Top golfers today are elite athletes whose in-season programs are carefully considered based on their competitive schedules, how each individual athlete responds to different physical stressors, the physical qualities important to that athlete, and much more. The goal is to allow these athletes to perform at the highest possible level while staying healthy and energized so they can manage their busy practice schedules, play schedules, and the demands of constant travel.
But what does all this have to do with GolfWRX readers, who probably aren’t tour pros and have day jobs that keep them from playing as much golf as they’d like? Well, as it turns out, you’ve probably got more in common with a typical tour pro than you might think… in terms of lifestyle at least.
Late nights and early wake-up calls compromise good sleeping habits, and too much sitting (long-distance travel or at a desk) wreak havoc on posture. Tournament golf is just one part of their lives, along with family, kids and work commitments (most tour players have big time commitments from their sponsors, the media, and their professional tour). Starting to sound familiar?
Considering all of these competing demands on the in-season golfer, whether pro or amateur, my job as a fitness professional at this time of year is less of coach and more of a manager. My goal is to manage all the competing demands on a golfer’s time, and most importantly, improve their recovery capacity to allow them to perform optimally when they need to.
In order to achieve this, a golfer’s in-season training should have three main objectives:
- Injury prevention
- Maintaining strength/other physical qualities needed to perform (they’re usually built during the off-season)
- Managing fatigue so athletes are fresh to tee it up week after week.
When injured, an athlete cannot gain strength, power or sport-specific skill. For that reason, injury prevention should be the first priority of every coach and athlete.
The hips, low back and shoulders tend to get pretty chewed up in the golf swing, particularly during a long, competitive season. All the eccentric stress of a greater volume of golf swings, as well as the asymmetrical nature of the golf swing, can lead to significant losses in mobility. Additionally, this is usually coupled with walking the course for 3-5 rounds per week and long-distance travel to tournaments (or long periods of sitting at a desk for the average amateur with a day job).
This tends to have pretty disastrous effects on posture and leads to missing out on basic functional movement patterns like squatting and lunging, so our exercise selection in-season is going to need to account for this.
I love a good analogy, and one of my favorites is thinking of max strength like a drinking glass. If you have a bigger glass (i.e. more strength), you have the potential to be faster or more explosive. This analogy works great in the off-season, however, during the season we tweak it slightly.
Imagine you have a glass, but it has a small hole in the bottom and water is leaking out. This is representative of the strength you’ll lose over the course of a competitive season. If you did the right things in the off-season and got stronger, you have a bigger glass. So even if you have a hole and you’re losing some strength, you’ve got a bigger strength reserve that you can lose. And taking that a step further, if you continue strength training in-season, it’s like plugging a hole in your glass. You may still lose some of your gains, but you’ll do so at a much slower pace.
By strength training year round, not only do you have a bigger strength reserve to start, but you can also maintain Your strength for as long as possible.
The key to in-season strength training is not to demonstrate maximal strength, but rather to maintain strength. We may still move some decent weights, but we don’t need to be working up to true 3-5 rep maxes. Even if you only get in one decent training session per week and lift for 2-3 sets of at 70-80 percent of your of 3-rep max (or 7-8 on an RPE scale), it’s going to go a long way to mitigating any losses in strength over the course of the competitive season.
During in-season training, the primary thing I’m trying to manage is fatigue. For our purposes, fatigue basically equates to stress. And all stress is stress: physical, emotional, mental, financial, marital, etc.
Once the stress bucket is full, there’s not much you can do other than take a break and fix the problem. If the golf season sees a significant increase in the amount of golf swings you are making, walking you are doing or emotional stress (we’ve all been there!), we better factor that in.
As a performance coach, I have to make sure that my golfer is fresh and prepared to play on “X” day or “X” date. As I mentioned earlier, however, keeping the athlete strong is key to success in-season. This represents something of a double-edged sword; strength training is a stressor, and therefore an additional factor they must then recover from. For this reason, our in-season programs typically limit lifting to 1-2 lifting sessions per week. By limiting eccentric (the lowering portion of the lift) and overall training volume, we can ensure our golfers feel fresh during their rounds. Limiting soreness is also key part of allowing the golfer to feel fresh on the tee. By keeping exercise variety low, we can make the most of the repeated bout effect to prevent soreness.
Once the tournament is done, it’s a race to get the athlete recovered and feeling fresh as quickly as possible (particularly in the busy competitive season like you get on the PGA and European tours these days). Doing so allows for improved performance in both practice and competition, ensuring adequate recovery is therefore an all-important part of managing fatigue.
Ensuring proper sleep quality and quantity as well as supplying the body with an appropriate volume of nutrients is also vital to your body’s ability to deal with and recover from stress. Additionally, restorative activities such as swimming or sled pushing/ pulling, foam rolling, static stretching and breathing drills will become a focus of training in-season.
Note: The full details of the recovery strategies we utilize are beyond the scope of this article, so please click here for more information.
Putting It All Together
The entire workout to the right is to be completed 1-2 times per week dependent on training experience. The active recovery and mobility portions should be completed another 1-2 times per week depending on training experience. Lastly, the mobility portion can also be completed post-workout or even nightly.
Ultimately, if you can keep yourself or your athletes feeling as fresh and prepared as possible — and as often as possible, while maintaining the physical qualities needed to perform — you give yourself or your athletes the best possible chance for success. This is where a well-planned and properly managed in-season training program is truly invaluable.