Golf fitness, nutrition and yoga experts map out a healthy game-plan on and off the course

If you're serious about your golf game, you might need a little more than good swing mechanics and short-game touch to be your best. Fitness -- which brings mental focus, endurance and a general feeling of well being -- is also essential to performing your best. And since most of us don't play golf for a living, the greatest benefit we can get from any fitness program is quality of life in general, especially as we age.

But how do we go about getting the most out of our mind, body and spirit?

If you're like most, you've probably had good intentions, but it can be difficult to map out a plan. Working out, for example, without good nutrition has limited benefits. And getting stronger without adding flexibility also has partial returns.

With that in mind, Golf Advisor asked three experts to share their knowledge of nutrition, training and yoga.

Pam Owens is one of America's leading personal trainers, specializing in golf. She owns Pam Owens Fitness in Houston and is fitness director for Royal Oaks Country Club in Houston and formerly headed up the fitness program at the Golf Club of Houston . Among her credentials, she is a certified Titleist Performance Institute (TPI) instructor and coach (Fitness Level 3, Power Level 2 and Junior Level 3) and a Precision Nutrition Coach.

Ken Macdonald is a TPI Level 3 certified golf fitness professional and also holds a master's degree in human movement and is a certified corrective exercise specialist and performance enhancement specialist through the National Academy of Sports Medicine. With five years of competitive professional golf experience, Macdonald applies his knowledge of the golf swing to the training programs he creates for clients as a member of the staff at the Sports and Racquet Club at PGA National Resort & Spa in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.

And finally, Katherine Roberts is the founder and president of Yoga for Golfers , which employs certified instructors in more than 20 countries. Roberts, who is TPI and NG360 (Nike Golf) certified, is based out of Scottsdale, Ariz. She works with golfers of all levels, including professionals, and also works with several Major League Baseball teams.

Golf fitness: Get with a program

Golf Advisor: For competitive golfers, how important is nutrition in exercise and strength training?

Katherine Roberts: When I was started this in 1999, the only people talking about fitness in golf were Gary Player, David Duval and Tiger Woods. Now players on tour travel with a fitness guy and nutritionist. I really don't know of any guys on tour who don't have some sort of vigorous fitness program.

Golf Advisor: Why is strength training important in golf, especially as you get older?

Ken Macdonald: As part of the aging process there's a gradual decline in lean muscle mass. In fact after the age of 50 men and women lose approximately 1 to 2 percent of their muscle mass per year. If this occurs at an even higher rate it can become difficult to carry out simple daily activities that require some degree of power strength and balance. Partaking in a daily resistance-training program can help to stave off these declines. The most obvious answer to this question is to obviously retain power as we get older. However, one must also consider that it takes adequate strength to prevent injury by absorbing forces and speeds at higher rates like we do in the golf swing.

Golf Advisor: How much time should recreational golfers dedicate to golf-specific exercises?

Ken Macdonald: There's an old saying in the fitness world popularized by Mike Boyle. For every decade you have been alive, that's how many days a week you should work out. There's another saying by famed strength coach Dan John: If it's important to you, you should be doing it every day. I tell this to my clients -- pick two or three mobility exercises you can do every day. Do your resistance-training exercises two to three days a week. Your movement/swing drills given to you by your pro should be done on a daily basis as it takes a lot of time to make a gross movement pattern changes to the point they become permanent.

Golf Advisor: How important is flexibility in the golf swing?

Ken Macdonald: When we think of power in the golf swing we need to be thinking flexibility. In order for the body to move correctly from the top of the backswing to impact, we must be able to separate our hips from our trunk and our trunk from our hips. If we are too tight the body will never be able to use elastic properties associated with muscle lengthening to create speed.

Yoga, not yogurt for flexibility, mental focus

Golf Advisor: Katherine, what about yoga is so powerful for golf?

Katherine Roberts: The obvious answer to that would be flexibility, but the surprise to most people once they start practicing yoga is they develop a tremendous amount of strength because we're also teaching people how to use the force of gravity against the ground reaction forces so they can generate more power and distance.

Golf Advisor: Aren't the mental and concentration aspects of yoga just as valuable?

Katherine Roberts: If you think about a four-and-a-half-hour round of golf, you're only playing for 14-16 minutes. And you're standing over the ball somewhere between 2 and 4 seconds. So how we cultivate golfers to have that ability of one point of focus is what we teach when you're holding a yoga pose. What we teach when they're physically challenged is to come back to breathing, which is the single most important thing we do in the practice of yoga. It also helps control the nervous system, breathing helps you manage your energy when you've hit a great shot or a bad shot, and breathing also helps you maintain energy throughout the round.

