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How does strength training REALLY help your game?

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So much (perhaps far too much) has been said about gains in strength and power leading to longer drives and distance off the tee. Outlandish claims such as “add 30 yards to your tee shots by doing just three minutes of exercise per day” are all too common. Not only are they misleading (lies) and unrealistic (impossible), they are missing out on the key relationship between increased strength and scoring. Hint: It’s not how much farther you hit it with driver.

It is a given that increased strength and power will lead to more club head speed, but how does that affect your scoring exactly? A recent analysis by the powerful golf statistics software gurus ShotsToHole.com tells golfers that if they hit the ball 10 yards farther of the tee they will save on average between 0.7 and 1.1 shots per round.

Screen Shot 2014-03-20 at 1.25.57 pm

While this is very useful, I am proposing that the main benefit from increasing our strength levels is NOT increasing our distance off the tee. I am suggesting that getting stronger will allow us to hit the ball closer to the hole, which will yield a greater benefit to our score than a few extra yards with the driver. Actually it’s about three times more beneficial in some cases!

The stats tell us that with increased strength levels, we can dramatically improve our proximity to the hole (how close we hit it) with approach shots. We essentially become more consistent, controlled and accurate while hitting less club into the green. More on that later.

Applied Strength

But just chucking weights around in the gym in a random fashion and expecting it to transfer to the golf swing probably will not get you the increased control you are after. Yes, increased strength will yield increased club head speed, which in turn means higher ball speed and distance. This, however, is only the case provided that the efficiency of the biomechanics and kinematic chain within the swing are not compromised. Your swing action should actually be improved by your gym work, if it’s an effectively designed program that is.

A term I like to use is applied strength, in the case of a golfer maintaining spine angle/position throughout the swing. The two photos below demonstrate this quite well. The idea is for the spine angle and pelvis position at impact to closely resemble the address position. In the example below, I will admit that there is some loss of spine position and an anterior move of the pelvis toward the golf ball, but I think you will agree that it’s still pretty solid.

Address

cam set up

 Impact

cam impact

So if golfers get stronger in the correct way, then they can apply more club head speed in a more controlled manner. They shouldn’t have to swing out of their shoes to generate high ball speed. This means maintaining posture and shape better into impact, which in turn leads to more consistent ball striking and accuracy.

More Control

More club head speed means golfers can afford to take one less club for their approach shots (4-to-5 mph is roughly equivalent to the difference of one club). If golfers can take one less club and still make a compact and controlled swing, then they are more likely to hit the ball closer to the hole.

Less Side Bend

By hitting say, an 8 iron instead of a 7 iron, golfers add more loft to the club. Adding more loft reduces the amount of side bend (hooks and slices), which means hitting straighter approach shots that can dramatically reduce dispersion.

Steeper Landing Angle

Taking one less club and adding loft should also make the angle of descent of a golfer’s shots steeper. This means golfers can stop the ball on the green quicker from farther away. A steeper landing angle is also helped by the increased club head speed and the creation of more spin, leading to a higher-flying shots that will again help golfers stop their ball closer to the hole. A steep landing angle and “towering iron shots” have been assets of many of the truly great players over the years.

If you couple hitting less club with more speed and add increased distance off the tee, then the likelihood is that golfers can afford to hit two less clubs into the green. Take those benefits we just mentioned and double them!

Here is what the numbers say about how hitting the ball closer affects your score. The source of the numbers is ShotsToHole.com, an Australian golf statistics system that has been popular with club golfers who are serious about improving their golf.

Using ShotsToHole.com’s “What If” Analysis Tool, predictions can be made based on improved performance in the game. In this case, approach shots were analyzed from 85-to-270 yards from the hole.

Feet Closer to Hole

EPI* Improvement

Shots Per Round Saved

Av. Score 71-73

10ft

2.2%

2.2

Av. Score 80-84

10ft

2.2%

1.5

Av. Score 90-99

10ft

2.2%

0.9

* Error Percentage Index

So you can clearly see that hitting the ball closer to the hole means that golfers are saving shots. But why does it look like the better players benefit so much more from the increased club head speed and hitting the ball 10-feet closer?

It comes down to 2 things.

