How I Trained Cheryl Ladd in Golf Fitness

We all have our favorite angel. Gabriel and Michael seem to be on most people’s top five list of spiritual protectors. My list includes just one angel, and her name is Cheryl Ladd. How could anyone not feel spiritually safe having a blonde bombshell carrying a gun as your personal benefactor? Imagine, then, my surprise coupled with an anxiety attack when I got a call from the Angel herself asking if I could give her a golf fitness workout. Cheryl – yes, I assumed upfront that I could call her Cheryl – is an avid golfer and just happened to be staying in Golden to speak at a fundraiser for Actresses Who Still Look Fantastic at Sixty. It turned out that she had heard from Jack Nicholson that I was an expert on Golf Fitness, an event that made me proud, being that it was the first time Jack had ever talked about someone not named Jack Nicholson.

We met at Einstein Fitness, with me treating this as a special occasion – meaning I combed my hair. She told me that her swing was fluid but that her five-foot-four frame (really five-foot-two) limited her ball-distance. I replied that she had come to the right place, since, as a five-foot-eight middle-aged male, I could drive the ball beyond the 250 mark in the true sense of the word – not, mind you, Cheryl, in the male sense of always claiming an extra 40-50 yards.

In the functional training room, she demonstrated her swing, which was textbook good.

“I’ve had a lot of free lessons from male golf pros,” she offered as a reason for her sound mechanics.

“Of course you have,” I smiled, wondering if I, too, would fall enough under her spell so that I would walk away from our session not having made a penny.

I began with Cheryl as I do with all my golf clients – that is, identifying the seven key positions of a golf swing: 1) the Setup (how one addresses the ball in terms of stance and grip); 2) the Initial Takeaway (the first 18 inches of the backswing); 3) the Top of the Backswing (the end of the backswing and the start of the downswing); 4) the Initial Downswing (the start of the club moving to the ball); 5) the Impact (the instant the club hits the ball); 6) the Extension (the straightening of the right arm during the follow-through); 7) the Finish (the pose at the end of the golf swing).

What strikes one about interacting with Cheryl Ladd is her sunny disposition, which is odd for a Teutonic girl raised on the lugubrious plains of South Dakota, but explains how she could pull off being the TV wife of the irascible James Caan in the series Vegas. I mention this because she did not come off as a stuck-up diva when she said:

“I love looking pretty at The Finish.”

“Yes, and let’s not forget that a pretty finish usually indicates a nice, effective swing and an excellent ball-flight, whereas an ugly finish is nine times out of ten accompanied by an errant shot. But let’s start with the Setup. Believe it or not, Cheryl, this, to me, (duplicating the same stance and grip over and over again) is the hardest part, with the Initial Backswing being the second most difficult.”

“But, Jim, that could be mental,” she smiled before amping up the sunshine to add, “I mean, you’re such a physical specimen. That leaves only the mind, right?”

I could already hear my wise female friend saying, “So you did end up giving her the session for free? Figures!”

“Well, yes, that makes sense…So let ‘s describe the muscles involved in the Setup and the best exercises to strengthen and stretch those muscles.”

We spent the next hour going through all seven swing positions:

THE SETUP:

The key on the setup is maintaining correct posture (and that includes not dropping your head) and keeping the same slightly bent knees. A straight spine translates into good rotation. Imagine your spine, Cheryl, as an axle on your car. Letting go of the wheel would result in you driving off the road. In golf, a bent spine results in you driving the ball into the woods.

To achieve good posture, you need strong hamstrings and back muscles, and a flexible core.

Two supersets of these exercises:

—  Ab stretch on stability ball. 30s

—  Seated yoga lateral core stretch. 20s each side

—  Oblique and lat stretch holding club above head

—  Barbell Dead Lift. (I had to convince Cheryl that what seemed like a grunting muscle guy move is actually the single best exercise for both a strong back and hamstring. It is the primary exercise from which is derived Supermans and Back Extensions.) 15 reps

—  Leg Curls using stability ball. 15 reps

—  Supermans with emphasis on lifting the head all the way back. (Remember how you must address the ball without letting your head fall forward.)  15 reps

—  Reverse crunches. (Strong abs are another component in maintaining core stability.) 20 reps

THE INITIAL TAKEAWAY:

Tiger Woods knows golf, and he says that the Initial Takeaway is the most important part of the golf swing. Remember that Chaos Theory posits that a slight change in the initial conditions of a dynamic system will lead to a much different outcome, which, when applied to golf, means that a series of inconsistent Initial Takeaways eventuates in shots that are never the same twice – in short, you may as well pencil in a 133 on your scorecard.

