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Optimal training strategies for golfers: Part 1

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When it comes to athletic-based training (sprinting, agility work, plyometrics, conditioning, resistance training, etc.), I’m pretty certain golfers don’t come to mind when you think of those who can benefit from these particular training methods. Fortunately, real-world evidence and science say otherwise.

My training staff and I were recently granted the opportunity to work with the University of Nevada-Reno men’s golf team. We found that these men are committed to excellence, and are gladly willing to do whatever it takes within the rules to gain a competitive edge over their competition. In this article, I’m going to outline most of our specific training approach with this group of golfers, and include some training parameters, research studies, video demonstrations, and sound evidence to hopefully supply some new insight into what’s necessary when training these kinds of golfers.

I will cover six specific topics over the course of two articles, which are pertinent to golfers for optimal athletic and physical development, along with programming guidelines including “modified” exercise variations, training frequency concerns and intensity management techniques.

No. 1: Hip and Thoracic Mobility

According to the Joint by Joint Approach, made famous by renown physical therapist Gray Cook and strength and conditioning coach Mike Boyle, the entire collection of joints throughout the body alternates between primary needs of either mobility or stability. As it pertains to golf specifically, the hips and middle back require and are anatomically designed to display adequate mobility levels throughout a swing pattern. Often times though, this is not the case upon various forms of assessment. As a result, common and predictable compensation patterns begin to emerge at the knee and lumbar spine. Unfortunately, range of motion capacity is naturally limited at these locations, especially the low back.

Joint-By-Joint-Approach-by-Michael-Boyle

According to Mark Buckley, thoracic rotation accounts for 60-70 degrees of rotary motion, while the lower back accounts for 10-15 degrees. (1) A major difference to say the least. I should note that there is an absolute plethora of evidence indicating injury at each segment of our spine at various local structures that is beyond the scope of this article. Based on the information above, however, it is safe to conclude that if you do not abide by the motion standard set forth by your spinal architecture then you are asking for trouble.

Lastly, there was also a study published in 2008 by Van Dillen, which showed an increase in LBP (lower back pain) with a loss of hip mobility. (2) Below is a circuit that we perform 1-2 times per week with the team to help keep both of these areas loose.

No. 2: Lower Body Strength

Mike Reinold, former trainer for the Boston Red Sox, happened to disclose some solid research on muscle contribution levels in rotational activities, such as throwing, golf swings and tennis serves. Here is a link to the review and I will cover some specifics, as well.

Mike helps bring to light the movement principle known as “Proximal to Distal Sequencing” in regards to rotational movement. (3, 4) Ideally, in rotational movements, there is an initial action from the pelvis and legs, which are more central or “proximal” to the body. Energy is then transmitted up the chain through the torso, arms and then hands, imparting force to accelerate an object (racquet, club or ball). So based on this principle alone, the lower extremities are huge players in golf swing potential.

Moreover, there were two more studies, which indicated glute strength and its influence on the pelvis, torso and hand speed. (5, 6) There is also good evidence showing high levels of quadricep and hamstring activity as well.

The take-home message here should be that golf is obviously naturally limited in its ability to improve strength in all the muscles of the lower body to the highest degree possible, but a sound strength program consisting of lunges, sled work, GHR’s, stability ball leg curls, rear foot elevated split squats, single leg squats, dumbbell or kettlebell swings and much more will ensure that all of the lower body is being targeted and developed in the strength department to help improve performance on the course.

Below are two of our golfers demonstrating a modified GHR and stability ball leg curls.

No. 3: Club head Speed and Power Output

Of all of the topics in which I’m going to discuss, there was the highest amount of evidence for developing power. For instance, in 2013, a researcher by the name of Read found that power-based exercises such as a squat jump and rotational medicine ball throws related best to a golfer’s club head speed. (7) Just recently in 2016, Turner had this to say about improving a professional golfer’s club head speed:

“Results suggest that strength-based leg exercises and power-based chest exercises may improve club head speed in professional golfers.”

This study also mentioned that the squat jump was a primary measurable for club head speed performance as well. (8) Last but not least, in 2009, Gordon found that total body rotational power and upper body strength measures were primarily responsible for club head and not flexibility, contrary to popular belief. (9)

Now all of this research is interesting, indeed, but does club head speed actually affect a golfer’s handicap? I know several of our guys are still questioning whether or not it does, but numbers don’t lie. According to PGA Tour statistics, 66 golfers on the PGA Tour currently have an average driver club head speed in excess of 115 mph, with Andrew Loupe swinging as fast as 125.2 mph.

