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A guide to golf fitness for elite players

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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 article is for elite amateur golfers and professionals. Once the foundation of physical competence has been laid down through solid gym and posture work, then it’s time to consider what physical characteristics are actually desirable to compete in golf at the highest level. In my opinion, golfers need a solid level of cardiovascular fitness, good flexibility and as much strength and power as possible along with great movement patterns. They also need to be able to manage their own body while on the road competing in tournaments.

In order to develop these capabilities I prescribe the following:

Gym work

Elite golfers need a program that focuses on strength and power while solidifying the work already done on stability and mobility. Below is an example lower-body workout from an intermediate/advanced-level program. The function exercises are included for stability and muscle activation, while the power exercises are simple jump and throw variations, focusing on generating speed. The strength work is designed for hypertrophy and focuses on multi-joint lifts. The core exercises incorporate a loaded rotation movement and a bracing, endurance hold.

STR1

Example workout from a semi-advanced program, this session focuses on legs.

Motor Pattern Program

At this stage, drills using the Ramsay Posture Belt and other postural training aids are directly related to the player’s swing and what they are trying to achieve from a technical standpoint. Here is an example of one my favorite drills to train lower body stability and dynamic rotation.

Flexibility

Exercises are prescribed using spiky balls and the corresponding stretches, usually targeting ankle, hip, shoulder and spinal mobility. Below is a typical mobility program that covers the key areas that are commonly affected by a predominantly sitting lifestyle combined with lots of practice and play.

MOB

A release program for key postural areas, with a combination of myofascial release and stretching.

Cardiovascular Work

Interval training is used to keep the energy output down while still stimulating the cardiovascular system and improving aerobic and anaerobic endurance. Here is a short but intense Tabata workout that is typical of the cardio work I prescribe.

IC

A combo of rowing and sprints done at high intensity for short durations.

Maintenance On the Road 

A combination of basic gym work, posture and mobility exercises are combined with recovery practices such as hydrotherapy while traveling and attending tournaments. These techniques are used to help maintain the condition that has been developed in the prep phase before tournaments.

IMG_4457

Cameron Smith (finished T4 in 2015 U.S. Open) doing some postural fine tuning work.

The individual application can vary quite considerably within this approach depending on the individual. I’ll present two methods I have used in dealing with a couple of different players:

  • Golfer 1: A young professional who has been under my care since the age of 16.
  • Golfer 2: An established professional in his 30s that I have been working with for around 18 months.

Golfer 1 has come through a state high-performance program, so he is used to having information delivered to him and is expected to comply with the instructions and programs delivered. Best practice is always used, compliance is high and progress is measurable and very consistent. It’s essentially an ideal scenario for a trainer as long-term development is the main focus and priority, sometimes at the expense of short-term performance.

Golfer 2 has come through a route that is much more self-learned and self-taught. The approach therefore has to be softened somewhat and worked in with the player’s current belief system. Exercises have to be adapted and programs changed or molded in order to develop the player’s athleticism, while not rocking the boat from a conceptual point of view. Remember at this stage, short-term performance is considered to be the highest priority and long-term development often has to take a back seat.

Best practice with Golfer 2 and those like him is sometimes compromised, and progress is often not very measurable. This is a small price to pay in order to keep a player’s belief high and ensure compliance is achieved. Without belief and compliance, results will not happen and I might as well prescribe aqua aerobics, calf raises and wrist curls!

In summary, at the elite level, the focus should be on strength and power, cardio fitness, flexibility, swing-specific motor patterns and body maintenance skills. The individual approach has to be highly customized and specific to the player in question.

For more info on programs, training and equipment, proven to deliver results for high level players, check out 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.

13 Comments

13 Comments

  1. Dan

    Jul 10, 2015 at 12:50 am

    That sprint circuit is no joke compared to the rest of the sets. A 25 second sprint should take a fit male about 200 meters (on the first rep, anyway). Ten second passive rest, then x6 reps? College track workouts are less brutal than that. I mean, am I reading that correctly?

  2. redneckrooster

    Jul 6, 2015 at 9:19 pm

    How about a 65yr who had a heart attack 15 months ago. Give me an idea of what to do. I’ve lost 32 lbs.

  3. Tom

    Jul 3, 2015 at 10:03 pm

    Hit 100 s of balls and walk courses and you have a golfer who is fit.

  4. zoots

    Jul 2, 2015 at 3:56 pm

    I wonder how Jones, Snead, Hogan, Trevino, Nicklaus et al. were able to play the way they did without these “elite” golf exercises? Just luck I guess.

    • CW

      Jul 2, 2015 at 8:50 pm

      Cigarettes and Whiskey

    • Greg

      Jul 3, 2015 at 12:13 am

      Those were great players with tons of talent, but what about those who weren’t gifted as well but are willing to outwork everyone to beat them.