To ensure that those first 18 inches of the backswing remain constant with repetition, you must maintain a triangle between your arms and the line connecting your shoulders – that is, refrain from using your arms to lift the club. Also do not rotate the hips. All you are doing is turning the left shoulder parallel to the ground in the direction toward your chin. The muscles doing most of the work are your transverse and oblique abs, followed by the lats and rhomboids, though the pecs contribute a little to keeping an isosceles triangle.

Two supersets of these exercises:

—  While in setup position, hold the spherical part of a small kettle bell and swing the weight left, then right (for the sake of muscle symmetry) a little beyond the initial 18 inches. 15 reps

—  Standing (while bending at waist) reverse dumbbell flies. 15 reps

—  Flies on ball (only head and shoulders should be on ball while keeping your hips as high as possible in a plank position). 15 reps

—  Seated (on ball) rotational pull using pulley with row attachment (hands will be vertical and 6 inches apart). 15 reps.

TOP OF BACKSWING

I told Cheryl, now glistening with sweat, that there is a simple mathematical formula for greater ball flight, and it is called Newton’s Second Law of Motion, or Force equals Mass times Acceleration. The Mass is the club-head, and the Acceleration is the accumulating speed of the club-head. Therefore you will achieve greater acceleration if, at the top of the backswing, your hands are far from the ball, which, in golf lingo, is called Width. That is why tall players have an advantage over shorter players, and why it is so important for shorter players – like you and me, Cheryl — to maximize their Width. But an important caveat to Width is that you keep your hip rotation to a minimum, that you maximize your shoulder turn to hip turn ratio. This creates a taut coil, or, to again use a physics term, collects a greater amount of Potential Energy that will be unleashed on the downswing.

The essential element to greater width is torso and shoulder flexibility; second is rear deltoid and rhomboid strength.

Two supersets of these exercises:

—  Bent-at-Waist Dumbbell Windmills (maintain a straight line through both arms, as hands stay at opposite ends of a pole, and rotate shoulders all the way to each side). 15 reps

—  Backswing stretch (place hands on vertical beam at the height of your target top swing position and turn shoulders all the way and hold stretch.) 60s

—  Execute sound backswings – from setup to the top – while squeezing an exercise ball between your knees so to discipline your hips not to rotate and to therefore achieve a tight coil. 12 swings

—  Execute sound backswings while keeping left foot mounted on small exercise ball. 12 swings

—  Hip Crossover with ball squeezed between legs. 15 each side

INITIAL DOWNSWING

Cheryl had fun with the last segment of stretching and handling the actual club, but now it was time to return to grunt mode. The downswing is initiated by the hip and leg muscles, followed by the torso (using lats and ab muscles) and then the shoulders. The point is to unleash that Potential Energy you worked so hard to amass with a sound backswing.

Two supersets of these exercises:

—  Planks w/rotating hips. 12 reps each side

—  Hip Lifts. 12 reps each side

—  Full Squats (air or weighted). 20 reps

—  Straight-arm Lat Pulls. 15 reps

—  Kneeling Pulley Trunk Rotations (turn right shoulder over left knee and then, switching positions, turn left shoulder over right knee). 12 reps each side

—  Complete downswing using rope attached to high pulley. 12 reps

IMPACT

Now, Cheryl, let’s hit the ball. Here is where you begin thrusting forward your hips while straightening out your arms. At impact, the objective is linearity, which is to say, your arms are extended in a straight line with the club-shaft. Your torso is tilted toward your right foot so to achieve that goal – all the while keeping your eyes locked on the ball. Yes, we finally get to focus on arm and wrist strength. But there is one constant throughout all seven stages of the golf swing, and that is an active back, glutes and legs. Hence why we shall include another squat/lunge move.