  1. Better players are more skilled and have the ability to capitalize on the fact they are hitting the ball closer.
  2. The 10-foot improvement also means that better players are hitting their ball into their scoring ranges, turning narrowly missed greens into greens hit and three-putt territory into birdie chances.

Higher-handicap players, however, with a 10-foot improvement in their approach shots are still missing greens or leaving themselves very long birdie putts. Even with a 10-foot dispersion improvement, golfers who shoot 90-to-99 average almost 70 feet away from the hole from 130-to-150 yards.

So for the higher handicap player, the increased speed is reducing their dispersion as expected, but it’s not making a huge amount of difference to their scores. In that case, how can golfers who shoot 90-to-99 justify working on developing increased strength in order to improve their golf? In my opinion, players in this bracket should see strength training as preparation for when they have the ability to benefit from the increased club head speed. Start working on becoming stronger, seek out good swing mechanics advice and put as much time as you can into you short game.

Effective and well-planned strength training has a host of other benefits which are likely to have an indirect improvement on your golf and definite benefit for your quality of life in general:

  • Improved muscle strength and tone
  • Weight management
  • Greater stamina
  • Prevention or control of chronic conditions
  • Pain management
  • Improved posture
  • Decreased risk of injury
  • Increased bone density and strength and reduced risk of osteoporosis
  • Improved sleep
  • Increased self-esteem

So how can you ensure you are doing the right stuff in the gym to get solid strength transference to your golf game and tick off all the benefits in the list above? I will be delving deeper into this subject in my next article, and revealing some of my own methods for highly effective golf specific strength programs.

If you can’t wait until then, you can seek out a trained professional who understands both the golf swing and strength and conditioning to design you an effective training program. Such programs are available at www.golffitapp.com

You should also take a look at what NOT to do in the fantastic article by Nick Buchan, The 6 Biggest Myths in Golf Fitness.

In discussing these concepts, it is assumed that the player is hitting the ball properly with centered strike, their launch conditions (a collective term for all of the clubhead and ball flight data) are good. It is also assumed that by increasing club head speed the player’s launch conditions are maintained or improved from the lower speed. More simply put, their technique has not become worse due to the change to their body.

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Nick Randall is a Strength and Conditioning Coach, Presenter, Rehab Expert and Massage Therapist contracted by PGA Tour Players. Nick is also a GravityFit Brand Ambassador. He is working with them to help spread their innovative message throughout the golf world and into other sports.

14 Comments

14 Comments

  1. W

    May 5, 2014 at 1:46 pm

    Great article. My question is does 3-4 hours per week in the gym or on the putting green prove most beneficial to your golf game.

    • Nick Randall

      May 6, 2014 at 2:38 am

      Really good question!

      It would depend on how good your putting is and how athletic you are. The more time devoted to the weaker area will yield more drastic results.

      If you only have 4 hours then as a general rule of thumb, split it between gym and short game – but make both really high quality!

  2. dave

    Apr 30, 2014 at 9:49 pm

    Well said Nick. I too agree with you article. That is the true beauty of getting stronger is that one does not have to swing as hard and they can take on club less. This will reduce fatigue overall which will allow more opportunities for practice and play.

    • Nick Randall

      May 3, 2014 at 5:47 am

      Hi Dave,

      I’m glad you agree with what I have proposed in the article, it’s a nice feeling be able to hit 8 instead of 7!

      I’m not sure that swinging under max capacity will affect fatigue levels all that much though. What it will do is put less overall strain on the body, thereby reducing injury risk and ensuring higher quality practice for a longer period of time. Less to do with metabolic fatigue, more to do with delaying the onset of stiffness and pain in areas of the body that deal with a lot of load during the swing.

      Nice topic for another article maybe??

  3. Chubby

    Apr 30, 2014 at 11:47 am

    You just need to know what to do. Keep it golf related. Planks are great. Work all 3 sections of your core. Legs, Glutes, and hips are important as well. I like those rotary balls you spin for hands, wrists and arms.

    • Nick Randall

      May 3, 2014 at 5:40 am

      Sound advice Chubby!

      Look out for my next article where I will be giving away some my programming secrets!