Of course, I am not an expert in golf — I’m actually quite terrible at the sport — and there are several other mental and physical elements that have to be considered when assessing a golfer’s aptitude and performance. Club head speed definitely does seem to matter, though, and a sound strength-and-conditioning program can increase club head speed to complement a comprehensive golf-training regime. Otherwise, through either injury or a lack of distance, a golfer can be at a disadvantage on the course.

In Part 2 of this series, I will be sure to discuss more significant training topics which are vital for golfers, as well as detail some programming specifics and uncommon factors which need to be addressed and could help make a big difference for both long-term health and performance.

DISCLAIMER:

The exercises disclosed above do carry with them an inherent risk for potential injury if performed incorrectly, or without the direct supervision of a qualified training professional.  Make sure to consult either your physician or coach before engaging in these activities or anything highly strenuous in nature.

References

  1. https://bretcontreras.com/topic-of-the-week-spinal-rotation-exercises/
  2. Van Dillen, L. Hip Rotation Range of Motion in People With and Without Low Back Pain Who Participate in Rotation-Related Sports. Phys Ther Sport 9: 72-81, 2008.
  3. Callaway, R. An Analysis of Peak Pelvis Rotation Speed, Gluteus Maximus and Medius Strength in High Versus Low Handicap Golfers During the Golf Swing 7:288-295, 2012.
  4. Spaniol, F. Striking Skills: Developing Power to Turn. The Strength and Conditioning Journal 34: 57-60, 2012.
  5. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9474404
  6. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20664365
  7. Read, PJ. Relationship between field-based measures of strength and power and golf club head speed.  The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research 10: 2708-2713, 2013.
  8. Turner, AN. Determinants of Club Head Speed in PGA Professional Golfers. The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 2016.
  9. Gordon, BS. An investigation into the relationship of flexibility, power, and strength to club head speed in male golfers.  The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research 5: 1606, 1610, 2009.
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Travis Hansen has been involved in the field of Human Performance Enhancement for nearly a decade. He graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in Fitness and Wellness, and holds three different training certifications from the ISSA, NASM, and NCSF. He was the Head Strength and Conditioning Coach for the Reno Bighorns of the NBADL for their 2010 season, and he is currently the Director of The Reno Speed School inside the South Reno Athletic Club. He has worked with hundreds of athletes from almost all sports, ranging from the youth to professional ranks. He is the author of the hot selling "Speed Encyclopedia" http://thespeedencyclopedia.com, and is also the leading authority on speed development through the International Sports Sciences Association.

2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. Jay K.

    Sep 4, 2016 at 7:28 pm

    Mike Boyle has recently spoken out AGAINST the first three exercises in your video. He doesn’t want to teach any movements that put stress on the lumbar spine, he specifically mentions any exercise which requires you to move your legs in a way that twists the lumbar such as the Scorpion, the first exercise in the video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tXEECZzqO-0.

    Mike recommends you “move through your hips, and not through your lumbar spine.”

  2. Morgan Wells

    May 15, 2016 at 9:11 pm

    Travis, appreciate the article. Have been working on my flexibility in particular to gain clubhead speed. As a follow up, would love to see an article quantify the data a bit. For instance, the above article references Turner in that power based exercises may improve clubhead speed. However, without data that sentence says very little.

    Would love to see the next article quantify and differentiate how much (if any) clubhead speed is gained from the various exercises and stretches. That would help us hackers know where to focus our efforts!

    Keep up the good work!

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Instruction

The Wedge Guy: Short game tempo

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One of my favorite things to do is observe golfers closely, watching how they go about things from well before the shot to the execution of the swing or stroke. Guess the golf course has become kind of like going to the lab, in a way.

One thing I notice much too often is how “quick” most golfers are around the greens. It starts with grabbing a club or two from the cart and quickly getting to their ball. Then a few short jabs at a practice swing and usually a less-than-stellar result at a recovery.

Why?

If you are going to spend a morning or afternoon on the course, why hurry around the greens? I tend to be a fast player and despise five-hour rounds, but don’t fault anyone for taking a few seconds extra to get “right” with their recovery shot. You can still play “ready golf” and not short yourself in the close attention to execution. But let me get back to the specific topic.

Maybe it’s aggravated by this rush, but most golfers I observe have a short game tempo that is too quick. Chips, pitches and recoveries are precision swings at less than full power, so they require a tempo that is slower than you might think to accommodate that precision. They are outside the “norm” of a golf swing, so give yourself several practice swings to get a feel for the tempo and power that needs to be applied to the shot at hand.

