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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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