Golf Advisor: How do the benefits of yoga translate beyond the golf course?

Katherine Roberts: I work with a lot of PGA Professionals (club pros) to not only help them compete at a higher level, but also to manage their day.

Golf Advisor: Ken, if yoga's not your thing, though, what can you do to increase flexibility?

Ken Macdonald: Yoga's benefits can be far reaching and can get some much-needed mobility quickly. However, yoga may not always be the right option for everybody. Even in its most remedial form some of the flow patterns and exercises can be very difficult especially for someone who has major mobility restrictions. If you suffer from the "tin man" syndrome and have extremely limited mobility, your best bet would be to seek out a golf fitness professional to give you an assessment and then design a more appropriate program.

Golf Advisor: If you had just 20 minutes a day to work out, what would you recommend, Pam?

Pam Owens: I would do a combo of mobility work, resistance and cardio blasts. Mobility is crucial for movement and when lost leads to weakness, loss of agility and injuries. Passive stretching does not lead to greater mobility as much as isometric holds to create more usable flexibility. True mobility is usable mobility. Think of it like this, you need to create strength to be in a position in your sport or daily life. Being able to stretch is nice but can you support yourself in that same angle while doing golf or daily activities? Resistance work is imperative to be strong and powerful in all ranges. Add cardio blasts for power and heart/lung conditioning to play back-to-back rounds and for years.

Eat to win on the course and in life

Golf Advisor: Perhaps somewhat overlooked by many is nutrition. Pam, how important is nutrition to overall well being and performance on the golf course?

Pam Owens: Many golfers do not realize the important role that nutrition plays in performance. Poor nutrition leads to a decline of energy, mental focus, muscle activation, power, stamina/endurance and health. Poor nutrition also leads to increase in inflammation, weight gain in gut, frustration/mood swings, fatigue, strokes/misses/inconsistency, cravings, recovery time, disease, and joint degradation. To quote Robert Yang, TPI Nutrition Advisor: "Dysfunctional Food = Dysfunctional Core. Screw up your digestion and screw up your core."

Golf Advisor: What are some nutritional myths?

Pam Owens: Getting your energy from caffeine and high sugar foods and drinks doesn't work and leads to blood-sugar swings and crashes, inconsistencies, frustration, exhaustion, poor recovery. Another myth is to use alcohol "aiming fluid" to calm you down. That's a funny one. I recommend you manage moods and nervousness with small, frequent nutritious meals to maintain consistent blood levels, and control inflammation as well as staying strong and mobile for a well functioning, fit body.

Golf Advisor: You've often said that you can always out-eat your workout. Can you explain that?

Pam Owens: We often play the cardio game where we work out so we can eat. Just counting calories doesn't work and many times we eat in excess throughout the day as compared to the total day's calorie expenditure. We eat a 500-calorie dessert then believe that burning 500 calories is going to control weight gain. This doesn't work because the dessert calories are non-nutritive and not used for fuel or building muscle or structure but stored for fat. It's all about energy balance. You want to eat calories that either fuel your body or rebuild your body. If you eat non-nutritious calories then you can't do either.

Golf Advisor: What are the best snacks for golfers while on the course?

Pam Owens: "Pick 3" is a technique where you combine fruits/vegetables with proteins and healthy fats for energy, endurance and muscle support. An example of Pick 3 is jerky with nuts and a small banana. If you're not battling weight or inflammation, then you can choose whole grains or starchy carbs combined proteins and fruits/vegetables. Avoid sugars and processed items. For hydration drink water with a pinch of sea salt every nine holes. Fruits/vegetables are mostly water, contain minerals and anti-oxidants which work well for golfers for hydration and energy. (You can e-mail Owens at powens AT pamowensfitness DOT com for the complete "Pick 3" handout.)

Mike Bailey is a senior staff writer based in Houston. Focusing primarily on golf in the United States, Canada, the Caribbean and Latin America with an occasional trip to Europe and beyond, he contributes course reviews, travel stories and features as well as the occasional equipment review. An award-winning writer and past president of Texas Golf Writers Association, he has more than 25 years in the golf industry. Before accepting his current position in 2008, he was on staff at PGA Magazine, The Golfweek Group and AvidGolfer Magazine. Follow Mike on Twitter at @MikeBaileyGA and Instagram at @MikeStefanBailey.
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