I also think this quick tempo is a result of the old adage “accelerate through the ball.” We’ve all had that pounded into our brains since we started playing, but my contention is that it is darn hard not to accelerate . . . it’s a natural order of the swing. But to mentally focus on that idea tends to produce a short, choppy swing, with no rhythm or precision. So, here’s a practice drill for you.

  1. Go to your practice range, the local ball field, schoolyard or anywhere you can safely hit golf balls 20-30 yards or less.
  2. Pick a target only 30-50 feet away and hit your normal pitch, observing the trajectory.
  3. Then try to hit each successive ball no further, but using a longer, more flowing, fluid swing motion than the one before. That means you’ll make the downswing slower and slower each time, as you are moving the club further and further back each time.

My bet is that somewhere in there you will find a swing length and tempo where that short pitch shot becomes much easier to hit, with better loft and spin, than your normal method.

The key to this is to move the club with the back and through rotation of your body core, not just your arms and hands. This allows you to control tempo and applied power with the big muscles, for more consistency.

Try this and share with all of us if it doesn’t open your eyes to a different way of short game success.

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The Wedge Guy: The core cause of bad shots

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You are cruising through a round of golf, hitting it pretty good and then you somehow just hit an absolutely terrible shot? This isn’t a problem unique to recreational golfers trying to break 80, 90, or 100 — even the best tour professionals occasionally hit a shot that is just amazingly horrible, given their advanced skill levels.

It happens to all of us — some more frequently than others — but I’m convinced the cause is the same. I call it “getting sloppy.”

So, what do I mean by that?

Well, there was a USGA advertising campaign a while back feature Arnold Palmer, with the slogan “Swing Your Swing.” There’s a lot of truth to that advice, as we all have a swing that has — either frequently or occasionally – produced outstanding golf shots. While there is no substitute for solid mechanics and technique, I’ve always believed that if you have ever hit a truly nice golf shot, then your swing has the capacity to repeat that result more frequently than you experience.

The big question is: “Why can’t I do that more often?”

And the answer is: Because you don’t approach every shot with the same care and caution that you exhibit when your best shots are executed.

To strike a golf ball perfectly, the moon and stars have to be aligned, regardless of what your swing looks like. Your set-up position must be right. Your posture and alignment have to be spot-on. Ball position has to be precisely perfect. To get those things correct takes focused attention to each detail. But the good news is that doing so only takes a few seconds of your time before each shot.

But I know from my own experience, the big “disrupter” is not having your mind right before you begin your swing. And that affects all of these pre-shot fundamentals as well as the physical execution of your swing.
Did you begin your pre-shot approach with a vivid picture of the shot you are trying to hit? Is your mind cleared from what might have happened on the last shot or the last hole? Are you free from the stress of this crazy game, where previous bad shots cause us to tighten up and not have our mind free and ready for the next shot? All those things affect your ability to get things right before you start your swing . . . and get in the way of “swinging your swing.”

So, now that I’ve outlined the problem, what’s the solution?

Let me offer you some ideas that you might incorporate into your own routine for every shot, so that you can get more positive results from whatever golf swing skills you might have.

Clear your mind. Whatever has happened in the round of golf to this point is history. Forget it. This next shot is all that matters. So, clear that history of prior shots and sharpen your focus to the shot at hand.

Be precise in your fundamentals. Set-up, posture, alignment and ball position are crucial to delivering your best swing. Pay special attention to all of these basics for EVERY shot you hit, from drives to putts.

Take Dead Aim. That was maybe the most repeated and sage advice from Harvey Penick’s “Little Red Book”. And it may be the most valuable advice ever. Poor alignment and aim sets the stage for bad shots, as “your swing” cannot be executed if you are pointed incorrectly.

See it, feel it, trust it. Another piece of great advice from the book and movie, “Golf’s Sacred Journey: Seven Days In Utopia”, by Dr. David Cook. Your body has to have a clear picture of the shot you want to execute in order to produce the sequence of movements to do that.

Check your grip pressure and GO. The stress of golf too often causes us to grip the club too tightly. And that is a swing killer. Right before you begin your swing, focus your mind on your grip pressure to make sure it isn’t tighter than your normal pressure.

It’s highly advisable to make these five steps central to your pre-shot routine, but especially so if you get into a bad stretch of shots. You can change things when that happens, but it just takes a little work to get back to the basics.

