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How does strength training REALLY help your game?

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So much (perhaps far too much) has been said about gains in strength and power leading to longer drives and distance off the tee. Outlandish claims such as “add 30 yards to your tee shots by doing just three minutes of exercise per day” are all too common. Not only are they misleading (lies) and unrealistic (impossible), they are missing out on the key relationship between increased strength and scoring. Hint: It’s not how much farther you hit it with driver.

It is a given that increased strength and power will lead to more club head speed, but how does that affect your scoring exactly? A recent analysis by the powerful golf statistics software gurus ShotsToHole.com tells golfers that if they hit the ball 10 yards farther of the tee they will save on average between 0.7 and 1.1 shots per round.

Screen Shot 2014-03-20 at 1.25.57 pm

While this is very useful, I am proposing that the main benefit from increasing our strength levels is NOT increasing our distance off the tee. I am suggesting that getting stronger will allow us to hit the ball closer to the hole, which will yield a greater benefit to our score than a few extra yards with the driver. Actually it’s about three times more beneficial in some cases!

The stats tell us that with increased strength levels, we can dramatically improve our proximity to the hole (how close we hit it) with approach shots. We essentially become more consistent, controlled and accurate while hitting less club into the green. More on that later.

Applied Strength

But just chucking weights around in the gym in a random fashion and expecting it to transfer to the golf swing probably will not get you the increased control you are after. Yes, increased strength will yield increased club head speed, which in turn means higher ball speed and distance. This, however, is only the case provided that the efficiency of the biomechanics and kinematic chain within the swing are not compromised. Your swing action should actually be improved by your gym work, if it’s an effectively designed program that is.

A term I like to use is applied strength, in the case of a golfer maintaining spine angle/position throughout the swing. The two photos below demonstrate this quite well. The idea is for the spine angle and pelvis position at impact to closely resemble the address position. In the example below, I will admit that there is some loss of spine position and an anterior move of the pelvis toward the golf ball, but I think you will agree that it’s still pretty solid.

Address

cam set up

 Impact

cam impact

So if golfers get stronger in the correct way, then they can apply more club head speed in a more controlled manner. They shouldn’t have to swing out of their shoes to generate high ball speed. This means maintaining posture and shape better into impact, which in turn leads to more consistent ball striking and accuracy.

More Control

More club head speed means golfers can afford to take one less club for their approach shots (4-to-5 mph is roughly equivalent to the difference of one club). If golfers can take one less club and still make a compact and controlled swing, then they are more likely to hit the ball closer to the hole.

Less Side Bend

By hitting say, an 8 iron instead of a 7 iron, golfers add more loft to the club. Adding more loft reduces the amount of side bend (hooks and slices), which means hitting straighter approach shots that can dramatically reduce dispersion.

Steeper Landing Angle

Taking one less club and adding loft should also make the angle of descent of a golfer’s shots steeper. This means golfers can stop the ball on the green quicker from farther away. A steeper landing angle is also helped by the increased club head speed and the creation of more spin, leading to a higher-flying shots that will again help golfers stop their ball closer to the hole. A steep landing angle and “towering iron shots” have been assets of many of the truly great players over the years.

If you couple hitting less club with more speed and add increased distance off the tee, then the likelihood is that golfers can afford to hit two less clubs into the green. Take those benefits we just mentioned and double them!

Here is what the numbers say about how hitting the ball closer affects your score. The source of the numbers is ShotsToHole.com, an Australian golf statistics system that has been popular with club golfers who are serious about improving their golf.

Using ShotsToHole.com’s “What If” Analysis Tool, predictions can be made based on improved performance in the game. In this case, approach shots were analyzed from 85-to-270 yards from the hole.

Feet Closer to Hole

EPI* Improvement

Shots Per Round Saved

Av. Score 71-73

10ft

2.2%

2.2

Av. Score 80-84

10ft

2.2%

1.5

Av. Score 90-99

10ft

2.2%

0.9

* Error Percentage Index

So you can clearly see that hitting the ball closer to the hole means that golfers are saving shots. But why does it look like the better players benefit so much more from the increased club head speed and hitting the ball 10-feet closer?

It comes down to 2 things.

