Belén García Franco is a physical therapist from Vigo, Spain, an expert in the sport of golf, and the current captain of the Galician Women’s Golf Team. She completed her Masters with honors in Manual Physiotherapy of the Locomotive Apparatus from the University of Alcalá de Henares, in Madrid. García played golf for over fifteen years until a bad hip injury stepped on her way. In 2017 she decided to put the physiotherapist gown on to work with other passionate athletes like her to improve their game off the course, and now she and her partner run their own clinic in Vigo.
Today, Golf Post has the opportunity to ask her some questions about the relationship between shooting under par and conducting a proper physical training. We are very happy to talk with you Belén, and we are ready to shed some light on the subject.
Full Interview with physical therapist Belén García.
Golf Post: People outside of the golf field often debate whether or not golf can be considered a sport. As a former high-level player, and now as a physical therapist, what do you think of that?
Belén García: I think that golf is undoubtedly a sport. I will say more, it requires physical and mental activity for at least 4-5 hours, which can be quite intense in addition to the technique being highly complicated. I certainly know that it demands of a general explosive movement of the whole body. Every swing is an explosive movement of the entire body.
As with many sports, the difference between amateur and professional is huge. The professional golfer must focus closely on the training of physical preparation, so they strive to achieve great athletic form. The higher the level of play, the more emphasis will be placed on this physical aspect.
Golf Post: What are the physical benefits of playing golf?
Belén García: The most positive characteristic about golf is that everyone can practice it at any age, even the elder ones, and that is why the physical benefits of golf are countless and very diverse. The joint mobility, stability, proprioception and precision are some of the physical qualities that golf provides. In addition to aerobic endurance, as it requires physical activation lasting several hours.
Golf Post: What is the most common injury among golfers?
Belén García: From my experience, the most common injury relates to the lower back, the lumbar. The torsion caused in the swing is very damaging to the intervertebral discs, since they are structures that suffer a lot with this movement and that will eventually be damaged. The younger golfers tend to hit the ball harder, so it is also more common to find injuries at their wrist and elbow joints, due to and excessive tightening of the grip or greater power in the shot.
Golf Post: Belén, you played great golf and represented your region in several occasions until you suffered a bad hip injury. Now you are playing some golf again, how was the coming back process?
Belén García: The injury just happened without giving me any heads-up, it was all of a sudden while I was playing a tournament with the Galician team in Asturias. I loved playing that tournament because I always had so much fun traveling with the team. The environment and the sport spirit was just the best. When you spend so much time practicing and playing around, your teammates also end up being friends, so being able to experience these events with them was very fun, and I was really upset that I could not do that anymore when the injured happened.
It scared me to think that I could never play golf again, but conducting the right training and taking measures was crucial to get me through it. Last year, when I started to play some golf again, I was still afraid to go through the same pain, or that it would happen again. Playing golf is a challenge itself, but for the first time, it was more alarming than appealing to me, but I knew my limits, and trusted the recovery. Sometimes, the hardest challenge in this cases is the mental factor. I was recovered and physically ready to tee up again, but it took some work until I convinced myself of so.
Golf Post: I assume that you work with all types of athletes, and you treat numerous injuries caused by overexertion. Is there any little secret to avoid those that are most likely to suffer in golf?
Belén García: Just like in any other sport, conducting a proper preventive training at the joint and muscular level is essential to largely avoid typical golf injuries in the short and long term. Many golfers tend to finish their routine with the last shot on hole 18, but I would insist in the importance of the post-round stretching exercises to release the muscular tension.
Golf Post: The dream come true of any passionate golfer is to turn pro and to live off of it. Do you think that the physical aspect makes the difference between accomplishing the goal and not doing so successfully?
Belén García: Without any doubt, it does make the difference. Nowadays, the physical training plays a crucial role in golf. Having a good physique makes the swing more consistent and more regular throughout the round, which minimizes errors. A strong body helps to have a strong mind as well.
Golf Post: Based on your extensive experience as a golfer and physiotherapist, how common is it for elite golfers to work with physios on a daily basis? At what level would you recommend starting with a physical trainer as part of their game training?
Belén García: I think that the role of physiotherapy in sport plays a fundamental role from a preventive point of view, and to accompany the right development of the swing technique. In the same way, knowing the technical and physical qualities of the athlete can determine the optimal frequency of treatment, although it is very common for every athlete to have their physiotherapist on hand throughout the competition calendar.
Physical training is recommended for all golfers regardless of their performance level, as the best way to prevent from bad habits or injuries, as well as to improve their scores. The same way the player invests the time in the driving range or the putting green to improve their game, they should also focus on the physical training (strength, mobility, flexibility, coordination…) in order to see solid results on the scorecard. I guess it depends on what the player wants to get out of golf.
Golf Post: Now that you educated us on the off the course training. Do you have any tips for when our readers tee up on the course?
Belén García: Not to stress over it, golf can result overwhelming and it takes time to make peace with it. Personally, golf and I have a love hate relationship, but there is something about it that keeps me coming back at it. It is such a special sport that contributes values and gives life to life. I do not like giving golf tips because then if it does not go the way it is supposed to, I feel terrible. To the people who is starting to get into golf, I would suggest to take a deep breathe before every shot and to bring a couple of more balls than they think are needed. Golf can be tricky, but the show must go on. And I definitely encourage every other person out there to break with the stereotype of golf as a boring sport for the elder, and try it out. They will be pleasantly surprised.
Golf Post: Firstly, we want to thank you Belén for your time. Your experience and professionalism in the field will provide our readers with a better knowledge on the topic. We very much appreciate the enthusiasm that you have shared with us today, and the hard work that you put on every day with your athletes to help them accomplish their goals. We wish you all the best, and we hope to speak again soon.
Interview conducted and edited by Elena Sinde Romero