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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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WATCH: How to hit your driver more consistently

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In this video, I share two great drills that will help you improve your driving today.

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3 keys for getting out of bunkers with soft sand

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One of the most infuriating things in golf is to land in a bunker that has too much sand, or sand with the consistency of a truckload of talcum power. Now, I am not picking on the Superintendents; they do have to add new sand from time-to-time, so no hate mail please! It’s my fault for hitting it in the bunker in the first place, and bunkers are supposed to be hazards; I know that.

The one thing we will assume for this article is that even though we are in soft sand, we will have a good lie, not a plugged or semi-plugged one. We are in a bunker that just has a bunch of sand, or it’s soft and fluffy sand. Everyone asks me what the secret is to handling these types of conditions and I’m here to help you get better.

1) Get a wedge with the correct bounce

Let’s consider that you play the same golf course every weekend, or that you mostly play on courses that have the same type of playing conditions mostly. When you have this luxury, you should have wedges that fit the conditions you tend to play. So, if you have a low bounce wedge with a sharp flange and you’re playing from bunkers with lots of sand, then you are putting yourself at a disadvantage.

Why alter your swing if the wedge you have can help you? Use a high bounce wedge (9-12 degrees of bounce) for soft sand, and a low bounce wedge (6-8 degrees) for firm sand.

2) Control your Angle of Attack 

As with most things in golf, there are always things that you must pay attention to in order for you to have the odds in your favor. Simple things such as paying attention to the lie you have can help you save shots in the rough. In bunkers, you cannot test the surface, however, you can use your feet to feel the density of the sand. Pay attention to what you feel in the balls of your feet. If you feel a ton of sand below you, then you know you will have to alter your angle of attack if you want any chance to get out of the bunker successfully.

So what do I mean by this?

The setting of your wrists has a very dynamic effect on how much the wedge digs in or skids through the sand (assuming you have an open face). When there is a surplus of sand, you will find that a steeper attack caused by the maximum cocking of your wrists makes it much easier for the wedge to work too vertical and dig too deep. When you dig too deep, you will lose control of the ball as there is too much sand between the blade and the ball — it will not spin as much and won’t have the distance control you normally have.

The secret to playing from softer sand is a longer and wider bunker swing with much less wrist-set than you would use on your stock bunker shot. This action stops the club from digging too deep and makes it easier for you to keep moving through the ball and achieving the distance you need.

3) Keep your pivot moving

It’s nearly impossible to keep the rotation of your shoulders going when you take too much sand at impact, and the ball comes up short in that situation every time. When you take less sand, you will have a much easier time keeping your pivot moving. This is the final key to good soft-sand bunker play.

You have made your longer and more shallow backswing and are returning to the ball not quite as steeply as you normally do which is good… now the only thing left to do is keep your rear shoulder rotating through impact and beyond. This action helps you to make a fuller finish, and one that does not lose too much speed when the club impacts the sand. If you dig too deep, you cannot keep the rear shoulder moving and your shots will consistently come up short.

So if you are in a bunker with new sand, or an abundance of sand, remember to change your bounce, adjust your angle of attack, and keep your pivot moving to have a fighting chance.

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WATCH: How to stop “flipping” through impact

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Are you flipping through impact? In this video, I share a great drill that will help you put better pressure on the golf ball at impact. By delivering the sweet spot correctly, you’ll create a better flight and get more distance from your shots immediately.

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