  1. Better players are more skilled and have the ability to capitalize on the fact they are hitting the ball closer.
  2. The 10-foot improvement also means that better players are hitting their ball into their scoring ranges, turning narrowly missed greens into greens hit and three-putt territory into birdie chances.

Higher-handicap players, however, with a 10-foot improvement in their approach shots are still missing greens or leaving themselves very long birdie putts. Even with a 10-foot dispersion improvement, golfers who shoot 90-to-99 average almost 70 feet away from the hole from 130-to-150 yards.

So for the higher handicap player, the increased speed is reducing their dispersion as expected, but it’s not making a huge amount of difference to their scores. In that case, how can golfers who shoot 90-to-99 justify working on developing increased strength in order to improve their golf? In my opinion, players in this bracket should see strength training as preparation for when they have the ability to benefit from the increased club head speed. Start working on becoming stronger, seek out good swing mechanics advice and put as much time as you can into you short game.

Effective and well-planned strength training has a host of other benefits which are likely to have an indirect improvement on your golf and definite benefit for your quality of life in general:

  • Improved muscle strength and tone
  • Weight management
  • Greater stamina
  • Prevention or control of chronic conditions
  • Pain management
  • Improved posture
  • Decreased risk of injury
  • Increased bone density and strength and reduced risk of osteoporosis
  • Improved sleep
  • Increased self-esteem

So how can you ensure you are doing the right stuff in the gym to get solid strength transference to your golf game and tick off all the benefits in the list above? I will be delving deeper into this subject in my next article, and revealing some of my own methods for highly effective golf specific strength programs.

If you can’t wait until then, you can seek out a trained professional who understands both the golf swing and strength and conditioning to design you an effective training program. Such programs are available at www.golffitapp.com

You should also take a look at what NOT to do in the fantastic article by Nick Buchan, The 6 Biggest Myths in Golf Fitness.

In discussing these concepts, it is assumed that the player is hitting the ball properly with centered strike, their launch conditions (a collective term for all of the clubhead and ball flight data) are good. It is also assumed that by increasing club head speed the player’s launch conditions are maintained or improved from the lower speed. More simply put, their technique has not become worse due to the change to their body.

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Nick Randall is a Strength and Conditioning Coach, Presenter and Rehab Expert contracted by PGA Tour Players, Division 1 colleges and national teams to deliver golf fitness services. Via his Golf Fit Pro website, app, articles and online training services, Nick offers the opportunity to the golfing world to access his unique knowledge and service offerings. www.golffitpro.net

14 Comments

14 Comments

  1. W

    May 5, 2014 at 1:46 pm

    Great article. My question is does 3-4 hours per week in the gym or on the putting green prove most beneficial to your golf game.

    • Nick Randall

      May 6, 2014 at 2:38 am

      Really good question!

      It would depend on how good your putting is and how athletic you are. The more time devoted to the weaker area will yield more drastic results.

      If you only have 4 hours then as a general rule of thumb, split it between gym and short game – but make both really high quality!

  2. dave

    Apr 30, 2014 at 9:49 pm

    Well said Nick. I too agree with you article. That is the true beauty of getting stronger is that one does not have to swing as hard and they can take on club less. This will reduce fatigue overall which will allow more opportunities for practice and play.

    • Nick Randall

      May 3, 2014 at 5:47 am

      Hi Dave,

      I’m glad you agree with what I have proposed in the article, it’s a nice feeling be able to hit 8 instead of 7!

      I’m not sure that swinging under max capacity will affect fatigue levels all that much though. What it will do is put less overall strain on the body, thereby reducing injury risk and ensuring higher quality practice for a longer period of time. Less to do with metabolic fatigue, more to do with delaying the onset of stiffness and pain in areas of the body that deal with a lot of load during the swing.

      Nice topic for another article maybe??

  3. Chubby

    Apr 30, 2014 at 11:47 am

    You just need to know what to do. Keep it golf related. Planks are great. Work all 3 sections of your core. Legs, Glutes, and hips are important as well. I like those rotary balls you spin for hands, wrists and arms.

    • Nick Randall

      May 3, 2014 at 5:40 am

      Sound advice Chubby!

      Look out for my next article where I will be giving away some my programming secrets!