  4. paul

    Apr 30, 2014 at 9:26 am

    Thanks to these types of articles being more common now, I am booked to see a golf fit instructor next week ???? I sprained both wrists at Christmas and have lost 10-15% of my distance, I need it back. Golf is more fun when I am the long hitter in the group.

    • Nick Randall

      May 3, 2014 at 5:39 am

      Hi Paul,

      Great news, hopefully you can bounce back from that injury. Sounds nasty – snow boarding by any chance??

      You are dead right, golf is way more fun when you are strong and long!

  5. Rep

    Apr 30, 2014 at 3:18 am

    Stamina. That’s the biggest key.

  6. Nick Buchan

    Apr 29, 2014 at 4:47 pm

    Awesome awesome article mate! So good to see proper research and S&C advice put into an article like this! And I totally agree, the benefits of increased fine motor control, through increased strength and each swing being relatively less stressful, on accuracy, greens and fairways hit is massively underestimated.

    • Nick Randall

      May 3, 2014 at 5:37 am

      Thanks Nick, was a lot of fun writing it! Credit has to go to Stuart Leong from shotstohole.com. They provide such valuable information for not only players but also their supporting staff such as coaches and trainers.

  7. Shawn

    Apr 29, 2014 at 3:42 pm

    So in the 2 pictures above, everything looks good but it seems you are standing the shaft up a bit at impact, or so I have been told this as I do something similar – Which leads my clubs specs to being upright 2*, etc. How does one stop that move or have a better impact position that more resembles the setup position?

    • Clemson Sucks

      Apr 29, 2014 at 4:16 pm

      That’s a pretty common/normal thing

    • Nick Randall

      May 3, 2014 at 5:35 am

      Hi Shawn, that is a good observation for sure. Cameron is presenting the club with a slightly upright shaft, as he has gotten stronger that has flattened out somewhat. I’ll endeavour to get you an updated impact position in an article in the near future.

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Davies: The Trail Elbow In The Downswing

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In this video, I discuss the role of the trail elbow in the downswing. I also share some great drills to help golfers deliver the trail elbow correctly, which will help improve distance and contact.

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The 3 different levels of golf practice

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“I would have practiced as hard, but I would have made my practice more meaningful. I would have worked more on my short game and putting. I would’ve done a lot more drills to make the practice more meaningful, and I would’ve added pressure to the practice as much as possible.” — Lee Westwood

Now here’s the rub. Practice is not monolithic! I approach practice as having three different, distinctive and separate curriculum and criteria.

  • Level 1: Basic
  • Level 2: Advanced
  • Level 3: Extreme

Basic Practice (Level 1) by definition is “repeated exercise in or performance of an activity or skill so as to acquire or maintain proficiency in it.” Basically, it’s doing the same thing over and over again to get better at it. My favorite skill that requires practice is the 76-yard “flighted wedge.” I do it, and I recommend it be done at every range practice session. Additionally, I identify and then practice as many different “skills” that are required to hit different golf shots. I have found that a non-pressurized environment is the best way to practice in a basic model.

It goes without saying that golf is not played in a pressure-free environment, so basic practice doesn’t help us play golf. The prime objective of Level 2 Practice (Advanced Training) is to take what you do in Basic Practice to the golf course.

First, create on-course situations that require you to hit the shots you have practiced. There should be rewards for demonstrations of competence, and there should be consequences for demonstrations of incompetence

“When you practice, try to find a situation to fit the shot you’re trying to practice.” — Ben Hogan

For example, a major problem is the unevenness of the lies you will encounter during play as opposed to the lies you used for your drills. From marginal to extreme, lies are difficult to replicate on the practice tee. So, play a round of golf and move the ball into the most undesirable lie that is very close to where you are.

Another example would be duplicating the creativity that is sometimes required during actual play. The prime example of that would be the sensation of “being in-between clubs.” I would suggest that you play an occasional round of golf using only half of your clubs. Take two wedges instead of four. Take only the “odd” or “even” numbered irons. Look at not taking the driver, or not taking all of your fairway clubs. I have not taken my putter, which forced me putt with my sand wedge!

A third example would be to play a round of golf and deliberately miss every green in regulation. Should your ball accidentally finish on the green in regulation just move it off into the rough, a bunker or whatever else could use the extra attention. You can create games where your opponent moves your ball off the green into something that would be advantageous to him.