      • zoots

        Jul 3, 2015 at 3:26 pm

        Don’t know if anyone outworked Hogan. I doubt any great champion did not work extremely hard at their game

    • jakeanderson

      Jul 7, 2015 at 2:53 pm

      they played poorly compared with todays players.

  5. MHendon

    Jul 2, 2015 at 11:15 am

    Well I figured since this article was intended towards elite players then I should read it! lol, I don’t know maybe I would be considered elite 1.6 handicap? However I’m guessing Nick that at my age (45) and my height and weight (6 ft, 235lbs) I should be focused more on trying to improve my fitness for longevity than performance gains. I’m pretty lucky to be blessed with exceptional coordination, balance, and athletic ability but at my age I can see it leaving me in the near future if I don’t lose some weight and get in better shape. Would you agree that I’m probably not likely to see performance gains at my age but long term longevity could be my most likely benefit?

    • Nick Randall

      Jul 2, 2015 at 11:02 pm

      Hi MHendon,

      General improvement in conditioning will certainly help with maintenance and unity prevention. Best practice is to get screened by a golf fitness professional who can tailor a program to help you get the most out of your body. Hope this helps, Nick

    • Jonzone

      Jul 6, 2015 at 11:53 am

      Definitely not blessed with an ego either…

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WATCH: How to stop swaying during your golf swing

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In this video, I share with you how to stop swaying for good. I demonstrate how to use PNF (proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation) to create the correct movements in your backswing. This video is part of a series on PNF drills.

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A shockingly simple drill to hit the golf ball farther

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One of the biggest requests I get on the lesson tee is for more distance. Everyone wants to hit the golf ball farther. Obviously. That being said, there’s many things that go into producing distance, such as…

  • Swing Length — how long is the swing or how long does the club stay in the air before hitting the ball?
  • Swing Width — are you at full extension at during the swing or do you get soft arms?
  • Impact Point — the horizontal and vertical point of contact that influences gear effect, launch, and spin rate.
  • Spin Rate — how much backspin does the ball have?
  • Height — how high is the ball in the air?
  • Launch Angle — what is the angle of the ball off the face during impact?
  • Ball Speed — how fast does the ball leave the blade?

But one thing remains true: if you want more distance, then you must swing faster with all of the above being maximized for your current swing speed. So how do you create more speed? Simple — set up the drill as shown below.

Use between 6-to-10 balls and swing 100 percent all out with no regard for where the ball lands. Then repeat the drill and make your normal speed swing and you will find that your clubhead speed will slightly increase. Do this drill 5 to 10 times per practice session and you will train yourself to swing faster.

However, it’s up to you to figure out how fast you can swing yet maximize the qualities listed above so you can maintain consistent contact.

Remember, you don’t have to get complex to solve your distance problem. Try this first and see what happens!

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Your Body Is Your Most Important Piece Of Equipment; It’s Time For An Upgrade

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Clubs, balls, shoes, mental training, lessons. Golfers are always searching for the next thing that is going to transform their game. If a product has promise, golfers are like addicts; they must have it… regardless of the price. What’s usually ignored, however, is the most important piece of equipment for all golfers: their body, and how their physical conditioning pertains to golf.

Everything becomes easier by getting in better “golf shape.” You will likely hit the ball farther, have better energy and focus, fewer aches and pains, improved ability to actually implement swing changes and the durability to practice more.

When trying to improve your physical conditioning for golf, it would shortsighted not to mention the following requirements:

  1. Discipline: There will be times you don’t want to train, but should.
  2. Patience: Small, incremental progress adds up to big improvement over time.
  3. A Path: Make sure you use your time and effort efficiently by having a training plan that matches your goals.

If you can adopt these principles, I am confident you will be very happy with the return — even more so than the latest driver, putter or practice aid.

I like to compare having a well functioning body to a painter’s blank canvas. By ensuring you have adequate coordination, motor control, mobility, stability, strength and speed, you have the basic tools necessary for a high-performance golf swing. Of course, you will still need to develop a functional technique and specific skill level that matches your goals. On the flip side, if you are deficient in these areas, you are like a dirty canvas; your options are limited and you will need to make compensations to achieve anything close to the desired outcome. In simpler terms, movements that are universally desirable in the golf swing may be very difficult or impossible for you based on your current physical state.

Earlier, I mentioned the term “appropriate training,” and now I am going to discuss one of the ways to identify what this means for you as a golfer trying to use physical training to support a better golf game. The TPI (Titleist Performance Institute) Movement Screen is a great start for everyone. It is a combination of 16 exercises that are used to assess your current movement capabilities, identify limitations and provide you with your “Body-Swing” connection. The “Body-Swing” connection is a term coined by TPI that illustrates the link between physical deficiencies and potential swing tendencies based on its “Big 12” model. The Big 12 swing characteristics that TPI has identified are as follows:

  1. S-Posture
  2. C-Posture
  3. Loss of Posture
  4. Flat Shoulder Plane
  5. Early Extension
  6. Over The Top
  7. Sway
  8. Slide
  9. Hanging Back
  10. Reverse Spine Angle
  11. Casting
  12. Chicken Winging

It’s important to note these as tendencies rather than flaws, as great ball strikers have demonstrated some of them. When done excessively, they make high functioning swings more difficult and may make potential injury more likely. Rather than going through all 16 screening exercises (which would be a very long read), I have selected five that I feel provide a lot of useful information. They can often broadly differentiate the playing level of golfers.

