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Train Slow to Swing Fast and Play More

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You are probably reading this article because the title made zero sense to you when you read it.  You are probably thinking, “Slow training makes me go fast? Everyone knows you have to train fast if you want to go fast. We have all seen SuperSpeed Golf’s commercials. This guy is an idiot.” 

With that rationale, not sure I can blame you! 

If you’re a golfer and you want to move the clubhead faster, with more efficiency and for many more years to come, however, I encourage you to read on with a bit of curiosity and even skepticism if that is more your flavor. What you find out might turn the way you train 180 degrees onto its head. I know it did for me.

When I started training athletes more than 10 years ago, I subscribed to the “train fast to be fast” mentality for awhile. Then, thankfully, I read the research out there and realized how I was overlooking one of the most important phases to train mobility, power and maximal strength in my athletes as many people do: the eccentric phase.  

There are a few phases of movement that we should clarify before going any further so as to clear up any confusion later on. Most movements consist of three phases:

  1. The Eccentric Phase
  2. The Isometric Phase
  3. The Concentric Phase

In a squat, the eccentric phase is the lowering phase to the bottom of the squat. The isometric phase is the pause at the bottom of the squat. The concentric phase is when the athlete starts to move their body back toward the start position.  

In the golf swing, we can simply classify the three phases:

  • The eccentric phase occurs toward the end of the backswing as the club is decelerated
  • The isometric phase occurs at the top of the backswing as there is a slight pause right before the start of the transition toward the target (i.e. there is still tension in the tissues and joint, but there is no net joint motion occurring)
  • The concentric phase occurs during the downswing when the club is accelerating toward the golf ball  

Please note that there are many nuances and arguments could be made against these classifications. This categorization is made in the spirit of simplicity to help with understanding of the phases. 

While all three of these movements are relatively easy to see in most human movement and in golf as well, we more often see a focus on the concentric training piece in the gym rather than all three phases. This is interesting to note, as the eccentric phase is a crucial one where athletes are able to store large amounts of energy in connective tissues (muscles and tendons mostly) that we can then use to produce more power during the concentric phase.  

The caveat here is that you need to be strong enough to apply your brakes effectively to decelerate during the eccentric phase and reapply this force during the concentric phase. If you are weak in the eccentric phase, not only will you be inefficient in transferring the energy from the eccentric to concentric phase, but you will be more likely to be injured as well.

So why are we not focusing on this critically important phase of movement in our training of golfers? This is the million dollar question. By simply adding a focus on this part of your training, you will not only decrease your risk of injury, but also improve your strength, power, mobility, movement efficiency and muscle growth

Now to the “so what” part of this article. All of this information is great and cool, but how do you implement this type of training. More importantly, when in the year should we be doing this? Who is this NOT for? Let’s get into it!

This training is NOT for severely untrained individuals with no training background. What is going to follow is a simple progression from beginner to advanced that you can use to implement the benefits of eccentric training to help improve your longevity in the sport and your power output on the tee. 

Please Note: If you’re a newbie, we recommend you seek out the help of a fitness professional to safely guide your progressions.

Step 1: Three-Second Eccentrics

This is probably the simplest form of eccentric training you can do, and it doesn’t matter if you are using a kettlebell, dumbbell or barbell. It is exactly what it says. Just focus on lowering yourself through the eccentric phase for a three-second count.

The weight that you use should be less than what you would normally do for the rep count, as the focus on the eccentric phase increases your time under tension and the demand on the system with lower weights. This is another reason why eccentric training with newer athletes is great. You don’t have to use as much weight, and you are forced to slowly move through the motion and truly own the pattern. There is no using speed to mask weakness or bad technique. Usually sets of 6-8 are plenty with this focus.

This video below is of a five-second eccentric squat (Step 2) but the technique is no different for the three-second eccentric other than the descent is not quite as slow.

Step 2: 5-7 Second Eccentrics

This is a simple progression off the three-second eccentrics in Step 1. After four weeks or so of the three-second program, you can move to the even slower and longer lowerings. This further challenges you to really own the patterns and control the motion perfectly. It allows you to be more in tune with how you are moving throughout the motion and many times will bring to light inefficiencies in your pattern that you can work to improve without the weight being crazy heavy.

Step 3: Three-Second Isometrics

This next step takes “feel the burn” to a whole new level. Now that you can control the eccentric phase, you will work to isometrically control and hold your position at the bottom of the motion. This is a nice variation away from the slow-lowering focus to really challenge you to control the weight during the transition phase of the motion.  

A common question is, “How low do I need to go?” Without getting into the whole butt-to-ground vs. thigh-parallel-to-the-ground argument, go as low as you can (comfortably) while still maintaining sound technique. That being said, try to at least get to thigh-parallel if you’re able to with good technique.

