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Optimal training strategies for golfers: Part 1

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When it comes to athletic-based training (sprinting, agility work, plyometrics, conditioning, resistance training, etc.), I’m pretty certain golfers don’t come to mind when you think of those who can benefit from these particular training methods. Fortunately, real-world evidence and science say otherwise.

My training staff and I were recently granted the opportunity to work with the University of Nevada-Reno men’s golf team. We found that these men are committed to excellence, and are gladly willing to do whatever it takes within the rules to gain a competitive edge over their competition. In this article, I’m going to outline most of our specific training approach with this group of golfers, and include some training parameters, research studies, video demonstrations, and sound evidence to hopefully supply some new insight into what’s necessary when training these kinds of golfers.

I will cover six specific topics over the course of two articles, which are pertinent to golfers for optimal athletic and physical development, along with programming guidelines including “modified” exercise variations, training frequency concerns and intensity management techniques.

No. 1: Hip and Thoracic Mobility

According to the Joint by Joint Approach, made famous by renown physical therapist Gray Cook and strength and conditioning coach Mike Boyle, the entire collection of joints throughout the body alternates between primary needs of either mobility or stability. As it pertains to golf specifically, the hips and middle back require and are anatomically designed to display adequate mobility levels throughout a swing pattern. Often times though, this is not the case upon various forms of assessment. As a result, common and predictable compensation patterns begin to emerge at the knee and lumbar spine. Unfortunately, range of motion capacity is naturally limited at these locations, especially the low back.

Joint-By-Joint-Approach-by-Michael-Boyle

According to Mark Buckley, thoracic rotation accounts for 60-70 degrees of rotary motion, while the lower back accounts for 10-15 degrees. (1) A major difference to say the least. I should note that there is an absolute plethora of evidence indicating injury at each segment of our spine at various local structures that is beyond the scope of this article. Based on the information above, however, it is safe to conclude that if you do not abide by the motion standard set forth by your spinal architecture then you are asking for trouble.

Lastly, there was also a study published in 2008 by Van Dillen, which showed an increase in LBP (lower back pain) with a loss of hip mobility. (2) Below is a circuit that we perform 1-2 times per week with the team to help keep both of these areas loose.

No. 2: Lower Body Strength

Mike Reinold, former trainer for the Boston Red Sox, happened to disclose some solid research on muscle contribution levels in rotational activities, such as throwing, golf swings and tennis serves. Here is a link to the review and I will cover some specifics, as well.

Mike helps bring to light the movement principle known as “Proximal to Distal Sequencing” in regards to rotational movement. (3, 4) Ideally, in rotational movements, there is an initial action from the pelvis and legs, which are more central or “proximal” to the body. Energy is then transmitted up the chain through the torso, arms and then hands, imparting force to accelerate an object (racquet, club or ball). So based on this principle alone, the lower extremities are huge players in golf swing potential.

Moreover, there were two more studies, which indicated glute strength and its influence on the pelvis, torso and hand speed. (5, 6) There is also good evidence showing high levels of quadricep and hamstring activity as well.

The take-home message here should be that golf is obviously naturally limited in its ability to improve strength in all the muscles of the lower body to the highest degree possible, but a sound strength program consisting of lunges, sled work, GHR’s, stability ball leg curls, rear foot elevated split squats, single leg squats, dumbbell or kettlebell swings and much more will ensure that all of the lower body is being targeted and developed in the strength department to help improve performance on the course.

Below are two of our golfers demonstrating a modified GHR and stability ball leg curls.

No. 3: Club head Speed and Power Output

Of all of the topics in which I’m going to discuss, there was the highest amount of evidence for developing power. For instance, in 2013, a researcher by the name of Read found that power-based exercises such as a squat jump and rotational medicine ball throws related best to a golfer’s club head speed. (7) Just recently in 2016, Turner had this to say about improving a professional golfer’s club head speed:

“Results suggest that strength-based leg exercises and power-based chest exercises may improve club head speed in professional golfers.”

