Work On Your Game Now With These 5 Principles

May 13, 2020

Seth Munsey (back) helps Eagle McMahon prepare before a tournament. Courtesy photo

By J. Branden Garland, DC, CCSP and Seth Munsey, CSCS

We find ourselves in an unprecedented time. For many of us, this has been the longest stretch of time without disc golf in memory. We are used to playing with friends, taking part in regular league play, tournaments, and other forms of competitive disc golf. We depend on this not only for activity, but also as a social outlet.

Without disc golf, we all feel a gap in our lives. That said, there are things we can be doing to maximize our athletic potential on the course when things open up.

Here are five ways to keep your body and mind tournament-ready.

1. Give Your Body a Break

The great thing about disc golf is that you can play every day. The bad thing about disc golf is you can play every day.

As wonderfully accessible as disc golf is, the potential wear and tear on our bodies can lead to injuries and even more downtime. Being an athlete is just as much about recovery as it is about playing the game itself.

Old injuries have a tendency to linger throughout our lives, and it is important to address any weakness or overuse that may be related to injuries instead of guarding or compensating from it. While we are away from disc golf, we can take this time to address these issues. For example, a chronically sprained ankle would benefit from stability and balance work. Someone whose upper back is always tight and sore should start a mobility and foam rolling program to improve range of motion. We can heal and improve on ourselves, even with long-term issues.

Allowing ourselves to recover from playing disc golf does not always happen. Injuries do force us to slow down and take time to heal, but injuries that never have the proper rehabilitation will lead to weaknesses and vulnerabilities in our body. Use this time to address your old injuries and create a plan to improve a chronic problem.

2. Train for Resiliency to Lower Your Injury Risk

Looking back only about 30 years, most professional sports teams and organizations did not have a single strength and conditioning coach on staff, and many of the athletes did very little in the way of physical training and athletic preparation. Now, most professional sports teams invest millions each year in strength and conditioning staff, with fully-stocked training facilities and year-round athletic training programs. Many pro athletes employ their own personal strength coach in addition to what the team provides.

The reason professional sports teams invest this money is that they know how important it is to improving their athletes’ performance, lowering their risk of injury, and increasing their longevity in the sport. Science shows the positive impact that engaging in physical preparation has on an athlete’s body and performance.

Disc golfers are athletes, whether you’re a touring pro or compete against friends on league nights. Starting a physical training routine will help you in your quest to dominate on the course. It doesn’t have to be time-intensive, crushing, or complex. Just start where you are and do what you can. One-to-three times of training per week can lead to big results on the course.

3. Strength From the Center

A good place to start with training your body to be more resilient and powerful is from your center, or core. If your core muscles are strong, stable, and fire correctly as you move, the rest of your body is able to use its full strength and range of motion. Weakened core strength and stability, on the other hand, lead to increased risk of issues in your lower back, hips, shoulders, neck, and even out to your knees and elbows. Core strength is critical to your continued success and longevity as a disc golfer.

Improving your core, though, doesn’t need to be complicated. Pick a few core exercises and perform them at least three days per week. You can definitely do more, but let’s focus on the minimum effective dose. You will start seeing the benefits in a few weeks and you can increase the exercises as you improve your strength and stability. You will feel the results.

The key to safe and effective core training is to focus on exercises that provide stability and strength, without putting too much stress on the spine.  Sit-ups, crunches, and Russian twists were all exercises we did in the past, but science has found them to be risky when it comes to spine health. Our lower backs weren’t made to bend and rotate very far or very often, especially under load. Stick with exercises such as planks, side planks, dead bugs, loaded carries, and Pallof presses to maximize your core strength safely and effectively.

4. Sharpen Your Mental Game

The mental game affects the physical game and vice versa. At the highest levels of sport and human performance, most often the greatest separator between athletes is what takes place within the six inches between the ears. Improving your mental game will have a considerable impact on your performance. 

There are countless books, videos, podcasts, short tips, long articles, and more dedicated to improving your mental skills as an athlete. While they can provide you with great insights, mental re-frames, and actionable steps, the greatest barrier to many people actually building mental strength and resiliency is that they don’t take the time to practice and cultivate it.

Just as you need to practice the skills of driving, upshots, putting, and so on, you also need to set aside dedicated time to practice strengthening your mental game. It’s hard to recollect tips you heard once in a book or podcast when you are in the middle of a tournament, just went bogey-bogey, and need to try and calm yourself and re-focus to get back on track. Set aside time each week to practice your mental skills training. Practicing how to reset after a missed putt, or having a routine that brings you into the right mindset before a throw, can only improve your game. Bring a mental routine to your physical exercise and disc golf practice, and occasionally practice under pressure, to reduce your nerves when it counts.

5. The Power of Strong Breathing

Strong and powerful movement requires your breathing patterns and core muscle engagement to seamlessly connect. How you breathe will have a huge impact on both your performance and your resilience against injury. For example, exhaling while bracing your core during a lift is common practice to stabilize the lower back and prevent injury. This is why many exercise and martial arts practices teach breathing as part of their training. That same concept applies to disc golf.

Your diaphragm is a parachute-shaped muscle that separates your chest from your abdomen. Its primary function is to push and pull air in and out of your lungs. It also functions as a core-stabilizing muscle. Having a strong ability to breathe using your diaphragm will translate directly to your ability to engage your core and stabilize your spine during athletic movements like a disc golf throw. Your lower back requires stability during movement, and having your core muscles properly engaged while still being able to breathe freely is the goal. This limits excessive strain on the lower back, unlocks the full usage and range of motion of your hips and shoulders, and gives you the ability to access your full power potential.

An unfortunate reality is that most people are not breathing correctly. Prolonged sitting, high-stress home and work life, and limited movement variability are just a few of the factors leading to dysfunctional breathing patterns. These patterns can be retrained, though, which leads to noticeable improvements in most people.

It is said that if you can’t breathe in a position, you don’t own the position. Standing rigid and holding your breath while throwing or putting may lead to poor body mechanics and inconsistent results. Using proper diaphragmatic breathing as a reset, you can gain both physical and mental consistency on the course. If you have yet to explore breathing as an exercise, we recommend using various exercises to feel and train how to properly use your diaphragm and core during movement.

As fellow disc golfers, we know how ready you are to get back on the course. Taking this time to work on your mental and physical preparedness will carry over to your performance on the course and help you maximize your potential. Spend time focusing on recovering old and recent injuries, take the time to train and maintain your fitness, improve your core strength and stability, level up your mental game, and add breathing to your thinking and training. Addressing these five areas will help ensure that you return to disc golf as good as, if not better than, when you left. Use this time as an opportunity to improve yourself, become more resilient, and return to the course tournament-ready.

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