SARCOPENIA IN THE AGING GOLFER WILL INFLUENCE
DISTANCE AND PLAYING PERFORMANCE
Certified Golf Fitness Instructor
MS, Exercise Physiology
There’s a sound, physiological reason for the Senior tees. It’s called sarcopenia, although it’s a
sure bet that’s not the reason why the USGA developed the forward gold tee box.
Sarcopenia, which affects both men and women, can be defined
as the age-related loss of muscle mass and function. It usually
begins after the age of 30 and as much as 3% to 5% of muscle
mass can be lost per decade for inactive people.
That accounts for about 40% of people between the ages of 45
and 64, according to AARP, and 60% for people over 64. Playing
golf does not fulfill the “active status” requirement necessary to
combat this condition as you’ll soon read.
Loss of muscle mass is of consequence as it equates to loss of strength, mobility, power
production, and balance. Lower body muscles tend to have greater strength loss than those in
the upper body. Nevertheless, both will influence your quality of life and your golf game.
What’s extremely relevant is that most of the muscle atrophy is seen in the fast-twitch, type II
muscle fibers vs. the slow-twitch, type I. Of the two types, fast-twitch muscle fibers are
responsible for quick, explosive movements such as when sprinting or swinging a golf club.
Loss of these, more than likely, will result in a deterioration of performance such as loss of
distance due to a slower clubhead speed, which is a common complaint among aging golfers.
While inactivity plays a major role in the loss of muscle mass, several other factors play a part in
the development of sarcopenia such as age-related changes in the neuromuscular system
(brain-body connection), the rate of muscle protein synthesis, and a decrease in the
concentrations of some hormones.
The prevention and treatment for sarcopenia is exercise, especially resistance or strength
training exercise that places an overload on the muscles. As a matter of fact, resistance training
has been shown to positively influence all the factors associated with the development of
sarcopenia just mentioned.
Research indicates that a properly designed, progressive strength
training program enhances the brain-body connection by increasing
the firing rates of motor neurons, which are the units responsible for
sending signals between the brain and body. This improves muscle
fiber recruitment which leads to faster muscle contractions and
greater force production. That will help maintain or regain clubhead
speed and distance down the fairway.
Resistance training has also been shown to enhance protein
synthesis in as little as 2 weeks of supervised training, thereby
improving muscle regeneration and slowing the rate of muscle loss.
MRI cross-section of a male thigh
age 25 age 63
note difference between
What’s vital is that the design of the resistance training program is appropriate for the individual.
Factors that need to be considered include the current fitness level and any
musculoskeletal/health concerns the golfer may have. In that regard, a medical check-up is
always a wise idea before starting any type of exercise program.
A physical assessment conducted prior to start of the program will provide a snapshot of the
golfer in which the golf fitness instructor can use to determine exercise selection and design.
Functional golf-specific exercises should be included and progression of the program needs to
be done in a timely fashion so that the potential for injury is kept to a minimum.
Keep in mind that the golf fitness program must first always focus on correcting the anatomical
deficiencies identified in the assessment. Golf-specific strength and balance exercises can then
be introduced to improve playing performance while preventing and partially reversing the
impact of sarcopenia. Finally, speed exercises should be incorporated in order to further
enhance recruitment of the fast-twitch muscle fibers.
It’s clear to see why progression through all phases of the
golf fitness program is even more vital to the aging golfer.
No doubt, enhancing range of motion and flexibility, even cardio,
is crucial for golf, but don’t sell yourself short by ignoring the
strength and speed components. If you do, you’ll more than likely
find yourself hitting first from the fairway.
Sarcopenia is a fact of life, but can be easily treated. A progressive
program of resistance exercises done at least twice a week is all it
takes. If gym access is not available, resistance training can be
accomplished with the use of exercise tubing/bands or even the
individual’s body weight as resistance.
The gold tees make physiological sense as most aging golfers do nothing to prevent the
deterioration of their muscle mass and power production. Holding off the move up to the Senior
tees and/or hitting greens in regulation again can be achievable. Contact a qualified golf fitness
instructor and get into a productive golf fitness program.