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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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Instruction

Stickney: A dangerous trend is developing for top players

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As a teacher, I obviously have my own particular biases as it pertains to the different stroke patterns I teach to the random levels of golfers I see, however, one thing remains the same they ALL want a predictable ball flight in the end.

To me, it doesn’t matter if you swing it upright like Wolff or flatter like Kucher because they both work, as do all the swings in the middle IF they produce a consistent result under pressure. What we now understand with the advent of GEARS and Trackman is that everyone has their own individual motion and sure there are certain fundamentals that everyone great possesses but end the end we are all left to “find what works best” for us. And over time, the great players have gravitated towards the best and most desirable way that they swing the club without worrying what it looks like only what it produces.

However, I have been noticing a trend amongst the highest level of players that is disturbing…and this trend that we’ll be discussing in a second is beginning to filter down to the kids whom have ready access to launch monitors in high school and just entering into. This trend is the culprit of a two-way miss, albeit a very small one, but a two-way miss nonetheless all in efforts to try and hit the ball too straight.

First, let’s show you examples of some of the best players I have seen personally at the top amateur levels. Every one of these players shown below are proven winners and are ranked very highly nationally on the amateur and Division I college circuits.

I asked each player above what their normal ball flight was day-to-day and each replied, “mostly straight, but if I miss it then it tends to go X, but very, very slightly.” (For those Trackman users, these swings are “normalized,” which takes out the wind etc. for a touch more reality regardless of the conditions outside at the time.)

Now look in the left frame of each player’s swing, and you will see a blue line, and if you look closer, you will see that it is laying directly on top of a white line. The white line is the player’s target line—where they were trying to hit the ball. And the blue line is the PATH of the club for the particular swing shown.

What you will see is that the path of the club is basically “zeroed” out where the path and the target line are moving directly in the same direction. While this might seem like a great idea, in fact no one can play from this position because it’s impossible to zero out the path and clubface at the same time. No teacher in history has seen this consistently. We have seen very small face to path relationships but never 0 for the path, 0 for the face, 0 for the face to path, and 0 for the spin axis. We’re talking trying to manage a degree which is basically 1/6 to of a click of your second hand on your watch dial!

If you could play from a zero path and zero face, then this is what it would look like on Trackman. I have only seen 0 path and a 0 face just once in ALL the shots I have seen with Trackman, and the shot I am talking about curved way offline due to the fact that it was a longer club coupled with a faulty impact position (gear effect).

Now here is the key for people who desire a ball flight that curves as little as possible and zeroing out the path is not the answer! The key is to play with a face to path ratio that is very, very low which helps to lower the ball’s spin axis and thus the ball would curve slightly. If you have the path sitting a couple of degrees left or right of the path then you will be able to have some predictability of your curvature which will give you freedom when you don’t have our “A” swing working that day.

NOTE: Think about pro bowlers, how many do you see that roll the ball directly at the head pin?! Zero. They curve the ball to some degree for more predictability.

As we know, in order to hit the ball where we want, we need to have some consistent curvature and when the path is on top of the target-line a slight twist of the face right or left causes baby pulls or baby pushes.

The goal of ballstriking efficiency is to eliminate ONE side of the course.

Secondly, we know that the ball begins mostly in the direction of the face at impact and will curve away from the path with a centered hit. Therefore, regardless of the curvature left to right or right to left you must work in this order- PATH then the FACE then the Target (as shown below) if not then you will hit pushes and pulls, slices and hooks!

Let’s examine this player above, who moves the ball left to right. We see a path that is leftward at basically -3.0 degrees and the face is almost -2.0 degrees left of the target but only 1.0 degree RIGHT of the path thus the ball curved gently left to right. For players desiring a mostly “straight” ball without the danger of missing it both ways, then the path has to be just far enough left or right of the target line so that the face can fit between the path and the target so you can begin the ball in the correct direction before it begins to curve. This reduction in the face-to-path relationship is the forgotten fundamental of the straight ball hitters!

As you can see, this player has a path that is slightly leftward and the face is only 1 degree rightward of this causing a very low face-to-path, and from this point, he has a spin axis of 0.3 meaning the ball barely moved rightward. This is the key to hitting the ball straighter…not zeroing out the path but reducing the FACE-to-PATH relationship! This cannot be mastered with a zeroed-out path because the face won’t consistently have room to fit between your path and target line as discussed. Thus you will hit micro-pulls or micro-pushes giving you the dreaded two-way miss…all because you have the path working too much down the line!

