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The 5 Pillars of Golf Fitness

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Golf is a physically demanding game that requires explosive power, but at the same time, incredible precision and complexity.

During the swing, the average male recruits about 30 pounds of muscle and uses nearly every joint in the body to produce 2,000 pounds of force in less than 0.2 seconds. Research has found a relationship between:

  • Strength and driving distance and accuracy
  • Lower body power and total driving stats
  • Core stability and injury prevention
  • Aerobic capacity and chip shot efficacy and putting average

In short, there is a vital relationship between fitness and performance on the course.

From the research carried out in this area and the work I’ve done to improve the performance of my clients, I have identified the five key pillars of golf fitness.

Pillar #1: Flexibility

Flexibility is defined as the range of movement around a joint, and reflects the ability of the muscles and tendons to elongate within the physical restrictions of the joint. I’m sure you’re aware that the modern golf swing places many demands on the flexibility and mobility of the golfer. Indeed, as Paul Chek, an internationally-renowned expert in the fields of corrective and high-performance exercise kinesiology suggests, free movement around an adequate range of motion is vital in developing optimal swing mechanics.

To name but a few, golfers must possess good extension and rotation in the thoracic spine to permit a full shoulder turn. They also must have adequate internal hip rotation to allow the hips to function correctly in the swing, as well as a good degree of rotational movement in the shoulders. They especially need adequate external rotation, as a lack of shoulder rotation can affect swing plane and lead to many swing faults including the flying elbow, chicken winging and reverse tilt, which are also common causes of elbow and shoulder injuries.

The No. 1 issue with reduced flexibility ,however, is power, or the loss of it. Flexibility reductions within the shoulders, torso, hips and pelvis will prevent proper body turn and the disassociation between upper and lower body, ultimately costing golfers club head speed and distance. And you don’t just have to take my word for it; here is a quote from Tiger woods on flexibility in the golf swing:

 “I’m convinced that if you increase your flexibility, you’ll add power to your swing.”

Here are just two of the active mobilizations I use a whole lot with golfers. These two will challenge your thoracic spine and hip mobility, respectively, allowing your to make a better turn in your golf. They also incorporate a separation and rotation element.

Pillar #2: Strength and Power

To those of you who have read my previous articles, it will come as no surprise this is my favorite topic. It is my belief strength and power are absolutely essential for any golfer. The most obvious benefit of improved strength and power is an increase in clubhead speed, which can be increased dramatically with proper training.

However, research is starting to back up anecdotal evidence that stronger muscles also help improve fine motor control. In other words, because you are stronger, each swing is relatively less stressful, and the likelihood of making a mistake — or a small movement pattern error — is less likely. Fine motor control essentially means more accuracy, more greens and more fairways hit.

Let’s not forget issues of injury prevention too, as research shows a comprehensive strength training program working all muscles and joints will help reduce the chances of injury by ensuring that you have a strong, stable musculoskeletal system.

There is a difference between strength and power: Strength is your ability to contract a muscle, while power is how quickly you can achieve that maximal contraction. In short, power is the ability to apply a lot of force very quickly. The golfer’s need for power has the highest specificity of all sports. Few sporting movements have a higher need for power output than the golf swing.

A well-rounded strength program that includes squatting, deadlifting, push movements, pulls, lateral movements and core stability in low-to-medium reps will deal with the strength requirements. I usually rely on weighted jumps, lateral jumps and med ball throws to learn to apply that force quickly.

Pillar #3: Posture

Posture is defined by Paul Chek as the position from which movement in the golf swing begins and ends. The late golf fitness visionary Ramsay McMaster, however, defined posture as maintaining the primary and secondary curves of the spine.

Note the language of these definitions: “movement begins and ends” and “maintaining.” Good golfers are able to maintain an upright posture at address and throughout the swing. This is vital in order to consistently strike the ball.

Good postural strength is important for injury prevention, proper positioning and preventing any unwanted movements during the swing. As with many things, Ben Hogan puts it best:

 “Not only will good posture improve your ability to strike the ball more consistently, it will also improve power, stability and eliminate chronic golfing injuries.”

The golf posture is supported by many postural muscles in your cervical spine (neck), thoracic spine (upper back), lower back (lumbar spine), shoulders and abdominal area. These muscles serve to hold the spine in position during the golf swing. The stronger they are and the greater degree of strength endurance, the more effective these muscles will be at this.

This Blackburn exercise series is great for developing strength in the postural muscles and helping to maintain posture.

