There’s a huge gap between the weekend golfer riding in a cart and tour pros who sometimes walk for 9+ hours (as in Match play events) and routinely play four competitive rounds per week plus practice rounds not to mention extensive hours on the range and putting green.
I often get questions about what it specifically takes in terms of fitness conditioning to play golf? The real question is: at what level of the sport do you plan on playing?
If you play primarily on weekends and ride a cart, you don’t need to be super fit, although it certainly isn’t a bad idea for your overall health, but to give you a better idea let’s start with some of my basic rules of preparation before playing:
Golf is an anaerobic sport (meaning without oxygen). One doesn’t need to even breathe in the one second or so it takes to swing because all the energy necessary is contained in the cells of your muscle fibers. Once you finish the swing, you need your aerobic (meaning with oxygen) self to walk to where your ball landed or back to your cart. It doesn’t sound particularly stressful or energy consuming, because one swing isn’t. It’s the cumulative effect over a four hour plus round that consumes considerable energy resources.
So, to manage the energy requirements outlined in the above, we need to consider some basic physiological requirements:
- Our bodies need to have the proper fuel (meaning enough calories to meet energy demands). On average, that would be approx. 1000 calories in a 4 hour round including an appropriate balance of carbohydrates, proteins and fats (generally speaking that would be about 50% carbohydrates, 30% fats and 20% protein). FYI, playing golf is sport where carbs really help because they are direct fuel for your muscles.
- We must be properly hydrated (at all times on the course- please note water is certainly good, but sports drinks are actually better because they also contain a level of carbs that are rapidly digested-much needed during your round)
- Have a good night’s sleep
- Be aware of any injuries, aches or pains that might influence our swing patterns
- Warm up properly to play our best and avoid injury. This doesn’t mean stretching our cold bodies, it means an “active” warm up with smooth flowing movements that increase our body temperature and contribute to joint mobility.
Even if all of the above were perfect does not mean you are going to have a career round. It just puts you in the best position to do so. Notice none of the above criteria have much to do with fitness per se, but more about positioning your body to perform it’s best, regardless of fitness level.
Now, let’s talk about the fitness piece
So, what level of fitness is required? My definition is as follows: your body’s ability to meet the physical demands placed on it. This encompasses two separate but interrelated processes. As mentioned, you should be fit aerobically (i.e., your body’s ability to meet oxidative demands, such as long distance running or walking far and fast) as well as anaerobically (i.e., your bodies ability to meet short term higher intensity demands such as lifting weight, sprinting or swinging a golf club).
I love a good balance between the two, but in reality, some people train to be primarily aerobic (like long distance runners) and others train to be primarily anaerobic (like Olympic weight lifters). In golf, one needs to have proper anaerobic fitness for muscular strength, mobility and control, but also the aerobic fitness level to complete 18 holes or more (especially if you walk).
Look at the top touring pros like Brooks Koepka, Dustin Johnson, Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy etc. and you’ll note that all of them are extremely fit. Their workout routines include both aerobic and anaerobic workouts. When you consider their strenuous schedules, you can gather that the physical (and mental) demands of tour golf are extreme.
So, what does this mean for the amateur or casual player? It means you get to decide what fitness level suits you! It’s not just about your score. Are you exhausted during the last few holes? Do you have aches and perhaps (unnecessary) pains? Which player are you when you finish? Are you the first player or the second player?
Fitness really does make a difference and the older you get the more it influences outcomes on the golf course. My superhero of golf fitness is Bernhard Langer. He’s 61 and still made the cut at the recent Masters. Make no mistake-he’s a regular visitor to the gym.
Recently, I played with three golfers in our Pacific Northwest seasonal wet conditions. It was easy to see two of them were really exhausted as we walked down the 18th fairway with their scores on the last four holes reflective of their fatigue. It doesn’t have to happen to you. A bit of preparation and training really works no matter your gender or age.
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