Level 2 Practice is conducted on the practice ground as well as on the course. What I do and recommend is to take each of the shots, skills and drills used in Level 1 and add some accountability to the range experience. I have my students and clients use a “Practice Book” to schedule activities and to keep track of improvement.

Author Note: I will send you a sample practice book page that many of my players actually use. Request it at edmyersgolf@gmail.com.

Please be advised that Level 2 Practice can feature games, wagering or other forms of friendly competitions because they should only activate the lesser emotions of irritation, annoyance, anticipation, anxiousness, joy, pleasure and disappointment. Dealing with these feelings in practice will help you recognize and deal with the minor stresses experienced by most recreational golfers.

Stress is the major cause of “CHOKING.”

Stress, by definition “is a state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or very demanding circumstances.” Stress can ruin our ability to perform when we experience the major emotions such as fear, anger, shame, humiliation, euphoria, ridicule, betrayal, doubt and/or disbelief.

Level 3 Practice (Extreme Preparation) is on-course training sessions best suited for very serious competitive golfers. The more a player is able to compete in a simulated or controlled environment that accurately replicates the actual “pressures” that produce the kind of stresses that can effect performance, the better the player will perform when stressed in actual tournaments or events. Please be advised that Extreme Practice DOES NOT feature games, gambling or “friendly” competitions. They don’t control the conditions of play sufficiently to replicate the type of pressure that would induce “stress.”

“Simulation, which  is a technique (not a technology) to replace and amplify real experiences with guided ones, often “immersive” in nature, that evoke or replicate substantial aspects of the real world in a fully interactive fashion.” For many years now, the medical profession has used simulations to train doctors, the military has used simulations to prepare troops for the realities of the battlefield and aviation has used simulators to train pilots. Simulating has the added benefits of being cost and time effective while producing verifiable results.

If it’s possible for airlines to replicate every possible scenario that a pilot could experience in the cockpit by using simulations, then why isn’t it possible to replicate situations, and subsequent emotional responses, that a competitive golfer could experience on the golf course? Let me give you an example of what I mean.

“I got nervous all the time, as nervous as the next guy. It’s just that I caught myself before it became destructive.” Jack Nicklaus

Recent events at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play gives us some evidence of the destructiveness of uncontrolled emotions. Justin Thomas said that he couldn’t get the thought out of his mind of becoming the No. 1-ranked player in the world should he defeat Bubba Watson in the semi-finals, which he failed to do.

“I haven’t had such a hard time not thinking about something so much,” Thomas said. “And that really sucked. I couldn’t stop thinking about it, to be perfectly honest.”

Then there was Ian Poulter being told that with his win over Louis Oosthuizen he had earned a spot in this years’ Masters tournament only to be told 10 minutes before his next match that he had not actually secured the coveted invitation. With elation, joy and satisfaction jerked away and replaced with disappointment, and possibly anger, the Englishman went out and got whipped by Kevin Kisner 8 & 6!

I concede that Justin Thomas’ and Ian Poulter’s situations were so unique that simulation-based practice and preparation techniques may not have been available to them, but now they both must know that their performance was effected negatively by mental stresses. And with that knowledge they may want to get tougher mentally. Level 3 Practice does that!

Not all that long ago, I was approached by a PGA Tour veteran for some on-course, one-on-one training. He was experiencing severe “choking” in pressurized short-game situations. So I took him out on the course and we replicated the exact shots he had problems with in the past. He demonstrated that he could perform each and every shot in a stress-free environment. We went into a “low-stress” training environment and his performance began to suffer. Then, at his urging to get “real,” we went into a “high-stress” practice mode and he melted down. Without going into details, he became so angry that not only couldn’t he hit golf shots, he tried to run me down with the golf cart as he retreated to the safety of his car.

Now, that’s not the end of the story. A few hours later, after some soul searching, he apologized for his lack of self-control and acknowledged that he had recognized the early signs of stress growing internally as we worked. We went back out onto the course and got back to work.

