For many years, the words fitness and golf were rarely uttered in the same sentence. But now we can’t go through one commercial break without hearing how athletic golfers are and how everyone can benefit from a focus on fitness. Sure, if we all had a few hours each day to devote to the gym, we’d see an impact. But it got me thinking, can we quantify the impact a focus on proper fitness can play in the golf game of an amateur?
To help answer this question, I reached out to Nick Randall, a GolfWRX Featured Writer and Strength and Conditioning Coach to elite golfers such PGA Tour player Cameron Smith, who enthusiastically jumped on board to help guide me through this process. In addition to his professional clients, Nick offers virtual training to anyone just like what I went through.
The goal wasn’t to simply drop everything and act like a pro. I didn’t get to play golf for a living, and didn’t have the time they have to devote to the gym. The goal was to see if my golf game could improve by utilizing a tour-proven approach to fitness, guided by an elite-level trainer, but adjusted for the time and skill level of an amateur.
Nick was based in Australia at the time (he’s now in Jacksonville, FL), so all our interactions would be done remotely. As a technologist and app developer, this presented another opportunity to test the theory that technology is transforming the way we interact, even when it comes to something like fitness training.
Over the course of four months, Nick guided me through three training programs, a daily motor pattern and mobility program, and nutrition and hydration advice, all via his Golf Fit iOS app, email, and Skype video chats. Our objective was to train the body to rotate more efficiently. This would result in some changes to my swing action, but without the intention of directly manipulating the club face or ball flight. My only swing changes for four months would be a direct result of this training, with no outside input.
I also wanted to be as honest and transparent as possible, so good, bad or ugly, you’ll find links to my DEXA Scans, Trackman Combine results, and swing videos below.
Did it work?
If you are wondering if you should bother reading on, it definitely worked. Physically, I’m stronger and have less back pain every day including after golf rounds or practice. On the course, my misses are tighter, my focus is stronger, and my endurance is better. We’ll cover all of this in detail, but Nick and this experience have fundamentally changed my approach to fitness in my everyday life, as well as my golfing life.
Any new fitness program must start with an evaluation. There are many ways to evaluate someone and ideally, this would be done in person. With Nick in Australia, we couldn’t do the assessment in person, so we spent a lot of time talking via Skype and I answered a detailed questionnaire. I’ve had back issues in the past, and one of the primary goals of the program was to strengthen that area to reduce daily pain, as well as pain associated with golfing. I have had medical assessments done on my back and passed along my charts to Nick for review.
I also sent Nick videos of my current swing, and we used my initial Trackman Combine videos as well during the evaluation phase.
In addition to the written assessment and discussions, I got a DEXA Scan so we could see where I might have imbalances or other trouble areas. A DEXA Scan is a full body scan that measures body composition including total body fat, breaking down bone mass, fat tissue, and lean muscle mass in the body.
To get the scan, I worked with Peter Fisher, the co-owner of DexaFit Atlanta. Let me just say, wow, that was eye-opening. The short, 10-minute scan produced images and reports that laid out how much body fat and lean muscle mass I have. I have too much body fat and that black and white image above was not pretty to see.
We took a look at the reports and decided if I focused on better nutrition, in addition to strength gains, I should be able to take my body fat percentage down to 25 percent (from 32.2 percent). It was a very aggressive goal, but a motivator as well.
Initial Trackman Combine
While we were not planning to make any direct swing changes, such as worrying about my inside takeaway, we did want to get a baseline of my current swing. The best way to do that is with a Trackman Combine, so I headed out to BridgeMill Golf Academy and worked with Tom Losinger, Director of Golf Instruction, who ran me through the combine.
The Trackman Combine is a standardized test that identifies strengths and weaknesses in the golf swing by scoring 60 shots from various yardages. If you haven’t had a chance to take the combine, I highly recommend it.
You can view the full Combine report as well as videos associated with some of my swings, by heading to this site I created.
Overall, I was happy with the results. The Combine was performed on a warm day with very little wind. My score was 69.2. I had 14 shots over 90 points. My max club speed with the driver was 104.8 mph and my longest drive was 278.8 yards.