Two supersets of these exercises:

—  Swings club-head into beanbag (remember linearity and make sure your head is behind bag at impact). 15 reps

—  Dumbbell shoulder raises. 15 reps

—  Overhead pulley triceps extension. 15 reps

—  Wrist curls (using barbell). 15 reps

—  Front Lunge (holding club above head). 15 reps

EXTENSION

Cheryl, if there is ever a time when you know you have hit a good shot before even seeing the flight of the ball, it is at the Extension. The ideal Extension has you pointing the club at the target with your eyes still directed at the point of impact – and thus your brain is already preparing for a pretty finish, or The Pose. Your legs are shifting forward (activating the abductor and adductor muscles in your thighs). Now your calves are at last being put to good use.

—  Side Lunges (for the abductors and adductors). 12 reps each leg

—  Russian Twists (keep arms straight in front during this modification of supine bicycles). 20 reps

—  Vertical Jumps onto elevated platform. 12 jumps

FINISH

Okay, Cheryl, you are always pretty, but I know that you love to look even prettier at the Finish. You have hit a great shot that has been the result of a sound swing, and so why not strike a pose for posterity. A pretty finish involves standing tall and maintaining perfect balance. Your hips are thrust forward toward the target, with your right toe planted on the ground. Your club-shaft is on the same line as it was at the Top of the Backswing. Cheryl, even Abe Vigoda would look pretty in that position.

Two supersets of these exercises:

—  Hip Raises with heels on stability ball. 15 reps

—  Shoulder stretches (holding club with both hands and bringing it over and behind your head). 12 reps

—  Torso and hip stretch (get in lunge position and turn shoulders over front knee). 30s each side

—  Swing club to finish while resting right foot on exercise ball. 12 swings

We finished with Cheryl executing full swings as if she were on the course. She looked a little tired from the workout, but, yes, she looked pretty at the Finish.

She did pay me for an hour-long session, only the above workout, with all the instruction, lasted for two hours.

“So,” said a wise female friend, “in a way she did get a free session.”

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How I Taught Ben Affleck and Matt Damon About Antioxidants

It is a well kept Hollywood secret that it was me, James Johnson, mythical trainer to the stars, who gave Ben Affleck and Matt Damon the idea for the most memorable line in their Academy Award-winning movie, Good Will Hunting. The boys had hit a creative impasse on the script because, first, Ben, and then Matt, began wondering if they were going to be felled by prostate cancer. At that point, I just happened to be paying a visit to help them shape the Will Hunting character, which was based on my own youthful self-education, and also to collect the twenty bucks owed to me by Matt, when I proposed that the two young men begin eating more food enriched with antioxidants.

“Anti-what?” bellowed a disheveled Ben.

“Antioxidants,” I said in the clear voice of one who is about to talk science with two hung-over liberal arts majors.

“Okay,” said Matt, in an effort to put to use his study of English at Harvard, “if the ‘anti’ is part of the word, then it stands to reason that antioxidants are against oxidants…”

“…And so oxidants must be bad!” chimed in Ben, who jumped to his feet and high-fived his writing/drinking partner. “Matt, brother, we need to do our next script on antioxidants.”

“Only,” I cautioned, “if the majority of movie-goers suddenly become cell biologists who see organic cell disintegration as an entertaining three-act film.”

What I thought had been a throwaway line meant to lighten up their dark mood instead triggered a brainstorming session about how to make such a box office disaster. It was obvious that the protagonist would be an antioxidant and the antagonist an oxidant, better known as a free radical, and that the plot would center around the defense of a prostate gland. This epic thriller would be not unlike The Terminator wherein Kyle Reese is the antioxidant defending Sarah Connor, a.k.a the prostate gland, against the marauding free radical in the form of an unsmiling Arnold Schwarzenegger. Then the boys realized that this movie could not be written from personal experience – i.e., from a lazy point of view – and that it would demand actual research.

