July 18, 2011 / 10:04 AM / 8 years ago

Foraging for fitness at the driving range

NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - Hitting golf balls at the driving range can lift the spirit, but does it also tone the flesh?

Padraig Harrington of Ireland practices on the range before his fourth round match against Davis Love III of the U.S. at the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship golf tournament in Carlsbad, California February 25, 2006. REUTERS/John Gress

The exercise potential of swinging a club may be limited, experts say, but the more fitness you bring to the range, or the golf course, the stronger your stroke will be.

“Most people don’t think of the driving range or playing golf as a form of exercise, but it is,” said Robert Yang, a sports performance coach and founder of the Performance Lab in Encinitas, California.

“The professionals make it look smooth like butter but there’s quite a bit of power and strength involved,” Yang said.

He explained that wielding a driver can be compared to hoisting a weight so heavy you can only lift it four times.

“That’s how much load or torque there can be on the body.”

But don’t expect to swing your way to streamline shape.

“The concept of getting in shape from just hitting balls is pretty tough.” Yang said. “You wouldn’t be able to change your body shape.”

The volume of exercise is simply not high enough. Yang said even on a golf course, people actually swinging the club for only two-and-one-half to three minutes.

“The rest of the time you’re just walking,” he said.

Conversely, Yang said fortune, on the golf course or on the driving range, favors the fit.

“Each body has physical limitations, whether it’s lack of strength or flexibility. If you improve them, you’ll hit the ball further,” he said. “Whether 16 or 60, you should be focusing on strength and power training to improve your golf game.”

He said older, often more sedentary, golfers, can transform their game by working on their posture.

“They’ll stand up straighter. They’re able to rotate more efficiently. That improves their golf swing.”

Yang said the fit golfer represents a fairly recent paradigm shift in a sport not typically regarded as requiring strength or speed training.

“Tiger Woods basically started that whole thing,” he said. “Younger players are much more into fitness, or they’ve been athletes all their lives.”

Taking a golf club back over your head, following through and moving your body to strike the ball, involves a range of motion not experienced by most people on a day-to-day basis, according to Kevin Burns of the American Council on Exercise.

The good news is it benefits muscle groups in the core, back, shoulder and abdominals that might not get a lot of attention. The bad news is that’s almost all there is.

“Outside of adrenalin rush of striking the ball and hitting it a long distance, there’s very little cardiovascular benefit,” said Burns, a group fitness instructor based in Mankato, Minnesota.

Burns said the driving range compares unfavorably to the golf course.

“Walking nine to 18 holes has tremendous cardiovascular benefits, especially if you do it on a regular basis,” he explained.

Any activity that will get someone off the couch and moving is a good activity, he said , but an overall fitness plan should include cardiovascular, range of motion and weight-bearing exercises.

Yang concurs.

“If your goal is just to swing a club and be active, then you’ll achieve the goal,” he said. “If you’re looking to lose five inches on your waist, that’s not going to happen.”

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