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Opinion & Analysis

Golfers and distance running

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This article isn’t about “should golfers do cardio?”. The answer to that is an unequivocal yes. Cardiovascular fitness is, to simplify, the way in which the body supplies oxygen to working muscles for the energy you need to move (for all you science folks out there, send me a message and we can get deeper into it). The more efficiently and easily this happens, the easier every active activity will be. Even golf. This article is more about how to get good cardio and why longer, slower, distance running is not what I’d choose for high performing golfers almost ever.

Firstly, there are two categories that activities/exercises fall into: anaerobic and aerobic. Anaerobic means that the oxygen supplied to the muscles isn’t sufficient enough to sustain the work for a long period of time (think sprinting, or a max speed driver swing; as much as you might want to you, the intensity will have to lower to perform longer). Aerobic means that the supply is plentiful enough for long sustained activity (think jogging or walking a round of golf).

Obviously, golf has both, leading to the crux of this article. In my experience, golfers tend to focus on the 4+ hours that a round takes, decide that this requires significant stamina (they are absolutely correct), and then go run 3 miles in about 20-30 min.
Here’s my problem with this philosophy: the level of cardio necessary to play a competitive round of golf is low. In other words, no one shoots 90 because they can’t get enough air.

The level needed to play a majority of professional golf is even less because of caddies or carts (mini-tours/senior tour). I liken golf to a mixture of shooting free-throws, kicking field goals, and pitching a baseball. All outrageously pressurized, all highly demanding in skill and the ability to control oneself, but not completely necessary to be in primo shape to do. Therefore, what is truly needed is to be cardiovascularly fit, but only so that the body recovers more quickly and operates more efficiently, to then be an explosive athlete for longer.

In a study conducted by Potteiger et al. (1992), (thanks Eric Cressey and Rob Rabena for finding this one), it was found during simulated baseball games that the Vo2 levels (measured in ml.kg.min) reached ? the levels associated with endurance athletes. Meaning cardiovascular endurance isn’t really a factor in pitching late into a game.

While a real game probably elevates the consumption and expenditure, it obviously doesn’t raise the levels to that of the Tour de France. And while I do not have any reliable data on VO2 for golfers during a round of golf, I have seen data indicating that VO2 max reaches about 35-46 ml.kg.min during a round of golf, indicating that cardio isn’t a major player in finishing a round of golf as strongly as started, or rather, that whatever your cardiovascular fitness level, that the endurance of it will have a major effect on your round.

So yes, cardio is important, because it will make your round easier, and because it will make everything easier. But far more important is your anaerobic system, and your strength and flexibility, for these, are what are responsible for hitting the golf ball, and particularly hitting the golf ball far. There were correlations found in elite player’s ball speeds and even in their proximity to the hole on chip shots based on something as simple as their anterior core endurance. (Wells et al. (2009)). Chip proximity! Due to ab strength! Do your planks and chip it closer, easy right?

Everyone is probably nodding their head right now, “Yep, we get it, being stronger makes the ball go further, and will give me better stability, and help my golf game.” But the original point of the article was to train differently. Because golfers are anaerobic power athletes.

There’s a saying, “What you do is who you become.” Same thing with training, if you train slow, you’ll be slow, and I don’t care if you run 7 minute miles, it’s not that fast. Golf is explosive and should be trained as such. So if you want to be fast, train fast. Train for strength, and explosion. (As a side note, I have seen most of my athlete’s heart rates peak in the 140-160 range or higher during an hour’s strength session, which is around the peak of a pretty solid run anyways.)

So, instead of distance running, I would prefer intervals and explosiveness. Run fast for 20 seconds. Rest for 20 seconds. Run a 50-yard sprint, rest, recover, and then do it again. Bike sprints. Assault Bike sprints. 10 seconds on, 20 seconds rest, etc. The more stuff we can do where we fire every muscle in our body quickly, or at least faster than we did before, the better off we’ll be. Explosively lift weights, perform low rep-high explosion box jumps. There is no limit to how we can get moving faster, and not have our muscles relax into an aerobic 30 minute “slow” workout.

You still will gain cardio, just by working out, and as we’ve seen, it’s not like golfers need to have marathon levels of cardiovascular fitness anyways. But, if you prefer to be that sort of athlete, you can get there with shorter faster runs/bikes, learning to lift weights properly, and using a few circuits to gain some explosiveness with a high heart rate.

In summary, I argue against distance running and would have my golfers get their cardio from strength sessions, or faster interval type training. In-season sprints have been shown to increase lower body strength while long slow distance running has shown to lessen it in baseball players. (Rhea et al. (2008)) If we want to be fast, and I believe that all of us golfers want our swings to be fast, then we have to get serious about training the system that produces that, and spending most of our time in this way.