“Yeah,” moaned Ben while eating from a bag of Fritos, a semi-edible substance devoid of antioxidants, “I guess we should first know what the hell a free radical is?”

I told them that a free radical is a molecule with a lone electron within an orbital, and that an orbital is an area on a molecule that houses electrons, and that an orbital is only stable when it has two electrons called paired electrons. What is most dangerous about the free radical is that it has the will and overbearing personality to steal an electron from a stable molecule, whose stability is nevertheless vulnerable to outside attack. Take for example a Hollywood couple. Yes, the two of them are paired within their tabloid orbital, but, c’mon, we all know that it will break up once another flashy free radical celebrity engages one member of the couple. This leaves the ousted actor/actress free to disrupt a different famous twosome, and thus begins a chain reaction of destroyed monogamous relationships. In the body, free radicals will attack stable, essential molecules such as fats (cell membranes), DNA (the code that makes proteins), and proteins (both the enzymes that facilitate biochemical reactions and the structural proteins, like collagen, that support cartilage, skin and bone).

This mini-chemistry lesson set Matt to pacing the frayed carpet before stopping in front of a mirror to check out his abs, since, in the budding script, Will Hunting has great muscle tone. Then he said:

“Okay, so how do these heroes, the antioxidants, ride to the rescue and defeat these malevolent beasts, these free radicals?”

“Easy, my soon-to-be famous-and-thus-to-become-part-of-his-own-daisychain-of-broken-and-new-celebrity-romances friend. Antioxidants have the ability to lose an electron and then donate it to, and therefore stabilize, the free radical, and so put a merciful end to the destructive chain reaction. Yet, in the process, the antioxidant does not itself become a free radical because it has a special atomic arrangement that allows it to remain stable after giving up an electron. Vitamin C, or Ascorbic Acid, is an excellent antioxidant, as it easily sheds two electrons and afterward remains a viable molecule called Dehydroascorbic Acid. Vitamin C specializes in combating oxidants from pollution and cigarette smoke.“

“And how do we continue our Hollywood couple analogy using this new character development of the antioxidant?” said Ben, now lying on the tattered couch and exhaling a stream of cigarette smoke so thick that a Special Forces unit of Vitamin C would have been needed to quell the resulting swarm of free radicals.

“We don’t, Ben, since a free radical is a molecule with an unpaired electron, not the actual electron, and I just painted you an image of romantic celebrities as both free radicals AND lone electrons. The analogy is a flawed piece of pseudo-science… Let me get back to the real science. In fact, let’s go full circle to your concern about prostate cancer. Cancer is when cells that are not supposed to divide begin dividing like vermin because something has damaged their DNA. The genetic code regulates cell division.  Free radicals can be one cause of mutated DNA, especially in the prostate gland, whose location in the body, let’s face it, is not exactly getting bombarded by UV light, another cause of cancer. So, in sum, boys, you had best ingest some specialized antioxidants into your bodies that will patrol your reproductive region if you want to enjoy the sex life of a Hollywood star.”

Matt and Ben moved toward me with the speed of the Terminator T-1000 and damn near knocked me over to ask what antioxidants should they be consuming in order protect their – um — equipment. I answered that phenolic phytochemicals – phytochemicals being those compounds derived from plants – such as quercetin, epicatechin, and procyanidin B2 are known to be effective antioxidants in the prevention of prostate cancer.

“Where do we get those unpronounceable antioxidants?” said Ben

“Apples.”

“Apples?”

“You got it, my slovenly, if not malodorous, friend. An apple a day will help maintain a healthy prostate and maybe help you guys refocus on your script.”

Ben and Matt looked at one another with the guilty eyes of anyone not named George Washington who has chopped down a cherry tree, whereupon Matt, perhaps summoning his inner-first-President, said:

“Well, Jim, the fact is we’re stuck at a key part of the script. We want Will to speak some cool line when he shows up this stuck-up Harvard weasel, you know, a classic in-your-face moment…and, well…”

Meanwhile Ben’s attention drifted away from the conversation toward the stained refrigerator, and he said:

“But, Matt, we have no apples.”

