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Keep Clear of Golf's Hazards

Golfers often dwell on how far they can hit the ball. But while many people view golf as a leisure activity, more golfers are becoming fitness-minded. To do well on the links, a golfer needs flexibility, strength and cardiovascular fitness. These are the same elements important to any effective exercise program. Most Americans who golf, however, are more likely to plunk down $500 on clubs or set up a lesson with a club pro to lower their scores.

Stretch or stress

Flexibility is one of the most important elements in golf fitness. A good golf swing twists the body, requiring a full range of motion in the spine, hips, legs and shoulders. This twisting can put a lot of strain on the body, particularly your lower back.

The more flexible you are, the less chance of strain. By stretching your hamstrings, lower back and shoulders, you may avoid injury and hit the ball farther.

The longest hitters aren't necessarily the strongest, but they are the most flexible. Flexibility allows golfers to get more torque out of their swing.

Fatigue factor

If your game has ever fallen apart on the back nine, you can probably blame a lack of muscle tone or aerobic fitness. Both cause muscles to tire, making it impossible to keep proper form. Moderate strength and cardiovascular training can help keep your swing consistent.

You don't need to lift heavy weights to make strength improvements. Instead, stick with high repetitions -- three sets of 12, say -- with lighter weights. Focus on the core muscles of the abdomen and lower back. Muscles in the hips, shoulders, legs and chest also need toning. For cardiovascular training, work out on a stationary bike, treadmill or elliptical trainer for 15 to 20 minutes a day, three to four times a week.

The benefits

Even if you don't train for golf, golfing itself has physical benefits, especially if you walk the course and carry your clubs.

Before you start an exercise routine, however, talk with your doctor. If possible, also meet with a personal trainer specializing in golf.

Strokes of genius

Here are ideas to help prevent golfing injuries:

  • Warm up. Before you begin a round, warm up by practicing a dozen chip shots and some swings with your driver.

  • Stretch. After warming up, loosen your hamstrings. Stand with your legs straight but not locked at the knees. Bend forward at the waist, keeping your back straight (shoulder blades and lower back on the same plane). Bow as far as comfortable without bending your knees.

  • Check your swing. A few minutes with the club pro can correct poor mechanics that can cause injuries if you try to hit the ball too far.

  • Clear out your bag. Get rid of clutter to cut the weight you carry and the stress on your back.

  • Drink water. You can lose up to a quart of fluids in the four-plus hours it takes to play 18 holes.

  • Bend at the knee. You bend about 200 times in a round of golf to pick up things. Keep your back straight to avoid strain.