1. Static Setup Posture

There is a lot of debate in golf instruction about what is the correct way to assume posture for the golf swing. Some prefer more rounded shoulders akin to what was common in years gone by: Jack and Arnie being good examples. Others prefer a more extended thoracic spine (less curved upper back): Rory McIlroy and Adam Scott are good examples. I’m not a golf instructor and clearly both types can hit great golf shots. I am more concerned with the lumbar spine (the lower back, which doesn’t seem to get as much attention when the setup is being discussed).

Note the difference between the spinal curvatures of Jack and Rory. I’m OK with either as long as the lower back is in a biomechanically sound position (explained in video).

An overly extended or arched lower back (which I demonstrate in the video) creates too large a space between the alignment rod and my lower back. This is a common issue I see, and it can lead to a lack of pelvis rotation, a lack of power due to the inability to effectively use the glutes and abdominal muscles and lower back discomfort. Cueing a slight posterior tilt (tucking the tailbone underneath you) often makes a noticeable difference in pelvis mobility, power, and comfort.

 2. Pelvic Rotation

Pelvic rotation is essential for X-factor stretch, the ability to increase the amount of separation between the pelvis and torso during transition (moving from the backswing into the downswing). This is often referred to as starting the downswing with the lower body/hips (while the torso is still rotating away from the target or is paused at the end of the backswing). It is critical for effective sequencing and power production. Increasing the separation between your pelvis and torso on the downswing increases what is known as the “stretch-shortening cycle” of your trunk and torso muscles, which is like adding more stretch to an elastic band and then releasing it. If you cannot separate pelvic rotation and torso rotation, it will be extremely difficult to be a good golfer.

In the video below, watch how Rickie Fowler’s pelvis rotates toward the target independently of his torso. This increases the elastic energy stored in his muscles and tendons, allowing for big power production.

 3. Lower Quarter Rotation

The Lower Quarter Rotation Test shares some similarities to the Pelvic Rotation Test, but one key difference is that it doesn’t require nearly as much motor control. Many people fail the pelvic rotation test not because of a mobility limitation, but because they can’t control the different segments of the their body and perform the action they want (motor control issue). The Lower Quarter Rotation Test, on the other hand, does not require anywhere near as much control and therefore looks more directly at the internal and external rotation mobility of the lower body. People who struggle with this test are more likely to sway, slide and have reverse spine angle.

DJ Top of backswing.jpg

I’m confident Dustin Johnson would do OK on the Lower Quarter Rotation test. Look at how well he can turn into his right hip.

 4. Seated Thoracic Rotation

This one usually resonates with golfers, as “getting a full shoulder turn” is something that golf media and players like to talk to about regularly. I think most people understand the concept of a sufficient shoulder turn being important for creating power. Restricted thoracic spine rotation can stem from a few different causes. A common one is excessive thoracic flexion (rounder upper back). To test this for yourself: 1) try the test in the video hunched over and 2) with your spine as long as possible. You should notice you can rotate farther when you sit extended.

5. 90/90 External Shoulder Rotation  

Many popular golf instruction pages on social media talk about the importance of shallowing the shaft in transition and trail arm external shoulder rotation. I understand the reasoning for this in terms of swing technique, but something that needs to be taken into consideration is whether golfers actually have the ability to externally rotate their shoulders. This is often not the case. Two interesting trends I have noticed with golfers and external shoulder rotation:

  1. A larger percentage of U.S. golfers compared to Irish golfers (the two countries I have worked in) tend to have much more trail arm external rotation available. This is mainly due to throwing baseballs and footballs in their youth, which doesn’t happen in Ireland.
  2. Shoulder external rotation, shoulder flexion, and thoracic extension really seem to reduce as golfers get older compared to other movements. Please take note of this and put some exercises into your routine that promote mobility and stability in the thoracic spine and scapula, as these are the foundation for sound shoulder mechanics. Thoracic extensions on a foam roller, relaxed hanging from a pull-up bar and wall slides with external rotation are some exercises I like to use.
MLB: St. Louis Cardinals at Toronto Blue Jays

I think this pitcher would have enough external shoulder rotation in his golf swing.

I hope this article gave you some more understanding of how learning about your body and then working on its limitations might be beneficial for your golf game. If you have questions about the TPI Movement Screen or are interested in an online evaluation, please feel free to e-mail me.

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