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Strength Training for Golf: More Intensity Needed

KEY TAKE-AWAYS:

  • You need to increase true power and strength

  • This only happens with higher intensity levels

  • Maintain mobility, improve your strength/power, and watch the ball fly.


Golf probably ranks highest on my "most under-trained athletes" list. That's not to say all golfers are in bad shape! Simply that for whatever reason, true strength and conditioning just hasn't really gone mainstream yet in the golfing universe. Even among golfers who do engage in strength training, many are only working on mobility, pelvic rotations, and light weight work. These are all fine additions to a strength and conditioning program, but we seem to be forgetting the core elements needed: strength and conditioning.


I'm writing this article because I want to help you understand the evidence-based way to hit the ball further than ever. In this article we'll look at the most current research on strength training for golf, highlight the importance of strength and power for golfing success, and discuss how to train properly while avoiding common mistakes.



The Importance of Strength Training in Golf


Whenever we get a new golf client in for strength training, we usually hear the same thing: "I just want to hit the ball further". Most of the time these people have already been to a swing coach and spent hours upon hours practicing their swing with less than optimal results. The reason is simple: even with the best technique in the world, if you don't have the physical ability to put high levels of force into the ball it isn't going to go very far. In golfing terminology, without sufficient club head speed (CHS) you are pretty much out of luck. So how then do we increase CHS  and consequently hit the ball further? You guessed it...strength training.


​In recent years a ton of research has been published on the effects of  strength and conditioning programs on CHS and driving distance. In 2010, a group of researchers (Smith et. al) published a systematic review of all the available data of the time and found that across all studies, the average improvement in CHS and driving distance was 4.2% and 5.6% respectively.  I'm going to guess that most people reading this don't monitor their CHS, so let's use driving distance as an example. If a person drives 240 yds. on average and improves 5.6 % due to strength training, that person can now theoretically drive an additional 13.5 yards on average. Now multiply that improvement over 18 holes and you have 240 extra  yards without even including the additional yards on the irons! Consider further that these improvements were seen after only 8 weeks of training 3-4 times a week on average. Can you imagine how much you might improve after 6 months? Since the Smith et. al review was published, additional studies have been published with very similar results. The point here is clear...golfers need to be doing some strength training. Check out the video below to see some of Rory Mcilroy's strength training. Think it's a coincidence that he has driven the ball 436 yards?


Optimal Strength Training Method for Golfers


So clearly strength training is a good idea for golfers, but how exactly do you go about it? There seems to be this stigma around golf that for whatever reason golfers shouldn't train very hard or lift heavy weights.  This idea has led to many "golf-specific" strength programs that involve little besides light resistance band work and rotational core movements. Sure, these things have their place but they do little to develop the full-body strength and power needed to see real improvement on the course. Golfers are athletes and need to be trained like athletes, not fragile glass. Keep these 3 tips in mind to get the most out of your training for golf.


1. Be Explosive

Increasing CHS is dependent on increasing power output. Therefore, exercises to improve power/explosive strength such as plyometrics, medicine ball throws, and kettlebell swings should be a priority. ​One recent review found that the best predictors of CHS were squat jump ability and seated medicine ball throw ability...both maximal power tests (Read et al., 2015). This underscores the importance of maximal power output in golf and the necessity to train to increase maximal power output.


2. Lift Heavy Weights

A necessary component of increasing maximal power is increasing maximal strength (power=strength x speed). Non-explosive strength movements such as deadlifts, squats, rows, bench presses, overhead presses, and their variations should be liberally included in a golfer's program as well. What do all of these exercises have in common? They are all compound, multi-joint movements that involve several muscle groups. In other words, they are all athletic movements. ​What we want to avoid is over emphasizing isolation exercises such as bicep and knee curls, tricep extensions,  etc. While these exercise should included occasionally for the sake of injury prevention they are the icing on top of the cake, accounting for maybe 5% of the program.


Not only should golfers be doing full-body lifts, they should be working hard. The days of doing 15-20 + reps are over, my friends. To really increase maximal strength (and consequently power) the load needs to be heavy enough to allow for no more than ~ 12 repetitions to start. Then over time, even higher loads should be added allowing for about 5-8 repetitions. The lower the rep range and higher the intensity (load), the more we are going to increase our maximal strength. It's unnecessary for a golfer to attempt 1 rep max lifts or perform sets under 5 reps, but the point is that being a golfer is no excuse to not train at a high intensity/load.


3. Include Rotational Movements...But Don't Go Crazy 

Golf is a power sport. Golf is also a rotational sport. The principle of specificity tells us then that the best way to train to get good at golf is to perform powerful rotational exercises. Some of these exercises can and should be "golf-specific" meaning that they closely mimic the actual movement of swinging a club but this should be the minority of the program. Although these rotational movements have the most specificity to swinging a club, to have an entire program of rotational movements would be sub-optimal because there are other non-rotational exercises (see above) that will produce greater overall  gains in power output. The bottom line is these movements should be prioritized at the beginning of a workout due to their specificity but shouldn't take up a large percentage of the session.


Practical Applications: What Does All This Mean to You?


In a perfect world, every golfer both professional and amateur alike would be performing strength training as outlined in this article. An ideal session would include a warm up, rotational and non-rotational power exercises, full-body strength exercises, and some extra core work. Unfortunately, most people have real-world obligations and/or physical limitations that hinder their ability to train at the highest possible level. Fortunately, there are many modifications and lower intensity variations of the exercises discussed in this article that nearly anybody could perform. If you need help, there is no shortage of fitness professionals you can ask. No matter what your ability though, I want my message to be abundantly clear: you aren't just a golfer. You are an athlete. Train like one.

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