The connection between personal training and preparation for golf is well-established. Many articles, publications, and training protocols cover the common ground that we see between golf preparation and training for other sports, as well as introduce concepts that appear as strong physical “themes” within the bio-motor profile of golf itself.
Training Approaches Fall Into 4 Categories
1. Generalized Training
Generalized training is based on the idea that it is best to focus on developing general athletic skill first, regardless of what the client decides to go on and specialize in. Concentrates on the basic foundation that underpins all high performance: great flexibility, stability, coordination, balance, agility, speed, strength and being able to express power, building the complete physical “skill set.”
2. Specialized Training
Specialized training recognizes the specific physical qualities and functional components that contribute most to the athlete’s chosen sport, and applies training techniques and protocols to target and optimize these. In golf, this may be thoracic flexibility, hip-loading and internal rotation control, balance and torsional power, etc.
3. Athlete-Specific Training
Athlete-specific training identifies the strengths and weaknesses of the specific client. Takes advantage of these strengths and attends to weaknesses within your programming. Responds to screening, testing, observations and progress, and relates these to the specific sport they are involved in.
If you follow the above three “levels” of training diligently and expansively, you have every chance that you will help develop some great golf athletes. But there is a 4th level that will provide you with more opportunities and training choices within this client group:
4. Technical-Specific Training
Technical-specific training allows the physical trainer to respond to the faults, changes and development of sport-specific technique. The physical intervention and training applied is designed to have a direct beneficial effect upon the technical progress. The physical trainer’s specialist understanding of the bio-motor and functional demands of the technical aspects of the game lead to strategies that support technical change (be that with elite or developing players). It is often the technical coach that sets the bar by identifying the individual's technical goal (an example of which is the left leg foundation technique described in this article). However, in some cases these technical goals are difficult to achieve because the athlete/golfer does not have the physical capability and competence to make them happen. If the trainer agrees that the technical goal is not physically inappropriate, then they have a chance to use their intervention and programming skills to facilitate the physical changes required. Integrated training, where swing coaches and physical coaches work with identified common goals, is a powerful way forward and offers new opportunities for physical specialists.
The rest of this article outlines an example of a functional training progression applied to a specific technical goal that had been identified by an elite player’s swing coach. It is a good example of how “4th level” physical instruction can support and facilitate technical instruction.
Identified Technical Goal: Building a Left Leg Foundation
Right at the core of an effective golf swing is the ability to capture, store and express energy. The primary driving forces of this are the integrated actions of muscular chains (or sling systems) that coil around each other during the complete swing. The elite player’s technical coach was keen on seeing the left leg as the anchor to build this elastic storage around during the backswing. He described a strong line between the left knee and the right shoulder that produces an expansive, but quite uncomplicated backswing…(i.e. no real need for knee release moves (pronation) or excessive pelvic tilt and flattening out of the hip and shoulder lines.) These will only serve to “buckle” this strong line of elastic lengthening. This move has the potential to build power storage from a much stronger but still dynamic leg base.
Some of the swing moves that the coach had asked the player to employ to “feel” this change were a widening of the knee “stance” during take-away (particularly the left) that then sets up the body coil in a more centralized, rather than drifted manner. This also creates a type of tether to the backswing that has a knock-on effect of minimizing other unnecessary movement, with potential improvements in head and upper spine positions towards the top of the swing.
It is important to note that the coach was fully aware that this may not be the perfect move for every player. However, for where this specific player was in terms of swing development, and to attend to the player’s habit of dropping into over-pronation and breakdown of the left leg during backswing, this was chosen as a swing alteration to work with.
In the first image below, you can see the release of the left leg. There is a breakdown of separation (coil) between the pelvis and shoulders, drift over the right side, and outward tilt of the right foot and tibia. Also lifting of the head and flattening of the plane is seen as a reactive compensation.
In the second image, the leg and pelvis foundation is much more secure, with the player staying on top of the swing rather than lifting the torso back. The swing is more centralized with the shoulders/t-spine clearly out-rotating the pelvis increasing what has commonly been called the "X-factor" component within the backswing (McClean & Andrisani, 1997). Interestingly you can clearly see cross diagonal "storage" lines in the creases of the player’s shorts and it is valuable to think of these "lines of force" also being loaded within the athletes myofascial chains.
From a physical perspective, to make this shape happen will require defined physical capabilities including:
- Proprioreceptive awareness of maintaining this new position while under load.
- Advanced left hip stability (and strength) in order to “hold on” to the desired knee position.
- Efficient sequencing of the left glute group as it wraps into and “holds off” the left femur (thigh).
- Good thoracic spine dynamic range of motion built around core muscle slings that can maintain pelvic stability, yet still lengthen and load into coil.
- Control of mass and momentum displacement to the right without over-compensatory pronation of the left leg.
- Maintenance of the correct timing and positioning relationships that reflect the swing changes proposed where possible during exercise progressions.
- Most importantly, all of the above would be best developed with the feet on the ground in order to facilitate better carry-over into golf swing function.
Put all of the above in place and you have a chance of producing and re-producing this dynamic swing move.
Put them all together in a training pathway that builds from a developmental perspective towards end stage fully integrated exercises that are specific to the body shapes and physical skills that making this new swing shape requires, and you have even more of a chance.
The Training Pathway
An appropriate warm-up should be performed at the beginning of the workout. In this case, suggestions would be to include dynamic stretching and movement preparation exercises highlighting hip and spine mobility.
After the warm-up phase, progress to glute group exercises using a strong band loop, such as those shown in the photos below. This is a pre-training facilitation procedure designed to recruit and excite one of our main training target group: the glutes. 3-4 minutes of this work will have them activated.
