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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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The 19th Hole (Ep. 165): One-on-one with Shane Bacon

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Host Michael Williams talks with the co-host of the Golf Channel’s Golf Today about the Open Championship and Collin Morikawa’s place in the history books.

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What’s old is new again

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All of a sudden, today’s newest trend in golf is yesterday’s clubs.

Golfers are making a move towards old classics the way car enthusiasts would ogle a classic Porsche 911 before they would look twice at a new Tesla Model 3. On the spectrum of art to science, Tesla is peak science and focused on efficiency in every fathomable way. The other will absolutely get you from A to B, but you are more likely to have a smile on your face while you take the detour along the water while enjoying the journey to get there. It is the second type of club that is enjoying this latest resurgence, and I can’t get enough.

New businesses are springing up to refurbish old clubs such as @mulligansclubmakers and @twirledclubs with price tags approaching (and exceeding) the RRP at the time of release of many of the clubs in question. These old clubs are often found in pictures of major champions being used in the 1970s and 1980s, which serves to make them more valuable and interesting to enthusiasts. Other clubs are simply polished examples of the clubs many of us owned 25 years ago and now regret selling. The more polish on an old blade, the better, with classic designs from brands like Wilson Staff, Mizuno, or MacGregor seeing demand and prices increase every month. Seeing these old clubs reimagined with shiny BB&F co ferrules, updated shafts, and grips can get some golfers hot and bothered, and they will open their wallets accordingly.

Around 15 years ago, I bought an old set of blades from the brand Wood Brothers. For many years, I was unable to find out a single thing about those clubs, until @woodbrosgolf came out of hibernation this year onto Instagram and into a frothing market for handmade classic clubs from a forgotten past. I was able to get information that the blades had come out of the Endo forging house in Japan, and my decision to keep the clubs in the garage all these years was vindicated. Now I just need an irrationally expensive matching Wood Bros persimmon driver and fairway wood to complete the set…

Among other boutique brands, National Custom Works (@nationalcustom) has been making pure persimmon woods with the help of Tad Moore to match their incredible irons, wedges, and putters for some time, and now the market is catching up to the joy that can be experienced from striking a ball with the materials of the past. There is an illicit series of pictures of persimmon woods in all states of creation/undress from single blocks of wood through to the final polished and laminated artworks that are making their way into retro leather golf bags all over the world.

There are other accounts which triumph historic images and sets of clubs such as @oldsaltygolf. This account has reimagined the ‘What’s in the Bag’ of tour pros in magazines and made it cool to have a set of clubs from the same year that shows on your driver’s license. I hold them wholly to blame for an impulse buy of some BeCu Ping Eye 2 irons with matching Ping Zing woods… The joy to be found in their image feed from the 70s and 80s will get many golfers reminiscing and wishing they could go back and save those clubs, bags and accessories from their school days. If you want to see more moving pictures from the era, @classicgolfreplays is another account which shows this generation of clubs being used by the best of the best in their heyday. Even better than the clubs are the outfits, haircuts and all leather tour bags to match.

It seems that this new generation of golfer – partially borne out of COVID-19 — is in need of clubs that can’t be sourced fast enough from the major OEMs, so they have gone trawling for clubs that were cool in a different time, and they want them now. Those golfers who match the age of the clubs are also experiencing a golfing rebirth, as the technology gains from the OEMs become incremental, many are now finding enjoyment from the classic feel of clubs as much as they are searching for an extra couple of yards off the tee.

Either way, the result is the same, and people are dusting off the old blades and cavities from years past and hitting the fairways more than ever before. With the desire shifting towards fun over challenge, they are even creeping forward to the tees that their clubs were designed to be played from and finding even more enjoyment from the game. If only I hadn’t got rid of those old persimmons in high school…

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Opinion & Analysis

The Wedge Guy: Top 4 reasons why most golfers don’t get better

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A couple of years ago, I attended a symposium put on by Golf Digest’s research department. They explored the typical responses as to why people quit or don’t play more – too much time, too expensive, etc. But the magazine’s research department uncovered the real fact – by a large margin, the number one reason people give up the game is that they don’t get better!

So, with all that’s published and all the teaching pros available to help us learn, why is that? I have my rationale, so put on your steel toe work boots, because I’m probably going to step on some toes here.

The Top 4 Reasons Golfers Don’t Improve

  1. Most golfers don’t really understand the golf swing. You watch golf and you practice and you play, but you don’t really understand the dynamics of what is really happening at 100 mph during the golf swing. There are dozens of good books on the subject – my favorite is Ben Hogan’s “Five Lessons – The Modern Fundamentals of Golf.” But pick any good one and READ IT. LEARN IT. It will help you immensely if you understand what the swing is really all about. Use a full length mirror to pose in key positions in the swing to match the drawings and photos. All the practice in the world will not help if you are not building a sound fundamental golf swing.
  2. Learning golf doesn’t start in the middle. A sound golf swing is built like a house. First the foundation, then the framing, roof, exterior walls, interior, paint, and trim. You can’t do one before the other. In golf, it all starts with the grip. If you do not hold the club properly, you’ll never accomplish a sound golf swing. Then you learn good posture and setup. If you don’t start in a good position, the body can’t perform the swing motion properly. With a good grip and a sound setup posture, I believe anyone can learn a functional golf swing pretty easily. But if those two foundations are not sound, the walls and roof will never be reliable.
  3. Most bad shots are ordained before the swing ever begins. I am rarely surprised by a bad shot, or a good one, actually. The golf swing is not a very forgiving thing. If you are too close to the ball or too far, if it’s too far forward or backward, if you are aligned right or left of your intended line, your chances of success are diminished quickly and significantly. The ball is 1.68 inches in diameter, and the functional striking area on a golf club is about 1.5-inches wide. If you vary in your setup by even 3/4 inch, you have imposed a serious obstacle to success. If you do nothing else to improve your golf game, learn how to set up the same way every time.
  4. Learn to “swing” the club, not “hit” the ball. This sounds simple, but the golf swing is not a hitting action: it’s a swinging action. The baseball hitter is just that, because the ball is in a different place every time – high, low, inside, outside, curve. He has to rely on quick eye-hand coordination. In contrast, the golf swing is just that – a swing of the club. You have total control over where the ball is going to be so that you can be quite precise in the relationship between your body and the ball and the target line. You can swing when you want to at the pace you find comfortable. And you can take your time to make sure the ball will be precisely in the way of that swing.

Learning the golf swing doesn’t require a driving range at all. In fact, your backyard presents a much better learning environment because the ball is not in the way to give you false feedback. Your goal is only the swing itself.

Understand that you can make a great swing, and often do, but the shot doesn’t work out because it was in the wrong place, maybe by only 1/4 inch or so. Take time to learn and practice your swing, focusing on a good top-of-backswing position and a sound rotating release through impact. Learn the proper body turn and weight shift. Slow-motion is your friend. So is “posing” and repeating segments of the swing to really learn them. Learn the swing at home, refine your ball striking on the range and play golf on the course!

So, there you have my four reasons golfers don’t get better. We all have our own little “personalization” in our golf swing, but these sound fundamentals apply to everyone who’s ever tried to move a little white ball a quarter-mile into a four-inch hole. Working on these basics will make that task much easier!

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