Matt shook his head at me, as if to bemoan the difficulty of trying to write a definitive masterpiece with such a partner and in frat house-like conditions. I offered him a hearty grin while pulling from my backpack a grocery bag. I threw the contents, ten fresh pieces of antioxidant-enriched fruit, on the kitchen table, and boomed:

“How ‘bout them apples!”

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How I Trained Madonna

I was loitering in front of my trainer picture in Colorado, wondering why it was I looked nothing like John Cena, when I heard a commotion at the front desk. I looked to see a group of maybe ten people whose outlandish appearance caused the word “entourage” to flit through my mind, though the only entourages I knew of to plague the Foothills were Gold Rush Pioneer re-enactment posses.  Then I heard a woman, using a horrible imitation British accent, say: “I need a trainer who is not impressed with me, if such a person even exists.” Yep, it was Madonna, all right, accompanied by her minions.

I ambled to meet the challenge.

“Hi, Madonna,” I said, holding out my hands like a Jersey boy. “My name is James Johnson. Not only have I never been impressed by you, but I have often been DE-pressed by you. In fact, your Blond Ambition Tour caused me to stare straight into the abyss until I was rescued by Billy Idol, who just happened to be walking by and asked if I wanted to hang out with him at a Star Trek convention.”

Madonna raised her chin and surveyed me from head to toe.

“You don’t look like much,” she said, as if she were the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court pronouncing a verdict on the legality of a tariff on Sony TVs.  “And where, pray tell, is your shiny black pony-tail?”

I noticed that all the guys in her entourage sported the aforementioned shimmering hair ropes, a few of which looked so embossed as to preclude ever returning to a natural flowing state.

“I don’t need a pony-tail, nor an earring, nor a wrap-around bicep tattoo to train you, Madonna. All I need to train you is a mind that knows that when a pop star decides to go Country and Western in her Drowned Out Tour, she should revert to the original script. Plus I was training people when you were a straight-A rebel at Rochester Adams High School in the frozen wasteland the poets call Michigan.”

Madonna stood before me and rubbed her abdomen.

“Punch me in the stomach,” she said. “I have abs of steel.”

“Yeah, I can see that. No need to test your theory.”

“What I want, James, is to work these abs and to still keep these arms of mine toned. Notice my arms are better toned than that Angela Bassett girl.”

“Okay, how about we do an all-plank workout.”

Madonna smiled the smile of a superior being condescending to be interested in the thoughts and words of an unemployed Employment Expert. “Now how can the whole body be worked in the plank position?”

I bowed and took Madonna’s proffered hand, and said to her: “Give me an hour of your time and I shall put you through an all-plank regimen.”

We went to a space with a mat and there she did three supersets of:

–  Plank while raising alternate legs – heels to ceiling

–  Mountain climbers

–  Push-ups, lifting alternate knees to stomach during each rep

–  Plank with dumbbell sweep floor to ceiling

–  Elbow crawls – feet on slides

I had to hand it to the lady. She performed every rep with unfaltering diligence – and not a trace of humor. Next we – or she – did three supersets of:

–  Side plank pulley row

–  Side plank pulley chest press

–  Side plank dumbbell shoulder press

She sprung to her feet after the last set, and asked if I should reconsider my growing a shiny black pony-tail. No, I laughed, but I can continue the workout:

–  Toe-raises while planked on the Smith machine

–  Smith machine body row

–  Bosu triceps kickback (dumbbells)

–  Bosu shoulder raise (dumbbells)

–  Bosu squat thrusts

I thought the squat thrusts would weaken her resolve in trying to force me to admit that she was indeed impressive… and that maybe she actually did do a decent yeoman’s job in the role of Evita. But the lady, well, was starting to impress me.

We finished with some TRX exercises:

–  Jack knife

–  Feet side to side

–  Push up

–  Row

–  Side hip raise

Madonna was drenched in sweat while standing defiant, saying: “Now punch me in the stomach.”

“Madonna, I think you already punched yourself in the stomach with that workout… and, yes, you were good in Evita.”

(Check out my website: http://www.authorjamesfjohnson.com)

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