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.
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.
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.
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 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
Shots Per Round Saved
|Av. Score 71-73||
|Av. Score 80-84||
|Av. Score 90-99||
* 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.
- Better players are more skilled and have the ability to capitalize on the fact they are hitting the ball closer.
- 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.
What to look for in a golf instructor: The difference between transformative and transactional coaching
Golf instruction comes in all different styles, methods, and formats. With that said, you would think this would be a good thing due to there being so many different types of people in the world. However, it is my opinion that the lack of standardization within the industry makes it confusing for the athlete to determine what kind of golf instruction they should seek out.
Before we can discuss what may or may not be the best type of instruction for yourself, first we need to know what our options are. Whether we are taking a “broad-spectrum approach” to learning or a more personalized approach, it is important to understand that there are differences to each, and some approaches are going to take longer than others to reach goals.
Welcome to the world of digital golf instruction, where tips from the most famous coaches in the world are a click away. The great thing about the internet and social media for a golfer is there has never been more access to the top minds in the field—and tips and drills are plentiful. With that said, with there being so many choices and differing opinions, it can be very easy to become distracted with the latest tip and can lead to a feeling of being lost.
I would describe “internet coaching”—or YouTube and Instagram surfing—as transactional coaching. You agree to pay, either a monthly fee or provide likes or follows and the professional provides very generalized tips about the golf swing. For athletes that are new to golf or golf instruction, this tends to be the first part of their process.
There are people who prefer a more transactional approach, and there are a ton of people having success working together over the internet with their coach. With that said, for someone who is looking for more of a long-term individualized approach, this may not be the best approach. This broad-spectrum approach also tends to be the slowest in terms of development due to there being a lot of trial and error due to the generalized approach and people having different body types.
Individual Transactional Coaching
Most people who are new to golf instruction will normally seek out their local pro for help. Depending on where you live in the country, what your local pro provides will vary greatly. However, due to it being local and convenient, most golfers will accept this to be the standard golf lesson.
What makes this type of instruction transactional is that there tends to be less long-term planning and it is more of a sick patient-doctor relationship. Lessons are taken when needed and there isn’t any benchmarking or periodization being done. There also tends to be less of a relationship between the coach and player in this type of coaching and it is more of a take it or leave it style to the coaching.
For most recreational or club-level players, this type of coaching works well and is widely available. Assuming that the method or philosophies of the coach align with your body type and goals athletes can have great success with this approach. However, due to less of a relationship, this form of coaching can still take quite some time to reach its goals.
Individual Transformative Coaching
Some people are very lucky, and they live close to a transformative coach, and others, less lucky, have had to search and travel to find a coach that could help them reach their goals. Essentially, when you hire a transformative coach, you are being assigned a golf partner.
Transformative coaching begins with a solid rapport that develops into an all-encompassing relationship centered around helping you become your very best. Technology alone doesn’t make a coach transformative, but it can help when it comes to creating periodization of your development. Benchmarks and goals are agreed upon by both parties and both parties share the responsibility for putting in the work.
Due to transformative coaching tending to have larger goals, the development process tends to take some time, however, the process is more about attainment than achievement. While improved performance is the goal, the periods for both performance and development are defined.
Which One is Right for You?
It really depends on how much you are willing to invest in your development. If you are looking for a quick tip and are just out enjoying the weather with your friends, then maybe finding a drill or two on Instagram to add to your practice might be the ticket. If you are looking to really see some improvement and put together a plan for long-term development, then you are going to have to start looking into what is available in your area and beyond.
Some things to consider when selecting a coach
- Do they use technology?
- What are their qualifications when it comes to teaching?
- Do they make you a priority?
As a golf coach who has access to the most state-of-the-art technology in the industry, I am always going to be biased towards a data-driven approach. That doesn’t mean that you should only consider a golf coach with technology, however, I believe that by having data present, you are able to have a better conversation about the facts with less importance placed on personal preference. Technology also tends to be quite expensive in golf, so be prepared if you go looking for a more high-tech coaching experience, as it is going to cost more than the low-tech alternative.
The general assumption is that if the person you are seeking advice from is a better player than you are, then they know more about the golf swing than you do. This is not always the case, while the better player may understand their swing better than you do yours, that does not make them an expert at your golf swing. That is why it is so important that you consider the qualifications of your coach. Where did they train to coach? Do they have success with all of their players? Do their players develop over a period of time? Do their players get injured? All things to consider.
The most important trait to look for in a transformative coach is that they make you a priority. That is the biggest difference between transactional and transformative coaches, they are with you during the good and bad, and always have your best interest top of mind. Bringing in other experts isn’t that uncommon and continuing education is paramount for the transformative coach, as it is their duty to be able to meet and exceed the needs of every athlete.
The importance of arm structure
How the arms hang at address plays a vital role in the golf swing. Often overlooked, the structure in which we place the arms can dictate one’s swing pattern. As mentioned in the article How Posture influences your swing, if you start in an efficient position, impact is much easier to find making, the golf swing more repeatable and powerful.
