Get Better At Golf Without Touching a Club!

It's that easy....
This will not lower your handicap…

I hope the title grabbed you. That was the intention. However, I am not going to propose some magic pill, swing aide or formula that will instantaneously improve your golf game.  I am sorry to disappoint.  On the other hand, I can suggest a proven way that has been supported numerous times in research studies. The only problem is that it requires time and a little work.

As we have already learned —> HERE, low handicap golfers are stronger, more flexible, and have better balance than high handicap golfers.  It makes sense that better golfers are better athletes.  But, how do they get that way? Is it genetics? Did they pick the right parents?  Possibly.  However, a golf specific strength and conditioning program has been well documented to elicit improvements in strength, flexibility, balance and ultimately club head speed!

It is no secret that golf performance is multi-factorial, and that other parameters such as swing mechanics, mental preparation, course management and golf equipment are implicated in golfing success [2].  But, there is more than enough rationale for physical conditioning as a modality for improving the physical factors affecting golf performance [1,2].  With that said, lets review some important information presented in question and answer form.

Should I just work out or should I perform some type of “golf specific” training program?

This is a great question.  Without getting too off track, lets get something out of the way.  There is no such thing as “golf specific.”  The only thing that is golf specific is actually playing golf.  However, a “golf relevant” program that takes motor control, specific flexibility demands, and specific strength and power considerations is of utmost importance when training golfers.  With that said, every exercise that is performed does not have to look like the golf swing to be effective for golf.  Let me explain this quickly and easily.  Are the glutes (butt and hip muscles) important in golf?  Of course!  TPI considers the glutes to king and the abdominal muscles to be queen in terms of importance for power in golf.  So, what exercise is great at developing glute strength and power?  How about swinging a weighted club or performing weighted rotations that mimic the golf swing?  This is not a bad idea but one of the best exercises of all time at developing hip strength and power is the deadlift.  But the deadlift does not look like a golf swing?!  Exactly!  And, trust me, it does not have to.  Building hip and glute strength (among other things) by using exercises like the deadlift will pay dividends in the integration of fitness to golf.

Rory performing the deadlift.  I wonder why he would do something crazy like this?! (wink wink).
Rory performing the deadlift. I wonder why he would do something crazy like this?! (wink wink).

What other exercises should I perform?

The answer here is not so simple.  It is not only a matter of which exercises are the best, but also, which exercises are best for you and YOUR body.  The philosophy is competency in movement before capacity.  If Rory (pictured above) was not able to get his body into a position (because of flexibility issues, poor form, core instability, etc.) he would first develop those attributes then start increasing his weight/strength on the deadlift.  The same goes for any other exercise.  So, a medical or fitness professional should be able to progress and regress a program as needed to put their athlete in the right position to succeed.  With that said, the recreational golfers in the studies reviewed performed exercises to strengthen their chest, abdominals, back, shoulders, hips, and legs, as well as improving flexibility in their shoulders, trunk, spine and hips.  These are all important areas in golf, but an evaluation may reveal the need to focus on these areas or others primarily.

seated trunk rotation test

Okay, so I know that strength and flexibility training can help improve the game of pro’s and young/ middle aged amateurs, but what about older adults?

Another great question.  Simply, yes!  A study by Thompson et al. in 2004 revealed that an 8-week multi-modal fitness program improved golf performance in 55-79 year old men.  This may be news to some of you but this study is already over 10 years old and the authors reported that Senior PGA Tour players had been partaking in fitness programs for years prior with the hope that increased physical activity will help maintain their competitiveness and avoid injury [2].

What kind of results can I expect?

Finally! The question and answer (hopefully) we have all been waiting for.  Wait no longer because I have some objective data for you.  As previously stated, numerous studies have found that 8-weeks or more of strength and conditioning including a personalized flexibility program will help improve those parameters.  Furthermore, this increase in strength, flexibility, endurance, and balance all equates to one thing….increased club head speed.  But, how much should you expect?  Well, the average increase in club head speed reported was between 2.7 and 5.0 mph.  The interesting thing is that all of the studies that compared strength training only to a multi-modal approach including strength, balance, and stretching found that the multi-modal approach was superior.  It is also important to know that theoretically an increase in 1.0 mph in club head speed equates to an increase in 2.5 yards of carry.  So, the aforementioned studies found that their subjects increased their distance between 6 and 12 yards!  Who would not want that?!

This could be you!
This could be you!

