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Henni Zuel on exercising with her Olympic trainer
Henni Zuel and her strength and conditioning coach, Neil Lewis

We met Henni Zuel and her strength and conditioning coach, Neil Lewis, at the National Sports Centre, Bisham Abbey, England, during ‘Healthy May’.

Neil and Henni explained her fitness program and how she manages to work out whilst competing on the Ladies European Tour.

With a background in football, Neil now works full time for the English Institute of Sports, where he is currently training 40 to 50 athletes for the London 2012 Olympic Games in a number of disciplines from hockey to cycling to cricket.

Neil has trained Henni for four years and we will catch up with him again in August to discover how many medals his pupils won in total.

 foam rolling (orange), self massage, before and after golf.

Describe how your exercise program benefits you and your golf game.

I work a lot on glute strength (gluteus) for firing and protecting my back through the swing, on core, to support my posture and to protect my back and finally, shoulders, at the back. I also do a lot of stretching and mobilizing my body to keep everything flexible and strong.

Describe when and why you started exercising for golf.

I started exercising for golf in about 2008, that is when I started a golf specific program and that was because I had a few back issues and I really needed to focus on strengthening myself and having longevity in the golf game.

Describe how your pre-season exercise program is different to your in-season exercise program. For example, do you focus on different aspects of fitness? Are your goals different?

Yes… during pre-season we definitively do more weight lifting and it is a bit more intense and for in-season, it is more maintenance, keeping it going, taking over.

Neil added that the pre-season is from December to March/April. They consider early tournaments past of the pre-season, because the focus is later on in the year.

  stretching the quads

With respect to your pre-season program, please describe your exercise program (where possible, include the type of exercises you do, the frequency, dosage, duration of each exercise session etc).

Neil answered this question and he explained that the program normally involves 3 phases:

-warm-up: which is not only done before every training session, it is done before golf as well. This involves mobilization exercises, which is active and dynamic, different from stretching and the joints warm and then you do some activation exercises in low intensity. This is to get activation to wake up all the muscles you are going to need for your activity: that it is activation of your shoulders muscles, you glutes, trunk muscles, so they are ready for the golf.

- strength work: weight training

- cool-down or stretching, after a golf session

Strengthening the glutes (strength), my favourite exercise

With respect to your in-season program, please describe your exercise program (where possible, include the type of exercises you do, the frequency, dosage, duration of each exercise session etc).

It is a lot more band work than I can do in the hotel if there is not any gym. You still work your muscles a lot. This helps you to maintain the level of fitness and strength. I have a lot of different apparatus that I bring to the tournaments. 

Describe your warm-up program (include the type of exercises you do and how long your warm-up routine takes to perform).

The warm-up program always starts with foam rolling, full body, and tennis balls on my feet (for my glutes) and then I start with all my mobilization, hips, down dog (yoga). I do general rotational warm ups, basically warming up the hip area, the glutes, the back, for around 30 minutes.

If you haven’t already included this information, describe whether you use specific exercise tools or equipment when exercising (e.g. fit balls, weights, resistance bands etc).

Tools (see image): foam roller, resistance (elastic) bands, tennis balls (for massaging feet), the “magic stick” (that you roll in your neck), longer bands for shoulder activation.

Walk side to side, for the glutes

What is the most enjoyable thing about your exercise program?

Apart from working with Neil (laughs), I enjoy doing glutes exercises.

What is the least enjoyable thing about your exercise program?

Anything cardio vascular, I do not enjoy like the cross trainer, that I have to do for 30 minutes, 3-4 times a week.

How do you manage to maintain a fitness program when you are touring?

Neil is very good in providing me the tools and programming exercises that I am able to do in my room. So I do not need a gym and I am not worried if there is not one.  

What I do in my room on Monday, Tuesday  and Wednesday is glutes, core, shoulders exercises; and the rest of the days, stretching and mobilization.  

Which components of fitness (e.g. muscle strength, balance, muscle endurance, cardiovascular fitness, flexibility, power) do you think are most important for playing golf?

Flexibility, mobility and strength in the glutes, core, trunk and shoulders area.

The key is to work in order to be mobile and strong the right places, like for example, you do not need the core to be mobile, you just need it to be strong, your shoulders need to be stable and your back needs to be mobile.

Describe how important maintaining a healthy, balanced diet is for you and your golf game.

Yes, it is really important that regarding your food, basically you do not want too many highs and lows, you want to try and keep on a level.

You have to eat and drink at the right time. I have food every six holes, approximately. You need a strategy, and try to keep the right level of nutrients on your body, so you have to eat before, during and after you play. I have electrolyte tablets that I put on my bottle.

Shoulder stability (strength) with Neil

How do you manage to maintain a healthy diet when you are touring?

I occasionally bring my own food, my cereals, so I can make sure that if there is not the food that I need when playing a tournament, I could eat mine anywhere.

What tips would you give golfers who really dislike exercising or to those golfers who say that exercise is only for elite golfers?

I would say that it is very important to have a strength and conditioning coach or someone to give you a plan, because then with a plan comes directions and with directions that definitively brings enjoyment...If I was just coming to the gym, it would be really boring, because I would not know what I was doing, why I was doing, if you have a program made for you, and have a coach that you can see every few months, it is not boring, because the program changes and you do not do always the same exercises for the whole year.

Exercise is not only for elite golfers, it is for life in general. Everyone can benefit from exercise.

Neil explained to us that people might be scared when we speak about fitness program in golf, because some people would think that they would need to get ready like they were running a marathon, sweating in the gym, etc...But that is not what we are talking about. When we are doing golf training, you get your body prepared to play golf, and that is all, it is physical preparation of your body to play the sport you want to play. So we program exercises you need to play golf.

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