Nick and I analyzed these results to find areas of weakness that could be attributed to poor body performance. The Combine swing scores are all about distance from the target. While dispersion can be driven by poor swing mechanics, it also is directly related to stability in the golf swing. We identified issues with my turn and posture from the videos and marked my max driver speed down as a baseline for any speed increases I might see.
The Fitness Program
Our fitness plan was broken up into three 1-month long programs. Each week included six days of routines: three strength days and three mobility and movement pattern days. That meant six days a week I was training my body with strength, mobility and movement pattern drills.
To track the progress, we used the Golf Fit iOS App, which Nick created for use with his athletes. Golf Fit is laid out to make it very easy to view your program, which includes photos and descriptions of the exercises, and complete your reps and sets.
Month 1 was a primer month. It introduced me to some new exercises and eased me into my strength program. Month 2 switched up the exercises and ramped up the intensity. It also added some cardio to the warm up.
Month 3 was the hardest program and the one I found most interesting. It added more dynamic, golf specific exercises such as the Sidestepper with Band. I felt like I was able to better connect the exercise with how they would help my game. The Sidestepper, for example, was designed to activate the glutes and promote lateral stability, something very important during the golf swing.
In addition to the training programs, my favorite part of the Golf Fit app is the progress tracker. Most apps let you track your food or water intake and even how you feel, but they are cumbersome. With Golf Fit, you can easily score your progress, which brilliantly uses your averages as a default option. This made it very easy to track my progress every night.
I had many times over the course of the program, like when we had family in town over the holidays, where I wanted to do almost anything except my workout or nightly program. Everyone would be sitting in the living room, laughing and having a great time, and I’d be standing at the back of the room, Thoracic Pro strapped on, turning back and through over and over. But it felt great when I finished, especially on days like those.
I ended the program strong and even though our research for this story is technically over, my workouts continue. You can view my Month 1 program here and the free Golf Fit iOS app includes photos and explanations of each exercise
Essential Gear and My Spiky Ball Addiction
I bought two pieces of equipment — a Spiky Ball and the Thoracic Pro — to assist with my exercises, but you don’t have to. You can pick up some fitness bands at your local sporting goods store and be good to go.
I’m in love with my spiky ball. It’s this perfect little ball with raised rubber spikes you can roll anywhere you need to relieve tightness or discomfort. I used it every night to massage my lower back, legs and even chest and arms. Because it is smaller than a foam roller, you can get it into very specific problem areas. If you roll it around a sore spot, you’ll be amazed how loose that area becomes.
I also purchased a Thoracic Pro. My posture and scapula control wasn’t as good as it could be. The Thoracic Pro is a harness you slip over your shoulders and when you properly engage your shoulder blades, a spiky ball in the middle of your back as well as two points on your shoulders, gives you feedback you’re in the right position. All I had to do was pull my shoulder blades back and slightly down. By doing this, I had pre-engaged my shoulder blades. My posture looked shockingly better and my turn was instantly tighter with less moving pieces. Every day for the next few months, I used my Thoracic Pro during the movement and motor pattern routine, and now I feel like it is second nature. I even took it to the range and hit balls with it on, which had a huge impact.
Movement Patterns and Nightly Routine
In order to make any meaningful change in my motor patterns, including the way I turn back and through the ball, I needed a nightly routine. Nick broke this into two programs, one for days where I was training and one for off days. They consisted of a mix of motor patterns with the Thoracic Pro as well as stretching and massage with the Spiky Ball.
These routines quickly became something I really looked forward to every night. It would take about 30 minutes to complete the motor patterns and stretching, and I enjoyed every minute. I got some funny looks from my wife as I was rigged up to the Thoracic Pro, turning and stomping behind her, but it really did work. I cannot guarantee I’ll continue my fitness programs with as laser-like a focus, but I definitely will continue my motor pattern and mobility work every night.
The motor pattern work consisted of the following routine:
Nutrition and Hydration
Nick also offered basic nutrition advice, and he started by getting me to understand the majority of weight loss, which is something many of us want, is driven by nutrition. So eating cleaner became a goal. The Golf Fit app was a huge motivator to eating well and staying hydrated. Each night, the app asked me to score how I did on a scale of 1-10, ten being perfectly clean eating. I never did score a 10, but had quite a few nines. My average was 7-8, which as someone who works long hours and travels, is a comfortable way to start eating healthier.
