerobic training, I get from golf and walking. No special pages necessary there; it's basic. And I don't count that as conditioning time, because I enjoy golf and walking enough to do it anyway.

Remember, I am not an exercise professional. I am sharing these exercises with you because they have done good things for me and may do good things for you. But you do them at your own risk. Ease into them, so you don't do something silly and hurt yourself. Any exercise can aggravate an existing injury, or possibly even cause an injury if you do it wrong.

Hope this helps you.

Acknowledgements

I'd like to thank several golf exercise experts who vetted my draft for inaccuracies. They are:
  • Bob Forman, owner of GolFIT Carolina. Bob has a Masters degree in Exercise Physiology and is certified by the Titleist Performance Institute.
  • Meryl Freeman, head of outpatient rehabilitation for Rex UNC Health Care. Meryl has a Masters Degree in Physical Therapy. Her specialties are back therapy and golf injuries. I play golf with her about once a year, and I happen to know she's a tough opponent in match play.
  • John Taylor, owner of JT Clubs in San Francisco. In addition to being a clubfitter, John is a Certified Personal Trainer and has several Titleist Performance Institute certifications as well.
I have incorporated most of their recommendations. Any problems remaining are my fault alone.

Backstory

You may have noticed that the date at the top of each page is from the Fall of 2013, but the article was not made public until July of 2014. Why the big gap? It is due to the diligence and expertise of the reviewers, Meryl Freeman, Bob Forman, and John Taylor. They made substantive comments on the first few drafts. I had to re-evaluate quite a few of my exercises for safety or effectiveness. In each case, I tried following their advice -- not just about the article, but about the exercises themselves. I tried their proposed changes. In most cases, I incorporated them into my program and still do them. In a few, I found they weren't effective for me and dropped them. That took a few months of evaluation, bringing me past the middle of winter. And it took until now to take the photos I needed to update the article with the exercise changes I adopted.

No, the reviewers did not get in the way. They greatly increased the quality of this article. I have no regrets about asking the advice of diligent and expert people with good advice to give. If it took longer that way, it was worth it.


Last modified 7/24/2014