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Golf Conditioning


Conditioning for golf has reached a stage now where it is accepted (and rightly so) that a degree of physical and mental preparation is needed to succeed at ALL levels and abilities. Injury prevention, health and physical performance are key concerns that must be addressed in preparing the elite and amateur golfer. For the elite, the reasons are apparent. It can keep players playing into their elder years, enabling them to continue their remarkable earning potential. It can provide key health benefits that, in turn, can give them that physical and mental edge when it comes to the big tournaments. Amateur golfers on the other hand have a differing agenda. Here are some common lines I hear from clients:

Excuses are excuses. They are some of the more frequent excuses I hear from golf enthusiasts.

The golf enthusiast, however, will understand that some degree of conditioning is necessary. In fact, 80 percent of the top golfers do some form of strength conditioning.

Buying the latest set of clubs with all the laser-guided gizmos they have on them has taken precedence over improving the golfers themselves. After all, why did you slice the ball one hole and then hook it the next? Or struggle with a consistent swing with your graphite shafted, sweet-spotted 7–iron? Technical deficiencies in your swing will be amplified by your physical condition.

For the amateur, the desire to lower the handicap is ever present. To launch the ball down the fairways and hit the green with laser accuracy consistently is the Holy Grail, and for many, this is the key to lowering their handicaps. The freedom to make minor alterations to your swing to play the approach to the green will mean altering subtle muscle patterns to your tee shot. Another subtle change in muscle dynamics is required to put the ball in the hole. Is today’s golfer functioning at 100 percent fitness to cater for such alteration? Can today’s golfer play with the freedom to unleash the full potential of their swing? No, I believe.

Let us take a holistic approach towards improving the golfer’s game. Swing dynamics are key, and the investment in tutoring from a PGA coach is a worthy investment. Mental focus is also key. However, it is you who swings the club.

This article will address five key reasons why conditioning for golf is essential. It will also serve as a handy reference point to your clients maintaining their focus as to why such time in the gym/office/home is better spent there than on the golf course!

Reason #1: Golfers are athletes, therefore they should train like them.

The stresses and demands placed on the body by swinging the golf club are to the extreme. Males frequently accelerate the golf club head at speeds of up to 160mph while females reach speeds of 100mph. The muscles involved in the swing motion from the grip, the stance, the execution, the backswing, the downswing and the follow through are extensive, ranging from muscles in the hand such as the flexor pollicus brevis to the powerful hip extensors and flexors. The planes of motion involved are equally exhaustive – including the dynamic interaction of the frontal, transverse and sagital plane in a fraction of second it takes to complete a shot. If the golfer shoots 90 for the round, that may be 35 to 40 shots performed at this speed and with this intense muscular interaction. This action requires a high degree of athleticism. So why is it that this has largely been ignored in improving a golfer’s game?

Reason #2: Golf conditioning enhances performance.

Think of a substance that can boost your game with longer drives and more controlled approach shots time and time again. This same substance can keep you mentally alert from hole 1 to 18, able to reproduce the same level of swing dynamism each time. This substance can keep you supple and fluid in your swing, allowing no impaired movement in the phases of your shot. Best of all, it has no ill-side effects, only that it positively boosts your golf game, your health and well-being. "Where can I get it?" we all cry!

Reason #3: By preventing injury, you will enjoy the game for the rest of your life.

The athletic demands of the golf swing place huge demands on the body’s musculature. Couple this with technical deficiencies and overuse injuries will arise. Particular areas of concern for golfers are the shoulder and lower back. Even after a "leisurely' round of golf, the muscles will experience faulty loading patterns, with overexertion of the locomotor apparatus and poor technique. This can result in muscular imbalance with shortened and weakened muscles. For example, complaints of low back pain can be traced to a shortening of the tonic anterior hip muscles. Injury prevention techniques that can be deployed are a daily flexibility programme alongside strengthening exercises for those vulnerable areas. It should be the golfer’s aim to avoid injury rather than deal with the pain-staking process of rehabilitating injury.

