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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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Stickney: Sit on it (for a better backswing)

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As we know golf, is a very tough sport and one that involves many moving pieces. Whenever something overreacts or moves too much on the way back, you end up playing catch-up on the way down. One of my favorite things to watch is how the head moves or doesn’t move on the backswing. Sure, you can have some movement, but you can’t have too much or you put yourself behind the eight ball.

I have charted the head position of a tour player at address and we can see that this is a very normal set up position. It is one that looks positioned to do great things.

However, en route to the top, you can see that this player has put himself into a position where his rear knee straightened too rapidly off the start of his backswing. When this occurs the pelvis “runs out from under” the upper body on the backswing the hips will react and begin to slant downward. (You can see a -10 degree tilt versus 3 degrees the opposite way at address for you number people.)

This causes the head to move out in front of where it was at address. This is not a bad position for the irons but for a driver we have a pending issue. If you don’t make a compensation from here then the player will have an angle of attack that is too much downward through impact with their driver.

As the player moves into his transition, the hips have leveled as the rear shoulder lowers the club into delivery but the head and pelvis are still too far out in front of the ball. The only thing you can do from here is fire the lead side upwards and hope that your head falls back into the correct position. If so, you will have the correct angle of attack, if not, you will chop down on the ball causing your launch conditions to be faulty.

And as we see here that this is precisely what this player did at the very last minute…not the easiest way to swing the club but it is functional IF you make the right correction. So, now that you understand how simple things like the action of the lower body can cause your head to move and your angle of attack to become faulty, what is the secret to controlling your lower body?


Just “sit” on the rear knee flex slightly longer during the backswing as you see here. This will slow down the tilting of the pelvis on backswing and thus your head will stay more in position en route to the top.

Personally, I teach both flexion and extension of the rear knee to the top, depending on what the player is wanting to do, so it really does not matter. However, what does matter is the rate at which it begins to straighten for those of you who do allow it to lengthen. I try to make most of my students hold the most of their address flex until the club moves between belt and chest high, any sooner and you risk the faulty pivot we saw above.

Therefore, take it from me and “sit on it” slightly longer for more quiet head motions as well as a more balanced backswing—your angle of attack will thank you!

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Davies: Training the trail elbow in the golf swing

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Alistair Davies shares with you how to get the correct trail arm and elbow action in the downswing. He shares some great drills that can be done at the range or at home to help lower your scores.Get the correct training for the trail arm here today!

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The important lessons you can learn from Peter Senior’s golf swing

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He may not be a household name in the United States, but Australia’s Peter Senior has a swing for the ages. At 60 years old, Senior has 34 worldwide professional wins including the 2015 Australian Masters beating a competitive field with several top-ranked players in the world. Turning professional in 1978, his career has spanned over 40 years.

Senior’s game and swing have stood the test of time, and the longevity of his career should be recognized. Senior formerly worked with Australian instructor Gary Edwin, and the structure to this swing taught to Senior paved the way for a future of consistent, high-quality professional golf.

Having a great golf swing isn’t the only key to becoming a great golfer, one must learn to play the game. However, you can learn a lot from Senior’s swing.

The origin to Senior’s swing lies in his set-up. Senior sets up in what I call his “hitting angles” or a position that mirrors impact.

From this position, Senior is able to simply keep these angles he established at address throughout the swing. This is why the set-up is so critical. The further he deviates from these “hitting angles”, the more he will have to find that impact position with his body in the backswing and downswing. In other words, more movement. The goal of his backswing will be to maintain these original starting angles.

From the picture, Senior has maintained his original body shape that he established at address. From this position, it will be much easier and repeatable to return the club to impact.

Note how his impact position now mirrors his original address position. All his original angles were maintained with a slight bump of the body towards the target. From impact, he can simply fold up his arms as his right side of his body rotates around his left side, keeping the clubface square to the body.

This standing tall finish position with the head following the torso is much easier on the back. His body has come forward and around beautifully, covering the ball for a proper strike.

The beauty of Senior’s swing lies in its simplicity. The changes Senior made to his swing can apply to anyone. Let’s look at two simple drills to make your swing more efficient and powerful.

“To a large extent, my backswing is a product of my set-up position” – Tiger Woods, Golf Digest 2020

To get into these impact angles simply practice pushing into an impact bag with the head and shaft of the club. Make sure your trail arm is tucked, lowering the trail shoulder as you pressure the bag.

To get the feeling of the proper coil from this set-up position, grab an impact bag and hold the bag in front of you.

From here, swing the bag around you with your arms keeping the top of the bag level. You will feel the trail side of your body move back and the lead side move out, coiling around your spine angle.

The trail glute will also move back and around with this drill, a key move the great Ben Hogan used to pivot his body. To develop an efficient swing and a long, injury-free career, take note of Peter Senior’s key moves.

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