PT on the Net Research

Performance Training for Golf - Part 2

To begin an effective golf performance training program, golfers must be properly assessed for range of motion at all phases of the swing and also for stability and mobility related to posture, sequencing and balance. This information creates a game-altering starting point in a training progression, whose order is just as important as the specific drills done along the way to correct poor body mechanics.

Part 1 elaborated on the motions necessary in all of the joints of the body during the different phases of the golf swing. Having this information is a good starting point for trainers to be able to assess a client’s ability to perform.

Moving Fore-Ward

Step one in the golf training progression is firm: In order to make any improvements, golf clients need to address the physical limitations discovered during their assessment with corrective exercises. And in some of the more difficult cases, another high level network of manual therapists might become necessary. Trauma, stress and overuse can lead to muscular imbalance and inhibition, and a muscular activation specialist might need to become involved. Similarly, restrictions or adhesions within the fascial webbing of the muscles can cause limited range of motion, and a myofascial release therapist might assist in getting the golfer ready to begin corrective exercises and golf specific isometrics. If this is the case, golf clients will appreciate their trainer being involved in such a high level network of specialists. Finding the ones in your area will only benefit you and your appreciative clientele.

With regard to straight forward corrections that are within a golf trainer’s area of expertise, and because the most common physical limitations show up as lack of internal hip rotation and lack of external shoulder rotation, the following corrective exercises are offered. They have been proven to be highly successful.

Pelvic Rotations

This movement will help to correct internal and external hip rotation. Stand on one leg holding a golf club in front of you on the ground. Once stable, rotate the pelvis as far as possible in both directions around that standing leg. Do 20 to 30 rotations and repeat standing on the other leg. This can also act as a warm up exercise as it will also enhance a player’s balance.

Windshield Wipers

Performing windshield wipers will correct limited internal hip rotation. Begin by lying on your back. Bend your hips 90 degrees and your knees 90 degrees. With legs up, insert clenched fists between your knees. From here, separate your feet as far as possible without allowing your knees or hands to lose contact with each other. Repeat this until hip muscles start to experience a slight burn.

Shoulder Wall Slides

This movement works to correct upper back and shoulder restrictions. Stand with feet about six to 12 inches away from the wall. Put your head, shoulders and butt against the wall without arching your back. Then put forearms and elbows against the wall (or rotate them towards the wall) as far as possible. From this position, slide your arms up and down the wall. On the downward movement, pinch your shoulder blades together. Try to get as much range as possible in both directions (up and down).

Step two is transfer training. It emphasizes specific movement patterns to help develop proper and crucial body sequencing in the swing, without being ball-bound. These motor development drills are critical and precise and, if not done perfectly, can actually foster negative results. Doing rotational exercises alone, for instance, without consideration of posture, head position and lower body mechanics will create faulty motor patterns, which will undoubtedly make any swing worse. (It is recommended that trainers have an impact bag for clients to use for some of the transfer drills.) The following transfer training movement drills have been proven to be effective.

Impact Bag Drill

Set up an impact bag even with the front foot. Take your normal golf swing and firmly hit into the impact bag. This drill helps to develop front side stability.

Tubing-resisted Swing Movement Drill to Correct Sway

(NOTE: Sway is a term used to describe excessive lateral movement in the swing. It is usually due to a lack of internal hip rotation.) This drill is designed to exaggerate a golfer’s swing fault (sway). With the use of tubing, pull the golfer in the direction of the sway while he performs golf swings. This will force the musculature that resists swaying to be activated.

The third step, after transfer drills have progressed, is strength training. These exercises can range from basic weight training to specific strength requiring components of golf posture and golf sequencing. There are many from which to choose.

The need for stability in golf is of paramount importance (stabilization precedes force production at any rate of speed). And trainers must be clear in their understanding and explanation of core strength (the ability to flex, extend, side bend and rotate the trunk) versus core stability (the ability of the core to maintain its position and allow for the transfer of energy from the ground up, through the lower body and out to the extremities), so that clients understand and appreciate why they are training in a certain way.

