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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 and Golf Australia. Nick also works with club level and casual golfers of all ages and abilities to help them get the most out their bodies and improve their golf. Nick has developed the world’s most comprehensive golf fitness app, along with other golf fitness resources and products which available on his website. WEB - www.golffitpro.net EMAIL - nick@golffitpro.net

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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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Instruction

Functional Golf vs. Optimal Golf

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Optimize this, optimize that. We hear so much about “optimal” golf these days. It’s great that we now have the technology to seemingly optimize every aspect of the golfer, the golf swing, and the golf club, but we have to be realistic in terms of our goals. Ask yourself this question: If I can’t do this optimally, is there a way I can still do it better?

And… how do we define better? That’s easy. More solid impact.

Yes, optimal golf is what we’d all like and perhaps that is the concern of highly skilled players. But for the vast majority of golfers, functional golf might be more realistic. John Jacobs, the best teacher ever, called his approach “practical.” I’m using the term functional in a similar, albeit more specific way. And many of my regular readers know by now that I credit Jacobs for whatever success I’ve had as an instructor.

During a recent lesson, I pointed out a particular swing flaw to a student while we were reviewing his swing on video. He stopped me and said: “See that, what you’re showing me right there? I have done that my whole life. I’ve taken a number of lessons and they all mentioned that very move, and I CANNOT change it. Why is that?”

I thought, man, if I had a few bucks for every time I’ve heard that I’d be, uh,  pretty comfortable.

There are certain habits some golfers simply cannot break no matter how hard they try. For one reason or another, they’re physically incapable of changing. I have observed this for more than 30 years over thousands and thousands of lessons. Does this mean you can’t change the problems these moves may cause? No, absolutely not. There’s a long list of major champions with so called  “flaws” in their swings, from Nicklaus’ flying elbow to Furyk and his quirky move. But what these greats did is find a move that they CAN make, one that’s compatible with their core move.

If you have a move that, for whatever reason, is embedded in the fabric of your golfing DNA, it is probably best you do not beat your head against a wall trying to  change that move, however flawed it may seem. Rather, let’s see if we can find something that blends with that move that you CAN execute.

The golfer I was teaching suffered from fat shots and blocks due to an early release. He simply never learned “lag” or a later hit. So the bottom of the swing arc ended up behind the golf ball more often than not. This golfer has done this for some 20 years, so instead of trying to reinvent the wheel I took a different approach. I asked him to address the golf ball with more weight on his left side. Things got a little better. More weight on the left side, even better, and so on. In other words, we started his motion from a different place, one that was more functional for him.

To help this golfer create a more functional golf swing, I had to move his center of mass forward. It wasn’t optimal perhaps, but his real problem (fat shots) had to be addressed within his current skill set. “If I could just stop drop kicking every shot, I’d be happy,” he said. In other words, we worked out a compromise, a way he could hit the ball more cleanly and enjoy golf more.

As an instructor, that’s pretty much what I do every day. I’m always looking for a compatible motion that balances golf swing equations. “If that is a band aid, you better buy a whole box,” Jacobs would say.

I teach in a community of largely senior golfers. Senior but serious, I call them. They are looking for a way to put the club on the ball more often, which means a better impact position. There is no “in the long run” for seniors. I don’t say, “Let’s make a plan for later” because some are fearful of buying green bananas, let alone working hard on a long-term plan. There is also no “new” when your old move has been around most of your golfing life. Senior golfers, myself included, are on the back nine, much closer to the 18th green than the 1st tee. And most golfers are not going back and starting their round over… believe me. But this doesn’t mean they can’t play better. And they do. Every day.

This lesson likely applies to you even if you are younger and more physically capable. Some things just don’t change, and perhaps the learning psychologists or biomechanists can better tell you why. That’s why I encourage all serious golfers to work with an instructor to identify what moves in their swing simply will not change. Then they should learn to work around them, not try to fix them. That’s the way to better golf.

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A Jedi Mind Trick For Improved Target Awareness

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I think all golfers, at some point in their life playing the game of golf, has gotten stuck, or become frozen over the golf ball. Why?  They’re trying to remember which of the 23 different swing thoughts they used for the day performed the best.

The disheartening reality: none of us are going to perform well on a consistent basis with our thoughts being so internally driven. Swing thoughts force our awareness inward. Is the shaft in the correct position? Am I making a proper pressure shift? Was that a reverse pivot? Close that club face! Regardless of the technique you are trying to manage or modify, these kinds of questions make you acquire sensations internally.

To complicate things further, we are taught to look at the golf ball, not the target, while hitting our golf shot. And yet instinctively, in almost all other skills of making a ball or object finish towards a target (throwing a ball or frisbee, kicking a soccer ball, skipping a rock across water, shooting a basket ball) our awareness is not on the ball or the motion itself, but rather the ultimate target.

So, can we develop a skill that allows us to still keep our eye on the ball, like the game of golf encourages, but have awareness of our target, like so many other target sports demand?  Yes, the answer is (third rate Yoda Speak), and the skill can easily be yours.

Here’s where this gets fun. You already have learned this skill set, but under different conditions. Perhaps this example resonates with you. Did you ever play hide-and-seek as a child? Remember how you used to close your eyes and count to 10? During those 10 seconds of having your eyes closed, weren’t you using all of your senses externally, trying to track where your friends were going to hide? Weren’t you, just like a bloodhound, able to go directly to a few of the less skillful hiders’ hiding places and locate them?

Or how about this example. When you are driving down your own local multilane highway, aren’t you aware of all the cars around you while keeping your eyes firmly on the road in front of you? Reconnecting, recognizing and/or developing these skills that all of us already use is the first step in knowing you’re not too far away from doing this with your golf game.

