How total body strength, structural balance, and conditioning are more sport-specific than any “so-called” golf specific training protocol
By: J.C. Moreau
As the sports performance field and its impact on the sport of golf continues to expand and grow in the “Tiger era”, trainers and strength and conditioning professionals continue to attempt to carve out their niche within golf community. With the evolving role and increasing demand for trainers and performance coaches, the number of new training modalities and fitness protocols specific to golf seems to grow with it. The objective of this article is not to discredit, or support a specific “golf specific” fitness program, but to provide a brief overview of what I believe must be at the foundation of any solid golf performance program. In addition I will discuss what I have personally seen work with the successful golf programs I have trained. In each case a total-body workout that incorporates the identification and correction of structural imbalances, obviously develops functional strength and power throughout the body and has a strong conditioning component has been the philosophical approach I have taken. In each case I worked with the team’s coach to better understand what they perceived as specific areas of need, and there are some that are universal among golfers. That will be for another day, today I would simply like to present a what, why and how to train to improve your client’s golf performance and show that it is not necessarily that different from training the majority of athletes.
Over the past decade I have been very fortunate to be able to say I had boss who taught me a great deal about golf training, and perhaps more importantly I was able to work with two separate Division I Head Golf coaches who adamantly believed in the importance of strength and conditioning for golf. As a result Coach Lee Yerty (formerly the Director of Strength and Conditioning for Olympic Sports at the University of Memphis) provided me with a tremendous foundation in respect to understanding the basics of training for golf performance. Coach Yerty had 20 years of experience coaching at the Division I level and some of the young coaches who worked under his tutelage went on to success in all areas of the sports performance field. One in particular, Mark Verstagen essentially coined the term “Core” and his performance company Athletes Performance has been helped develop countless LPGA and PGA tour tournament champions, such as Candie Kung and Tom Lehman.
Following my time at Memphis I went on to become the head strength and conditioning coach at the Universities of Arkansas of the SEC and Iowa from the Big Ten. At Arkansas I trained the women’s golf team, led by head coach Kelly Hester and at Iowa I worked with the men’s golf program and head coach Mark Hankins. At both schools the coaches were in their first year and had inherited programs ranked between 90th and 115th nationally and by the fourth year at Iowa Coach Hankins had brought the program to a national ranking of 10th during the season. At Arkansas we finished the 2007 season with a 7th place finish at the NCAA Championship, led by the performance of Senior Stacy Lewis who’s final round 66 was a course record and crowned her the NCAA Division I women’s golf National Champion!! Stacy is currently the #2 ranked woman in the World and was last year’s British Open Champion. In both cases my training was not the magic ingredient that led to success. They had tremendous head coaches who changed the culture of their student-athletes and instilled new, elevated expectations regarding strength and conditioning. Unlike many of their peers who still avoid or who only have “one foot in” in regards to sports performance training, these coaches had met with me regularly and clearly articulated their goals and commitment to improving the overall strength and fitness of their teams. This is where we began and in many ways is where we ended, programs that developed total-body strength and fitness while correcting structural imbalances.
I would like to address to separate areas (as I mentioned we will delve deeper into this in future articles). The first is conditioning or fitness, whatever you want to call it golfers MUST be fit and in great shape. There are certainly several ways to accomplish this and we used a great deal of variety to keep this interesting and minimize the risk of overuse injury. However, the one activity that nearly anyone can perform (perhaps not well initially, but can perform) is jogging. It is also simple to teach (if teaching is even required) and very simple to measure and see tangible progress for the coach and athlete. Fitness is so critical, especially for collegiate and pro players because they must walk each course and collegians routinely play 36 holes in a day. I have yet to meet someone who is terribly out of shape and possesses the same mental acuity after walking 30 holes as they had on the 7th hole. It is one of the simple universal truths of sports and why coaches so aggressively “condition” their teams! When we become physically drained our mind is the first thing to go. I many sports this is not ideal, but can be overcome, in golf I would argue that this is simply not the case. An increase in effort or “trying harder” is not effective at any point in golf, unless of course it is lacking early on. The point is focus may be the most important performance variable for a golf athlete and one of the greatest ways to train it is too develop overall fitness, and push the athlete out of their comfort zone during some conditioning activities so that they know they possess the ability to overcome mental adversity when things get tough. This type of training will also develop overall confidence and produce more happy, healthy and mentally resilient athletes.
The second area I would like to explore is the development of total-body strength and power. The reason for this is simple, all great golf swings begin by generating speed from the lower body and transferring that speed through their torso and into their arms and then into the club. If we exchange “Club” for a limb or another piece of equipment (bat, racket, stick etc…) we can see how this sequence is no different from that of swinging in baseball, tennis or hockey, throwing in football, punching in boxing, throwing the shot or discus, or striking in volleyball.
In future articles we will explore why posture is so critical in the development of golf performance. Not only does it help prevent certain swing flaws, but without solid posture your client will never strike the ball with the consistency or have the distance they are capable of. The reason is the tremendous impact solid posture plays in ensuring the sequence mentioned above. It is important to understand this sequence in order to design effective programs for golf, and other sports, but for the purpose of this article we will look more closely at exactly what is taking place physiologically during the downswing.
The body initiates movement by generating speed through the legs and hips (pelvic area), in order for this to effectively take place their must be adequate leg strength and more importantly proper weight shift, rotation and mobility in the hip girdle. This speed is then transferred to the Thorax, which must also possess adequate mobility. It is also important to note that sufficient lumbar stability is required to allow this power to travel up to the t-spine and that a lack of stability in the lumbar region will lead to a loss of power (leak) and may produce excessive movement (rotation) of the lower spine, which often results in injury.
In order for the power/speed to continue through to the lead arm there must be ample mobility and rotational capability in the t-spine. This area is commonly lacking mobility and is often the cause of lower back and shoulder injury because if the t-spine and shoulder blades do not move properly the shoulders and lumbar region suffer due to excessive rotation, extension or impingement.
Once the speed has transferred to the arms it is critical that the lead arm (left arm in a right handed golfer) be strong enough to be at full extension during impact. Without breaking down all of the various deviations or swing flaws that take place because of incorrect arm and club placement (because I am not qualified to do so), it is important to be aware or certain physical requirements necessary for your client to be in proper position. The ability of the wrists to hinge and flex, as well as grip strength can all contribute to an arm or club being out of position, and thus a loss of speed/power.
Finally, much like with other athletes, issues with upper body movements often find their origin in the lower body and golf is no different. In concluding, the most important areas to develop in order to improve golf performance are hip and t-spine mobility, single leg balance, strength throughout the legs, glutes, hips, lower back, thorax, shoulders, arms, wrists and hands and finally the ability to create separation between the upper and lower bodies. As these areas develop and conditioning improves the competitive golf athlete will begin to possess the physical characteristics required to significantly improve their golf game. However, it is obviously important to realize that without an excellent coach and countless hours of training the golf athlete is not likely to see improvement.
In our next installment we will cover some more specific training protocol for general conditioning as well as drill to improve hip and t-spine strength and mobility. All of these deeply impact posture and ultimately performance. In subsequent articles we will explore structural imbalances and other injury prevention strategies since you will want your client to enjoy their new found success as often as possible without being sidelined by a nagging injury that may have been preventable.
To your continued success and growth,
Please contact JC at 3D Fitness LLC Email JC or by calling 479-530-8254