Path, face, and target…in that order will help you reduce your face to path difference and this will help you to lower your ball’s spin axis and straighter but MORE PREDICTABLE ball flights will ensue. Anything else spells disaster for the people who desire a “straight” ball flight!

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Instruction

Clement: Stop hanging back

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Whether you are a beginner hanging back or an advanced player hanging back, there are very specific reasons for this as well as a very specific task to focus on to OBLITERATE this issue. You will CLEARLY see how this simple task will engage your machine’s hard drive And get you the action you need to hit quality golf shots; TODAY!

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Clark: On learning golf

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“A true teacher will teach how to think, not what to think”

There are several versions of the above adage, but when you teach every day, you get to see this up close and personal. In my opinion, all a teacher can do is to guide you as to what happens when you hit a golf ball. The student has to discover what works for them to achieve better results. It is that simple. The internet is loaded with “how-to” info, and some of it might actually apply to your individual issue, but do yourself a big favor: Go beat some balls and see how it goes; try this, try that, repeat steps one and two!

Let’s take turning as a classic example. If someone were to ask a teacher HOW to turn, there could be a dozen answers. What the teacher, the data, video show is simply this: You are NOT turning. Let’s try this, let’s try that, no, how about this? There are an unlimited number of ways, but the student needs to: FIRST, realize the lack or incorrectness of turn, and SECOND, find a way to do it. Any way, YOUR way. This is called participating in your learning and discovering process. When Ben Hogan said: “the secret is in the dirt,” this is precisely what he was referring to. 

I have a short section each day in my golf school dedicated to the ballistics of impact. A student needs to know exactly what happens at impact. And when you know what produces good flight, then find what you personally are doing to violate those laws. How to correct an open and/or closed clubface means nothing to a student who doesn’t know what open or closed actually is, or does. Swing path and its relationship to clubface resulting in ball flight curvature is knowledge every teacher has, but is like rocket science to the student who knows none of this. I once had a student who thought his shanks were coming off the toe! When I told him that just the opposite was happening, he immediately moved away from the ball a little and stopped shanking (there were other reasons he shanked but just that much knowledge got him off the hosel!)

In order to correct anything, anything at all, it is first necessary to discover the problem and find a way, any way to correct it. No teacher, book, TV tip, or article can do what you can do for yourself. All the teacher might do is make you aware of the problem. But in the end, just go play and try this, that and the other thing. The answer is there, believe me, the answer is in you. You have to find it!

The problem, very often, is that golfers are looking for someone to offer them a light bulb moment, a flash of “aha,” the “I’ve-got-it-now” solution. The aha moment is the only way to get sustained improvement, but it must come from you, the individual. There is no universal “light-bulb moment,” it is uniquely-yours alone to discover.  As I’ve said before, “it’s not what I cover, it’s what you discover.” Discover what? That “thing” you can grasp and go hit ball after ball until you have, at least to a functional degree, internalized it!

Good luck on your personal journey!

On a personal note, this will be my final article for GolfWRX. I have written 100-plus articles over the last 10 years or so and I have thoroughly enjoyed helping all of you who read my articles.

If you read through them on some rainy day, you’ll notice a theme: “If this, then that.” Meaning: If your golf ball is consistently doing that, try this. The articles are all archived on this site, and I am writing a book about my life on the lesson tee. It has been a labor of love as my whole career has been. There is no greater joy in my professional life than seeing the look on a golfers face and feel the joy within them when they improve. The minute that slice straightens, or that ground ball goes up in the air, is a special bond and a shared joy in the student-teacher relationship.

But I’ve said most of what I think is pertinent and anything after this would be redundant. There is now a plethora of how-to info out there, and I personally feel the reader may begin to think he/she should do this or that as opposed to thinking “I should try to discover this or that through my own personal exploration.”

If any of you wish to contact me directly regarding help with your game, you know how to do so. But do remember this: You cannot learn golf from words or pictures. My advice is to get a good teacher to look at you a few times, then go out and find the answer in the dirt. Golf is a game to played. And in that playing, in that trial-and-error process, you will find things that will help you achieve better outcomes. No one owns this game: We only to get to borrow it from time to time!  

 

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