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A Guide to Golf Fitness for Average Golfers

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In this series of five articles, I will be offering guidelines for golf-specific physical activity aimed at five different golfing demographics:

This story is for club golfers. The average club golfer has a handicap of 26.5 if they are female, and 14.3 if they are male. They don’t play a lot of golf and have limited time to practice because of their busy schedules. And they usually don’t have the time or the inclination to undertake an extensive physical regimen to improve their golf. But that doesn’t mean that the average golfer can’t benefit from some work on their body.

It is difficult to say exactly how average golfers can benefit from a fitness routine without a thorough physical screening and lifestyle questionnaire, which identifies the areas individuals need to work on. But there are a few common issues that tend to crop up again and again in club golfers that come through our academy.

Let’s have a look at the most common complaints and the methods we use to help.

The Issue: “I have pain in my lower back”

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Lots of people play golf in pain. In fact, a 2006 study on golfer health conducted by Golf Digest showed that a staggering 64 percent of golfers suffer from low back pain of some description.

The Solution: Strength, Mobility + Postural Awareness and Control

Once a golfer has been cleared for serious spinal pathology and we are given the green light, we golf fitness experts get to work on making them stronger and more mobile. We often begin with awareness and activation drills for the core, spine and posture in general, along with mobility work on the muscles attaching to the pelvis that are pulling the low back into an uncomfortable position. On the hit list are invariably hip flexors, quads, deep glutes and hamstrings. While working on awareness and mobility, we also start to introduce basic strength exercises for the core, glutes, hamstrings and low back.

See below for a basic program of mobility and stability exercises for key muscles surrounding the pelvis and spine. The ideal equipment for this is a Golf Posture Training Kit, but you can also use a tennis ball, baseball, foam roller and a piece of rubber tubing or theraband.

Low Back Mobility and stability

Release and stretching for the low back, glutes, quads and hip flexors. Stability/strength exercises for the glutes. Click the image to enlarge it.

The Issue: “I want to hit it farther”

The standard club golfer always wants to squeeze a few extra yards out of his or her driver and we can certainly help, but maybe not in the way that you might think we can.

The Solution: Movement Patterns and Sequencing

Rather than simply attempting to increase club head speed with loaded rotational core exercises, we first look at improving the efficiency of the golf swing itself. We do this by analyzing the swing and then prescribing movement pattern drills. This will not only increase club head speed, but also help golfers get more compression and better launch conditions. As we start to make significant progress in this area, we can then look at strength exercises to maximize the new, more efficient action. Below are a couple of the more basic movement pattern drills I use.

I’m pictured using the a 2XU Ramsay Posture Belt and micro power band, but you can also use a piece of rubber tubing for the hands and another tied around the knees.

Dynamic Turn Collage

Two drills that promote dynamic rotation.

The Issue: “I can’t swing it the way my coach wants me to”

In my experience, mobility is often the biggest inhibitor for club golfers when trying to get into the swing positions that their coach is teaching them. If the player does not have the range of motion in a particular joint or length in a particular muscle, then it will be impossible for them to get into the right position without a lot of compensation from other parts of the body.

The Solution: Self Massage, Functional Stretching and Activation Drills

Trail shoulder position (right shoulder for righties, left shoulder for lefties) is an area that is particularly affected by lack of mobility and also has a massive influence on shaft and club face position throughout the swing. Tight pectorals (pec major and minor) and inactive and/or weak “scap control muscles” (serratus anterior, mid and low traps, and the rotator cuff muscles) work together to drag the shoulder forward. From here it is difficult to set the shoulder correctly, and therefore arm and club head in the correct position in takeaway and at the top of the backswing.

We prescribe self massage release and stretching for the pecs and a series of activation drills for the scap control muscles. These can be performed in golf posture to help the player transfer the newfound mobility, control and strength around their shoulder directly into their golf swing.

See below for a mini program of scapula/shoulder setting exercises. Again, you can use a tennis ball, baseball and some rubber tubing to perform these simple exercises.

Shoulder Mobility and Stability

Release and stretching for the pecs, stability and strength for the rotator cuff and mid/low traps.

To access a free exercise guide for the mini programs in this article, you can download the Golf Fit Pro app for iOS and Android. Equipment, training programs and more are available on the Golf Fit Pro website.