If you want more information on golf specific posture work, take a look at the posture belt videos on Golf Fit’s YouTube channel.

Pillar #4: Core Strength and Stability

The optimum kinematic sequence involves transferring power from the pelvis (lower body musculature) up through the thorax (upper body) and finally the arms and club head. The abdominal muscles are king when it comes to allowing this power transfer.

Good core strength will allow the golfer to develop the most power possible during the swing. Furthermore, core strength will stabilize the hips and the spine, allowing more body control during the golf swing. Perhaps most importantly, good core strength will maintain back health and prevent injuries to the spine that can result from the golf swing.

In addition to developing strength in these muscles, one must focus on strength endurance. This is because these core stability muscles are used in most daily activities, as well as repeatedly with little rest during long practice sessions, and they can become easily fatigued predisposing golfers to instability, injury and poor mechanics.

When people think of core or abdominal training, they often think of performing endless sets of crunches and situps. However, the core muscles, in the golf swing and everyday life, are actually designed to stabilize the spine and prevent movement. As such, I use movements that challenge the core to do this. Additionally, the golf swing puts tremendous load and forces on the core so I train the core under load as much as possible.

Two of my favorite core exercises for golfers are simple weighted carries (pick something heavy up in one or both arms and take it for a walk) and Pallof presses.

Pillar #5: Cardiovascular Fitness

The aerobic cardiovascular system supplies oxygen to the muscles, which the muscles then use to produce energy for activities like walking, interspersed with recovering from intense bursts of exercise like the golf swing.

In a typical game, golfers will rely on their aerobic system to walk about 5 miles up and down hills and over varied terrain without fatigue. A strong cardiovascular system will also help deal with the mental stresses of golf, as it promotes a parasympathetic nervous system response that promotes relaxation under pressure and helps to achieve better rest.

In addition to the need for a strong cardiovascular system when playing a round of golf, the aerobic system is used extensively during practice when a golfer may be hitting shots repeatedly with minimal rest between practice repeats.

Optimal muscle recovery between shots is dependent on how efficient the aerobic system is working and this will help golfers practice more efficiently for longer periods of time.

A combination of interval training and steady-state cardio has been shown in numerous studies to be effective in increasing most measures of aerobic fitness. My recommendations would be 1-to-3 sessions a week alternating with 20-to-30 minute steady state cardio sessions and interval training with 30 seconds work periods followed by 60 seconds of rest for eight rounds to start. Golfers can then progress by increasing the length of their steady-state cardio sessions and decreasing the rest periods of your interval sessions.

Any type of aerobic activity such as running, swimming, cycling, or gym-based cardiovascular machine is acceptable.

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Nick is a TPI certified strength coach with a passion for getting golfers stronger and moving better. Through Stronger Golf he uses unique, research based training methods to create stronger, faster, more athletic golfers. Golfers who are more coachable, achieve higher levels of skill mastery, play injury free, and for longer as a result of improved physical fitness.

13 Comments

13 Comments

  1. Think

    Mar 8, 2015 at 10:41 pm

    Looks like these exercises are a quick way to a neck or back injury. They look un-natural and non-productive. I love fitness. but the neck and back look very unsupported and in awkward positions. Just my observations.

    • Shawn Stone

      Oct 6, 2015 at 2:21 am

      Think,
      Which exercises in Nick’s article are you referring to? From what I can see in the videos, the spine/neck has remained neutral throughout the movements and is safe. Yes, there is stress around the joints where the muscles are properly supporting each segment, but that’s proper form.

  2. Louie

    Jan 13, 2015 at 11:45 am

    The videos aren’t showing up for me….

  3. Bob

    May 13, 2014 at 12:15 pm

    Nice article Nick.

    I’m looking to design a more golf-focused workout program with lot more focus on flexibility/core/balance, but don’t know where to start. Any idea where I could find a good workout routine that will hit all these pillars?

    • Nick Buchan

      May 13, 2014 at 12:58 pm

      Thanks Bob.

      There are a few programs (two off-season programs and a home based program) available as posts on my blog http://www.strongergolf.org

      Additionally we run a personalised program design as part of our online coaching service. If you would like more information about a personalised program feel free to send me an e-mail at n.buchan@strongergolf.org.

  4. Pingback: » D'Lance GolfD'Lance Golf

  5. alex

    May 12, 2014 at 7:22 am

    Congrats on a useful series of exercises

  6. Tom Stickney

    May 11, 2014 at 12:11 pm

    Fitness in golf is unappreciated; it should be as important as the time you spend on your long/short game!

