Feeling sidelined by rheumatoid arthritis? Get back your peak form with these tips from pro golfer Kristy McPherson, whose competitive spirit is the secret to beating her toughest opponent.
If you watched 30-year-old Kristy McPherson out on the links during the Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA) tour, you’d never suspect one of her pre-game prep secrets: a back and joint massage from her physical therapist. But after living with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) for nearly 20 years, Kristy—who’s ranked No. 8 in the U.S.—does whatever it takes to stay in the game.
“I know my body is not as good as the others out there, so I have to work extra hard to stay competitive,” she says. But don’t think a custom massage is Kristy’s only answer to tackling joint pain! Throughout her career, the Conway, SC, native has relied on some simple, yet effective, training tricks to keep her joints loose and body strong—ones that can help you stay active, too! Just be sure to clear any new exercises with your healthcare provider first.
Game buster: Tight muscles and limited range of motion
Kristy’s fix: Stretch with workout bands. You can deepen any stretch and increase your flexibility by using a rubber workout band or tubing (available in the sporting goods section of most stores). In fact, if you usually use a towel to help you stretch, try a band instead. A physical therapist or sports trainer can help you create a whole-body routine, but here’s a shoulder exercise to get you started: Stand up with your hands by your side. Hold the ends of the band and slowly raise your arms while pulling the band apart. When you reach the top of your head, come back down to the starting position. Do 10 reps. Then switch to an overhead starting position and do a second set of 10 reps: Hold the band above your head, stretch it out to the sides and slowly circle your arms behind you, squeezing together your shoulder blades. Then circle back to the overhead starting position.
Game buster: Weak arms and wrists
Kristy’s fix: Pump some iron. Literally! “Take a 6-iron golf club and hold it using your normal grip, with your left hand in front,” suggests Kristy. “Then rotate it 360 degrees.” Aim for three sets of 10 twirls, then switch and do three more sets with your right hand in front. No golf club nearby? You can get the same effect by twirling a cane or walking stick.
Game buster: No gym membership
Kristy’s fix: Although Kristy does tone her upper body with free weights, she also takes advantage of the low-tech (and free!) version: the humble push-up. To make it easier, try doing push-ups against a wall. Then as you get stronger, you can switch to the floor, doing them while on your knees.
For an upper body stretch, do a “doorframe” push-up: Stand in front of a doorway, feet shoulder-width apart and knees slightly bent. Bend your arms 90 degrees at the elbow and place your palms on the sides of the doorframe. Then lean forward until you feel the stretch in your chest and shoulders. Finish by pushing yourself back to the starting position.
Game buster: Weak abdominal muscles
Kristy’s fix: Get on the (stability) ball! “The stronger your core strength, which comes from your abdominals, the better your golf swing,” notes Kristy. She recommends doing stomach crunches by lying on the floor with your legs bent and your feet on a stability ball. You can also do bent-knee push-ups on the ball as well.
Game buster: Weak leg muscles
Kristy’s fix: Her “triple 2” treadmill routine: “I walk for half an hour on a treadmill starting at a 2% incline and push it up by 2% every two minutes until I work up to a 12% incline. Then I work my way back down. It’s easier on your knees and you still get a good workout.” No treadmill? You can work the same muscles by simply standing up from a chair and sitting back down (gradually work up to three sets of 15 reps).
Mind your game, not the pain, with Kristy’s take-charge tips:
Remember: Learning how to play with RA makes you smarter.
“I know I have to work harder than others, but sometimes I play better on the tougher days because I know when to play safe and which shots I can and can’t pull off,” she says. “Don’t use arthritis as an excuse for not being able to do something you love. Sure it’s tougher, but there’s almost nothing you can’t do with arthritis! I simply decide to play the best game possible given the restrictions of my disease.”
Focus on the next step—and nothing else.
Whatever activity you want to accomplish—whether it’s finishing nine holes of golf or finishing a half-hour walk—don’t think too far ahead. This philosophy is one of the keys to Kristy’s success: “If you’re in pain, focus on one shot at a time. It sharpens your concentration and helps you take control of each shot.” For the walking example, say you’re too stiff or tired to contemplate a 30-minute workout. Try setting a goal for only the first five or 10 minutes: “I just need to make it to the next block,” or, “I’m going to count for 20 steps.” And when you’ve done that, enjoy the feeling of keeping your promise, then pick your next five-minute goal!