Next, perform a single leg high-to-low cross body dip. Drive the opposite hand to outside of opposing foot and return to the high hand position. Lower and semi-squat nto the left leg. Keep leg alignment, do not allow the left knee to buckle or drift. Perform 3 sets of 10 (do both legs for symmetry). This is a tough foundation hip stability challenge and can be built progressively in terms of flexion range if necessary. (See photos below.)
Those first two exercise sets are used to develop the stability base needed to build our more complex patterns.
The athlete now performs a forward lunge and recover. A resistance band is placed around the lead left leg. This effectively displaces the left knee into the undesirable pronation. The athlete can now feel and recruit which actions resist this movement. This is a classic example of a “reactive” neuro-muscular technique. A line can be used to discourage knee collapse with the golf athlete keeping the knee just outside this line on both lunge and recover. Notice the good postural alignment and lack of pelvis collapse. 3 sets of 15 lunges, keeping perfect form. (See photos below.)
The right-handed golf swing sees the body’s momentum being driven towards the right side during backswing. The golfer has to capture and control this force, with any excessive collapse of the left knee inhibiting this ability.
To develop momentum control, the previous exercise is repeated but this time a medicine ball is rotated fully to the right and then driven back to the chest on recovery. Note perfect knee and pelvic postural alignment is maintained. 2 sets of 15. Repeat for right leg to develop the overall foundation fully. (See photos below.)
A band “pull-over” can be used to develop trunk torsional strength on a relatively fixed pelvis. The stability ball is gripped between the legs to produce and facilitate pelvic stability. The band loop is swept up and over the head with a full range action. 2 sets of 20 each side. (See photos below.)
We may ask our athlete to prove that he or she is developing the left leg and knee control by using another “reactive” technique. In this case, a board is placed against the inside of the left knee while a rotary band/pulley cross-body pull and return is performed. If the golfer does not release the knee then the board will stay standing…they have feedback as to what the knee is doing. The exercise is repeated smoothly and with a relatively light resistance. This is a “patterning” exercise and rep numbers are un-important. The same technique can be adapted as a range drill with club in hand. (See photos below.)
The next progression sees the golf athlete squeezing a pad against the wall with the left knee. A dynamic golf-like posture is adopted. The athlete grips the head of a club in their right hand and swings this up and away into straight-arm rotation. The left arm assists and pushes further into the range of movement as the athlete gains control and flexibility. If control over the left knee is lost the pad will fall. As a progression, the athlete can be asked to squeeze positively into the pad throughout the movements…this looks easy, but it’s a demanding move. (See photos below.)
This is a superb technique to facilitate the separation between the stable left knee and the retracting right shoulder. Effectively we are increasing the distance between the two and loading the muscular and "elastic" storage further, also providing more available range for the "X-factor stretch" associated with initial downswing (Cheetham et al., 2000). Rhythmical and full range swinging movements are performed, numbers again being less important than maintaining the shape.
This is an example of a physical drill that can be transferred to the range as a pre-range session, or pre-round, warm-up and break up exercise. Find a wall or use the range divider and use a couple of head covers for a pad. (An effective range protocol is to use 25 of these moves and then 5 hits and to repeat for 5 cycles.)
The final exercise is probably the simplest and most effective, but will always be more successful if built upon the previous functional progression. The foundations of stability, strength and dynamic range need to be put in place first.
A stability ball is wide-grasped and a dynamic golf-like posture held. The ball is swung up into a high rotation. The legs are asked to hold onto a strong foundation "triangle" and the left knee resists collapse and pronation. The pelvis remains more stable and resists excessive rotation to the right, yet the spine and shoulders fully coil upon it, a recognized trait of effective golf dynamics (Burden et al., 1998). The head stays down but the facilitated spinal posture leaves plenty of room for the left shoulder to come well under the head. (See photos below.)
The 3rd photo shows left leg collapse, loss of pelvic control and generally how not to do it!
Notice the fantastic line of force now created through the left foot, knee, hip, across the abdominals and chest, and up into the right shoulder. This is exactly the body shape we want to see and demonstrates the physical skills that the player can now take forward into their swing development.
- This article is not trying to argue a swing methodology or market a physical training package. Its purpose is to demonstrate how technical coaching and physical preparation can work together as an integrated performance enhancement strategy.
- It is also an example of what is often described as a “client-centered but coach-driven” approach. In this case the process was incepted by the technical coach identifying the need and effectively setting the training goal for the physical coach.
- One of the primary roles of a physical development specialist is to prepare the athlete with a comprehensive and adaptable physical foundation, taking advantage of strengths and ironing out weaknesses.
- A well-prepared athlete may have the physical capabilities to adapt to any demanding swing changes asked of them by their technical coach.
- The coach must also be able to respond to technical “direction” with both knowledge of their client’s strengths and specific exercise interventions designed to meet the demands of technical change.
- Technical and physical…both are expressions of movement. They are intrinsically linked and in many ways can be considered one and the same thing.
- Burden, A.M., Grimshaw, P, & Wallace, E. (1998). Hip and shoulder rotations during the golf swing of sub-10 handicap players. Journal of Sport Sciences, 16, p. 165-176.
- Chek, P. (2001). The Golf Biomechanics Manual, 2nd Ed. Chek Institute.
- Cheetham, P.J., Martin, P., Mottram, R. & St. Laurent, B. (2000). The importance of stretching the x-factor in the golf downswing. Book of Abstracts 2000 Pre-Olympic Congress. International Congress on Sport Science Sports Medicine and Physical Education: Brisbane, Australia.
- McClean, J. & Andrisani, J. (1997). The X factor Swing. Harper Collins: New York.
- Toski, B., Love, D. & Carney, R.(1998). How to Feel a Real Golf Swing. Three Rivers Press: Times Books.
- Wood, B. Functional Integrated Training for Golf .