Reason #4: Your enjoyment of the game will skyrocket.

"Those who fail to prepare, prepare to fail" the old cliché goes! How many times have you or your clients experienced firing into action after five holes rather then from the first tee? Who enjoys that?! The pro golfer cannot afford to ease into the round with a couple of warm up holes. Often, the driving range serves as a dynamic warm up, allowing the golfer to rehearse at 100% the movement patterns involved in the golf swing. But even then, a warm up consisting of half swings and movements that encompass the three planes of motion and all muscle groups involved must be adhered to. The golfer must ease into the pace of the full swing. A golf conditioning programme provides the opportunity for the golfer to perform a static and dynamic warm up aimed at preparing the body for the demands of the game. It need not be exhaustive. Remember, the golfer is an athlete. Most sportsmen and women all perform some form of pre-match routine before performing in competition. This avoids injury but also prepares the body for the rigors of the sport.

Reason #5: The holistic benefits of conditioning for golf make it a 2 for 1!

A practical, year round and sport-specific conditioning model geared to golf provides participants with improvements in their muscular strength, flexibility, cardiovascular capacity, power and holistic well-being. It also provides some clients with a specific focus in the gym/home/office environment. I like to think of it as a 2 for 1 deal: the functional carry-over into their every day lives will be felt by the participants. A study revealed that 17 recreational golfers undergoing an eight-week strength programme could improve their club head speed by +6%. Not only this, but body fat levels dropped by 7%. Lean weight improved by +3%. Blood pressure levels dropped by 5%, and flexibility levels improved in the hip by 43% (hip extension). Addressing problematic areas such as the lower back with a stretching and strengthening programme has led to some of my clients enjoying reduced pain in their golf games and, more importantly, in their everyday lives. Nutritional programmes can be introduced, gearing the client to focus on eating for performance while at the same time carrying this into everyday life.

It is anticipated that these five reasons provide the foundation for explaining why conditioning for golf is essential to the game. It will proove useful as you attempt to sell your services as a golf conditioning specialist. If the client’s focus is maintained through these tools, results will soon follow.

The Five Minute Dynamic Warm Up

This five minute dynamic warm up will serve to prepare and "fire up" the major muscle groups used in the golf swing. Instead of easing yourself into the round by the 5th hole, the ability to unleash the full potential of your swing will be there on the first tee.

Ideally, it should be performed with some form of extra clothing on both the upper and lower extremities. A warm changing room will serve as a suitable environment.

Exercise #1: The Reverse Woodchop – Repetitions = 12-15 each side

What better place to start than the reverse woodchop – an exercise devoted to stimulating the neuromuscular patterns of the golf swing while providing a suitable warm up to the rotator forces of the trunk and the large muscle groups of the shoulders, hips, knees and ankle joints. The anti-rotational forces of the spine will provide a suitable environment for even the eldest golfer to warm up his/her trunk while exposing what is for some a stressful area

Start Phase

  1. Stand tall, feet shoulder width apart. Flex forward at the hips and soften the knees to approximately 20 degree knee bend.
  2. Imagine you are addressing the golf ball.
  3. Raise your hand and position it over the right knee

Execution

  1. Begin by tracing a diagonal line with the ball across your body simultaneously bracing your abdominals and rotating the hips and knees allowing the opposite knee to fall in. 
  2. Lower under control to the start position and repeat.
Fig 1. Woodchop Start Position Fig 2. Woodchop Finish 

Exercise #2: The Golfer’s Squat – Repetitions 12-15

Continuing on from the reverse woodchop, the Golfer’s squat will allow the golfer to prepare his body for the demands of the swing with a thorough lower extremity dynamic stretch movement.