    • Nick Buchan

      May 11, 2014 at 2:36 pm

      Thanks for the comment Tom. Really enjoy reading your articles! Funnily enough I totally agree. Whats more, to be honest, many golfers are so badly conditioned for golf (relative to their short game/long game ability) it actually represents the most time efficient and easiest way for them to improve their golf!

  7. Sheldon

    May 10, 2014 at 7:51 am

    I would put posture as the number one pillar, the main source of injuries occurs due to the loss of posture and lack of strength in postural muscles. A lack of strength in the abdominal and glutes can cause lower back discomfort and injuries, it can also be a sign of forward tilt posture which will cause a much greater fatigue whilst walking and for some being debilitating.

    winged scapular, forward rolled shoulders, foward head posture is a sign of lack of strength in upper back and tightness causing flexibility issues. This would make an individual lose their posture during their transition and they will genuinely contract the muscles which are the strongest, whilst stretching the weakest muscles causing them to be less connected with the torso.

    My advice is too look at the injuries you have sustained due to golf and think why they have occurred, more then likely it’s due to loss of posture from a lack of strength in your most important muscles(over favouritism in strong muscles ). Remember the most important thing about going to the gym or any strength training is injury prevention.

    • Nick Buchan

      May 10, 2014 at 3:09 pm

      Hi Sheldon, thanks for the comment. The pillars weren’t really meant in order of importance, more in the order in which I would usually train them to be honest. Yes, as I said in the article good core strength will 100% help alleviate and prevent back injuries. Weak abdominals and short, tight glutes are often signs of posterior tilt not anterior tilt, and I have never seen any research to suggest pelvic tilt has any affect on rate of cardiovascular fatigue to be honest.

      Indeed flexibility and postural issues can often be intertwined, and both have a key role in allowing the golfer to appropriately maintain posture throughout the swing.

      A good strength program will both alleviate and prevent injuries – and of course this is of vital importance in all sport performance programming. However, these effects can be attained whilst concurrently improving many of aspects of performance and fitness.

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The 3 best ways to train your golf swing

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Understanding how to effectively train and practice is critical to transferring skills to the golf course.

In golf, I view training as a thoughtful, deliberate rehearsal of a motion to develop technique. This is better rehearsed away from the golf course. Practicing golf consists of developing your skill to take to the golf course—an example being learning to hit shots in certain winds and shot shaping.

“A lawyer will train to be a lawyer, then he or she will practice law” – The Lost Art of Golf

I find the below examples the best ways to train effectively. These techniques will also help facilitate a swing change and make your training and practice more efficient.

Mirror Work

I like my student to implement what I call “mirror work”. This is done by looking into a mirror from the face-on position.

This is a great way to get external feedback (information delivered from an outside source). Learning by external feedback will help facilitate the required body movement to produce a particular shot. It’s also a cheap and effective way to train. Research suggests observation in a mirror is considered external, so the use of mirrors will elicit external feedback, enhancing the learning process.

I prefer students to only check positions from the face-on view. If a player starts checking positions in a mirror from down-the-line, moving your head to look in the mirror can cause your body to change positions, losing the proper direction of turn.

Train Slow

Learning a new motion is best trained slow. At a slower speed, it is easier to monitor and analyze a new motion. You will have increased awareness of the body and where the shaft is in space. At a faster speed, this awareness is more difficult to obtain.

I often use the analogy of learning how to drive a car. First, you took time to learn how to position your hands on the wheel and position your foot next to the break. When comfortable, you put the car in motion and began to drive slowly. Once you developed the technique, you added speed and took the car on the freeway.

In martial arts, there are three speeds taught to students: Slow-speed for learning, medium speed for practice and fast speed for fighting. Again, the movement was trained slow to start. Once comfortable, the motion was put into combat. This should be similar to golf.

Finding Impact

Use an impact bag to get the feeling of impact and an efficient set-up. If you don’t have an impact bag, a spare car tire, bean bag or something light and soft that can be pushed along the ground can be used.

I like to refer to the impact bag as a “Push bag”. Start by setting up into the bag, lightly pressing the shaft into the bag. You will notice how your trail arm slightly tucks in and as your right shoulder drops below the left with your body leaning forward, an efficient set-up.