Anatomically and biomechanically speaking, these simple 2-D or planar orientations require a complex coordination of flexion/extension and right/left lateral bending. This coordination creates a stable “axis of rotation” for body segment rotation. A stable “axis of rotation” allows for rotations that are perpendicular to the spine, resulting in effective muscular loading and rotational acceleration. There are actually three axes of rotation during the golf swing: one at each hip and one at the thoracic spine. For a right handed golfer, at the right hip, there’s internal rotation on the backswing and then external rotation on the downswing and follow through. At the left hip, it’s just the opposite. And at the thoracic spine, there’s rotation to the right during the backswing and rotation to the left during the downswing and follow through. There are complexities in these movements, and where there are complexities, there are opportunities for error and for injury. But on the brighter side, where there are opportunities for error and injury, there are also opportunities for correction and progress. The key, though, is identifying the limiting physical factors to performance and then following a training progression for optimal results.

Anti Rotation Band/Tubing Walk

This movement is a good example of stabilizing the core. Hold the handle of an anchored piece of tubing with the “wall side” hand on top. Hold straightened arms out in front of your body at chest height. Then, making sure to keep torso and arms from moving, begin to walk out away from the wall, one foot at a time. Continue outward until the tension of the band can no longer be maintained. Then walk in toward the wall, maintaining the same rigid posture. Repeat on both sides. This can also be done on a cable column.

Stability Ball Jack Knife

This movement is a good exercise for strengthening the core. In the push up position, put a stability ball under your feet and ankles, holding the feet slightly apart. While maintaining a stable core, pull your knees in towards your chest and angle the knees out to the sides as you pull the stability ball in. Perform this movement in both directions.

Sword Pulls

This exercise helps with shoulder external rotation AND helps the golfer keep the club on plane at the top of the backswing. Begin in golf posture, holding a dumbbell in your right hand and holding your left hand behind your back. Internally rotate your shoulder so that the thumb of the right hand points to the left hip. Next, simultaneously extend the weight away from the body and externally rotate at the shoulder so that the thumb now points behind you. Repeat on the opposite side.

Single Leg Squat with Rotation

This exercise can be done with a golf club, just body weight or additional weights. While standing on one leg, squat down as far as possible. Simultaneously, rotate your torso to the standing leg side. For example, try to turn your left shoulder to line up over the right foot at the bottom of the motion. Repeat on both sides.

The fourth and final step, after the strength phase, is "conversion to power." Here, by adding a speed component to training, golfers will finally be able to hit the ball farther. The following power exercises have this in mind.

Medicine Ball Multi-Directional Step

Starting with feet together and medicine ball pointing forward (towards the hole), initiate the motion by swinging the ball back and immediately stepping forward. The front foot should be down, and weight should be transferred to that side by the time the ball finishes the backswing movement. Then, swing the arms down and throw the ball out in front of you. Do this at golf swing speed, throwing the ball as far or hard as possible.

Cable Lawn Mower Pulls

Stand facing weight stack in golf posture. Grab handle of low cable with right hand. Initiate motion with a push of the floor and a rotation of the hips right. Immediately follow with a pulling and rotating motion of the upper body and arm. This drill should be done as fast and explosively as possibly. Perform on both sides. This is a great drill for learning how to create torque from the ground up, by not allowing weight shift.

Failure to follow this sequence, even after a proper assessment, will ultimately lead to failure. Unfortunately, many golf programs are either too focused on corrective exercises, neglecting strength and power, or they completely ignore (and enable) defective movement skills and insufficient range of motion. Without strength and power, golfers sacrifice distance. Without corrective exercises, power training with limited range and movement skill has two effects: good shots can get better, and bad shots always get further off-line. With the amount of bad shots that are part of most recreational golfers’ games, that is not a chance they should be taking. If there are physical limitations, compensation will occur, and mechanics will break down. If compensation is going on, injuries will eventually occur.