Step 4: Overload Plyometrics

Depending on your age, your joint health and the overall ability you posses, Step 4 might be another game changer for you. Before going any further, if you have total joint replacements, bad arthritis, avoid high impact activities for any reason or just generally don’t think jumping is a good idea for your overall health, then the risk/reward is not present for you with this step. Stick to Steps 1-3 and enjoy the benefits there.

If you have no problems jumping or with higher impact force training, however, Step 4 can be not only fun, but also very beneficial to your performance! The idea of overload plyometrics is that as you drop down from a surface to the ground, you absorb that force and then explode as high as you can vertically or as far as you can horizontally — and then stick a solid landing.

In golf, the vertical force is what we are going to want to focus on training as the horizontal is less applicable. There are many variations you can perform such as altering your take-off mechanics, your landing mechanics (one vs. two feet) and even the height of the surface from which you are dropping. We utilize these variations with many of our traveling professional athletes as equipment can often times be difficult to find, but it is always easy to find a bench or step to drop from in order to make sure they are stimulating the nervous system response that we are after.  

This example of a simple depth jump demonstrated below shows the athlete dropping off of an elevated surface on two feet and then exploding up onto a higher box, which reduces how much force he has to absorb on the second jump. By using a higher box for the landing of the second jump, you are decreasing the amount of neural stress you have to take on because the box “catches” you closer to the apex of your jump.

The name of the game with overload plyometrics is all about how much force you have to absorb. The more force you have to absorb, the harder and more advanced the exercise is. To clarify, if you jump 20 inches in the air and land on the ground, that would be more intense (you would have to absorb more force) than if you jump 20 inches in the air and land on a 12 inch box.

Step 5: Overloading

This is where a lot of the rubber hits the road, and it should not be attempted without professional guidance — and definitely not if you are not a highly trained athlete. This is not a type of training for the weekend warrior who hits the gym only 1-2x/week. If that is you, stick to the top 3 steps and you will still see gains.

Highly trained athletes can oftentimes handle up to 125 percent or more of their concentric ability eccentrically. This means that we can put higher levels of stress on their tissue to force it to adapt, leading to increased maximal strength and hypertrophy gains. This is the performance benefit for higher-level athletes with great movement competency. There are a number of ways to achieve this desired outcome of overload training, such as with drop bars on the side of the barbells, heavy chains, flywheel training or others.  

Flywheel training is one that I would like to focus on here, as it is one of the safest forms of training around because it only allows you to put as much force on yourself eccentrically as you can create concentrically. This means the chances of injury are much lower than the other types of overload mentioned above. While these machines tend to be a bit cost prohibitive, it is this type of advance in training that will continue to occur to help golfers hit it longer for many more years to come while staying healthy. If you can find a facility near you that has one… JOIN!

In the end, eccentric-based training and eccentric-overload training create improvements in power, speed, strength, change of direction ability and mobility while also reducing the risk for injury. Each variation of this type of training may be more appropriate for different golfers at different stages in their life and career, but the first step is to be aware that this type of training exists. The next step is to figure out where it might fit into your training regimen. As always, I am more than happy to field questions and answer any specifics you may have by just emailing info@par4success.com.

As with anything, the success of this training depending on how it is executed. Because of the increased demand on the nervous system and muscles, there can be increased soreness after this type of training so recovery needs to be perhaps the biggest part of this conversation.  Timing in terms of when in the season to utilize eccentric based training as well as how to support recovery with nutrition are conversations that you should have with your golf fitness professional.

Hopefully you have learned something here today and as always, please reach out with questions or specific issues to attempt to implement this type of training into your golf fitness routine.  Swing Faster. Play Better. Hurt Less.

Editor’s Note: The author has no affiliation with Versapulley or any manufacturer shown in these videos.

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Chris Finn is the founder of Par4Success and a Licensed Physical Therapist, Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist, Titleist Performance Institute Certified Medical Professional and trained to perform Trigger Point Dry Needling in North Carolina. He is regarded as the premier Golf Fitness, Performance & Medical Expert in North Carolina. Since starting Par4Success in 2011, Chris has and continues to work with Touring Professionals, elite level juniors & amateurs as well as weekend warriors. He has contributed to numerous media outlets, is a published author, a consultant and presents all over the world on topics related to golf performance and the golf fitness business.

11 Comments

11 Comments

  1. Patricknorm

    May 27, 2018 at 7:23 pm

    I took the time to read the article and watch the videos. The fact that you’re certified TPI adds to your credibility. Ignore the shameful comments. Excellent work. I imagine most serious golfers do some variation of this training. Most PGA Tour players do this as well. Even Beef Johnson. .