  4. paul

    Apr 30, 2014 at 9:26 am

    Thanks to these types of articles being more common now, I am booked to see a golf fit instructor next week ???? I sprained both wrists at Christmas and have lost 10-15% of my distance, I need it back. Golf is more fun when I am the long hitter in the group.

    • Nick Randall

      May 3, 2014 at 5:39 am

      Hi Paul,

      Great news, hopefully you can bounce back from that injury. Sounds nasty – snow boarding by any chance??

      You are dead right, golf is way more fun when you are strong and long!

  5. Rep

    Apr 30, 2014 at 3:18 am

    Stamina. That’s the biggest key.

  6. Nick Buchan

    Apr 29, 2014 at 4:47 pm

    Awesome awesome article mate! So good to see proper research and S&C advice put into an article like this! And I totally agree, the benefits of increased fine motor control, through increased strength and each swing being relatively less stressful, on accuracy, greens and fairways hit is massively underestimated.

    • Nick Randall

      May 3, 2014 at 5:37 am

      Thanks Nick, was a lot of fun writing it! Credit has to go to Stuart Leong from shotstohole.com. They provide such valuable information for not only players but also their supporting staff such as coaches and trainers.

  7. Shawn

    Apr 29, 2014 at 3:42 pm

    So in the 2 pictures above, everything looks good but it seems you are standing the shaft up a bit at impact, or so I have been told this as I do something similar – Which leads my clubs specs to being upright 2*, etc. How does one stop that move or have a better impact position that more resembles the setup position?

    • Clemson Sucks

      Apr 29, 2014 at 4:16 pm

      That’s a pretty common/normal thing

    • Nick Randall

      May 3, 2014 at 5:35 am

      Hi Shawn, that is a good observation for sure. Cameron is presenting the club with a slightly upright shaft, as he has gotten stronger that has flattened out somewhat. I’ll endeavour to get you an updated impact position in an article in the near future.

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Clement: Load up the full power package in the backswing!

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This video is FUNDAMENTAL FOR POWER GAINS in the golf swing; the arm anatomy BEGS TO BE USED in this manner from casting a fishing pole, to serving a tennis ball to batting a baseball to driving a golf ball. YOU WILL LOVE how much SNAP you will get through the ball and the sound the ball will make coming off the club from the compression off the face. BLISS ON A STICK!

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Clement: This wrist position can add 30 yards to your drive

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Drop the mic on how the wrists should load and be positioned for compressive power, accuracy, and longevity! There is a better way, and this is it!

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Short Game University: How to hit wedges 301

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In golf, there is nothing harder than judging a flop shot over a bunker to a tight pin out of long grass. Why? Because there are so many variables to account for — in addition to what you can and cannot do with a wedge. In fact, up until very recently in the world of wedge design, we were limited to only increasing the landing angle to stop the ball, because relying on spin from this lie and this close to the green was next to impossible.

Now with the advent of things like raw faces, different CG locations, new groove design, and micro-ribs between the grooves, we can now spin the ball out of lies that we never could have done so before. This is not to say that you can now zip the ball back from these types of lies, but we are seeing spin rates that have skyrocketed, and this allows us to not open the face as much as we needed to do before in order to stop the ball.

Before we get into the shot around the green itself, let’s talk a bit about wedge design. For that, I called a great friend of mine, Greg Cesario, TaylorMade’s Staff Manager to help us understand a bit more about wedges. Greg was a former PGA Tour Player and had a big hand in designing the new Milled Grind 3 Wedges.

Cesario said: “Wedge technology centers on two key areas- the first is optimizing its overall launch/spin (just like drivers) on all shots and the second is optimum ground interaction through the geometry of the sole (bounce, sole width, and sole shape).”

“Two key things impact spin: Groove design and face texture. Spin is the secondary effect of friction. This friction essentially helps the ball stick to the face a little longer and reduces slippage. We define slippage as how much the ball slides up the face at impact. That happens more when it’s wet outside during those early morning tee times, out of thicker lies, or after a bit of weather hits. Our Raised Micro-Ribs increase friction and reduce slippage on short partial shots around the round – that’s particularly true in wet conditions.”

