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How to Work Out During the Golf Season

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Top golfers today are elite athletes whose in-season programs are carefully considered based on their competitive schedules, how each individual athlete responds to different physical stressors, the physical qualities important to that athlete, and much more. The goal is to allow these athletes to perform at the highest possible level while staying healthy and energized so they can manage their busy practice schedules, play schedules, and the demands of constant travel.

But what does all this have to do with GolfWRX readers, who probably aren’t tour pros and have day jobs that keep them from playing as much golf as they’d like? Well, as it turns out, you’ve probably got more in common with a typical tour pro than you might think… in terms of lifestyle at least.

Late nights and early wake-up calls compromise good sleeping habits, and too much sitting (long-distance travel or at a desk) wreak havoc on posture. Tournament golf is just one part of their lives, along with family, kids and work commitments (most tour players have big time commitments from their sponsors, the media, and their professional tour). Starting to sound familiar?

Considering all of these competing demands on the in-season golfer, whether pro or amateur, my job as a fitness professional at this time of year is less of coach and more of a manager. My goal is to manage all the competing demands on a golfer’s time, and most importantly, improve their recovery capacity to allow them to perform optimally when they need to.

In order to achieve this, a golfer’s in-season training should have three main objectives:

  1. Injury prevention
  2. Maintaining strength/other physical qualities needed to perform (they’re usually built during the off-season)
  3. Managing fatigue so athletes are fresh to tee it up week after week.

Injury Prevention

When injured, an athlete cannot gain strength, power or sport-specific skill. For that reason, injury prevention should be the first priority of every coach and athlete.

The hips, low back and shoulders tend to get pretty chewed up in the golf swing, particularly during a long, competitive season. All the eccentric stress of a greater volume of golf swings, as well as the asymmetrical nature of the golf swing, can lead to significant losses in mobility. Additionally, this is usually coupled with walking the course for 3-5 rounds per week and long-distance travel to tournaments (or long periods of sitting at a desk for the average amateur with a day job).

This tends to have pretty disastrous effects on posture and leads to missing out on basic functional movement patterns like squatting and lunging, so our exercise selection in-season is going to need to account for this.

Maintaining Strength

I love a good analogy, and one of my favorites is thinking of max strength like a drinking glass. If you have a bigger glass (i.e. more strength), you have the potential to be faster or more explosive. This analogy works great in the off-season, however, during the season we tweak it slightly.

Imagine you have a glass, but it has a small hole in the bottom and water is leaking out. This is representative of the strength you’ll lose over the course of a competitive season. If you did the right things in the off-season and got stronger, you have a bigger glass. So even if you have a hole and you’re losing some strength, you’ve got a bigger strength reserve that you can lose. And taking that a step further, if you continue strength training in-season, it’s like plugging a hole in your glass. You may still lose some of your gains, but you’ll do so at a much slower pace.

By strength training year round, not only do you have a bigger strength reserve to start, but you can also maintain Your strength for as long as possible.

The key to in-season strength training is not to demonstrate maximal strength, but rather to maintain strength. We may still move some decent weights, but we don’t need to be working up to true 3-5 rep maxes. Even if you only get in one decent training session per week and lift for 2-3 sets of at 70-80 percent of your of 3-rep max (or 7-8 on an RPE scale), it’s going to go a long way to mitigating any losses in strength over the course of the competitive season.

Managing Fatigue

During in-season training, the primary thing I’m trying to manage is fatigue. For our purposes, fatigue basically equates to stress. And all stress is stress: physical, emotional, mental, financial, marital, etc.

Once the stress bucket is full, there’s not much you can do other than take a break and fix the problem. If the golf season sees a significant increase in the amount of golf swings you are making, walking you are doing or emotional stress (we’ve all been there!), we better factor that in.