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Stickney: To stack or not to stack at impact?

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As you look at the impact positions of the best players in the world, you will find many different “looks” with respect to their body and club positions. Some of these impact positions might even appear unique, but don’t be fooled. They all have one thing in common: preserving the players’ balance throughout the impact interval! In fact, if you are not in-balance, then you will lose power, consistency, and have trouble controlling your launch dynamics from shot to shot.

This balance is a necessary key to playing well and one area that can be easily understood with a few graphics shown on GEARS 3D. As you examine the photo in the featured image, you can see a few things:

  • The player on the left has “fallen” backwards through impact slightly moving his head out of the circle established at address
  • The player on the right is more stacked at impact — meaning that his chest, zipper and hands are all in the same place at the same time (within reason)
  • The player on the left has reached this same position in the swing with different segments of the body reaching the ball at different times
  • There will be a difference of impact shaft lean between the two players due to one player reaching impact “together” and the other shoving his hands more forward as he falls back
  • The player on the right is more “connected” through impact…won’t be the longest hitter but will be able to find the ball in the fairway more often
  • The player on the left is putting more pressure on the rear portion of the lower back which could have a potential for injury if he’s not careful

Now, obviously there are pro and cons to both positions. Overall, if you want to be consistent and in-balance more often that not, I would suggest you try your best to focus on being “stacked” when you hit the ball.

Let’s dive in a touch deeper to show you what happens physiologically on 3D when you fall back through impact and I think it will really drive the point home.

  • At address notice the Vertical Spine Number 96.2, this is showing us where the spine is positioned at address
  • You can see the head is in the center of the bubble

  • On the way to the top of the swing you can see that the spine has moved “away” from the target laterally a slight bit to 98 degrees
  • The head has dropped downward and has also moved laterally as well- more lean over the right leg to the top

Now here is where the problem comes in…as you work your way to the top, it’s ok of your head moves a touch laterally but in transition if it stays “back” while your hips run out from under you then you will begin to fall backwards on the way to your belt-high delivery position.

  • We can see at the delivery position that the spine has continued to fall backwards as the hips rotate out from under the upperbody
  • When this happens the hands will begin to push forward- dragging the handle into the impact zone
  • Whenever you have too much spin out and fall back the hands move forward to accommodate this motion and this reduces your Angle of Attack and decreases your dynamic loft at impact
  • This will cause balls to be hit on the decent of the club’s arc and reduce loft making shots come out lower than normal with a higher spin rate and that means shorter drives

Now let’s examine impact…

  • The player on the left has reached impact in a more disconnected fashion versus the player on the right as you compare the two
  • The player on the right has a shaft lean at impact that is less than a degree (.75) while the player on the left has a much more noticeable forward lean of the shaft thereby reducing dynamic loft at impact

  • The player on the left’s spine has moved from 96.2 to 112.9, a difference of 16.7 degrees while the player on the right has only moved back a few degrees. We know this because his head has stayed in the bubble we charted at address
  • The hips have run out from under the player on the left in the downswing and this causes the head to fall back more, the hands to push forward more, and the impact alignments of the club to be too much down with very little dynamic loft (as also shown in the photo below)

Whenever the hips turn out from under the upper body then you will tend to have a “falling back effect of the spine and a pushing forward of the hands” through impact.  Notice how the hips are radically more open on the player on the right versus the left- 27.91 versus 42.42 degrees.

So, now that we can see what happens when the hips spin out, you fall back, and you fail to be “stacked” at impact let’s show you a simple way you can do this at home to alleviate this issue.

  

  • A great drill to focus on being more stacked at impact is to make slow motion swings with the feeling that the upper portion of your arms stay glued to your chest
  • These shots will be full swings but only 20% of your total power because the goal here is connection which allows everything to reach impact together and in-balance
  • The second thought as you make these swings is to pay attention to your head, if you can focus on allowing it to stay “over the top of the ball” at impact you will find that it will stay put a touch more so than normal. Now this is not exactly how it works but it’s a good feeling nonetheless
  • Once you get the feeling at 20% speed work your way up to 50% speed and repeat the process. If you can do it here then you are ready to move up to full swings at top speed

Finally, don’t forget that every golfer’s hips will be open at impact and everyone’s head will fall back a touch — this is fine. Just don’t over-do it! Fix this and enjoy finding the ball in the fairway more often than not.

Questions or comments? [email protected]

 

 

 

 

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