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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.

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  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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Kyle Berkshire’s long drive wisdom wins!

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This one is a doozie! So many awesome elements to take away from Kyle Berkshire and implement them immediately in your golf swing for effortless power in the swing. From the set up with strong grip to the timing mechanism to start the action and give it a heavy flow, to the huge backswing and massive load in the ground in the transition to the deepest delivery towards the target there is in the sport! Watch and learn long ball wisdom right here.

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Stickney: Correctly auditing your ballflight without technology

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One of the biggest advances in golf instruction, in my opinion, was the adoption (by the masses) of the “new ball-flight laws.” While this information was first identified in “The Search for the Perfect Swing” as well as “The Golfing Machine” books it was not truly taught in the mainstream by teachers until the last decade. In fact, there are still millions of golfers who are still in the dark as it pertains to how curvature is created.

Thankfully, launch monitors have become more popular and now most people have some type of ability to hit balls using Trackman, etc., and this has helped inform the masses as to what is really happening during the impact interval. In today’s article, I want to show you how to audit your ball-flight if you DO NOT have access to a launch monitor. And if you’ll ask yourself these few simple questions you will have a much better idea as to what is happening and why your ball is doing what it’s doing!

“The New Ball-Flight Rules”

  • The ball begins mostly in the direction of the face angle direction at impact (Face Angle)
  • The ball will curve away from the path with a centered hit on the face (Path)
  • The amount of curvature at the apex is mostly determined by the difference in direction between where the face points at impact and the direction of the path at impact (Face to Path)
  • The impact point on the clubface can render the above obsolete or exaggerate it depending on where it’s impacted on the face (Impact Point)

Now that you know and understand the rules, here’s how you audit your ball’s flight without a launch monitor present…

Find your Impact Point Before Making Any Other Judgements

Before we begin delving deeply into your ball’s flight, let’s first stop for a second and figure out what our impact bias is currently. Yes, everyone has an impact bias—some are more toe-based while others are more heel-sided. It’s just the way it works and it’s mega-important. If you don’t have control of your impact point then all else is moot.
In order to do so, first hit a few balls on a flat lie and spray the face with Dr. Scholl’s spray, then take a look at what you see on the face, where are the marks? I’m not asking you for perfection here, because if you hit it slightly on the toe or slightly on the heel then you’re ok.

However, if your average clustering of shots is extremely biased on the toe or the heel then stop and figure out WHY you are hitting the ball off-center. Until you can contact the ball in the center of the face (within reason) then you will not be able to control your ball’s curvature due to gear effect.

If your impact point clustering is manageable, then ask yourself these three questions to truly understand your ball’s flight…

Number 1: Where did the ball begin?

I want you to draw a straight line from your ball through your target as you see in the left photo in your mind so you now have a “zero” reference. If you need to create this visual on the practice tee then you can put a rope or some string on the ground between the ball and the target creating a straight line from the ball through the rope and onward to the target itself.

Now back to the shot above, as you can see at impact, this player’s ball started slightly LEFT of his target-line—as shown by the arrow in the left frame which depicts the face angle at impact. In the right frame, you can easily see the ball beginning a touch left right from the beginning.

The numbers prove what we discussed earlier

  • The face direction at impact was -2.8 degrees left of the target
  • The ball’s launching direction is -1.7 degrees left of the target

As we know the ball begins mostly in the direction of the face and since the face was left of the target the ball also began slightly leftward as well.

So by paying attention to your ball’s starting direction as it pertains to the “zero line” (or where you’re trying to go) you can guess where the face is pointing at impact.

Number 2: Which direction did the ball curve?

Now, take a second and look at the right frame: We see that the ball curved leftward which means the path had to be more rightward than where the face was pointing at impact. If the ball begins where you want it to start and curves the way you want then you have the face and path in the correct place!

If we want to audit the numbers just to be sure, then let’s take a deeper look:

Trackman shows that the club path was 1.9 degrees right of the target and we just saw that the face was -2.8 degress left of the target on this shot. With centered impact anytime the face direction at impact is left of the path the ball will curve leftward. The negative spin-axis of this shot of -7.9 tells us that the ball is moving to the left as well.

If you want the ball to curve to the left then the path must be further right than that and vice-versa for a fade…pretty simple, right?

Number 3: How Much Did the Ball Curve at The Apex?

Question three is an important one because it helps us to understand what our face to path relationship is doing.

Curvature is created when the face and path point in different directions (with a centered hit) and the bigger the difference between the face and path direction the more the ball will curve…especially as you hit clubs with lower lofts.

Every player wants to see a certain amount of curvature. Some players want very little curve, thus their face to path numbers are very close together while others want more curve and the face to path numbers are larger. It does not matter what amount of curvature you like to “see” as the player…all flights will work. Think Moe Norman on one extreme to Bubba Watson on the other.

To close…

First, you must hit the ball in the center of the face to have a predictable curvature if you hit it all over the face then you invoke gear effect which can exaggerate or negate your face to path relationship.

Second, where did the ball begin? Most players whom draw the ball fear the miss that starts at their target and moves leftward (as depicted in the photo above) this is a FACE issue. The face is left of the TARGET at impact and thus the ball does not begin right enough to begin at the correct portion of the target.

If you hit the ball and it starts correctly but curves too much from right to left then your path is to blame.

Third, if your ball is curving the correct direction then your path is fine, but if it’s doing something other than what you want and you are starting the ball where you want then your path is either too far left or right depending on which way the ball is curving.

Fourth, if your ball curvature at the apex is moving too much and your ball is starting where you want then your path is too far left or right of your face angle at impact exaggerating your face to path ratio. The bigger the difference between these two the more the ball curves (with a centered hit) with all things being equal.

Samples to view

This is a path issue…the ball began correctly but curved too much rightward. Don’t swing so much leftward and the face-to-path will be reduced and the ball will curve less.

This is a great push draw…the ball began correctly and curved the correct amount back to the target

This is a face issue at impact…the ball did not begin far enough to the right before curving back leftward and the target was missed too far to the left

Take your time when auditing your ball’s flight, and I believe you’ll find your way!

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Clement: Should you hinge your wrists early or late in the backswing?

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100, 000 SUBSCRIBER CONTEST STARTS NOW! MAKE SURE YOU SUBSCRIBE TO OUR CHANNEL TO BE ELIGIBLE TO WIN! Our premium members get 2 extra chances to win.

Today’s video is a big one too! So many are wondering when to let the wrists hinge in the backswing; too early and you cut off too much arc and loose width; too late and you throw your center off-kilter and ruin your contact and direction! This video gets you dialed!

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