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Winning Ways: Here’s what it takes to become a winner in Junior Girls golf

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Every competitive golfer strives to win, and I want to help them achieve their goals. Recently, I wrote a story highlighting the statistics behind winning in junior boys golf, and how they can do it more often. Now, we set out to examine the data on winning in junior girls golf, and provide ways they can improve. The data is based on an analysis of tournament results from all events during the 2017 year from the Junior Tour of Northern California. We then asked stats guru, Peter Sanders, Founder of ShotByShot.com, to provide the stats related to the winning scoring numbers that we found. Finally, we discuss ways that juniors can practice building skills and work towards becoming tournament winners.

The Winning Scores

In 2017 the Junior Tour of Northern California held 26 tournaments with 850+ members. According to our data collection based on information available on the website, the average girl’s tournament course measured 6145 yards. The average winning score for girls was 146 (36 holes), or 73 per round. Ten of the 22 tournaments where won with scores of 144 or better and the low 36 holes total was a whopping 133! In the data collection we also collected the average 10th place scores girls. The average 10th place score for girls was 159 or 79.5.

The Winning Stats

We provided the numbers to statistics expert Peter Sanders. Peter’s company has been providing Strokes Gained analysis for golfers for the last 29 years. Peter is the founder of ShotByShot.com, a website that provides golfers at all levels with Strokes Gained analysis, pinpoints specific strengths and weaknesses and highlights improvement priorities. Since the launch of ShotByShot.com in 2005, Peter has collected over 317,000 rounds. Accordingly, Peter has agreed to share the numbers, below, for a typical female player who averages 73. There are two important points to consider when reviewing these statistics:

  1. In order to have a complete picture of the puzzle that is golf, one must consider the ERRORS, or lack thereof, that play such an important role in scoring at every level. Even the 650+ PGA Tour stats ignore these important miscues. Shot By Shot has included them in their analysis from the beginning and they are highlighted in the infographics below.
  2. The data provided represents only tournament rounds. As such it will primarily represent the high school and college programs that use ShotbyShot.com

Infographics Created by Alexis Bennett

The Winning Preparation

Junior girls are encouraged to use these stats as a benchmark against their own performance to determine where they might need to improve against the “typical 73 player.” After identifying gaps in their game, they can then create practice plans to help improve. For example, a junior might notice they have more 3-putts than the model. To improve, they could work put more time into practice, as well as playing games on the golf course like draw-back and 2-putt.

  • Drawback is a game where after your first putt, you draw the second putt one putter length away from the hole. This often changes a shorter putt (> 2 feet) to a putt of between 3.5 – 5 feet. This putts significantly more pressure on your putting.
  • You may also play Two-Putt, a game where when you reach the green, you (or your playing competitor) tosses the ball away from the hole. You must 2-putt from that spot to move to the next hole (even if it takes a couple attempts!).

Others reading this article might find that they don’t hit enough greens. Improving this area will require more consistent strikes, which may require further technical development and block practice, as well as working on the golf course. To start, I would recommend that every junior implement the yardage rule. The yardage rule works like this; figure out the distance to the very back of the green. For example, this number may be 157. Then figure out what club ALWAYS flies 157, which might be 6-iron. Then choose 7-iron for the shot. This way your best shot will not fly the green, your average shot will likely be in the middle of the green and your less-than-perfect shot will hopefully end up on the front of the green.

During practice rounds, play competitive games with yourself to sharpen your ability to hit greens. For example, if you normally hit 7 greens per round, in practice your goal might be 9. You would track your results over a month and then see your progress.

Beyond building individual skills, like hitting greens or working on putting, junior golfers need times to play competitive rounds on their home golf courses. Ideally, these rounds are played against other people with similar skills and done under tournament like conditions with consequences (loser buys winner a coke or cleans their golf clubs). Playing hundreds of rounds at your home golf course under these conditions gives you a unique opportunity to sharpen your game, learn your tendencies and build skills such as endurance and mental toughness. Most importantly, it teaches you to win and shoot under par!

Please also keep in mind building these skills may take months (or even years). In my own personal experience, when I set out to improve my birdies per round, it took nearly 4 months and 75+ rounds and significant practice to begin to see a change. Depending on your schedule and access to resources like a golf course and instructor, some changes might take a year or more. Regardless, don’t ever worry; building a solid foundation in golf will always lead to rewards!

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