Internationally renowned trainer shares her tips with you
Africa Alarcon shares some important tips that she has from years of working with golfers from elite, international levels to those that are newer to golf and looking to improve themselves.
In working with players from the national team, those that are preparing for their next season of competitive golf, to those that simply want to enjoy their next season of golf by playing better, I have come to develop a simple set of tips that you can use for yourself.
Have a plan and how to stick to it
Use this time to recover from that old injury
Add speed work to come back longer than ever
Use other sports to benefit your golf game
Mobility always pays off
Add meditation and breathing to improve your mental game
Swing both ways - bilateral movements to improve your coordination
Think consistency not perfection
1. Have a plan and how to stick to it
You’ve heard this before. Having a written plan helps with consistency and if improving your health and your golf game is a priority, let’s get started now.
Before an effective off-season plan can be developed, a clear and compelling vision is needed. Visions are optimistic and represent the ideal picture of the future. What do you want to accomplish next season; what are your goals? Remember to have specific numbers in your plan.
As an example: I want to add 15y to my driver, or I want to have a club head speed of 120mph, and I want to finish top 3 in my Country club’s ranking.
Then it’s important to set a baseline of where you are at the present time so that we can measure your progress in a couple of months. Know your numbers, your club head speed, your distances, and your ground reaction force. Tracking your progress is highly motivating to some people and having check points along the way creates accountability for you and your coach.
The vision is your destination, and the strategic plan is the road map to getting there. Remember, your strategic plan is only effective if it is implemented and committed to.
The most effective offseason plans are those that are simple and completed with a team approach (coach, trainer and physical therapist), and with accountability on your part.
2. Use this time to recover from that old injury
Nobody likes an old nagging injury. The ones you’ve ignored for so long until it became a chronic problem. The problem is that this often takes our mind off the game, it can shake our self confidence, and is often the main cause for a new injury elsewhere. I’ll give you an example, if you have chronic low back pain, the rotational movement along with the hip flexion in the golf posture can be very demanding, even on pain killers. Your brain will try to avoid pain at all costs, even if it means adjusting your technique.
This often results in making you sway your hips or lose posture at the top of the backswing . It is your brain’s way of giving you the range of motion needed for the golf swing and often this adjustment is made subconsciously or with minimal awareness on your part. You may not notice the strain it causes in your hips until is too late as pain starts building up. When you practice long enough with a painful swing, your brain will often “save and store” a dysfunctional and sloppy body movement that can be difficult to correct.
Instead, use the time off to have a physical therapist assess your function and work with you on a recovery plan. This time off should be used wisely to make you feel and move better so that next season you can come back stronger than ever.
3. Add speed work to come back longer than ever
Speed training can sometimes make your swing feel a little off sometimes. So, the off season is the best time to work on adding that new speed to your swing without compromising scoring. You have time to gradually implement the speed to your swing with indoor lessons and training on the driving range.
Now what kind of speed training?
You need to first understand WHERE you are losing speed and WHY. For example, is it the interaction between ground forces and your lower body? Is it a lack of grip strength – your ability to hold the club properly and securely? Or is it a kinematic sequence problem – meaning how you swing the club and how your body moves in sequence throughout the swing?
Seeing a professional to get tested is the best way to get the best results. I’ve found that with the older population, the best course of action is a mix of mobility/strength work and pressure shift drills. Junior golfers will benefit tremendously of sprinting, plyometrics and ballistic exercises that emphasize and improve the ability to develop and utilize ground force. Working with kettlebell swings is often a very beneficial and effective method.
Others will thrive with acceleration drills and upper body strength, focusing on grip, shoulder and scapular stability.
Simply choosing a plan because it looks good on paper or because you know someone who does it, may do more harm than good, so again, look for professional help.
4. Use other sports to benefit your golf game
Many sports can help you improve your game! Sports like tennis and baseball have a similar kinematic sequence to golf and can help improve your hand eye coordination, while the running helps you move faster or quicker.
Other benefits include giving your body a break from the rotational pattern of the golf swing, helping you heal from overuse injuries and avoid body compensation. Exploring other movement patterns and using different equipment like racquets and bats helps coordination and motor control. Team sports can also help you improve spatial awareness and reaction time. And of course, all the fun and social interaction will help with stress levels and hormonal regulation.
5. Mobility always pays off
How about focusing on your mobility for a while? I bet you are slacking here – many of us are! Research has found that if you sit for longer than 8 hours a day, the impact on your discs, fascia, and muscles can be so intense that you may develop spine injuries and muscle imbalances even if you workout for an hour daily. The result on your golf game is a lack of rotation and a diminished range of motion. A shorter swing is difficult to accelerate properly and can affect your distance.
Working on maintaining good mobility not only helps you swing better, but it helps you feel younger. Also, it’s not a difficult training program to stick to as it doesn’t strain your body and is not very demanding, but you definitely feel better afterwards, producing an instant gratification. Of course, there are other important benefits: No equipment is needed, short daily sessions can have the best impact, and you can do the exercises anywhere (from home or from a hotel room if you are traveling on the road).
6. Add meditation and breathing to improve your mental game
Your mental health has a direct impact on your physical health. Research has found that dopamine can be increased through meditation and breathing exercises. The result is improved concentration, memory, and activation of all learning systems. Another benefit of regular medication and breathing exercises is that endorphins are increased. Endorphins are a hormone that that body produces for things such as pain management, boosting happiness or mood, and regulating cortisol levels. Cortisol levels are linked to inflammation in joints and other body parts.
Breathing exercises are very effective in managing those stressful situations on the golf course. Focusing on your breathing takes your attention away from intrusive thoughts of self doubt and judgement which can negatively impact your performance.
7. Swing both ways - bilateral movements to improve your coordination
Have you ever seen photos or videos of some of the professional players swinging from the opposite side than they normally play from? Swinging from both sides is being recognized as a great way to improve your swing. Moving bilaterally can help your swing in two ways:
Better coordination, by improving your kinematic sequence and understanding of how and when you shift your weight; and
Avoiding compensations and muscle imbalances by improving your opposite side.
Adding bilateral swing drills to your training feels weird in the beginning, but in time will feel more natural, helping you swing with better technique and speed.
8. Think consistency not perfection
Legendary player Ben Hogan, generally regarded as the best ball striker in golf, once commented that “Golf is a game of misses, the one who misses best wins.” What that really means is that there is no such thing as perfection in golf and there never will be. Playing your best golf means becoming as consistent as you can.
The Cambridge University dictionary defines consistency as: the quality of always behaving or performing in a similar way, or of always happening in a similar way. In our golf context, it’s repeating the habits and actions towards achieving your goals. Once you realize the power of consistency as a player, there is a danger that often comes next. And that danger is falling into an all-or-nothing mindset – either you must do it all or don’t do it at all. The dangerous thinking is that you must practice and if you miss a session, you say to yourself that you may as well quit because you missed a session. But that is not realistic as it is not an “either/or” situation simply because you miss a session or two. Let’s not get into that frame of mind.
Remember, there is no such thing as perfection in golf. Instead, golf is about minimizing one’s mistakes. People have different motivations and a person’s motivation can be different everyday. Smalls steps towards your goal is still progress! Be reasonable and allow yourself to take a break and come back.
One extra tip — Having a support group, a coach, or somebody that helps you with accountability will increase your chances of feeling motivated and staying on course. Set goals, write them down, share it with somebody. Stick with it and by Spring next year, you will be surprised at your progress.
Have a great off season!! And remember we are here to help. Let’s connect and plan for the best offseason training for your needs!