Resources

1. Lephart, SM., Smoliga, JM., Myers, JB. An eight-week golf-specific exercise program improves physical characteristics, swing mechanics, and golf performance in recreational golfers. J. Strength Cond. 21(3), 860-869. 2007.

2. Thompson, CJ., Osness, WH. Effects of an 8-week multimodal exercise program on strength, flexibility, and golf performance in 55 to 79 year-old men. J. of Aging and Physical Activity. 11, 144-156. 2004.

 

 

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The Need for Speed (and how to test for it)

Golf performance has become more mainstream with technological advancements and cutting edge research by golf performance companies such as, The Titleist Performance Institute (TPI).  Knowledge of fitness, performance, and technique is essential to anyone in golf who is looking to get an “edge” on their competition.

At the forefront of golf coaching, performance, and rehab!
At the forefront of golf instruction, performance training, and rehab!

As stated earlier —> HERE, it is well established that club head speed (CHS) is a golf specific objective measure that correlates directly with driving distance, lower handicaps, and the enhancement of overall golf performance (Fradkin et al., 2004).

Previously, high tech tests were the only way to test for club head speed.  However, this is very difficult to the majority of golfers because of the requirement for expensive equipment.  Recently, field-based tests have been found to reliably measure golf specific power and correlate to club head speed.

There are several ways to test for power and human performance, but which tests correlate directly to golf and increased club head speed?  The three tests most commonly cited in research are listed below.

And, to the golfer!  That is, if you want lower scores...
And, to the golfer! That is, if you want lower scores…

FIELD-BASED TESTS

  1. Vertical Jump: The vertical jump tests for lower body power.  There are many ways to test for vertical jump, but many of them require extra equipment.  The least expensive and least involved way to test for vertical jump requires only a tape measure, a wall, and chalk.
    1. To perform, the subject marks his/her finger tips with chalk.  Then, they will stand as close to the wall and reach one arm as high on the wall as possible in order to make a chalk mark.  After this mark is established, the subject will then assume an athletic position near the wall and jump as high as possible touching the wall in order to make a second chalk mark.  The distance between the two chalk marks are considered the vertical jump height – measured in inches.  The best of 3 trials is recorded.
      1. Here is a youtube video describing how to perform the test.  Click —> HERE.
      2. The average PGA TOUR professional scores between 18-21 inch vertical jump.
  2. Seated Medicine Ball Chest Pass: This test measures upper body power. This test only requires a few items including a chair (with a back), a medicine ball (4kg for men, 2kg for women and juniors), and a tape measure.
    1. To perform, the subject sits in the chair with their back touching the seat back.  Without losing contact, the subject performs a chest pass and launches the ball as far as possible using his/ her upper body and chest.  The best of 3 trials is recorded.
      1. The average PGA TOUR professional scores between 18-20 feet.
  3. Supine Medicine Ball Sit-Up and Throw: This tests measures core power.  More specifically, it tests the ability of the athlete’s core to transfer force through their upper body to propel an object.  Does that sound familiar?  It should, because that is what the core does in the golf swing! All you need here is a medicine ball (same weight as above) and a tape measure.
    1. To perform, the athlete starts supine (lying on their back), brings the medicine ball overhead and as they sit up launches the ball as far as possible.
      1. The average PGA TOUR professional scores between 18-20 feet.

KEY POINTS

  1. Club head speed is important in terms of golf specific power.  Increasing your club head speed can help to lower handicaps and improve your game.
  2. Power can be trained in the gym by using strength and plyometric exercises.  Find a golf fitness instructor or physio to get you on track and individualize your program!
  3. Field-based tests have been examined and found to correlate to club head speed.  Each of the three test upper body, lower body, and core power.
  4. All three are equally important, so if there is a major imbalance in an area, attempt to improve that score to “balance” the three instead of increasing an already adequate number and creating a larger imbalance.
    1. For example, if a golfer scores the following: 15 inch vertical jump, 19 foot chest pass, and 20 foot sit-up/throw, then a program that focuses on lower body strength, stability and power would be warranted.  A program that has an upper body and core focus would further the imbalance.
  5. Attached is a video from TPI explaining each of the tests in further detail.  To view it click —> HERE.

 

References

Fradkin, AJ, Sherman, CA, and Finch, C (2004).  How well does club head speed correlate with golf handicaps? J Sci Med Sport 7: 465-472.

Read, PJ, Lloyd, RS, and Oliver, JL (2013). Relationships between field-based measures of strength and power and golf club head speed.  J Strength Cond Res 27: 2708-2713.