    • Chris Finn

      May 29, 2018 at 8:43 pm

      Thanks so much Patricknorm. Appreciate you taking the time to write this and hope you gained some value from it!

  2. Kevin

    May 27, 2018 at 5:15 pm

    Well eccentric training has shown its speed in improving muscle strength over a particular muscle group but calling the backswing phase “eccentric” is probably a misunderstanding of the term.
    I guess any extra weight training will in the end improve our SS, the key is to spare time and seriously do it. Its not only good for our golf but our life too

    • Chris Finn

      May 29, 2018 at 8:50 pm

      Thanks for the comment Kevin. I agree that the backswing is technically not “eccentric”. This was an attempt to simplify the actual sports science of what is happening for the general public. The rotary slings from the lead hip to trail shoulder anteriorly and the trail hip to the lead shoulder posteriorly are lengthening prior to their shortening during the downswing. This is the eccentric sling that allows the golfer to harness an increase in action potential for concentric contraction along those pathways. In a complex motion like the golf swing there are some muscles that are concentrically contracting simultaneously as other eccentrically contracting. I hope this helps to clarify what was meant by referring to the backswing as the “eccentric” phase. In sports science this is clearly not true, but it was an attempt to convey a point to a general audience. Thanks for calling for clarification and I couldn’t agree more with your comment that it is not only good for golf, but also for life.

  3. ray

    May 27, 2018 at 4:21 pm

    dry needling.. snake oil BS

    • Chris Finn

      May 29, 2018 at 8:53 pm

      Thanks for your comment ray. Sorry to hear you have had such bad experience with trigger point dry needling. Are you around Raleigh, NC? Would be happy to have you come in and help you with any issues you may be having on me. just shoot me an email at info@par4success.com. Would also be happy to answer any of your questions related to this topic or any others over a phone chat! cheers!

  4. ogo

    May 27, 2018 at 3:44 pm

    Has the WRX moderator locked all the comments longer than 2 lines? 😮

    • ogo

      May 27, 2018 at 3:46 pm

      Okay, let’s try this: “This training is NOT for severely untrained individuals with no training background.”

      • ogo

        May 27, 2018 at 3:47 pm

        That eliminates 95% of all 60 million golfers worldwide only playing golf for social fun.

        • ogo

          May 27, 2018 at 3:50 pm

          Then the fun buying golf weapons that will propel the ball to great heights. It’s a game of little boys chumming.

        • Chris Finn

          May 29, 2018 at 9:02 pm

          Thanks for your comment ogo. I would agree that if golfers are playing golf just for social fun (ie. no more than a few times a year and account for about 4% of total rounds played yearly worldwide) then they would not be interested in training to improve their golf game and fitness is probably the least of their worries for lowering their scores. But, if they are one of the 20 million golfers in the US alone who account for up to 85% of the rounds played per year…I think this article and fitness in general is very applicable.

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The Gear Dive: Vokey Wedge expert Aaron Dill

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In this episode of The Gear Dive, Johnny chats with Titleist Tour Rep Aaron Dill on working under Bob Vokey, How he got the gig and working with names like JT, Jordan and Brooks.

Check out the full podcast on SoundCloud below, or click here to listen on iTunes or here to listen on Spotify.

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Opinion & Analysis

The Wedge Guy: Is your driver the first “scoring club”?

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I was traveling Sunday and didn’t get to watch the end of the PGA Championship, so imagine my shock Monday morning when I read what had happened on that back nine. Like most everyone, I figured Brooks Koepka had his game and his emotions completely under control and Sunday’s finish would be pretty boring and anti-climactic. Man, were we wrong!!?

As I read the shot-by-shot, disaster-by-disaster account of what happened on those few holes, I have to admit my somewhat cynical self became engaged. I realize the conditions were tough, but it still boils down to the fact that Koepka nearly lost this PGA Championship because he couldn’t execute what I call “basic golf” – hitting fairways and greens – when it counted. And Dustin Johnson lost his ability to do the same just as he got within striking distance.

I’ve long been a critic of the way the game has come to be played at the highest levels; what we used to call “bomb and gouge” has become the norm at the professional tour level. These guys are big strong athletes, and they go at it harder than anyone ever did in “the old days”. Watch closely and you’ll see so many of them are on their toes or even off the ground at impact, especially with the driver. Call me old-fashioned, but I just don’t see how that can be the path to consistent shotmaking.