To start, I opt to have a player’s trail arm bent and tucked in front of them with angle in the trail wrist. While doing so, the trail shoulder can drop below the lead with a slight bend from the pelvis. This mirrors an efficient impact position.
I always prefer plays to have soft and slightly bent arms. This promotes arm speed in the golf swing. No other sports are played with straight arms, neither should golf.
From this position, it’s easier to get the clubhead traveling first, sequencing the backswing into a dynamic direction of turn.
When a player addresses the ball with straight arms, they will often tilt with their upper body in the backswing. This requires more recovery in the downswing to find their impact position with the body.
A great drill to get the feeling of a soft-bent trail arm is to practice pushing a wall with your trail arm. Start in your golf set-up, placing your trail hand against the wall. You will instinctively start with a bent trail arm.
Practice applying slight pressure to the wall to get the feeling of a pushing motion through impact?. When trying the drill with a straight trail alarm, you will notice the difference between the two? arm structures.
What is ground force in the golf swing?
There is no doubt about it, the guys and gals on tour have found something in the ground—and that something is power and speed. I’m sure by now you have heard of “ground reaction forces”—and I’m not talking about how you “shift your weight” during the golf swing.
Ground force in the golf swing: Pressure and force are not equal
With respect to ground force in the golf swing, it’s important to understand the difference between pressure and force. Pressure is your perception of how your weight is being balanced by the structure, in this case, the human body. Your body has a center of mass which is located roughly one inch behind the belt buckle for men and about one inch lower in women. When we shift (translate and/or torque) the center of mass, we create a pressure shift as the body has to “rebalance” the mass or body. This pressure shift can help us understand some aspects of the golf swing, but when it comes to producing power, force and torque are where it’s at.
Pressure can only be expressed in relation to the mass or weight of the body. Therefore, if you weigh 150 pounds, you can only create 150 pounds of pressure at one time. However, when we direct that mass at a larger object than our mass, all of a sudden that larger mass directs an opposite and equal reactionary force. So now, when a human being “pushes” their legs against the ground and “feels” 150 pounds of pressure, they now get 150 pounds of force directed back towards them from the ground, creating a total of 300 pounds of force that allows them to jump off the ground in this scenario.
If ground reaction forces don’t have anything to do with the “weight shift,” then what do they affect? Everything!
Most people use the same basic ingredients to make chocolate chip cookies. However, almost everyone has chocolate chip cookies that taste slightly different. Why is that? That is because people are variable and use the ingredients in different amounts and orders. When we create a golf swing, whether we are aware of it or not, we are using the same basic ingredients as everyone else: lateral force, vertical torque, and vertical force. We use these same three forces every time we move in space, and how much and when we use each force changes the outcome quite a bit.
Welcome to the world of 3D!
Understanding how to adjust the sequencing and magnitude of these forces is critical when it comes to truly owning and understand your golf swing. The good news is that most of our adjustments come before the swing and have to do with how we set up to the ball. For example, if an athlete is having a hard time controlling low point due to having too much lateral force in the golf swing (fats and thins), then we narrow up the stance width to reduce the amount of lateral force that can be produced in the swing. If an athlete is late with their vertical force, then we can square up the lead foot to promote the lead leg straightening sooner and causing the vertical force to happen sooner.
While we all will need to use the ground differently to play our best golf, two things need to happen to use the ground effectively. The forces have to exist in the correct kinetic sequence (lateral, vertical torque, vertical force), and the peaks of those forces need to be created within the correct windows (sequencing).
- Lateral force – Peak occurs between top-of-swing and lead arm at 45 degrees
- Vertical torque – Peak occurs between lead arm being 45 degrees and the lead arm being parallel to the ground.
- Vertical force – Peak occurs between lead arm being parallel to the ground the club shaft being parallel to the ground.
While it may seem obvious, it’s important to remember ground reaction forces are invisible and can only be measured using force plates. With that said, their tends to be apprehension about discussing how we use the ground as most people do not have access to 3D dual force plates. However, using the screening process designed by Mike Adams, Terry Rowles, and the BioSwing Dynamics team, we can determine what the primary forces used for power production are and can align the body in a way to where the athlete can access his/her full potential and deliver the club to the ball in the most effective and efficient way based off their predispositions and anatomy.
In addition to gaining speed, we can help athletes create a better motion for their anatomy. As golfers continue to swing faster, it is imperative that they do so in a manner that doesn’t break down their body and cause injury. If the body is moving how it is designed, and the forces acting on the joints of the body are in the correct sequence and magnitude, not only do we know they are getting the most out of their swing, but we know that it will hold up and not cause an unforeseen injury down the road.
I truly believe that force plates and ground reaction forces will be as common as launch monitors in the near future. Essentially, a launch monitor measures the effect and the force plates measure the cause, so I believe we need both for the full picture. The force plate technology is still very expensive, and there is an educational barrier for people seeking to start measuring ground reaction forces and understanding how to change forces, magnitudes, and sequences, but I’m expecting a paradigm shift soon.
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