To get the feeling of impact swing the club back and down into the bag while maintaining your body shape. Don’t move the bag by hitting it, rather pushing it. Note how you maintain your wrist angles while pushing the bag (not flipping) and the right side of your body moves through impact.

Train your swing with these three training techniques to play better golf.

@KKelley_golf

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How posture influences your swing

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S0 what exactly is posture and how can it alter your swing? Posture is often the origin to a player’s swing pattern. I like to look at posture as the form of the body from the front view and down the line position at address.

“Shape” in posture is the angles our body creates at address. This includes the relationship between the upper and lower half of our bodies. This article will examine the importance of this shape from the face on view.

For an efficient posture that creates a simple, powerful, and repeatable swing, I like a player’s shape to be set into what I call their “hitting angles.” Hitting angles are similar to the impact position. In the picture below, note the body angles at address highlighted in green.

Once we are set into these hitting angles, the goal of the backswing is to maintain these angles, coiling around the spine. When these angles are maintained in the backswing, the club can return to impact in a more dynamic form of our set-up position. This creates minimal effort that produces speed and repeatability—essentially doing more with less.

The further we set up away from these hitting angles, our bodies will have to find impact by recovering. This is often where a player’s swing faults can occur. We want our body to react to the target in the golf swing, not recover to strike the ball.

Think of a baseball player or football player throwing a ball. When the athlete is in their throwing position, they can simply make the movement required to throw the ball at their intended target. If their body is contorted or out of position to make the throw, they must re-position their body (more movement) to get back into their throwing position, thus making them less accurate and powerful.

The good news about working on your posture is that it is the easiest part to control in the swing. Posture is a static motion, so our body will respond to 100 percent of what our mind tells it to do. It’s talentless.

Here is a simple routine to get you into these hitting angles.

To start, tuck in your trail arm making it shorter and below the lead arm, which makes your trail shoulder lower than the lead shoulder. This will give you the proper shape of the arms and wrist angles. Pictured right is Ben Hogan.

With these arm angles, bend from the hips to the ball and bump your body slightly forward towards the target getting ‘into yourself’. You may feel pressure on your lead foot, but your upper half will still remain behind the ball. Note the picture below with the blue lines.

Practice this drill using a mirror in front of you, head up looking into the mirror. Research has shown mirror work enhances motor skills and performance. Anytime you have external-focus based feedback, the learning process will escalate.

There are a lot of different postures on the PGA Tour and many ways to get the job done. There are no cookie-cutter swings, and players have different physiology. However, research and history have shown that an efficient posture gives us the best chance for solid contact and our desired ball flight. Work hard on the areas that are easiest to control: the set-up.

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Golf 101: How to chip (AKA “bump and run”)

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Although golf for a beginner can be an intimidating endeavor, and learning how to chip is part of that intimidation, this is one part of the game that if you can nail down the fundamentals, not only can you add some confidence to your experience but also you lay down a basic foundation you can build on.

How to chip

The chip shot, for all intents and purposes, is a mini-golf swing. To the beginner, it may seem like a nothing burger but if you look closely, it’s your first real way to understand contact, launch, spin, compression, and most importantly the fundamentals of impact.

What is a chip shot? A pitch shot?

Chip: A shot that is hit typically with anything from a 3-iron to a lob wedge that launches low, gets on the ground quickly, and rolls along the surface (like a putt) to the desired location.

Pitch: A shot that is hit typically with anything from a PW to a lob wedge that launches low- to mid-trajectory that carries a good portion of the way to your desired location and relies on spin to regulate distance.

Now that we have separated the two, the question is: How do I chip?

Since we are trying to keep this as simple as possible, let’s just do this as a quick checklist and leave it at that. Dealing with different lies, grass types, etc? Not the purpose here. We’re just concerned with how to make the motion and chip a ball on your carpet or at the golf course.

Think “rock the triangle”

  1. Pick a spot you want the ball to land. This is for visualization, direction and like any game you play, billiards, Darts, pin the tail on the donkey, having a target is helpful
  2. For today, use an 8-iron. It’s got just enough loft and bounce to make this endeavor fun.
  3. Grip the club in your palms and into the lifelines of your hands. This will lift the heel of the club of the ground for better contact and will take your wrists out of the shot.
  4. Open your stance
  5. Put most of your weight into your lead leg. 80/20 is a good ratio
  6. Ball is positioned off your right heel
  7. Lean the shaft handle to your left thigh
  8. Rock the shoulders like a putt
  9. ENJOY!

Check out this vid from @jakehuttgolf to give you some visuals.

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