As a performance coach, I have to make sure that my golfer is fresh and prepared to play on “X” day or “X” date. As I mentioned earlier, however, keeping the athlete strong is key to success in-season. This represents something of a double-edged sword; strength training is a stressor, and therefore an additional factor they must then recover from. For this reason, our in-season programs typically limit lifting to 1-2 lifting sessions per week. By limiting eccentric (the lowering portion of the lift) and overall training volume, we can ensure our golfers feel fresh during their rounds. Limiting soreness is also key part of allowing the golfer to feel fresh on the tee. By keeping exercise variety low, we can make the most of the repeated bout effect to prevent soreness.

Once the tournament is done, it’s a race to get the athlete recovered and feeling fresh as quickly as possible (particularly in the busy competitive season like you get on the PGA and European tours these days). Doing so allows for improved performance in both practice and competition, ensuring adequate recovery is therefore an all-important part of managing fatigue.

Ensuring proper sleep quality and quantity as well as supplying the body with an appropriate volume of nutrients is also vital to your body’s ability to deal with and recover from stress. Additionally, restorative activities such as swimming or sled pushing/ pulling, foam rolling, static stretching and breathing drills will become a focus of training in-season.

Note: The full details of the recovery strategies we utilize are beyond the scope of this article, so please click here for more information. 

Putting It All Together

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Click to enlarge.

The entire workout to the right is to be completed 1-2 times per week dependent on training experience. The active recovery and mobility portions should be completed another 1-2 times per week depending on training experience. Lastly, the mobility portion can also be completed post-workout or even nightly.

Ultimately, if you can keep yourself or your athletes feeling as fresh and prepared as possible — and as often as possible, while maintaining the physical qualities needed to perform — you give yourself or your athletes the best possible chance for success. This is where a well-planned and properly managed in-season training program is truly invaluable.

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Nick is a TPI certified strength coach with a passion for getting golfers stronger and moving better. Through Stronger Golf he uses unique, research based training methods to create stronger, faster, more athletic golfers. Golfers who are more coachable, achieve higher levels of skill mastery, play injury free, and for longer as a result of improved physical fitness.

4 Comments

4 Comments

  1. Sebastian

    May 25, 2017 at 7:44 am

    Need to be careful about this. The wrong kind of work outs make the slow twitch muscle fibers grow and you could lose flexibility and speed, and gain strength.

    People have two general types of muscle fibers: slow-twitch (type I) and fast-twitch (type II). Slow-twitch muscles help enable long-endurance feats such as distance running, while fast-twitch muscles fatigue faster but are used in powerful bursts of movements like sprinting.

    Some of the tour pros are working out to bulk up and get really strong, but that can be detrimental due to slow twitch fibers.

    DJ seems to have it right. Lots of explosive movement training, with slam balls, box jumps, etc… And he doesn’t complain and WD from sore back (unless it’s due to stairs), pulled muscles, etc… Bubba crushes the ball and I believe he doesn’t even lift weights.

    I used to lift very heavy and be bulky in my early 20’s, and lost all flexibility. I could not hit a ball to save my life.

    Combination movements that are explosive seem to be best for golf. Things such as snatches, KB swings, box jumps, push ups, sprinting, tire flips, etc…

    That is what I have researched and read. but it’s just my opinion.

    • Nathan

      May 26, 2017 at 7:54 pm

      Your comment is not accurate at all. At all…

      • Mike

        Jun 1, 2017 at 8:27 am

        So then, smart guy, what would make it accurate?

    • Quinn

      Jun 4, 2017 at 2:25 pm

      What you said is incorrect, being bulkier can actually allow you to be more flexible due to having more muscle. Whether you choose to stretch or not is dependent on whether your flexible or not it has nothing to do with being bulky at all. It is good to develop fast twitch muscle fibers but that doesn’t mean you only want fast twitch muscle fibers, and just because your not doing the lifts that your talking about doesn’t mean you aren’t developing fast twitch muscle fibers. Exploding on the concentric movement of the repetition is ideally how you want to do a lift and slow on the eccentric movement of the repetition. Deadlifts or Squats are great movements and are generally what golfers might think are bad exercises for golf which is untrue. They’re actually great ways to build up muscle and then compliment them with more specialized exercises. But they both are very important, not one way or the other.

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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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