This study also mentioned that the squat jump was a primary measurable for club head speed performance as well. (8) Last but not least, in 2009, Gordon found that total body rotational power and upper body strength measures were primarily responsible for club head and not flexibility, contrary to popular belief. (9)

Now all of this research is interesting, indeed, but does club head speed actually affect a golfer’s handicap? I know several of our guys are still questioning whether or not it does, but numbers don’t lie. According to PGA Tour statistics, 66 golfers on the PGA Tour currently have an average driver club head speed in excess of 115 mph, with Andrew Loupe swinging as fast as 125.2 mph.

Of course, I am not an expert in golf — I’m actually quite terrible at the sport — and there are several other mental and physical elements that have to be considered when assessing a golfer’s aptitude and performance. Club head speed definitely does seem to matter, though, and a sound strength-and-conditioning program can increase club head speed to complement a comprehensive golf-training regime. Otherwise, through either injury or a lack of distance, a golfer can be at a disadvantage on the course.

In Part 2 of this series, I will be sure to discuss more significant training topics which are vital for golfers, as well as detail some programming specifics and uncommon factors which need to be addressed and could help make a big difference for both long-term health and performance.

DISCLAIMER:

The exercises disclosed above do carry with them an inherent risk for potential injury if performed incorrectly, or without the direct supervision of a qualified training professional.  Make sure to consult either your physician or coach before engaging in these activities or anything highly strenuous in nature.

References

  1. https://bretcontreras.com/topic-of-the-week-spinal-rotation-exercises/
  2. Van Dillen, L. Hip Rotation Range of Motion in People With and Without Low Back Pain Who Participate in Rotation-Related Sports. Phys Ther Sport 9: 72-81, 2008.
  3. Callaway, R. An Analysis of Peak Pelvis Rotation Speed, Gluteus Maximus and Medius Strength in High Versus Low Handicap Golfers During the Golf Swing 7:288-295, 2012.
  4. Spaniol, F. Striking Skills: Developing Power to Turn. The Strength and Conditioning Journal 34: 57-60, 2012.
  5. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9474404
  6. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20664365
  7. Read, PJ. Relationship between field-based measures of strength and power and golf club head speed.  The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research 10: 2708-2713, 2013.
  8. Turner, AN. Determinants of Club Head Speed in PGA Professional Golfers. The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 2016.
  9. Gordon, BS. An investigation into the relationship of flexibility, power, and strength to club head speed in male golfers.  The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research 5: 1606, 1610, 2009.
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Travis Hansen has been involved in the field of Human Performance Enhancement for nearly a decade. He graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in Fitness and Wellness, and holds three different training certifications from the ISSA, NASM, and NCSF. He was the Head Strength and Conditioning Coach for the Reno Bighorns of the NBADL for their 2010 season, and he is currently the Director of The Reno Speed School inside the South Reno Athletic Club. He has worked with hundreds of athletes from almost all sports, ranging from the youth to professional ranks. He is the author of the hot selling "Speed Encyclopedia" http://thespeedencyclopedia.com, and is also the leading authority on speed development through the International Sports Sciences Association.

2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. Jay K.

    Sep 4, 2016 at 7:28 pm

    Mike Boyle has recently spoken out AGAINST the first three exercises in your video. He doesn’t want to teach any movements that put stress on the lumbar spine, he specifically mentions any exercise which requires you to move your legs in a way that twists the lumbar such as the Scorpion, the first exercise in the video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tXEECZzqO-0.

    Mike recommends you “move through your hips, and not through your lumbar spine.”

  2. Morgan Wells

    May 15, 2016 at 9:11 pm

    Travis, appreciate the article. Have been working on my flexibility in particular to gain clubhead speed. As a follow up, would love to see an article quantify the data a bit. For instance, the above article references Turner in that power based exercises may improve clubhead speed. However, without data that sentence says very little.

    Would love to see the next article quantify and differentiate how much (if any) clubhead speed is gained from the various exercises and stretches. That would help us hackers know where to focus our efforts!

    Keep up the good work!

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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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