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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.

2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. other paul

    Jun 20, 2015 at 9:09 am

    If you play with lower back pain then look up Kelvin miyahira. I started swinging more like he describes and my back pain from golf is gone. Back pain from lifting heavy things in my work did not go away…

  2. Patricknorm

    Jun 19, 2015 at 5:28 am

    Excellent article Nick. I worked pretty hard this past winter and spring to increase my core strength and flexibility. I’ve had many surgeries do to playing sports at a high (pro)level. I also sought out a personal trainer to make certain I was on the right path to my goals.
    What I found, do my issues with a tender back ( due to multiple surgeries on knee and hip), was that when I get tired, my legs don’t help as much as they should or are able.
    I can’t run or even ride a bike because I can’t bend my right knee past 90 degrees. Is there a drill / exercise you can recommend for a lefty, with a strong sugerically repaired right knee ( 5 procedures, last being a replacement) to increase or maintain strength in my legs?
    Keep up the good work Nick . Just ignore the shanks.

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The Big Shift: How to master pressure and the golf transition using prior sports training

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If you’re an #AverageJoeGolfer, work a day job, and don’t spend countless hours practicing, you might be interested in knowing that sports you played growing up, and even beer league softball skills, can be used to help you play better golf. We’re sure you’ve heard hockey players tend to hit the ball a mile, make the “best golfers”, while pitchers and quarterbacks have solid games, but baseball/softball hitters struggle with consistency. Did you know that a killer tennis backhand might help your golf game if you play from the opposite side? Dancers are way ahead of other athletes making a switch to golf because they understand that centeredness creates power and consistency much more efficiently than shifting all around, unnecessary swaying, or “happy feet.”

Lurking beneath fat shots, worm burners, and occasional shanks, are skillsets and motions you can pull from the old memory bank to apply on the golf course. Yes, you heard us right; your high school letterman jacket can finally be put to good use and help you improve your move. You just need to understand some simple adjustments different sports athletes need to make to be successful golfers.

In golf, shifting from your trailside into your lead side is what we’ll call the TRANSITION. Old School teachers refer to this motion, or shift, as “Foot Work”, New-Fangled-Techno-Jargon-Packed-Instruction uses “Ground Pressure/Force” to refer to the same concept. Don’t worry about the nomenclature; just know, as many GolfWRXers already do, that you must get your weight to your lead side if you want any chance at making solid and consistent contact. TRANSITION might be THE toughest motion in golf to master.

The good news for you is that TRANSITION happens in all other sports but in slightly different ways, depending on the sport. Golfers can more quickly learn TRANSITION, and speed up their swing learning process by understanding how prior sport experience can be applied to the golf swing.

[The basics of a solid golf move are; 1) you should have a SETUP that is centered and balanced, 2) you move your weight/pressure into your trail side during the TAKEAWAY and BACKSWING, 3) TRANSITION moves your weight/pressure back into your lead side, and 4) you FINISH with the club smashing the ball down the fairway. Okay, it’s not quite as easy as I make it sound, but hopefully our discussion today can relieve some stress when it comes time for you to start training your game.]

Baseball/Softball Hitters

Hitting coaches don’t like their hitters playing golf during the season, that’s a fact. The TRANSITIONS are too different, and if they play too much golf, they can lose the ability to hit off-speed pitches because their swing can become too upright. Golf requires an orbital hand path (around an angled plane) with an upright-stacked finish, while hitting requires batters to have a straight-line (more horizontal) hand path and to “stay back or on top of” the ball.

Now we apologize for the lack of intricate knowledge and terminology around hitting a baseball, we only played up through high school. What we know for sure is that guys/gals who have played a lot of ball growing up, and who aren’t pitchers struggle with golf’s TRANSITION. Hitters tend to hang back and do a poor job of transferring weight properly. When they get the timing right, they can make contact, but consistency is a struggle with fat shots and scooping being the biggest issues that come to mind.

So how can you use your star baseball/softball hitting skills with some adjustments for golf? Load, Stride, Swing is what all-good hitters do, in that order. Hitters’ issues revolve around the Stride, when it comes to golf. They just don’t get into their lead sides fast enough. As a golfer, hitters can still take the same approach, with one big adjustment; move more pressure to your lead side during your stride, AND move it sooner. We’ve had plenty of ‘a ha’ moments when we put Hitters on balance boards or have them repeat step drills hundreds of times; “oh, that’s what I need to do”…BINGO…Pound Town, Baby!

