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A guide to golf fitness for elite players

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In this series of five articles, I will be offering guidelines for golf-specific physical activity aimed at five different golfing demographics:

This article is for elite amateur golfers and professionals. Once the foundation of physical competence has been laid down through solid gym and posture work, then it’s time to consider what physical characteristics are actually desirable to compete in golf at the highest level. In my opinion, golfers need a solid level of cardiovascular fitness, good flexibility and as much strength and power as possible along with great movement patterns. They also need to be able to manage their own body while on the road competing in tournaments.

In order to develop these capabilities I prescribe the following:

Gym work

Elite golfers need a program that focuses on strength and power while solidifying the work already done on stability and mobility. Below is an example lower-body workout from an intermediate/advanced-level program. The function exercises are included for stability and muscle activation, while the power exercises are simple jump and throw variations, focusing on generating speed. The strength work is designed for hypertrophy and focuses on multi-joint lifts. The core exercises incorporate a loaded rotation movement and a bracing, endurance hold.

STR1

Example workout from a semi-advanced program, this session focuses on legs.

Motor Pattern Program

At this stage, drills using the Ramsay Posture Belt and other postural training aids are directly related to the player’s swing and what they are trying to achieve from a technical standpoint. Here is an example of one my favorite drills to train lower body stability and dynamic rotation.

Flexibility

Exercises are prescribed using spiky balls and the corresponding stretches, usually targeting ankle, hip, shoulder and spinal mobility. Below is a typical mobility program that covers the key areas that are commonly affected by a predominantly sitting lifestyle combined with lots of practice and play.

MOB

A release program for key postural areas, with a combination of myofascial release and stretching.

Cardiovascular Work

Interval training is used to keep the energy output down while still stimulating the cardiovascular system and improving aerobic and anaerobic endurance. Here is a short but intense Tabata workout that is typical of the cardio work I prescribe.

IC

A combo of rowing and sprints done at high intensity for short durations.

Maintenance On the Road 

A combination of basic gym work, posture and mobility exercises are combined with recovery practices such as hydrotherapy while traveling and attending tournaments. These techniques are used to help maintain the condition that has been developed in the prep phase before tournaments.

IMG_4457

Cameron Smith (finished T4 in 2015 U.S. Open) doing some postural fine tuning work.

The individual application can vary quite considerably within this approach depending on the individual. I’ll present two methods I have used in dealing with a couple of different players:

  • Golfer 1: A young professional who has been under my care since the age of 16.
  • Golfer 2: An established professional in his 30s that I have been working with for around 18 months.

Golfer 1 has come through a state high-performance program, so he is used to having information delivered to him and is expected to comply with the instructions and programs delivered. Best practice is always used, compliance is high and progress is measurable and very consistent. It’s essentially an ideal scenario for a trainer as long-term development is the main focus and priority, sometimes at the expense of short-term performance.

Golfer 2 has come through a route that is much more self-learned and self-taught. The approach therefore has to be softened somewhat and worked in with the player’s current belief system. Exercises have to be adapted and programs changed or molded in order to develop the player’s athleticism, while not rocking the boat from a conceptual point of view. Remember at this stage, short-term performance is considered to be the highest priority and long-term development often has to take a back seat.

Best practice with Golfer 2 and those like him is sometimes compromised, and progress is often not very measurable. This is a small price to pay in order to keep a player’s belief high and ensure compliance is achieved. Without belief and compliance, results will not happen and I might as well prescribe aqua aerobics, calf raises and wrist curls!

In summary, at the elite level, the focus should be on strength and power, cardio fitness, flexibility, swing-specific motor patterns and body maintenance skills. The individual approach has to be highly customized and specific to the player in question.

For more info on programs, training and equipment, proven to deliver results for high level players, check out the Golf Fit Pro website.

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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

13 Comments

13 Comments

  1. Dan

    Jul 10, 2015 at 12:50 am

    That sprint circuit is no joke compared to the rest of the sets. A 25 second sprint should take a fit male about 200 meters (on the first rep, anyway). Ten second passive rest, then x6 reps? College track workouts are less brutal than that. I mean, am I reading that correctly?

  2. redneckrooster

    Jul 6, 2015 at 9:19 pm

    How about a 65yr who had a heart attack 15 months ago. Give me an idea of what to do. I’ve lost 32 lbs.

  3. Tom

    Jul 3, 2015 at 10:03 pm

    Hit 100 s of balls and walk courses and you have a golfer who is fit.

  4. zoots

    Jul 2, 2015 at 3:56 pm

    I wonder how Jones, Snead, Hogan, Trevino, Nicklaus et al. were able to play the way they did without these “elite” golf exercises? Just luck I guess.

    • CW

      Jul 2, 2015 at 8:50 pm

      Cigarettes and Whiskey

    • Greg

      Jul 3, 2015 at 12:13 am

      Those were great players with tons of talent, but what about those who weren’t gifted as well but are willing to outwork everyone to beat them.

      • zoots

        Jul 3, 2015 at 3:26 pm

        Don’t know if anyone outworked Hogan. I doubt any great champion did not work extremely hard at their game

    • jakeanderson

      Jul 7, 2015 at 2:53 pm

      they played poorly compared with todays players.