For this story, the main takeaway is on-course eating. I’m amazed at how little my playing partners eat during a round. I used to only eat one protein bar around the turn. Nick’s recommendation was to take at least two snacks on the course and eat one mid-way through the front and back nines. For his players, he likes the Vega Sport Protein Bar or Macro Protein Bars, although there are others on the market. Adding an extra protein bar to my round made a big difference in my energy level. Below you can see what I typically have in the bag during a round.
I also started keeping a bag of honey glazed almonds with me. I’m not sure Nick would love that I took a perfectly healthy almond and covered it in sugar, but it is a delicious snack packed with protein and healthy fats. And I noticed when I offered my playing partners a protein bar or almonds, almost all of them took the almonds.
As for hydration, I’m convinced the majority of golfers don’t drink enough water, myself included. Why? Because it’s really hard to be fully-hydrated. Based on Golf Fit’s recommendation for my body weight, I need to drink about 110 ounces of water a day (or 7 standard bottles) to be well hydrated. On the course, I tried to drink one bottle every three holes, and I would put a Nuun electrolyte hydration tablet in one of the bottles on each nine holes. I also downloaded a Water App to track my intake through the day which notified me with a reminder to drink every 1.5 hours. You will have to try it for yourself, but when I was fully hydrated I truly felt stronger and less fatigued, which dehydration can cause.
Shots like this awkward sidehill fairway bunker shot (pictured below), where stability and focus are so critical to executing the shot, was where I really noticed the training, and on-course hydration and nutrition pay off.
Before and After a Round or Range Session
Pro golfers don’t just show up on the range or the first tee without warming up, so Nick recommended I perform one round of my Motor and Movement Patterns routine before practicing or playing.
One round of the routine takes about 10 minutes, and I noticed a difference when I completed the routine before hitting the range. I didn’t feel like I needed to hit as many short wedges to fire up the body. This helped on mornings where I was first off the tee and the range was barely open. I could roll a few putts and tee off knowing I had already made about 20-30 full turns warming up the main muscles I would need.
I completed the same routine as a warm-down after a round or practice session. Try the following routine from Nick, before you head to the first tee.
Checking in with Nick
Throughout the program, Nick was checking in with me regularly, providing that extra motivation I needed. I was also sharing videos with him like the one below from early in our training program. These check in videos were especially helpful at times when I wasn’t seeing the same on-course progress as I was seeing during practice.
What Can You Do If You Can’t Go All-In?
I went “all in” over the past four months, but I recognize that isn’t for everyone. I’ve talked about this program to avid golf friends of mine and they are intrigued, but likely won’t devote the time I have.
With that in mind, Nick put together a routine anyone can do that will have a positive impact on your game. Click here to download a PDF of the routine.
The Final DEXA Scan
Once I had completed the last of the workouts, it was time to get a follow-up DEXA scan, so I went back to DexaFit Atlanta and worked with Peter Fisher.
We were hoping to see a decrease in body fat percentage and a small increase in lean muscle mass, and I was nervous about how the scan would go. I could tell I had lost weight and was getting stronger, but let’s be honest, if I said I was working out for three months and then got a body scan that shows no weight loss, you probably wouldn’t believe I had actually been in the gym.
I didn’t want that to happen, so I was happy to see I had decreased my body fat by 3 percent (-8.4 actual pounds of fat). Again, if you want to see the raw data, you can view the full results here.
I was initially disappointed by the loss of lean mass. It seemed counterintuitive, because I had been training more, but after talking with Nick it became more clear. I was eating cleaner, and likely taking in less calories despite trying to focus on eating more and better proteins. Our strength program wasn’t about big muscle gains, and we also only had three months. He was happy to see I essentially held onto the muscle mass, while decreasing my body fat. What I also found interesting is that I shed pounds without spending much time doing cardio. Sure, cardio is important, but it showcases the positives of better eating decisions, and what effect they can have on your health.
The Final Combine
I went into the final Combine with a healthy combination of nervousness and confidence. Almost every day for four months, I had focused on modifying my motor patterns or strengthening my body with the specific goal of improving my game. I was seeing improvement on the course, so one test on one day wouldn’t define all the work Nick and I had done. But I wanted to see results in plain, clear data. I headed back to BridgeMill Golf Academy and worked with Tom Losinger again.