Softball/Baseball Pitchers, Quarterbacks, & Kickers

There’s a reason that kickers, pitchers, and quarterbacks are constantly ranked as the top athlete golfers and it’s not because they have a ton of downtime between starts and play a lot of golf. Their ‘day jobs’ throwing/kicking motions have a much greater impact on how they approach sending a golf ball down the fairway. It’s apparent that each of these sports TRAINS and INGRAINS golf’s TRANSITION motion very well. They tend to load properly into their trailside while staying centered (TAKEAWAY/BACKSWING), and they transfer pressure into their lead side, thus creating effortless speed and power. Now there are nuances for how to make adjustments for golf, but the feeling of a pitching or kicking motion is a great training move for golf.

If this was your sport growing up, how can you improve your consistency? Work on staying centered and minimizing “happy feet” because golf is not a sport where you want to move too much or get past your lead side.


Dance

My wife was captain of her high school dance team, has practiced ballet since she was in junior high, and is our resident expert on Ground Pressure forces relating to dance. She has such a firm grasp on these forces that she is able to transfer her prior sports skill to play golf once or twice a year and still hit the ball past me and shoot in the low 100s; what can I say, she has a good coach. More importantly, she understands that staying centered and a proper TRANSITION, just like in Dance, are requirements that create stability, speed, and consistent motions for golf. Christo Garcia is a great example of a Ballerina turned scratch golfer who uses the movement of a plié (below left) to power his Hogan-esque golf move. There is no possible way Misty Copeland would be able to powerfully propel herself into the air without a proper TRANSITION (right).

Being centered is critical to consistently hitting the golf ball. So, in the same way that dancers stay centered and shift their weight/pressure to propel themselves through the air, they can stay on the ground and instead create a golf swing. Dancers tend to struggle with the timing of the hands and arms in the golf swing. We train them a little differently by training their timing just like a dance routine; 1 and 2 and 3 and…. Dancers learn small motions independently and stack each micro-movement on top of one another, with proper timing, to create a dance move (golf swing) more like musicians learn, but that article is for another time.

Hockey

Hockey is a great example of the golf TRANSITION because it mimics golf’s motions almost perfectly. Even a subtlety like the direction in which the feet apply pressure is the same in Hockey as in Golf, but that’s getting in the weeds a bit. Hockey players load up on their trailside, and then perform the TRANSITION well; they shift into their lead sides and then rotate into the puck with the puck getting in the way of the stick…this is the golf swing, just on skates and ice…my ankles hurt just writing that.

If you played hockey growing up, you have the skillsets for a proper golf TRANSITION, and you’ll improve much faster if you spend your time training a full FINISH which involves staying centered and balanced.

Now we didn’t get into nuances of each and every sport, but we tried to cover most popular athletic motions we thought you might have experience in in the following table. The key for your Big Shift, is using what you’ve already learned in other sports and understanding how you might need to change existing and known motions to adapt them to golf. If you played another sport, and are struggling, it doesn’t mean you need to give up golf because your motion is flawed…you just need to know how to train aspects of your golf move a little differently than someone who comes from a different sport might.

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Clement: Effortless power for senior golfers

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Are you struggling with range of motion? Want more EFFORTLESS POWER? We are truly the experts at this having taught these methods for 25 plus years, while others were teaching resistance, breaking everyone’s backs and screwing up their minds with endless positions to hit and defects to fix. Welcome home to Wisdom in Golf!

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Clement: How to turbo charge your swing

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The shift in golf instruction continues and Wisdom in Golf and GolfWRX are right out there blazing a trail of fantastic content and techniques to get you to feel the most blissful, rhythmic golf shots you can strike! This here is the humdinger that keeps on giving and is now used by a plethora of tour players who are benefitting greatly and moving up the world rankings because of it.

The new trend (ours is about 25 years young) is the antithesis of the “be careful, don’t move too much, don’t make a mistake” approach we have endured for the last 30 years plus. Time to break free of the shackles that hold you back and experience the greatness that is already right there inside that gorgeous human machine you have that is so far from being defective! Enjoy!

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