  5. MHendon

    Jul 2, 2015 at 11:15 am

    Well I figured since this article was intended towards elite players then I should read it! lol, I don’t know maybe I would be considered elite 1.6 handicap? However I’m guessing Nick that at my age (45) and my height and weight (6 ft, 235lbs) I should be focused more on trying to improve my fitness for longevity than performance gains. I’m pretty lucky to be blessed with exceptional coordination, balance, and athletic ability but at my age I can see it leaving me in the near future if I don’t lose some weight and get in better shape. Would you agree that I’m probably not likely to see performance gains at my age but long term longevity could be my most likely benefit?

    • Nick Randall

      Jul 2, 2015 at 11:02 pm

      Hi MHendon,

      General improvement in conditioning will certainly help with maintenance and unity prevention. Best practice is to get screened by a golf fitness professional who can tailor a program to help you get the most out of your body. Hope this helps, Nick

    • Jonzone

      Jul 6, 2015 at 11:53 am

      Definitely not blessed with an ego either…

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Clement: Laid-off or perfect fade? Across-the-line or perfect draw?

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Some call the image on the left laid off, but if you are hitting a fade, this could be a perfect backswing for it! Same for across the line for a draw! Stop racking your brain with perceived mistakes and simply match backswing to shot shape!

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The Wedge Guy: The easiest-to-learn golf basic

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My golf learning began with this simple fact – if you don’t have a fundamentally sound hold on the golf club, it is practically impossible for your body to execute a fundamentally sound golf swing. I’m still a big believer that the golf swing is much easier to execute if you begin with the proper hold on the club.

As you might imagine, I come into contact with hundreds of golfers of all skill levels. And it is very rare to see a good player with a bad hold on the golf club. There are some exceptions, for sure, but they are very few and very far between, and they typically have beat so many balls with their poor grip that they’ve found a way to work around it.

The reality of biophysics is that the body moves only in certain ways – and the particulars of the way you hold the golf club can totally prevent a sound swing motion that allows the club to release properly through the impact zone. The wonderful thing is that anyone can learn how to put a fundamentally sound hold on the golf club, and you can practice it anywhere your hands are not otherwise engaged, like watching TV or just sitting and relaxing.

Whether you prefer an overlap, interlock or full-finger (not baseball!) grip on the club, the same fundamentals apply.  Here are the major grip faults I see most often, in the order of the frequency:

Mis-aligned hands

By this I mean that the palms of the two hands are not parallel to each other. Too many golfers have a weak left hand and strong right, or vice versa. The easiest way to learn how to hold the club with your palms aligned properly is to grip a plain wooden ruler or yardstick. It forces the hands to align properly and shows you how that feels. If you grip and re-grip a yardstick several times, then grip a club, you’ll see that the learning curve is almost immediate.

The position of the grip in the upper/left hand

I also observe many golfers who have the butt of the grip too far into the heel pad of the upper hand (the left hand for right-handed players). It’s amazing how much easier it is to release the club through the ball if even 1/4-1/2″ of the butt is beyond the left heel pad. Try this yourself to see what I mean.  Swing the club freely with just your left hand and notice the difference in its release from when you hold it at the end of the grip, versus gripping down even a half inch.

To help you really understand how this works, go to the range and hit shots with your five-iron gripped down a full inch to make the club the same length as your seven-iron. You will probably see an amazing shot shape difference, and likely not see as much distance loss as you would expect.

Too much lower (right) hand on the club

It seems like almost all golfers of 8-10 handicap or higher have the club too far into the palm of the lower hand, because that feels “good” if you are trying to control the path of the clubhead to the ball. But the golf swing is not an effort to hit at the ball – it is a swing of the club. The proper hold on the club has the grip underneath the pad at the base of the fingers. This will likely feel “weak” to you — like you cannot control the club like that. EXACTLY. You should not be trying to control the club with your lower/master hand.

Gripping too tightly

Nearly all golfers hold the club too tightly, which tenses up the forearms and prevents a proper release of the club through impact. In order for the club to move back and through properly, you must feel that the club is controlled by the last three fingers of the upper hand, and the middle two fingers of the lower hand. If you engage your thumbs and forefingers in “holding” the club, the result will almost always be a grip that is too tight. Try this for yourself. Hold the club in your upper hand only, and squeeze firmly with just the last three fingers, with the forefinger and thumb off the club entirely. You have good control, but your forearms are not tense. Then begin to squeeze down with your thumb and forefinger and observe the tensing of the entire forearm. This is the way we are made, so the key to preventing tenseness in the arms is to hold the club very lightly with the “pinchers” — the thumbs and forefingers.

So, those are what I believe are the four fundamentals of a good grip. Anyone can learn them in their home or office very quickly. There is no easier way to improve your ball striking consistency and add distance than giving more attention to the way you hold the golf club.

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Clement: Stop ripping off your swing with this drill!

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Not the dreaded headcover under the armpit drill! As if your body is defective and can’t function by itself! Have you seen how incredible the human machine is with all the incredible feats of agility all kinds of athletes are accomplishing? You think your body is so defective (the good Lord is laughing his head off at you) that it needs a headcover tucked under the armpit so you can swing like T-Rex?

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