Start Phase

  1. Stand feet shoulder width apart, toes angled 30 degrees out from the body.
  2. Begin the lowering phase by slowly flexing the knees and hips.
  3. Keep the eye level horizontal and the back in a flat position.
  4. Chest should be held high and raised.
  5. Keeping the back flat extend up through the legs and hips with the back held in flat position. Maintain a strong braced position in your abdominal region throughout.
Fig 3. Squat Start Fig 4. Squat Finish

Exercise #3: The Side Lunge – Repetitions 5 each leg

This exercise provides a suitable stretch to the muscles of the hips and legs while providing a suitable warm up to our balance and stability. Swinging a club while playing out of the sand or even out of the rough will place an awkward stress to the hip and lower back musculature. Expose your body gently to this position before injury sends you back to the clubhouse.

Start Phase

  1. Stand feet together, toes facing forward with hands on hips.

Execution

  1. With the left leg, step out to the side as shown in the photo.
  2. Keep the toe slightly angled out.
  3. Keep the abdominals braced with the torso remaining upright throughout.
  4. Your current level of flexibility will determine the depth at which you perform the exercise. Only go to depth that feels comfortable and at which you can maintain excellent form.
  5. Return to the start position and repeat for the opposite leg.
Fig 5. Lunge Start Fig 6. Side Lunge Finish

Exercise #4: Arm Circles – 10 each arm forward and back

The shoulder is instrumental in what Madalozzo calls the “chain reaction” of the “hips, shoulders, arms and hands” in the golf swing. If there is tightness in the shoulder, the rotational force placed on the joint will negatively effect this interaction by transferring the force to the hips and lower back.

A dynamic stretch of the shoulder joint will allow for more rotation in the swing. Rotating the shoulder much further away from the target will also force the club head to travel further. More force, more speed, more distance.

Start Phase

  1. Stand feet shoulder width apart, toes facing forward.

Execution

  1. Rotate the left arm forwards beginning with small circles and finishing with the hand brushing the ears and the thighs.
  2. Repeat with the same arm, this time rotating the arm backward.
  3. Repeat with the opposite arm.

Exercise #5: Bent Over Single Arm Raises – 12-15 reps each arm

This is not only an excellent dynamic warm up for the largest joint in the shoulder joint (the scapulothoracic joint), it also acts as a postural cue for addressing the ball. It reminds our nervous system of the correct sequence of nerves it has to fire for us to address the ball correctly.

Start and Execution Phase

  1. Assume the address posture with the hands held in front. At all times, the left hand must remain fixed in the central position.
  2. With the right arm, and keeping the left hand fixed, raise the arm to parallel with the shoulder. Hold and return slowly. Repeat with the same arm.
  3. Swap arms.
Fig.7 Single Arm Raise Start Position- Front Fig.8 Single Arm Raise Start Position- side Fig 9. Single Arm Raise Finish Position

Conclusion

It is no surprise that all top level golfers enhance their performance through a regular conditioning programme involving strength, flexibility, power, endurance and recovery. This dynamic warm up and rationale behind conditioning for golf will serve the coach and golfers of all levels with a necessary tool in ensuring that quality of shot outweighs frequency of shots! Best of luck.

References:

  1. Golfer’s World (2003) See July Edition
  2. Rubenstein, I (2002) ‘More Power off the Tee’ in NSCA’s Performance Training Journal Vol (3)
  3. Hogan, B and Wind, W (1957) The Modern Fundamentals of Golf New York
  4. Theriault, G and Lachance, P (1998) ‘Golf Injuries: An Overview’ in Sports Medicine Vol.26(1) and Grimshaw, P et al (2002) ‘Lower Back and Elbow Injuries in Golf’ in Sports Medicine Vol.32(10)
  5. Spring, H (1991) Stretching and Strengthening Exercises Thieme Publishers
  6. Westcott, W et al (1996) ‘Golf and Strength Training are Compatible Activities’ in NSCA’s Strength and Conditioning Journal, August
  7. Madalozzo, J (1987) ‘An Anatomical and Biomechanical Analysis of the Full Golf Swing’ in NSCA Journal Vol.9 (4) p.7