If you're reading this, there are likely two things we have in common: a love for disc golf and – morose but true – an aging body that's waging a silent but steady war against our ability to continue playing this wonderful sport. Alongside these two commonalities we might add another: a desire to play better for longer.
Though there's no denying that one day we will play our last round, throw our last drive, and hear the echo of our final putt striking the chains, there's also plenty we can do to push that day as far into the future as possible. And it all starts with preparing our bodies for the rigors of our sport.
To learn more about what habits we should develop to keep us happy, healthy, and playing disc golf well into our golden years, we talked with Seth Munsey, the founder of Disc Golf Strong. Munsey is a strength and fitness coach currently working with some of the top professional disc golfers. With his help and insights, we've compiled several tips that can help disc golfers of all skill levels improve their bodies' capabilities and resistance to injury in the near term as well as prolong their careers.
The Key to Playing Disc Golf Better for Longer
The most obvious way to make sure we can play disc golf better for longer is avoiding injury. But this is easier said than done, and while the professionals make throwing a disc look smooth and easy, the movements involved in a throw are violent and taxing on our bodies over time.
It doesn't matter if you play most weekdays and then tournaments on the weekend or, like about a third of disc golfers, get a round in once a week or so. When we play disc golf, we're athletes, and we should treat ourselves as such if we want to prevent injuries and continue playing and improving.
Unfortunately, rather than actively working to prevent injuries, we far too often wait to respond to them, which frequently involves taking breaks (occasionally very long ones) from playing. So, what can we do now to prevent future injuries from halting our play and keeping us from doing what we love?
Stretching remains largely foreign to disc golf. It is not uncommon to watch a player get out of the car, walk up to hole one, throw a warm-up drive, practice a few putts, and proceed to begin their round with a full-power throw. Putting that sort of strain on your body without proper preparation is a sure path to eventual aches, pains, and impaired performance.
That's why one of the easiest and most effective ways we can prevent injuries is through dynamic stretching before our rounds, according to Munsey.
The word "dynamic" is important to pay attention to. When most people think of stretching, they think of static stretching, e.g., holding your arm across your chest or bending down to touch your toes for several seconds. The goal of such stretches is to elongate your muscles by holding your body in various positions for extended periods of time. However, while static stretching can be beneficial for many activities, dynamic stretching better prepares disc golfers for the athletic movements they perform throughout a round.
Dynamic stretching uses movement or the momentum of a body part to move muscles through their range of motion, and it's beneficial to disc golfers for several reasons. First, dynamic stretching can increase joint mobility in areas crucial to disc golf movements, like our shoulders, hips, and our mid to upper back. Second, dynamic stretching increases blood circulation to muscles involved in the disc golf throw. In turn, this increase in blood circulation enables you to engage those muscles throughout the round. In contrast, static stretches loosen and relax your muscles, decreasing the amount of power they can generate rather than engaging them and preparing them for athletic movements.
The increased joint mobility and targeted muscle engagement initiated by dynamic stretching can prevent injuries by decreasing compensation from other muscle groups. For example, without upper back mobility and hip engagement, you're likely to up the torque and stress to your lower back during your throw.
As Munsey pointed out, this type of compensation is often seen at the point in the throwing motion when the disc is extended behind a player: players may rotate with their lower back because they lack mid to upper back rotational mobility. This is an issue because whenever we produce excess rotational movement with the lower back, we can, over time, pinch and inflame the nerves which filter through the lumbar vertebrae to the muscles in our lower back and legs.
The Disc Golf Doctor (a credentialed orthopedic specialist) gives a visual example of why compensating with the lower back puts stress on the body in the clip below:
Although you might not notice such stress at first, limiting your range of motion in crucial parts of the body through lack of dynamic stretching can lead to chronic back pain over time.
Implementing dynamic stretching before and after your rounds takes only a few minutes, which is a small price to pay for potentially adding years of play to your game. See an example of how simple and quick these stretches can be in the clip below featuring Munsey:
That clip is just one part of a longer disc golf warm up video that contains a variety of dynamic stretches you can utilize before rounds, after rounds, and even during rounds to keep your muscles fresh and engaged while waiting to throw between holes.
In addition to dynamic stretching, we can increase the longevity of our disc golf careers through training. The thought of training for disc golf may seem silly, especially for us amateurs who only play casual rounds a few times a week if we’re lucky. But if you want a resilient body that can continue playing those casual rounds for as long as you want, a little training can go a long way toward helping you reach that goal.
And the thing is, we really mean it when we say "a little."
Munsey pointed out that "training like a warrior" isn't helpful for disc golfers. He emphasized that training shouldn't mean spending three hours at the gym, working yourself to exhaustion, and making yourself too sore to move the next day. Training means implementing purposeful exercises to strengthen the muscles and joints utilized in disc golf. While there are benefits to general training for your overall health, setting aside a couple minutes to perform disc golf specific exercises can reduce your risk of injury and increase your performance on the course.
