Can Conditioning Improve Sports Performance?

Dr. Westcott
You are well aware that professional football, basketball, baseball and hockey players spend a significant amount of time doing physical conditioning to enhance their sports performance. In fact, all professional athletic teams employ strength and conditioning coaches who work closely with the players in the weight training facility. Clearly, much of the performance improvement that has occurred in professional sports over the last 10-15 years is in large part due to strength trained athletes who are stronger, faster, and more injury resistant.

Of course, most Keeping Fit readers do not play professional sports. But, think about it. If strength training works for genetically gifted athletes who are already extremely fit and exceptionally strong, how much more physical and performance improvement could be realized by recreational athletes who begin a sensible strength training program. And stronger muscles are just one side of the coin. More stretchable muscles that increase joint flexibility represent the other key aspect of higher sports skill levels.

So what can a combination of strength and flexibility exercise do for you if your sport is golf? Based on the results of our most recent research study, we know that it can seriously increase your driving distance and enable you to play more with less fatigue. Most likely, proper physical conditioning produces similar positive results in other sports, such as tennis, softball, skiing, swimming, skating, racquetball, kayaking, volleyball, bicycling, etc.

For the record, this summer, eight golfers (six men and two women) with an average age of 67 years participated in a special conditioning program designed to increase overall body strength and to enhance joint flexibility in the hip and shoulder areas. They trained about 40 minutes a day, three days a week for eight weeks. Each session consisted of 15 strengthening exercises on Nautilus machines and six stretching exercises on StretchMate apparatus. Although this advanced equipment has certain advantages, you can perform similar exercises at home as you will note at the end of this column.

The results of this basic golf conditioning program were remarkable to say the least. In just two months these senior golfers increased their club head speed by more than seven percent, from 75.5 to 81.0 mph. Assuming that every mile per hour increase in club head speed equals 2.3 yards greater driving distance, this 5.5 mph faster swing represents a 13-yard increase in hitting distance.

However, playing four hours of quality golf on a regular basis requires a reasonably high level of physical fitness, as well as a skillful swinging action. In addition to increased club head speed the exercise program produced the following benefits, on average, for participants:

Component Before

Percent Fat 20.5% 18.7% 9%
Fat Weight 35.5 lbs. 32.5 lbs. 9%
Lean (Muscle) Weight 140.1 lbs. 143.9 lbs. 3%
Systolic Blood Pressure 130.4 mm Hg 123.9 mm Hg 5%
Diastolic Blood Pressure 75.0 mm Hg 72.5 mm Hg 3%
Shoulder Flexibility 171.5° 179.5° 5%
Hip Extension Flexibility 14.3° 27.6° 93%
Hip Flexion Flexibility 94.7° 101.6° 7%

To summarize, the senior golfers lost about three pounds of fat, added about four pounds of muscle, reduced their systolic blood pressure by over six points, and increased their overall joint flexibility by about nine degrees. All of the participants continued their strength and stretching exercises after the program. In their own words, they felt so much better that they wanted to maintain their functional fitness level by making regular exercise part of their lifestyle. So they not only increased their golf driving ability, they also improved their golf playing ability as a result of better fitness and more energy.

If you have access to Nautilus and StretchMate equipment, these are the exercises our golfers performed:

Strength Exercises Flexibility Exercises

Leg Extension Midsection Stretch
Leg Curl Low Back Stretch
Leg Press Front Thigh Stretch
Chest Cross Rear Thigh Stretch
Chest Press Hip Stretch
Pullover Shoulder Stretch
Lateral Raise
Biceps Curl
Triceps Extension
Low Back Extension
Abdominal Curl
Neck Flexion
Neck Extension
Rotary Torso
Wrist and Forearm

If you do not have access to this type of equipment, I will be pleased to send you information on similar strength and flexibility exercises that you can perform at home with a set of dumbbells. Either way, I am sure that you will experience positive results in both personal fitness and sports performance. I also believe that these same exercises will be beneficial for other recreational sports and activities. To receive the Golf Exercise Information Packet please send a large, self-addressed and stamped envelope to Wayne Westcott, South Shore YMCA, 79 Coddington Street, Quincy, MA 02169.

Wayne L. Westcott, Ph.D., is fitness research director at the South Shore YMCA in Quincy, MA., and author of several fitness books including the new releases, Building Strength and Stamina and Strength Training Past 50.

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Written by Wayne L. Westcott PhD

Explore Wellness in 2021