Golf Strength Training Improves Shot Distance
From back swing to finish position a golf swing takes between 1 and 2 seconds. In that time a golfer’s body generates some exceptional forces – potential energy that must be stored then released as efficiently as possible – and then you have to actually make contact with the ball!
The key to lengthening your shots is to increase the amount of force you can generate which in return, increases club head speed…
A study in 2004 of 45 golfers aged 18 to 80, showed that club head speed in recreational players correlated closely with handicap – the lower the handicap, the greater the club head speed found in a player’s swing.
Two more recent studies (2004) measured whether an 8-week conditioning program could improve swing forces and club head speeds in golfers on all ages and abilities. The results showed that just 2 days per week of simple strength, power and flexibility exercises significantly increased club head speed and shot distance.
And these studies are by no means unique. What is clear is that physical conditioning (and in particular a golf strength training program) will increase your distance with every club… more so than spending hours on the practise tee trying to swing faster and harder.
Golf Strength Training Reduces the Risk and Severity of Injury
As a rule of thumb most injuries that occur in golf tend to be over-use injuries of the soft tissues. Even fair-weather players repeat the same movement pattern thousands of times each year – on the course, at the driving range and of course the back yard.
And any similar explosive movement repeated over and over will train and condition some muscles whilst others are neglected…
At the most obvious level, the golf swing is performed in the same direction every time. Unequal forces are placed on one side of the body compared to other. That’s why pros spend time swinging in the opposite direction – it’s not just to prepare for those tricky shots when the ball lies flush against a tree!
And there are more subtle changes in posture and muscular balance that can occur over time…
Muscles in the lower back might become overly strong compared to the abdominals for example. Larger muscle groups might develop at the expense of smaller, stabilizing muscles, which puts them under a disproportional amount of strain.
It only takes a few weak muscles to cause postural changes over time, that weaken them further and so on in a downward spiral, until the result is chronic pain and over-use injury.
While a golf strength training routine is by no means a cure-all, it is perhaps the best solution for tackling the underlying cause. And if you take some time off each year and focus on restoring an optimal balance, there’s no reason why you can’t play pain-free golf right into your later years.
IMPORTANT NOTE: If you are currently suffering from muscular pain or discomfort, strength training is NOT recommended. Conditioning is the long-term solution but in an acute or exasperated phase of an injury it can do more harm than good. You should seek the advice of a medical professional or qualified Physical Therapist before undertaking any form of exercise program – injured or not.
The Foundations of a Golf Strength Training Program
You don’t have to follow a time-consuming, highly regimented routine to benefit from strength training. But there are some important guidelines that set a golf strength program aside from simply lifting weights at the gym…
Split Your Routine into Phases
Because most golfers are new to strength training, it’s important they follow a period of functional training. This serves 2 purposes – firstly it prepares muscles, ligaments, tendons and connective tissue for more demanding exercise and secondly, it helps to target neglected, stabilizing muscles.
This initial phase of a golf strength training program emphasizes core stability exercises and uses light weights and high repetitions. The ideal time to perform this 6-8 week phase would be during the off-season – those months were there are no club competitions and you can have a break from the game.
The next logical phase is to develop peak strength and power so that it coincides with the start of the competitive season. The intensity of exercises increases and more golf-specific movements are incorporated. In this phase we also have to…
Make Strength Training Golf Specific
The end goal of a golf strength training program is to develop golf-specific power (to increase the speed of that club head). Increased strength does not necessarily translate into more power and faster club head speed. As a side note, don’t confuse club head speed with swing speed. Trying to swing faster is not necessarily the answer to increasing length. Ernie Els has a classically slow-looking swing. He still generates enormous club head speed and distance. There are biomechanical reasons why swinging slower can actually increase club head speed at impact.
To take the idea of specificity a step further, does a bench press or biceps curl closely match the mechanics of the golf swing?
No – what are more beneficial are exercises that include the whole body (in an upright position) and incorporate the core region. And will exercises that cause rotation at the hips and core be more useful than those that don’t. Absolutely!
Of course there is a caveat — in the early phase of the program, when a functional strength base is being developed, less golf-specific exercises are useful and help to counterbalance the repetitive nature of golf.
Incorporate Specialist Exercises for Hard to Target Muscle Groups
According several studies the most commonly occurring injuries in amateur golfers after back pain is golfer’s or tennis elbow (caused by over-use and inflammation of the wrist flexors and extensors), wrist injuries and shoulder injuries (over-use and inflammation, or even partial tears of the rotator cuff muscles).
Perhaps the best way to prevent these injuries is to strengthen the forearm and rotator cuff muscles. By adding in a few choice exercises to specifically strengthen these areas, they become more resistant to over-use, tearing and inflammation.
Of course if you already have an injury or pain you should consult your physician who will advise you on the best course of treatment.
Don’t Neglect Flexibility
While the subject of stretching for golf is covered in another article it deserves mention here. A muscle can only contract as forcefully as its opposing muscle can relax. Stretching promotes relaxation in the muscles. Of course there are other important reason to stretch relating to injury prevention and improved swing mechanics.