“We’ve been experimenting with ways to find optimal CG (center of gravity) placement and how new geometries can influence that. We know that CG locations can influence launch, trajectory and spin. Everyone is chasing the ability to produce lower launching and higher spinning wedge shots to help players increase precision distance control. In that space, moving CG just a few millimeters can have big results. Beyond that, we’re continuing to advance our spin and friction capabilities – aiming to reduce the decay of spin from dry to fluffy, or wet conditions.”

Basically, what Greg is saying is that without improvements in design, we would never be able to spin the ball like we would normally when it’s dry and the lie is perfect. So, with this new design in a wedge like the Milled Grind 3 (and others!), how can we make sure we have the optimal opportunity to hit these faster-stopping pitch shots?

  1. Make sure the face is clean and dry
  2. Open the blade slightly, but not too much
  3. Set the wrists quicker on the backswing to increase the AoA
  4. Keep the rear shoulder moving through impact to keep the arms going

Make sure the face is clean and dry

If your thought is to use spin to stop the ball quicker under any situation, then you must give the club a chance to do its job. When the grooves are full of dirt and grass and the remaining exposed face is wet, then you are basically eliminating any opportunity to create spin. In fact, if you decide to hit the shot under these conditions, you might as well hit a flop shot as this would be the only opportunity to create a successful outcome. Don’t put yourself behind the eight-ball automatically, keep your club in a clean and dry condition so you have the best chance to do what you are capable of doing.

Open the blade slightly, but not too much

Without going into too much extra detail, spinloft is the difference between your angle of attack and your dynamic loft. And this difference is one of the main areas where you can maximize your spin output.

Too little or too much spinloft and you will not be able to get the maximum spin out of the shot at hand. With wedges, people equate an open clubface to spinning the ball, and this can be a problem due to excessive spinloft. Whenever you have too much dynamic loft, the ball will slide up the face (reduced friction equals reduced spin) and the ball will float out higher than expected and roll out upon landing.

My thought around the green is to open the face slightly, but not all the way, in efforts to reduce the probability of having too much spinloft during impact. Don’t forget under this scenario we are relying on additional spin to stop the ball. If you are using increased landing angle to stop the ball, then you would obviously not worry about increasing spinloft! Make sure you have these clear in your mind before you decide how much to open the blade.

Opened slightly

Opened too much

One final note: Please make sure you understand what bounce option you need for the type of conditions you normally play. Your professional can help you but I would say that more bounce is better than less bounce for the average player. You can find the bounce listed on the wedge itself. It will range between 4-14, with the mid-range bounce being around 10 degrees.

Set the wrists quicker on the backswing to increase the angle of attack

As we know, when debris gets in between the clubface and the ball (such as dirt/grass), you will have two problems. One, you will not be able to control the ball as much. Secondly, you will not be able to spin the ball as much due to the loss of friction.

So, what is the key to counteract this problem? Increasing the angle of attack by setting the wrists quicker on the backswing. Making your downswing look more like a V rather than a U allows less junk to get between the club and the ball. We are not using the bounce on this type of shot, we are using the leading edge to slice through the rough en route to the ball. Coming in too shallow is a huge problem with this shot, because you will tend to hit it high on the face reducing control.

Use your increased AoA on all of your crappy lies, and you will have a much better chance to get up and down more often!

Keep the rear shoulder moving through impact to keep the arms going

The final piece of the puzzle through the ball is speed through the pivot. You cannot hit shots around the green out of tall grass without keeping the club moving and having speed. A reduction of speed is obvious as the club enters into the tall grass, but you don’t want to exacerbate this problem by cutting off your pivot and letting the arms do all the work.

Sure, there are times when you want to cut off the body rotation through the ball, but not on the shot I am discussing here. When we are using spin, you must have speed to generate the spin itself. So, what is the key to maintaining your speed? Keeping the rear shoulder rotating long into the forward swing. If you do this, you will find that your arms, hands, and club will be pulled through the impact zone. If your pivot stalls, then your speed will decrease and your shots will suffer.

Hopefully, by now you understand how to create better shots around the green using the new wedge technology to create more spin with lies that we had no chance to do so before. Remembering these simple tips — coupled with your clean and dry wedge — will give you the best opportunity to be Tiger-like around the greens!

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