We were hoping to see more clubhead speed with the driver and better dispersion overall, driven by a more stable lower body and more solid turn back and through the ball. In plain, clear, data, I saw the results I was hoping for.
I had more shots closer to the pin, more shots scored above 90, more “perfect” shots, and 3 mph more max clubhead speed with the driver. Below are some high-level stats comparing the two Combines. You can view the full report and videos here.
I left the Combine on a high. All the effort looked to be paying off… but we don’t play golf by hitting 60 shots during some test. My year-end trip to Florida, where I would play at least 5 rounds, would be the ultimate test.
Florida Trip and My Golf Game Now
I’ve been going to Florida for a week of golf and vacation every year for the last six or so years. I play at least five rounds during the week and look forward to it all year. I brought my spiky ball and Thoracic Pro with me so I could continue my mobility and motor pattern routines.
Just like the Combine, I was nervous and excited to hit the first tee. It wasn’t a testing bay anymore; it was the first tee on a real course after fully-dedicating myself to this program and plan the last few months. I “needed” to see a meaningful difference in my game.
After my first round, I knew something positive was happening. I was hitting more greens, splitting more fairways, and keeping myself out of trouble. I’ve never been more consistent or had as much control over my swing as I did over the five rounds during the trip. Not only did I lower my handicap and post my cleanest card on a front-9 (1-under), but I didn’t wake up midway through the trip with lower-back pain.
Here is a comparison of five rounds prior to starting this program, five rounds from last year’s trip and my five rounds during my trip this year.
A focus on fitness can improve the game of amateurs. Whether you go all-in or take it slow, you can see results. To help get started, you can follow the mini-programs laid out in this story, and there are trainers like Nick all across the country ready when you are.
I won’t say the past four months have been easy. But they also haven’t been hard. Eating healthier, drinking more water, and sticking to my fitness and mobility routines have become a part of my day-to-day life. I can only continue to improve from here, and the longer I focus on fitness, the more likely I am to be able to play this great game for many years to come.
On Spec: Club fitting isn’t magic! Also, Lydia Ko and Stewart Cink win again
On this week’s episode, host Ryan Barath covers everything from Lydia Ko’s comeback win on the LPGA tour, to why club fittings aren’t some magical thing that’s going to instantly lower scores.
It also covers Stewart Cink’s win at the RBC Heritage and offers a sneak peek at the GolfWRX Best Iron list of 2021.
Want more GolfWRX Radio? Check out our other shows (and the full archives for this show) here.
Fix your golfing back pain, Step 2: Early stage rehab
This article is co-written with Marnus Marais. Since 2011, Marnus has worked with some of the world’s best players on both the PGA Tour and European Tour, helping them to maintain optimal health and peak physical performance. His current stable of players includes Dustin Johnson, Patrick Cantlay, and Louis Oosthuizen, amongst others.
You can find more information on Marnus and his work at marnusmarais.com
This article is No. 2 in a 4 part series.
Step 2 – Early Stage Rehab
Step 3 – Essential Strength and Golf Movement Patterns
Step 4 – Building global strength for prevention of future injury
Now that we have identified the source of the back issue through assessment, it’s time to start working on the underlying causes, in order to reduce pain and decrease the likelihood of re-injury further down the track.
In our experience, mechanical back pain in golfers caused by physical issues is most often caused by one or more of the the following 4 issues, with many amateur players displaying the entire collection!
– Lack of Mobility at the Hips and Mid / Upper Back
– Poor Posture
– Misalignment and Muscle Imbalances
– Weak Core Muscles
Because pain is likely still a factor at this stage, we need to proceed with caution and focus on rehab work that is low intensity and has a low risk of causing a pain flare up.
With that in mind, in ‘Step 2: Early Stage Rehab’ we are going to address Mobility, Posture and Misalignment / Muscle Imbalances. These 3 areas can be improved upon, and should have a positive impact on pain reduction, even if back discomfort is still restricting larger, more global movements.
