Katherine Roberts: A Golf Fitness Pioneer
Incorporating Biomechanics, Yoga and Personal Coaching into Golf Performance Training
Katherine Roberts has always been one of my favorite people to watch on the Golf Channel even though she was there to remind me of a sad truth. Like many guys, I know I should be doing some kind of flexibility work, whether it’s yoga or dynamic stretching or any other variety of joint mobilization or range of motion drills. The problem is that when you reach a point when your body has become stiff as mine has at the young age of 35, it’s difficult to break out of the cycle of exercise that you’ve always followed. For me, starting in high school, going to the gym meant doing as much heavy barbell work (bench press, squats, deadlifts, overhead presses) as I could with the occasional ten minutes of cardio. As a young skinny kid all I cared about was trying to add some strength and size to my frame. Flexibility was not a priority and I had never heard of joint mobility.
Flexibility for Golf
When I started playing golf I realized that not being able to make a full shoulder turn would forever limit me since I couldn’t even complete the backswing (I still struggle with this: VIDEO OF MY LIMITED SHOULDER TURN). Later I realized that without being able to bend forward at the hip sockets, I wouldn’t be able to really use my legs to stabilize my lower body. After learning some more it became clear that I had very weak glutes and couldn’t extend my hips or rotate them as much as they needed to. Eventually it became clear that not only could I not turn my upper torso (shoulder turn), but that my shoulders couldn’t rotate, meaning there was a combination of rotater cuff weakness and just bad posture and poorly positioned shoulder blades(scapulae). Then the back pain started after rounds of golf and gradually it extended into the next two mornings after a round waking up with a lot of tightness. Throughout learning this I would see Katherine Roberts on television demonstrating a movement and I would say to myself “I really should be doing that” but I would go to the gym and do the same old bodybuilding and powerlifting inspired workout! I was stuck in a vicious cycle, because my training was actually exacerbating my physical limitations. The time I was spending to supposedly help my game was actually hurting it. At a certain point I realized that golf fitness is about changing workout priorities! If you want golf specific fitness you need to attack range of motion problems, muscle imbalances, and develop better movement patterns, and the typical weight training that I’ve always done is not going to get that for me. This is where Katherine Roberts’ latest book, Swing Flaws and Fitness Fixes comes in.
Swing Flaws and Fitness Fixes
Katherine’s second book was released in 2009 and it’s a collaboration with Hank Haney, who was at the time Tiger’s coach but not yet on TV working with Chuckles, Raymond, and Rush. The concept of the book is somewhat revolutionary. Instead of very generalized tips and workouts that can be overwhelming at times, the book is broken up into chapters that each address a specific swing flaw. The book begins covering her beliefs on why conditioning for golf is important. She makes the case that the body is the 15th club in your bag, and that a lot of golfers have been under the misconception that golf is very technical and so athletic skill isn’t that important. The reality is that the golf swing is a violent motion that requires a strong and supple body to withstand the forces generated. She then moves onto the anatomy of the swing, how to perform physical assessments, the importance of breathing, and some valuable stretching sequences for use as part of a warm up or in between swings during your round.
After this introductory section, we move on to the meat of the book, which is a refreshing alternative to most cookie cutter programs. We get to address individual swing ‘flaws’, which Katherine calls “a physiological breakdown in one or more of the various phases of the swing”. There is a chapter dedicated to:
Avoiding Paralysis by Analysis
What I like about this approach is that a player who has multiple swing flaws like myself can pick out just one to focus on, and work only on the drills in that chapter. There is such an overwhelming amount of information available to golfers about how to exercise that it’s easy to just turn away from it all and revert back to old habits, which in some people’s case is to not exercise at all and in my case is to do a lot of traditional heavy weight training, which ignores the fact that golf is a rotary sport and requires range of motion and body control, not brute pushing or pulling strength. In my opinion there are two possible explanations for this. For many people, they simply have not been exposed to the information Katherine offers. For a second group, there is the opposite problem. With the internet and the sheer number of golf books and DVDs that have been produced, a lot of mid handicap players looking to go to the next level are suffering from information overload which leads to both a feeling of overwhelm aka paralysis by analysis which perpetuates the cycle of not making the change to our routine that we know we should make.
Katherine closes the book with four chapters outlining her Flex-Fit Method, with chapters about back pain, core stability/strength, and balance, proprioception, vision and foot function. At almost 200 pages she touches on quite a few topics without getting too technical for the average golfer who may not be a golf biomechanics enthusiast as I am. I would say this book is ideal for anyone either just getting started with an interest in improving their physical capacity to play better golf or someone who has an interest in golf fitness but needs more focused programs to keep them on track. In short, Katherine’s book is making it easier for me to incorporate a truly golf specific fitness program into my daily routine, meaning habits are changing, which is what some would confuse for having more discipline.
Katherine Roberts: Personal Coach
Recently I had a chance to screen the new film The Back Nine, which is a story about a man who turns 40 and decides to try to take his 15 handicap game and improve it by any means necessary with the goal of playing professional golf. The subject of the movie, Jon Fitzgerald, takes a team approach to give him the best chance of improving at an accelerated rate. He works with some of the best names in the west:
Katherine shows her true gifts as a personal coach in this movie. The typical golfer may think of a personal coach as spouting off a bunch of new age nonsense. But the reality is that a good personal coach like Katherine can help mold your thinking to change your habits, which is what actually allows for improvement as an athlete and a person. The subject of the movie, Jon Fitzgerald, took a team approach to improving, and not only is Katherine heavily featured in this movie assessing Jon physically and helping him with his joint mobility, flexibility, balance, and strength, but she helps him to get into the right mental state in his life to handle the tremendous pressure he put on himself to try to achieve what many called an impossible goal.
An example of Katherine Roberts teaching a golf specific exercise
Katherine has a number of different sites which can be found by clicking through the links below:
I was just talking to Katherine the other day and she genuinely cares about her clients, whether they be professional athletes or 80 year old grandmothers. She strikes the perfect balance for most golfers who need to be able to learn from someone who understands the technical aspects of golf specific fitness but without getting bogged down in theory. When you see Katherine demonstrate an exercise you just want to drop what you’re doing and try it, and tens of thousands of people who have seen her on TV over the years or bought her books or DVDs or have studied under her have made improvements by doing just that. She is a true pioneer of golf fitness!