So spend some time doing some box jumps, or sprints (if you have the form and capability to do so), and definitely some strength building if you actually want to hit the ball further, and even chip it closer.

REFERENCES:

1. Potteiger, J., Blessing, D., & Wilson, G. D. (1992). The Physiological Responses to a Single Game of Baseball Pitching. Journal of Applied Sport Science Research, 6, 11-18.

2. Wells GD, Elmi M., Thomas S. (2009) Physiological Correlates of Golf Performance. J Strength Cond Res. 2009 May;23(3):741-50.

3. Rhea, M., Oliverson, J., Marshall, G., Peterson, M., Kenn, J., & Ayllon, F. (2008). Noncompatibilty of Power and Endurance Training Among College Baseball Players. The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research , 230-234.

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  1. Frank

    Sep 12, 2020 at 6:33 pm

    Tiger directly said that if he never ran as often as he did, he could have extended his peak for a lot longer than he has. Cycling and/or swimming is much more low-impact on the back than running. Also, if you want to induce golf specific conditioning, why would you run when literally no one runs during a 4 day 72 hole golf tournament; they’re always walking?

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Opinion & Analysis

The Wedge Guy: What makes a golf course ‘tough?’

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I found this past weekend’s golf to be some of the most entertaining and thought-provoking of the season. While the men of the PGA Tour found a challenging and tough Muirfield Village, the women of the LPGA were getting a taste of a true championship-caliber layout at Olympic Club, the sight of many historic U.S. Opens.

In both cases, the best players in the world found themselves up against courses that fought back against their extraordinary skills and talents. Though neither course appeared to present fairways that were ridiculously narrow, nor greens that were ultra-fast and diabolical, scoring was nowhere near the norms we’ve grown accustomed to seeing on the professional tours.

So, that begs the question – what is it exactly that makes a course tough for these elite players? And is that any different from those things that make a course tough for the rest of us?

From my observation, the big difference for both the ladies and the men was the simple fact that Muirfield Village and Olympic shared the same traits – deep rough alongside each fairway, deep bunkers, and heavy rough around the greens. In other words — unlike most of the venues these pros face each week, those two tracks put up severe penalties for their not-so-good shots — and their awful ones.

Setting aside the unfortunate turn of events for John Rahm – who appeared to be playing a different game for the first three days – only 18 of the best male players in the game managed to finish under par at Muirfield Village. That course offered up measurable penalties for missed fairways and greens, as it was nearly impossible to earn a GIR from the rough, and those magical short games were compromised a lot – Colin Morikawa even whiffed a short chip shot because the gnarly lie forced him to try to get “cute” with his first attempt. If you didn’t see it, he laid a sand wedge wide open and slid it completely under the ball — it didn’t move at all!

On the ladies’ side, these elite players were also challenged at the highest level, with errant drives often totally preventing a shot that had a chance of holding the green — or even reaching it. And the greenside rough and deep bunkers of Olympic Club somewhat neutralized their highly refined greenside scoring skills.

So, the take-away from both tournaments is the same, the way I see it.

If a course is set up to more severely penalize the poor drives and approaches — of which there are many by these players — and to make their magical short game skills more human-like, you will see these elite players struggle more like the rest of us.

So, I suggest all of you think about your last few rounds and see what makes your course(s) play tough. Does it penalize your not-so-good drives by making a GIR almost impossible, or is it too challenging around the greens for your scoring skills? Maybe the greens are so fast and diabolical that you don’t get as much out of your putting as you think you should? Or something else entirely?

My bet is that a thoughtful reflection on your last few rounds will guide you to what you should be working on as you come into the peak of the 2021 golf season.

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Club Junkie

Club Junkie: My 3-wood search, Mizuno ST-Z driver, and Srixon divide golf ball review

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I am on the search for a 3-wood this year and talk a little about my top 3 that I have been hitting. Hit on the pros and cons of each option and what might be in the bag next week. The Mizuno ST-Z was on the course and a really good driver for players who want forgiveness but don’t need any draw bias. The Srixon Q-Star Tour Divide is a cool 2-tone ball that makes short game practice more interesting.

 

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Golf's Perfect Imperfections

Golf’s Perfect Imperfections: How to turn technical thinking into task-based think in your golf game

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The mind can only be in one place at a time at 40 bits of information per second. To build a golf swing this way would be like an ant building New York City this way: a most impossible task. When you are task-based you are using the human self-preserving system, that works at 40 million bits per second, choose wisely.

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