Step 2.1 – Improving Mobility in Hips and Mid / Upper back
Certain areas in the body need to be more stable, and others need to be more mobile. The lumbar spine (lower back) falls into the stable category, partly due to its limited capacity for rotation and lateral flexion (side bending). We know the unnatural golf swing movement imparts both rotational and side bending forces on the spine, so it’s an area we need to keep stable and protected.
In order to avoid excessive low back rotation forces in life and especially in the golf swing, it’s very important that we try to maximize the range of movement in other areas, most notably the joints above and below the low back, where the majority of rotation in the golf swing should take place:
We need sufficient range of movement to turn into, and out of, both hips. For example, if we can’t turn and load into our lead hip due to a lack of internal rotation mobility, we tend to compensate with excessive rotation and side-bending in the lower back.
Suggested Exercise Circuit – Hip Mobility
1) Self Massage Glutes – 45 secs each side
2) Cross Leg Glute Stretch – 30 secs each side
3) Prone Glute Stretch – 30 secs each side
4) 90 90 Hip Mobility – 5 reps each side
Thoracic Spine (mid to upper back)
Having sufficient rotation in our thoracic spine to both left and the right is extremely important. The thoracic spine has significantly greater rotational capabilities compared to the lumbar spine (low back). If we maximise our mobility here, we can help protect the lower back, along with the cervical spine (neck).
Suggested Exercises – Thoracic Mobility
1) Self Massage Mid / Upper back – 60 seconds
2) Upper Back Extension – 30 seconds
3) All Fours Rotation – 5 reps each side
Step 2.2 – Improving Posture
Posture can be described as the proper alignment of the spine, with the aim of establishing three natural curves (low back, mid/upper back and neck).
The 3 major spinal curves: 1 – Cervical, 2 – Thoracic, 3 – Lumbar
Modern lifestyles and the associated muscle imbalances have pushed and pulled our spines away from those three natural curves, and this has had a damaging effect on our spinal health. Our backs are designed to function optimally from the neutral illustrated above, and the further we get away from it, the more stress we put on our protective spinal structures.
Aside from promotion of pain, poor posture also does terrible things for our golf swings; reducing range of motion in key areas (hips, mid back and shoulders) and creating inefficiencies in our swing action, to give us a double whammy of back pain causes.
The muscles responsible for holding your posture are located deep in the body and close to the spine. Strengthening them can be tricky, as we don’t really have a lot of conscious control over their activation. Hence posture being such a difficult thing to remember! The combination of the 4 exercises featured below help provide the stimulus to those deep muscles that, if trained often enough, will automatically hold your posture in a good position.
Suggested Exercises – Strengthening posture muscles
1) Wall Posture Check – 30 secs
2) Posture Cue – 60 secs
3) Posture Cue Knee Lifts – 10 reps each side
4) Arm Press – 15 reps
Step 2.3 – Fixing Alignment Issues and Muscle Imbalances
Imagine a car with wheel alignment issues; front wheels facing to the right, back wheels facing to the left. Not only will the tires wear out unevenly and quickly, but other areas of the car will experience more torque, load or strain and would have to work harder. The same thing happens to the lower back when we have body alignment issues above and / or below.
For example, if we have short / tight / overactive hip flexors (muscles at the front of the hips that bend our knees to our chest) on one side of the body; very common amongst golfers with low back pain, then this would rotate the pelvis forward on one side, which can create a knock-on effect of imbalance throughout the body.
If the pelvis rotates in one direction, the shoulders naturally have to rotate in the opposite direction in order to maintain balance. Our low back is subsequently caught in the middle, and placed under more load, stress and strain. This imbalance can cause the low back to bend and rotate further, and more unevenly, especially in the already complex rotation and side bending context of the golf swing!
Below is a pelvic alignment technique that can help those with the afore mentioned imbalance.
In the next article; Step 3: Essential Strength and Golf Movement Patterns, we will show you the progression of exercises and key technique principles to build up the strength and movement patterns to return to regular exercise and golf.
If you would like to see how Marnus can help with your golfing back pain, then check out the resources below:
If you would like to access training programs designed for elite and recreational players, then check out the following resources and services from Nick at Golf Fit Pro:
A golfing memoir in monthly tokens: March (belatedly)
Editor’s note: All latency on the publishing here is the fault of the Editor-in-Chief.
