The summer sun burned through the hazy summer sky. Beads of sweat trickled down my back. Looking far more confident than I felt, I gripped the seven iron and whacked the ball. A great hit; on to the green it plunked. Usually my golf game is swinging the club, swearing, looking for the ball and then repeating the pattern. This time was different because I had been doing a specialty program for golfers.
What is a Specialty Program?
A specialty program is an exercise routine specifically tailored for the sport you play. Regular aerobic and strength training is a fantastic way to build a base of fitness, but it won’t help an athlete improve their game.
You may bench your own bodyweight (yeah for you if you can), but it’s not helpful if your back muscles are so tight you can’t swing a golf club properly. For peak performance, it’s critical to know what muscles you’re using, why you’re using them, and how you’re using them.
Studies show that athletes perform at a much higher level when given specialty programs for their sport. Michael Jordan didn’t win six NBA championships swimming eight hours a day in a pool like Michael Phelps. Phelps didn’t win Olympic gold training like Serena Williams, and Williams probably doesn’t train like you or me. While they all have a high level of basic fitness… to become elite, it takes “specificity of training”.
The American Council on Exercise defines the principle of specificity training as: Sports training that is relevant and appropriate to the sport for which the individual is training in order to produce the desired effect. Additionally, training should progress from general conditioning to specific training for the particular skills required in that sport or activity.
That’s a fancy way of saying: Practice makes perfect.
What About Cross Training?
The buzz for years in the fitness field has been “cross training”. Cross training is changing the mode of your primary exercise. If you usually bike, swim once a week instead. Cross training has many benefits:
- Lowers risk of injury- Doing only one type of exercise over and over causes wear and tear on your joints, muscles and connective tissue.
- Enhances fat loss- The more you do one type of exercise, the more efficient your body gets at it. Your body burns less and less calories over time doing the same exercises. Throwing in movements you are NOT good at makes you less efficient, thus burning more calories.
- Promotes exercise adherence- It’s easy to get burned out on the same old exercise routine and skip going to the gym. We humans are wired for variety in our daily existence. Studies show that people who cross train stick to exercise longer.
The bottom line is, if you have performance goals in a particular sport, you need a good base of fitness first and cross training is an important part of that. Your personal trainer or fitness instructor can give you guidance on how to cross train effectively.
Golf, Tennis, Softball, Skiing and Biking
For adult women, golf, tennis, softball, skiing and biking are the most popular sports in America. If you have performance goals in any of these sports, it’s important that your workouts not only provide a great base of fitness, but are also geared towards your sport.
There are four steps to designing a workout geared for your sport:
- Figure out what muscles you use in your sport. Once you know what muscles you are using, you can figure why you are using them, and then how to work them properly. Push-ups, rows, squats, over-head presses, and lunges are great exercises for working all the major muscle groups. A small-group training class is a wonderful way to get the base of fitness you need.
- Mimic the cardiovascular effect the sport has on your body. The average football play is under 10 seconds so a football player would not slow jog for training, but sprint for 10-20 seconds at a time. If you bike race, aerobic interval training is critical for success. Doing a 3:1 ratio of easy level biking to a very difficult level is a great starting point.
- Certain sports like golf and tennis depend heavily on certain muscles (back and shoulders) being mobile and flexible. Incorporating limbering and stretching exercises can’t be over emphasized.
- With help from your trainer, make sure your routine is well rounded to avoid over training and injury.
The Body is a Chain
Golf, tennis and softball use many of the same muscle groups in similar ways. Observing a softball player, tennis player or golfer will show you how important the rotational movement around the spine is in these sports. If you’re going to deliver red-hot pitches, blast 200-yard drives, or rip forehand winners, you need rotational power, movement and balance in your hips, chest and shoulders.
The body is a chain of mobile and stable joints. Some areas like our knees and lower spine are designed to give our body stability. These joints should be trained for stability and strength. Other areas, like our hips, shoulders and upper spine area should be strong, but also mobile. We need them flexible and able to rotate easily .
Stability in the Lower Back
Good golfers and tennis players use their shoulders and upper spine to produce power and movement. Bad players use their lumbar (lower) spine and end up hurt. To correct this, train your lower back for strength and stability. Doing the following exercises will produce stability in the lower spine:
- “Draw-in” movements- The draw-in maneuver works the transversus abdominis. This muscle is on the front and side of the abdomen, stabilizing the spine and lower back region. Lying on a solid surface with knees bent, concentrate on pulling the navel into the spine. You should feel this in your lower abs. Hold for 30 seconds while breathing. Repeat 3 or 4 times. You can do these every day.
- Supermans- You need strong back extensors (lower back muscles) to stability. Back extensor muscles run along your lower spine. Adding in Superman exercises is one of the best ways to strengthen them. Lay on a mat face down with arms extended overhead. Raise your head, right arm, and left leg 6 inches off the ground. Next, raise your other arm and leg too. Your arms, legs and head
- are now off the ground. Hold for 5 seconds. Repeat 10 times. Do these every other day.
- Partial curls- These keep your abdominals strong and help align your hips. Should be done very slowly and deliberately. Lay on a mat with knees bent and hands cradling your head. Breath in deeply, then exhale as you lift your shoulders 2 inches off the floor. Hold at the top for 1-2 seconds and relax back down. Do a count of 10-20 for three sets. May be done every other day.
Mobility in The Shoulders and Upper Spine
For nearly every sport involving a ball, rotation in the shoulders, hips and upper back is key to good performance and injury preventionAdd these exercises on to your routine:
- Rotation Cable Rows-You will need a cable machine to perform this exercise. With the pulley and handle in the middle position, stand tall with your feet shoulder width apart facing the cable machine. Grasp the handle in your right hand with your palm facing the right. Draw the handle back to your side while rotating your wrist clockwise until your hand is facing the ceiling at the end of the movement. You will also extend your left arm forward toward the cable machine, which will rotate your hips slightly. The right arm draws the handle toward your body while the left reaches for the cable machine. This is one rep. Perform 8 reps in each direction.
- Shoulder Wall Slides- To correct shoulder and upper-back mobility restrictions perform these shoulder wall slides. Stand with your back to a smooth wall, your feet about shoulder width apart and heels roughly 6 to 12 inches from the wall. Put your shoulders, head and wrists against the Arms should be out to the sides with elbows bent in a 45-degree angle as if waving “hi.” Extend your arms up and then back down into the start position. When bringing your arms down, try to pinch your shoulder blades together. This is one rep. Do 3 sets of 15.
- Pelvic Rotations-For hip mobility, hold a golf club vertically in front of you holding one end while the other end is on the ground. With your upper body square and your feet hip width apart, bring one knee up and slowly thrust it between the club and your other leg. Repeat with the other leg. This is one rep. Do 20 reps.
Be sure to end with stretches to all major muscle groups focusing on your upper back, chest, and shoulders.