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Getting High to Play Better Golf

Getting high to play better golf

If you’re a committed golf athlete, like a high school or college player, or a high-level amateur or professional, then you should understand the importance of the body-mind connection when it comes to training and practicing for golf. One way to enhance your performance levels when you practice is to take advantage of neurochemical states produced by combinations of movement and breath training, known more specifically as a “persistence high” and flow state. 

According to David Reichlen, an anthropologist at the University of Southern California, a “persistence high” is triggered by 15-20 minutes of medium-intensity cardio training, like jogging, or cycling. An important thing to note here is that low-intensity exercise, like walking, won’t do it, and neither will high-intensity training, like sprinting. According to Reichlen, the reaction is triggered as part of a reward system which most likely evolved to help us sustain the energy and focus required to hunt for our food or run away from danger. Today, we get to take advantage of this evolutionary adaptation to enhance performance for all kinds of things, including golf. The reason for the high is a tripling in the production of endocannabinoids in your system - think getting high on cannabis, but produced by your own body. 

Running for 15-20 minutes for a persistence high
Running for 15-20 minutes for a persistence high

If you’re unfamiliar with the effects of cannabis, it can increase creativity, reduce fear and stress, and heighten the senses, all positive effects to enhance your golf practice experience. So one way to improve your practice sessions would be to go for a 15-20 minute jog before your session to trigger that state. But let’s not stop there. Let’s enhance it by combining your medium-intensity cardio session with a 20-minute focused breathing or meditation session. Why 20 minutes? For a couple of reasons. First, you’ll want to recover physically from the run before starting your golf session, and 20 minutes of focused breathing is the perfect amount of time to help you do that. But more importantly, we can use focused breathing, or meditation, to enhance that neurochemical reaction even further to help you trigger a deep state of mindfulness and an even more powerful performance state known as a flow state. In addition to the endocannabinoids, a flow state produces a cocktail of positive performance neurochemicals such as endorphins, dopamine, noradrenaline, and serotonin. When you’re in flow, not only will you be more mentally focused, but you unlock your best physical performance as well. Another reason for the 20-minute investment, and why not 5 minutes or 10 minutes, is that similar to the persistence high, various studies, including my own experiences, have shown that the 15-20 minute mark is when that mindfulness state kicks in and provides the enhanced performance state we’re looking for. 

So to recap, we start with 15-20 minutes of medium-intensity cardio training to trigger a “persistence high” and triple the endocannabinoid levels in our system. We then follow that up with 20 minutes of focused breathing, or meditation, to enhance the persistence high and drive it toward a deep state of mindfulness and flow, releasing an additional powerful neurochemical cocktail. Now that we’ve reached this ultimate performance state, this is when we want to leverage all that physical and mental positivity and start the golf practice session. 

Combining movement, breath, and golf
Combining movement, breath, and golf

So at this point, you might be thinking this all sounds great while asking yourself, first, how will this help my game, and second, how do I find a spot where I can do a 20-minute cardio session, a 20-minute meditation session, and follow that up with a golf practice session? Let’s start with that. There are a few different options. Personally, I’ll run and meditate at home, then either work with a golf training net in my backyard or take a quick 10-minute drive to the driving range (while focusing on my breathing to maintain my performance state). Another option I have when I’m at the indoor facilities of the academy where I teach is to train and meditate in the gym, and then use one of the simulators for my golf practice. This is also where I work with most of my clients since it gives us access to advanced teaching technologies that further enhance the learning experience. 

As for the question of how this will help you play better golf? I’ll keep it simple. The better you practice, the better you play. When you practice in an enhanced performance state, you’ll get more out of your sessions and hit more quality shots, translating into an improved level of performance and confidence when you get out on the golf course. There is also the option of using this formula before heading out to compete on the golf course, but finding the time and energy can be challenging for most of us, so I’ve developed other, more condensed, practices that I recommend as a pre-round preparation, which we’ll cover at another time. 

To be clear, I’m not assuming this is easy, but that’s kind of the point. If you’re looking for a quick fix to improve at golf, this isn’t it. But if you’re a serious golf athlete looking to take your game to the next level, then keep reading. 

Because I want to make sure you have all the information you need to get started, let’s go back to the focused breathing or meditation component. I get into many debates when discussing the topic of meditation. Meditation means different things to different people. As far as I’m concerned, it’s a powerful tool to help enhance physical and mental performance. But most importantly, at its core, meditation is focused breathing, and for now, that’s all you really need to know to get started. 

When teaching people how to breathe, I tend to start with a technique known as diaphragmatic breathing, which involves taking long deep breaths in and out of the nose, while focusing on a full expansion of the upper body to help maximize movement of the diaphragm*. This technique produces a simple breathing rhythm that allows for the physical and mental release required to trigger the desired performance state. 

Play better golf
Play better golf

An important part of this process is to expect the first few minutes of breathing to be slightly more difficult while you recover from the training session, but as long as you maintain the proper rhythm, you’ll feel your breathing get progressively easier. From my personal experiences, if you get to the point of triggering flow, it will feel like a “click”, like a switch is flicked on that shifts your mind to a different state. This doesn’t happen every time, it’s not a magic pill, but whether it happens or not, you will enhance your performance state no matter what.

The last piece of this process is how to make the most of this enhanced performance state with your golf practice. Let’s assume you’re on the driving range. You can use focused breathing as part of your pre-shot routine to help maintain that state and stay locked in for every shot. This can be as simple as taking one deep breath while you plan the shot you want to hit, or taking a short break every few shots to focus on your breathing. You can use the same approach in the short game area, on the putting green, or anywhere else you work on your game. Again, the goal is to enhance your practice experience, which will translate into more confidence and greater success when you get on the golf course. Over time, you can use breathing and develop some mental anchors to help you trigger this performance state on the golf course. That’ll be a topic for another article. 

Patrick Sebastien is a performance coach, movement specialist, and breath training expert, and obsessed with performance states and how they apply to play better golf.

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