So, my curiosity then drove me to the year-to-date statistics on the PGA Tour website to dive into this a bit deeper. What I found was quite interesting, and I believe can be helpful to all of you readers as you think about how to lower your handicap this season. Follow me here, as I think there are some very helpful numbers from the PGA Tour.
I’ve long contended that golf is a game of ball control . . . let’s call it shotmaking. Your personal strength profile will determine whether you are a long hitter or not, and there’s probably not a lot you can do (or will do) to change that dramatically. But PGA Tour statistics indicate that accuracy, not distance, is the key to better scoring.

The Tour leader in driving accuracy is Jim Furyk, the only guy who is hitting more than 75% of the fairways. The Tour average is under 62%, or not even 2 out of 3. That means the typical round has the tour professional playing at least 4-5 approach shots from the rough. I’m going to come back to that in just a moment and explore the “cost” of those missed fairways.

The Tour leader in greens-in-regulation is Tiger Woods at 74%, almost 3-out-of-4 . . . but the Tour average is less than 66%, or just under 2-out-of-3. I believe enlightenment comes by breaking that GIR statistic down even further.
From the fairway, the Tour leader in GIR is Justin Thomas at 85% and the worst guy at 65%, three points better than the tour average for GIR overall. Hmmmmm. From the rough, however, the best guy on Tour is Taylor Gooch at 63.4%, which is not as good as the very last guy from the fairway.

But let’s dive even a bit deeper to better understand the importance of driving accuracy. Is it true these guys are so good from the rough that hitting fairways doesn’t matter? Not according to the numbers.

From the rough in the range of 125-150 yards – a wedge for most of these guys – the tour’s best hit it 25-27 feet from the hole and only 30 tour pros are averaging inside 30 feet from that distance. But from the fairway, 25 yards further back – 150-175 yards – the tour’s best hit it inside 21-23 feet, and 160 guys are getting closer than 30 feet on average. Even from 175-200 in the fairway, the best on tour hit it closer than the best on tour from the rough 50 yards closer.

So, what do you do with this information? I encourage any serious golfer to really analyze your own rounds to see the difference in your scoring on holes where you find the fairway versus those where you don’t. I feel certain you’ll find throttling back a bit with your driver and focusing more on finding the fairway, rather than trying to squeeze a few more yards of the tee will help you shoot lower scores.

If you have the inclination to see what more fairways can do to your own scores, here’s a little experiment for you. Get a buddy or two for a “research round” and play this game: When you miss a fairway, walk the ball straight over to the fairway, and then 15 yards back. So, you’ll hit every approach from the fairway, albeit somewhat further back – see what you shoot.

Next week I’m going to follow up this “enlightenment” with some tips and techniques that I feel certain will help you hit more fairways so you can take this to the bank this season.

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Hot & Cold: Where strokes were won and lost at the PGA Championship

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In “Hot & Cold,” we’ll be focusing each week on what specific areas of the game players excelled and disappointed in throughout the previous tournament. On Sunday, Brooks Koepka made it four wins from his last eight appearances at major championships, and here’s a look at where some of the most notable players gained and lost strokes over the four days of action at Bethpage Black.

Hot

While Brooks Koepka’s play off the tee was excellent at last week’s PGA Championship, the American utterly dominated the field with his deadly approach play. The 29-year-old led the field in New York for his approach play gaining 9.5 strokes over his competitors. In case you were wondering, this represents Koepka’s career-best performance with his irons. Check out the clubs Koepka did the damage with at Bethpage Black in our WITB piece here.

Jordan Spieth finished T3 at last week’s event, and the Texan was streets ahead of anyone for the four days with the flat-stick in hand. Spieth gained a mammoth 10.6 strokes over the field on the greens of Bethpage Black, which is over three strokes more than anyone else achieved. It was the best-putting display of the 25-year-old’s career thus far, and Spieth now heads to Colonial CC ranked first in this week’s field for strokes gained: putting over his last 12 rounds.

Dustin Johnson came agonizingly close to capturing his second major title last week, and encouragingly for DJ is that he gained strokes in all of the significant strokes gained categories. Johnson also led the field for strokes gained: off the tee, gaining 7.2 strokes over the field – his best performance in this area this year.

Cold

Bubba Watson endured a wretched two days on the greens at Bethpage Black. In just 36 holes, Watson lost 6.8 strokes to the field with the flat-stick. Even more frustrating for Watson is that he gained 6.5 strokes for the two day’s tee to green. A tale of what could have been for the two-time Masters champion.

Phil Mickelson faded badly at last week’s championship, and it was a poor display with his irons that did the damage. Lefty lost 6.3 strokes to the field for his approach play in New York, which is his worst display in this area for 2019.

It was a quick exit for Tiger Woods at Bethpage Black, and though the 15-time major champion was far from his best off the tee (losing half a stroke), it was Woods’ putting that was his undoing. Woods lost almost a stroke and a half on the greens at Bethpage – his worst display with the putter since last August.

 

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