Getting Ready for Golf with Pilates

By Faith Wilfley, MD, Stott Pilates Trained in Mat & Reformer

“The practice of Pilates is wonderful for all sorts of reasons: balanced musculature, improved mobility, decreasing injuries, spinal alignment (posture), lessening low back pain, and a strong core.”

Who’s ready for golf?! We all may be mentally, but after a good old Wisconsin winter, we probably aren’t physically up to the challenge. So what’s a body to do? My suggestion is Pilates.

If Josef Pilates were trying to create the perfect exercise for golfers when he invented his method of controlled movement, he would have succeeded beyond all measure.  It may not have been his intent, but I believe he achieved that goal all the same.

The practice of Pilates is wonderful for all sorts of reasons: balanced musculature, improved mobility, decreasing injuries, spinal alignment (posture), lessening low back pain, a super-strong core. The list could go on and on. The practices in themselves are amazingly similar in some ways. They are both complex full-body movements. Just as every swing of the club requires many moving parts to work together, so every move in Pilates requires control of the whole body. If two sports were ever “pat-your-head-rub-your-tummy” kind of movements, these are it.

Golf, however, is asymmetric. The cruel trick of the game is that you swing only one way; only work the muscles on ‘one side’ of the body. If your game isn’t going well, you practice. Only swinging one way. Only becoming more imbalanced. Haven’t you ever found that the more you are practicing, the worse your game is getting? This is why. It also leads to injury.

For right handed people, the left (leading) side of the body is injured more than the trailing (right) side. Vice versa for the Phil Mickelsons out there.  Fifteen (15) minutes a day of golf-specific Pilate’s exercises can ensure your body stays balanced and can break the cycle of imbalance and injury.

The best thing is, if you can golf, (or even if you can’t) you can do these exercises. All of the exercises are done standing, wearing sneakers and comfortable clothes. Some people hear ‘Pilates’ and think I’m going to have them prancing about in spandex. I swear that is not what it is. It was actually invented using only men’s bodies.

One of the first male clients I ever had accompanied his wife (I am sure, unwillingly). He was so nervous, he was visibly sweating. He was a golfer though, and so most of what we did that day was golf-specific. At the end he was laughing and relaxed. He looked at me and said, ‘well that was just moving’. Exactly. I still wonder what he thought I was going to make him do. By the way, he called me the next week and said he had had the best golf game of his life that day. Maybe a coincidence, but I like to think he learned something that helped.

What I think helped the most was that he became more aware of his body. Especially the core. And when you initiate every shot by moving from the core first, your movements become repeatable and consistent.

There’s a reason why professional golfers like Jordan Spieth and Tiger Woods do Pilates after all. If you are interested in finding out more, please join me at 5 Koshas Yoga & Wellness for our “Getting Ready for Golf” sessions on Mondays at 5:30 pm or for individual training. Here’s to a great season!

Faith Wilfley is Stott Pilates Trained in Mat and Reformer.  Dr. Wilfley enjoys helping people with different bodies and ways of movement be able to optimize mobility and achieve their goals. She received her undergraduate degree from UW-Milwaukee, M.D. from Medical College of Wisconsin, and did her joint Pediatric residency at UNMC/Creighton in Omaha, NE, and Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin in Milwaukee.  Dr. Wilfley is a Medical Doctor and was a practicing pediatrician for 12 years. She has good anatomical knowledge and is very safety conscious. Her philosophy in Pilates is the same as that for medicine: ‘First, do no harm’.

What is Pilates Anyway?

by Faith Wilfley, MD, Stott Pilates-Trained in Mat and Reformer 

First, let me start by saying that Pilates is for everyone. That’s right, pretty much anyone, with certain modifications, can do Pilates. From the person recovering from a prolonged illness or long stretch of inactivity, to the elite athlete, Pilates has something to offer all sizes, genders, and fitness levels. In fact, it is a great entry point to increased activity. It teaches proper body position and form, so it is a great way to begin your journey to a more fit life.

I’m getting ahead of myself though. I can almost hear you thinking, ‘seriously, what is it though!’ It is a method of exercise developed by Joseph Pilates (thus, the name) almost a hundred years ago. He called it ‘Contrology’ because the essence of all of the exercises is control. Holding one part of the body stable while moving another part with control. His theory, at that time, was that modern life with its inactivity was leading to illness and poor physical conditioning. Thus, why it’s around almost 100 years later!

What is a mat Pilates class like? Well, above all, hopefully it is fun! If you look in at a class, it looks pretty harmless. A lot of the time is spent laying on the mat. Movements are slow and controlled. Every move, however, is combining breath, core control, balance, and fluid movement. It’s a lot like trying to pat your head and rub your tummy. I tell people it takes about 6 classes before you feel like you are really starting to get it. Did I mention, it’s also a practice in patience?

What do you get out of it?

  • Improved core conditioning. And by core, I mean abdominals in the front, deep back muscles, pelvic floor, and diaphragm.
  • Improved mobility. Flexibility + Strength = Mobility. The goal of my practice is to get, and keep, people as mobile as possible for as long as possible.
  • Improved endurance. A study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research in March 2010 found that in active middle-aged men and women, basic mat Pilates moves practiced twice weekly for 60 minutes, for 12 weeks, showed statistically significant increases in “abdominal endurance, hamstring flexibility, and upper body muscular endurance.”
  • Maintaining spine health, prevention of injuries, and improved body composition are all benefits as well.

How is it different from yoga? I like to think of yoga and Pilates as cousins. They are both mind-body forms of exercise. Both are low impact and will increase flexibility. Yoga practice may include physical postures (movement in and out of postures and held postures), breathing exercises, sound, meditation and philosophical teachings, whereas Pilates was invented as an ‘exercise’ and focuses on controlled fluid movement. Pilates is also very spine focused and the exercises should not have neck extension.  Pilates mats are also much thicker, as there is a lot of spinal articulation during classes and a thicker mat provides more comfort.

The only way to truly know what Pilates is like, however, is to come to a class.  Just let your instructor know beforehand if you have any history of injuries, or limitations of movement. Hope to see you soon!

Guest blog by Faith Wilfley, MD, Stott Pilates-Trained in Mat and Reformer, is a teacher at 5 Koshas Yoga & Wellness.  She teaches on Tuesdays at 9:00 am, starting March 15.