Here’s what I want you to do. Grab a putter and place your golf ball 3 feet away from the hole on a straight putt. Aim your putter, and then look at the hole. As you bring your eyes back to the golf ball, maintain part of your awareness back at the hole. Each successive time your eyes leave your golf ball and head back to the hole, your eyes will be able to confirm your target. It hasn’t moved; it’s still in the same location; your confidence builds.

When you know for certain that your external awareness of the target is locked in while still looking at your golf ball, step up and execute your putt.

The wonderful beauty of this skill set is that you now have the best of both worlds. You are still looking at the golf ball, which gives you a better chance of striking the golf ball solidly… AND you are now target aware just like you are when you are throwing an object at a target.

As always, acquire this skill set from a close target with a slower, smaller motion. If you don’t execute properly, you have a better chance of making the proper corrective assessment from a slower, smaller motion and closer target. As you become more proficient with this skill, allow the target to get farther away and try to add more speed with a larger range of motion.

So give learning this skill set a go. I don’t think there is anything more valuable in playing the game of golf than keeping your “athlete” attached to the target. Become proficient at developing this awareness and you can tell all your friends that the primary reason your scores are getting lower and you’re getting deeper into their wallets is because of Jedi Mind tricks. Good luck!

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6 things to consider before aiming at the flagstick

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One of the most impactful improvements you can make for your game is to hit more greens; you’ll have more birdie opportunities and will avoid bogeys more often. In fact, hitting more greens is the key to golfing success, in my opinion… more so than anything else.

However, there is a misconception among players when it comes to hitting approach shots. When people think “greens,” they tend to only think about the flagstick, when the pin may be the last thing you should be looking at. Obviously, we’d like to stick it on every shot, but shooting at the pin at the wrong time can cost you more pain than gain.

So I’d like to give you a few rules for hitting greens and aiming at the flagstick.

1) Avoid Sucker Pins

I want you to think about Hole No. 12 at Augusta and when the pin is on the far right side of the green… you know, the Sunday pin. Where do the pros try and aim? The center of the green! That’s because the right pin is by all means a sucker pin. If they miss the shot just a touch, they’re in the water, in the bunker, or left with an impossible up-and-down.

Sucker pins are the ones at the extreme sides of the green complex, and especially the ones that go against your normal shot pattern.

So go back to No. 12 with a far right pin, and say your natural shot shape is right-to-left. Would you really aim out over the water and move it towards the pin? That would be a terrible idea! It’s a center of the green shot all day, even for those who work it left-to-right. Learn to recognize sucker pins, and you won’t short side yourself ever again.

2) Are You a Good Bunker Player?

A “sucker pin,” or just a difficult hole location, is often tucked behind a bunker. Therefore, you should ask yourself, “am I a good bunker player?” Because if you are not, then you should never aim at a pin stuck behind one. If I wanted to shoot at pins all day, I’d make sure I was the best lob wedge player around. If you are not a short-game wizard, then you will have a serious problem attacking pins all round.

For those who lack confidence in their short game, or simply are not skilled on all the shots, it’s a good idea to hit to the fat part of the green most of the time. You must find ways to work around your weaknesses, and hitting “away” from the pin isn’t a bad thing, it’s a smart thing for your game.

3) Hitting the Correct Shelf

I want you to imagine a pin placed on top of a shelf. What things would you consider in order to attack this type of pin? You should answer: shot trajectory, type of golf ball, your landing angle with the club you’re hitting, the green conditions, and the consequences of your miss. This is where people really struggle as they forget to take into account these factors.

If you don’t consider what you can and cannot do with the shot at hand, you will miss greens, especially when aiming at a pin on a shelf. Sometimes, you will simply have to aim at the wrong level of the green in order to not bring the big number into play. Remember, if you aim for a top shelf and miss, you will leave yourself with an even more difficult pitch shot back onto that same shelf you just missed.

4) Know your Carry Distances

In my opinion, there is no excuse these days to not know your carry distances down to the last yard. Back when I was growing up, I had to go to a flat hole and chart these distances as best I could by the ball marks on the green. Now, I just spend an hour on Trackman.

My question to you is if you don’t know how far you carry the ball, how could you possibly shoot at a pin with any type of confidence? If you cannot determine what specific number you carry the ball, and how the ball will react on the green, then you should hit the ball in the center of the green. However, if the conditions are soft and you know your yardages, then the green becomes a dart board. My advice: spend some time this off-season getting to know your distances, and you’ll have more “green lights” come Spring.

5) When do you have the Green Light?

Do you really know when it’s OK to aim at the pin? Here are some questions to ask yourself that will help:

  • How are you hitting the ball that day?
  • How is your yardage control?
  • What is the slope of the green doing to help or hinder your ball on the green?
  • Do you have a backstop behind the pin?

It’s thoughts such as these that will help you to determine if you should hit at the pin or not. Remember, hitting at the pin (for amateurs) does not happen too often per nine holes of golf. You must leave your ego in the car and make the best decisions based on what information you have at that time. Simple mistakes on your approach shot can easily lead to bogeys and doubles.

6) When is Any Part of the Green Considered a Success?

There are some times when you have a terrible angle, or you’re in the rough/a fairway bunker. These are times when you must accept “anywhere on the green.”

Left in these situations, some players immediatly think to try and pull off the “miracle” shot, and wonder why they compound mistakes during a round. Learn to recognize if you should be happy with anywhere on the green, or the best place to miss the ball for the easiest up and down.

Think of Ben Hogan at Augusta on No. 11; he said that if you see him on that green in regulation then you know he missed the shot. He decided that short right was better than even trying to hit the green… sometimes you must do this too. But for now analyze your situation and make the best choice possible. When in doubt, eliminate the big numbers!

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