STANDING THE TEST OF TIME
Jeremy Ellwood, now 52, gets the lowdown on how best to keep on golfing into old age from physiotherapist Suzanne Clark, author of new book
hen it comes to fitness, I should know better. I studied physiology and biomechanics, so I should know what to do physiologically to keep my swing working as well as possible. Should! That degree was half a lifetime ago, and I don’t know what came first – contentment or complacency. One way or another, I have neglected to do what’s needed to keep me golfing relatively pain-free, and it’s finally catching up.
I want to be able to swing more freely, then ache less the day after, but have clearly not been doing enough to make that happen. I’m not alone, though, which is what inspired physiotherapist Suzanne Clark to write Play Golf Forever: a Physiotherapist’s Guide to Golf Fitness and Health for the Over 50s, a sister title to her earlier Play Tennis Forever.
Suzanne has founded an organisation called Fitter Forever to advise over-50s sports lovers how to stay fit and healthy enough to cock a snook at Old Father Time. The books explain in layman’s terms how your body works as you play golf, and how you can help yourself by, among other things, strengthening key muscles to prevent injury.
Speaking about the original book, Suzanne says: “I noticed that more elderly, regular tennis players got injured quite frequently, and re-injured very frequently. They didn’t do any warm-ups and obviously weren’t getting appropriate treatment after getting injured, because they were getting re-injured straight away. I thought I’d print out some leaflets to help, but one thing led to another and I ended up writing a book!”
Suzanne soon realised the whole process could be equally beneficial in golf. The golf swing may not be aerobically demanding, but all the twisting places great stress on the lower back, in particular.
As Suzanne explains in the book, we are all fighting the effects of sarcopenia, in which skeletal muscle mass and strength begin to decline from the age of 30, almost imperceptibly at first, but then typically to the tune of 30 or 40 per cent by 70 years of age.
Spending a little time doing specific exercises can be hugely beneficial, but playing golf alone is, sadly, not enough, as Suzanne explains: “The big misconception is thinking, ‘Oh, playing golf is my exercise’. It’s about understanding how your muscles decline in strength naturally, and even though you are playing golf, you’re not doing specific strengthening exercises, so your muscles will still decline.”
My typical pre-round routine often involves a last-minute dash to the course, half a dozen putts (if I’m lucky), then, bang – my opening drive. You may get away with this in your youth, but muscle regression makes it significantly harder as you get older.
“When you’re lying in bed just before you get up, run through a couple of exercises where you mobilise your back and take your hips through a range of movements,” Suzanne advises. “When you’re in bed, your muscle tone is nice and relaxed – that’s the best time to do a little gentle movement of the joints for five minutes.
“Just going up and downstairs two at a time works all the muscles in your legs really well, too. When you think about it, you’re lifting your whole weight – that’s the resistance. You don’t have to go to the gym to do that. Similarly, every time you get out of a chair, don’t use your arms. If you just stand up using your legs, you’re lifting your whole body weight.”
The good news is that I could actually be doing things to help without taking any more time out of my day, as Suzanne explains on the following pages, and in the accompanying videos on our digital channels...
“I WANT TO BE ABLE TO SWING MORE FREELY, THEN ACHE LESS THE DAY AFTER”