Like any sport involving repetitive motions, golf can take a toll on muscles and joints. The lower back often takes the most abuse, both from repeated swings and from standing for long stretches of time, sometimes carrying a golf bag along the way. These low-impact Pilates exercises can help you loosen your lower back muscles before each game, as well as soothe them afterward when they hurt the most.
Cat and Cow Stretch
This is a great exercise for stretching out the lower back muscles, with no special equipment. Start with your hands and knees on an exercise mat. Place your palms flat on ht mat, directly underneath your shoulders, and your knees hip-width apart. Begin breathing deeply, and when you exhale, arch your back upward while dropping your head and tailbone a few inches toward the ground. This pose should resemble a stretching cat. Then inhale deeply as you raise your head and tailbone up while dropping your stomach down and arching your back toward the floor. This pose is meant to resemble a grazing cow. Each time you take another breath, switch poses, stretching as thoroughly as you can each time. Perform an entire set of ten stretches—five cats and five cows.
Double Leg Kick
This stretch may be a little difficult for beginners, but it's a great way to loosen the lower back muscles and allow more flexibility. Lie flat on your stomach on an exercise mat and turn your head to either side. Put your hands behind your back and interlock your thumbs together, then begin breathing deeply. Inhale as you lift your abs, slightly arching your back so that your navel comes off the mat. Your face, shoulders and pubic bone should be pressed firmly onto the mat to give you leverage for arching your back.
As you exhale slowly, tighten your thigh muscles and kick both of your legs backward in a series of three kicks. Your feet should come close to your buttocks and your rate of exhale should increase in three bursts along with your kicks. Inhale deeply again as you lower your legs back down to the mat, then continue inhaling as you raise your head, chest and shoulders off the mat while reaching as far back as you can with your clasped hands. (Imagine that your hands are being pulled straight back toward your feet.) At the end of the in-breath, exhale, returning to the starting position. Repeat this exercise up to four more times.
The knee fold is one of the most basic Pilates moves, often used as a warm-up as well as for relieving back pain and stress. For this move, lie flat on your back on an exercise mat. Bend your knees and plant the bottoms of your feet on the mat in front of you. Lay your arms to either side and turn your palms so they're flat on the mat. Begin breathing deeply, and on an inhale, use your abs to lift one leg off the ground until your knee is almost touching your chest. Make sure to use your abs, not your buttock or leg muscles, to lift the leg. As you exhale, use your abs again to slowly lower the leg until your foot touches the floor. Repeat this pattern up to 20 times, alternating legs each time.
This move may not be appropriate for golfers with serious back problems, but it's great for soothing minor discomfort. Start by lying flat on your back on an exercise mat with your arms at your sides, palms flat on the mat. Breathe deeply and, as you inhale, raise both legs up so that they're pointed at the ceiling. Exhale as you lift your legs over your head, resting your feet on the floor behind you. (The idea here is to stretch far enough that your legs become parallel with the floor while you stand on your shoulders, supporting yourself with your outstretched arms.) Hold this pose as you finish exhaling, and then breathe in slowly and deeply. On the next exhale, slowly bring your legs overhead and back down to the mat, using your abs to control the descent. Repeat this exercise up to four more times.
The side kick strengthens your thighs and abdominals while stretching your back. Lie on your side on an exercise mat. Place one leg on top of the other. Lay your bottom arm on the mat, bend it at the elbow and support your head with that hand. Lay the other hand flat on the mat in front of you. Breathe deeply, and on an inhale, move your top leg forward as far as you can in a kicking motion. Once you extend this leg as far forward as it will go, pulse your leg muscles once to kick just a bit farther. Exhale as you bring the leg back to start. On the next inhale, kick the leg backward as far as it will go without straining your lower back. Hold this pose through the end of the breath. Exhale as you bring the leg back to the starting position. Do ten repetitions, then switch sides.