As some might say, if you don’t take the plunge, you can’t taste the brine. Others might not say such a thing. I’m taking the plunge, because I want to taste the brine.
Absolutely. Meet me up north (and, to himself, what have I got to lose?)
No sense in putting the cart before the horse, as the old pro used to say, as cirE “Flip” Hedgebow used to ignore. As March came to a close, as cirE locked the pro shop for the last time until November, he took a leap of faith. How big of a leap? Let’s get through March, and find out.
Speaking of carts and horses, March for Flip always came in like a lamb, and went out like a lion. That ran contrary to the folklore but, all things considered, there was always a 50% chance of things running contrary.
No, the best reason for topsy and turvy in March, for Flip, was explained by his birthday. Being born in the middle of the month might suggest balance to some; for him, it was a constant reminder of the chaos that led up to his earthly arrival, tempered only by the madness that ensued. If that’s balance, you can have it.
In Flip’s world, March was about the arrival of the most seasoned of snowbirds, the ones with more than five years of retirement under their growing-shrinking belts. Some were expanding, as they had given up on fitness; the rest were shrinking, as the truest effects of age caught them up. In each case, this pod arrived with military precision, knowing where and when nearly every penny would be spent. No frivolity remained in their schedules, no ambiguity survived from younger, budgeting days. No longer minnows, they recognized that uncertainty stalked them, and that all of their remaining wits needed to center on a small and precise target. The smaller, the more precise, the better…for the women.
Like all men, the old guys appreciated the consistency and precision their wives brought to their worlds.
Like all men, the old guys detested the ever-encroaching, loss of control over their own destinies.
They would enter the pro shop, grab the latest hat like a modern-day Judge Smails, and set it at a rakish angle, atop their sleek domes. Flip learned quite early on that the only way to ensure the sale was cash. When the wives invariably came to complain and demand a refund, Flip could “only” offer a pro shop credit, guaranteeing that something would be purchased. If they bought it on account or on a card, the sale was irretrievably lost.
Flip expected these purchases from his March gam: the cheapest golf balls, when their supply of northern culls ran out; the attire from last fall, or even the previous summer, ready to be shipped back to the manufacturer when March 20th arrived; and some odd or end that the pro had overlooked, lost to some sort of missionary of time. The only thing stronger than the will of the spouse, was the desire of the old guy to make some sort of purchase, to re-establish some semblance of power and control, for at least a moment.
How did you get your name, and why is the last letter, and not the first, capitalized?
(silence. he rarely heard the first question, as everyone knew him as “Flip;” he never heard the second one, as no one paid attention anymore.)
Two stories are a lot to tell. Let’s save both answers, even if it’s just a little while.
(silence. she wasn’t satisfied)
If the red hair caused his eyes to move from the mundane nature of packing and sealing boxes, everything else physical compelled him to put down the tape gun, sense that his throat was dry, know that he would not clear it without a squeak, turn away for a bottle of water, take a swig for lubrication, and, finally, turn back with his finest Axel Foley smile, and greet her with: How long have you been retired?
It was an incalculable risk. There was a 90% chance that she would react with an I’m not that old sort of affront, turn on her heels, and march out the door. There was a 5% chance that she would get the joke, and would stick around for another exchange, before smiling awkwardly and departing. There remained a 5% chance of something else. On this 21st day of March, that final 5% wafted in.
Wafted in, in the guise of a lesson he thought that he had planned. Planned for one of the wives, a late-sixties model whose swing was frozen in time: the unlikely combination of a forward lurch of the torso, a reverse pivot of the feet, and right in the middle, an impossible heave of the hips in one of four unpredictable directions. If anyone were to discover a fifth cardinal point, it would be Agnes Porter. Until this moment, Flip Hedgebow gave thanks that the world was blessed with just one of her; more than one might have tilted the globe off its axis. Now, he offered up a different type of gratitude, thanks to the visage of her granddaughter, who bore no resemblance to the matriarch, beyond the title of Agnes Porter.
They write that a story may be deemed worthy for its inerrant language, or for its compelling events. The story of Agnes Porter the way-younger and Flip Hedgebow benefitted from both, along with an overdose of peripeteia.
Artwork by JaeB
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