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How to Work Out During the Golf Season

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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:

  1. Injury prevention
  2. Maintaining strength/other physical qualities needed to perform (they’re usually built during the off-season)
  3. Managing fatigue so athletes are fresh to tee it up week after week.

Injury Prevention

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.

Maintaining Strength

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.

Managing Fatigue

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

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Click to enlarge.

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.

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Nick is a TPI certified strength coach with a passion for getting golfers stronger and moving better. Through Stronger Golf he uses unique, research based training methods to create stronger, faster, more athletic golfers. Golfers who are more coachable, achieve higher levels of skill mastery, play injury free, and for longer as a result of improved physical fitness.

4 Comments

4 Comments

  1. Sebastian

    May 25, 2017 at 7:44 am

    Need to be careful about this. The wrong kind of work outs make the slow twitch muscle fibers grow and you could lose flexibility and speed, and gain strength.

    People have two general types of muscle fibers: slow-twitch (type I) and fast-twitch (type II). Slow-twitch muscles help enable long-endurance feats such as distance running, while fast-twitch muscles fatigue faster but are used in powerful bursts of movements like sprinting.

    Some of the tour pros are working out to bulk up and get really strong, but that can be detrimental due to slow twitch fibers.

    DJ seems to have it right. Lots of explosive movement training, with slam balls, box jumps, etc… And he doesn’t complain and WD from sore back (unless it’s due to stairs), pulled muscles, etc… Bubba crushes the ball and I believe he doesn’t even lift weights.

    I used to lift very heavy and be bulky in my early 20’s, and lost all flexibility. I could not hit a ball to save my life.

    Combination movements that are explosive seem to be best for golf. Things such as snatches, KB swings, box jumps, push ups, sprinting, tire flips, etc…

    That is what I have researched and read. but it’s just my opinion.

    • Nathan

      May 26, 2017 at 7:54 pm

      Your comment is not accurate at all. At all…

      • Mike

        Jun 1, 2017 at 8:27 am

        So then, smart guy, what would make it accurate?

    • Quinn

      Jun 4, 2017 at 2:25 pm

      What you said is incorrect, being bulkier can actually allow you to be more flexible due to having more muscle. Whether you choose to stretch or not is dependent on whether your flexible or not it has nothing to do with being bulky at all. It is good to develop fast twitch muscle fibers but that doesn’t mean you only want fast twitch muscle fibers, and just because your not doing the lifts that your talking about doesn’t mean you aren’t developing fast twitch muscle fibers. Exploding on the concentric movement of the repetition is ideally how you want to do a lift and slow on the eccentric movement of the repetition. Deadlifts or Squats are great movements and are generally what golfers might think are bad exercises for golf which is untrue. They’re actually great ways to build up muscle and then compliment them with more specialized exercises. But they both are very important, not one way or the other.

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A Drill To Build Better Club Face Awareness

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When it comes to playing good golf, where you strike the ball on the club face is vital.

One of the key skills in golf is being aware of where the club face is as you swing the club around your body in order to be able to strike the ball in the center of the club face. In this video, I share one of my favorite drills for you to practice to improve your club face awareness. It will help you to hit the center of the club face more often.

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How the Trail Arm Should Work In Backswing

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Stop getting stuck! In this video, I demonstrate a great drill to help you move your trail arm correctly in the backswing.

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Self-discovery: Why golf lessons aren’t helping you improve

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Of all the things I teach or have taught in golf, I think this is the most important: It’s not what we cover in a lesson, it’s what you discover. 

Some years ago, I had a student in golf school for a few days. She was topping every single shot. Zero were airborne. I explained that she was opening her body and moving forward before her arms and club were coming down. “Late” we call it. I had her feel like her arms were coming down first and her body was staying behind, a common correction for late tops. Bingo! Every ball went up into the air. She was ecstatic.

Some time later, she called and said she was topping every shot. She scheduled a lesson. She topped every shot. I asked her why she was topping the ball. “I think I’m picking up my head,” she said to my look of utter disbelief!

I had another student who was shanking the ball. At least 3 out of 5 came off the hosel with his wedges. I explained that his golf club was pointed seriously left at the top of his backswing. It was positioned well OUTSIDE his hands, which caused it to come down too wide and swing OUTSIDE his hands into impact. This is a really common cause of shanking. We were able to get the club more down the line at the top and come down a bit narrower and more inside the ball. No shanks… not a one!  He called me sometime later. The shanks had returned. You get the rest. When I asked what was causing him to shank, he told me “I get too quick.”

If you are hitting the golf ball better during a golf lesson, you have proven to yourself that you CAN do it. But what comes after the lesson is out of a teacher’s hands. It’s as simple as that. I cannot control what you do after you leave my lesson tee. Now, if you are NOT hitting the ball better during a lesson or don’t understand why you’re not hitting it better, I will take the blame. And…you do not have to compensate me for my time. That is the extent to which I’ll go to display my commitment and accept my responsibility. What we as teachers ask is the same level of commitment from the learners.

Improving at golf is a two-way street. My way is making the correct diagnosis and offering you a personalized correction, possibly several of them. Pick the ONE that works for you. What is your way on the street? Well, here are a few thoughts on that:

  • If you are taking a lesson at 10 a.m. with a tee time at 11 a.m. and you’re playing a $20 Nassau with your buddies, you pretty much wasted your time and money.
  • If the only time you hit balls is to warm up for your round, you have to be realistic about your results.
  • If you are expecting 250-yard drives with an 85 mph club head speed, well… let’s get real.
  • If you “fake it” during a lesson, you’re not going to realize any lasting improvement. When the teacher asks if you understand or can feel what’s being explained and you say yes when in fact you DO NOT understand, you’re giving misleading feedback and hurting only yourself. Speak up!

Here’s a piece of advise I have NEVER seen fail. If you don’t get it during the lesson, there is no chance you’ll get it later. It’s not enough to just hit it better; you have to fully understand WHY you hit it better. Or if you miss, WHY you missed.

I have a rule I follow when conducting a golf lesson. After I explain the diagnosis and offer the correction, I’ll usually get some better results. So I continue to offer that advice swing after swing. But at some point in the lesson, I say NOTHING. Typically, before long the old ball flight returns and I wait– THREE SWINGS. If the student was a slicer and slices THREE IN A ROW, then it’s time for me to step in again. I have to allow for self discovery at some point. You have to wean yourself off my guidance and internalize the corrections. You have to FEEL IT.

When you can say, “If the ball did this then I know I did that” you are likely getting it. There is always an individual cause and effect you need to understand in order to go off by yourself and continue self improvement. If you hit a better shot but do not know why, please tell your teacher. What did I do? That way you’re playing to learn, not simply learning to play.

A golf lesson is a guidance, not an hour of how to do this or that. The teacher is trying to get you to discover what YOU need to feel to get more desirable outcomes. If all you’re getting out of it is “how,” you are not likely to stay “fixed.” Remember this: It’s not what we cover in the lesson; it’s what you discover!

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