"Start where you are, and do what you can," Munsey said.
See an example of how quick and simple such exercises can be in this clip from Disc Golf Strong:
In every sport, professional athletes implement training that is specific to the movements required of them. An NFL lineman, for example, trains his bench press and squat so he can push and move defenders. Similarly, disc golfers should implement training that is specific to the demands of our sport. Munsey says disc golfers should emphasize building core strength, hip stability, and shoulder mobility.
You can find other simple exercises to help you train in these areas in Disc Golf Strong's Disc Golf Mobility Jumpstart playlist.
If you aren’t sure which exercises you should focus on in your training, give a few of them a try. When it comes to exercise, the problem is often the solution, meaning that the exercises that are more difficult for you are likely the ones you need to work on training.
We strongly emphasize that this doesn't mean you should do anything that hurts, though. If any exercises cause you pain, wait to consult your physician before performing them.
Volume Control & Active Rest
As Munsey put it, “The best thing about disc golf is you can play every day, and the worst thing about disc golf is that you can play every day.”
Although we'd like to play as much disc golf as possible without consequences, most disc golf related injuries are a result of playing too much without taking time for active rest. It may sound counterintuitive, but one of the best ways we can play more disc golf is by playing less disc golf.
The example Munsey uses to show people the accepted value of volume control in sports is pitch count in baseball.
He pointed out that in baseball, whether it is Little League or the MLB, pitchers have a pitch count: a set number of pitches their coaches allow them to throw. The understanding is that by limiting the number of pitches thrown, the player can preserve their arm and continue throwing at a high level for a long time. If they were to throw buckets of baseballs at full speed every day, their careers would be short-lived and riddled with elbow and shoulder injuries.
The principal of a pitch count should also apply to disc golf, according to Munsey. The consistent wear and tear of throwing hundreds or even thousands of discs a week will catch up to you and could result in a career-ending injury. Unfortunately, there isn’t a universal pitch count that we can all adhere to.
Your pitch count will most likely look different than a top-level pro's or my own. If, for example, you experience pain after playing three rounds throughout the week, try to limit yourself to playing just one or two rounds a week. This will not only keep you from sustaining serious injuries, but it could also enhance your level of play when you are on the course. The aim of volume control is not to stop once you are experiencing pain, but to stop before the pain begins.
While volume control can be beneficial on its own, it is more effective when paired with active rest.
Active rest isn't just finding a comfortable recliner and doing nothing. It requires us to perform actions to aid our bodies in repairing themselves. In fact, it might be more helpful to think of active rest as active recovery, as it is often called. Some ways you can implement active rest in your game include taking a walk, properly hydrating, dynamic stretching, using a foam roller, practicing yoga, or icing your joints and muscles after rounds.
Each of these activities can increase your recovery time and help your muscles repair themselves between rounds and practice.
In addition to the tips mentioned above, getting new equipment, or even adjusting your current equipment could help you prevent chronic injuries and increase your longevity. Yet when it comes to preventing injuries, in most cases the way you use your equipment is more important than the equipment you use.
For example, purchasing a new bag with better padding might decrease your back pain throughout a round, but carrying your bag or picking it up improperly can cause back and shoulder damage over time, too.
It might not seem like much, but let’s say your bag is on the light side and weighs around 15 pounds/6.8 kilograms. If you play a par 54 course and shoot even, that means throughout the round you've picked up and set down your bag over 100 times. In doing so, your body has lifted over 1,500 pounds/680 kilograms during a single round. Over time, improper repetitive lifting can wear down your muscles and joints, which leads to pain and decreased mobility.
Considering this, it's very worthwhile to think about the best way to pick up and carry our bags. For bags, try squatting down and lifting with your legs instead of your back and not carrying a backpack on only one shoulder during your round. As for carts, we should avoid abrupt, single-arm yanks and shouldering them over obstacles.
In short, try to implement smart and energy conservative movements when using equipment on the course. Doing so will enable you to preserve energy throughout your round, decrease your risk of injury, and also make the equipment worth the money you've invested.
The purpose of the tips above is not to overwhelm you. You don't have to implement all of them into your life immediately to increase your disc golf longevity.
Our intent here was to provide you with a variety of options so that you can try them and see what works best for you and your disc golf goals. If you desire to play better for longer, the best thing you can do is to start somewhere. Taking a few minutes to stretch before rounds, ice after them, or to train a few times a week are all good jumping-off points.
If you are interested in more ways to prevent injuries and increase your disc golf fitness, consider subscribing to our newsletter. Munsey contributes an exclusive fitness tip to it once a month.