Golf Fitness for Beginners

Golf FitnessAs you may know, my previous posts on this topic have outlined my high level view of what golf fitness should entail, as well as a fairly lengthy list of exercises that can be used as part of a golf fitness program.  Unfortunately, many of the listed exercises were for individuals that were already at an advanced level of fitness or experienced with the listed exercises.   My original plan to remedy this was to put together 2 example fitness plans, one for a beginner and one for a more advanced athlete; however, since then, I have decided do something a little different.

3-4 times per week, you will see me post example workouts.  They will include 2 levels.  One for beginners and one for intermediate/advanced fitness levels.  These workouts will be posted on my new Training Page.  With this approach, there will be an ongoing resource for all levels of fitness instead of just one example for each level.  I hope this will be useful for a large part of the golfing community.

With that out of the way, today I also wanted to provide an outline of some of the considerations when talking about golf fitness for beginners.  These include:

  1. General Athletic Ability: jumping, running, throwing, catching, agility, coordination, basically efficient movement in general.

  2. Adequate Mobility: Active and passive range of motion.

  3. Strength: Ability to move weight

  4. Speed: Ability to move fast (throwing, jumping, sprinting, swinging, etc)

  5. Power:  Ability to move weight fast

  6. Power Endurance: Ability to maintain power levels for a round of golf

Before one can consider starting an advanced level training program, for anything, certain competencies in the above outlined areas need to be met. Below I will outline some considerations for each area, and their importance.

Golf Fitness – General Athletic Ability

Honestly, I would say that this is by and far the most important factor in predicting the potential of a golfer.  Although I guess there is the possibility for someone to have an amazing athletic golf swing, but totally uncoordinated with anything else.  However, that would be the exception.  What you will find most often is that someone who generally knows how to move properly and efficiently is much better able to quickly develop and understand new physical skills, including golf.  Therefore, it is very important to develop general movement efficiencies.  The unfortunate thing here is that after a certain age, many of our movement patterns have been so deeply ingrained in our minds and neurological pathways that it can be hard to change, but not impossible.  This is the reason why it is essential that children are taught how to move properly and encouraged to move and play as much as they can.  Unfortunately, these days children become sedentary at a much earlier age than ever.  That being said you do not have to be at peak athletic ability to be a decent golfer, it will just greatly improve your results.

So, how can you improve on your athletic abilities?  First off, if you don’t know how to run, throw, sprint, squat, catch, stand in a stable athletic position, etc, then you need to find someone who does and get them to teach you how.  Then you can start to implement athletic practice into your training either as warm-up or actually training session, depending on your level.  Here are some things you can do to increase your general athleticism:

  1. Learn to run

  2. Learn to sprint

  3. Learn an athletic stance – transferable from basketball, to a baseball swing, to golf swing, to football, or to basically initiate any movement, etc.

  4. Learn to brace your core

  5. Learn to throw

  6. Learn to jump

  7. Learn to catch with 1 and 2 hands

  8. Learn soft hands

  9. Learn to squat

If you can get a good start here then you are probably set to begin some more complex and demanding exercises.  The key is to get someone to teach you and then practice, practice, practice.

Golf Fitness – Adequate Mobility

First of all, we need to be clear on what mobility actually is.  It is not simply flexibility.  Flexibility refers to passive range of motion.  So…yes, flexibility can contribute to mobility, but it is not the only factor.  Mobility refers to full active movement through a full range of efficient motion.  As an example someone might be able to pull their knee to their chest while laying on the ground, but when asked to raise their knee to their chest while standing, without using their hands, they cannot do it.  This is just one of many example where flexibility does not equal mobility.  The reason for this can be anything from muscle weakness to improper movement patterns (i.e. I have never moved this way and my nervous system does know what is happening).

So, how the heck am I supposed to increase my mobility.  Well, working on your athletic ability as noted above will actually go quite a long way.  Next you will have to identify your weak areas: can you squat low with a neutral spine, can you bring your knee up past your hip for a high step-up, can you perform full active trunk rotation, can you bring your back parallel with the ground with straight legs and a neutral spine, etc, etc.  Once you have identified these areas, then you need to work on both passive and active range of motion.  For instance, if I cannot perform a full deep squat, I may need to 1.) Increase flexibility with active stretching and 2.) continue to perform squats as deep as possible, often.  How do you do this? I would suggest that your first place to start is this website: http://www.mobilitywod.com/.  If you do not want to pay for the content, there are over 365 free videos on youtube that cover all the basics.  I wish I could provide more detail here, but without performing an actual assessment it is not easy to address everything specifically, this is really just a general post.  Future posts may focus on certain specific areas and how to improve.

I will illustrate the importance of sufficient mobility with a golf specific example.  Golfer A has large passive spinal rotation range of motion, but cannot actively rotate their spine through the same range of motion.  Golfer B has less passive range of spinal rotation motion but can actively rotate their spine through the same range of motion.  Who do you think is at higher risk of injury?  During a golf swing you are rotating your spine very fast, making it difficult to limit the range of motion you are moving through; so, golfer A’s large passive range of motion will allow movement through a range of motion greater that that which they could actively control.  This leads to less joint stability and higher risk of injury.  But Golfer B is able to properly support his full range of motion through his swing with appropriate muscle activation, leading to greater stability and less injury risk.

Golf Fitness – Strength

Some people may not think that strength has all that much to do with golf.  After a certain level of strength is obtained I would agree.  Personally I probably don’t need to be able to deadlift 300 lbs to hit a golf ball 300 yards, but it can’t hurt.  Here’s the deal, strength is absolutely necessary to produce power.  I will talk about power a bit later but it’s basically moving weight fast (strength x speed).  For instance a vertical jump is a measure of power since you are trying to move the weight of your body as fast as possible.  The other important factor to consider with strength is that it will provide your joints with the stability they need during your swing, or life for that matter.  For instance, are my spinal muscles strong enough to maintain proper posture during my swing, can my hip musculature provide the stability and force required during my swing, am I strong enough to keep majority of my body quiet while putting? All great examples of the strength requirements in golf.

As a beginner, improving on your strength is pretty simple.  If you begin by building an athletic foundation as noted above, you will be starting a strength foundation also.  Once the body weight stuff gets easy, you can begin to use added weights.  As you begin with added weight, you will be using much less than your actual 1 rep maximum weight until you begin to develop more strength and the required movement patterns.  This means that your rep range will be closer to 10.  As you progress, you will begin to get closer and closer to your 1 rep max and ultimately be working between 3-5 reps per set.  As you may remember from my first post in this series, the golf swing is very fast, meaning that strength is only required for a brief period of time; therefore, our training goal is not total fatigue, the goal is strength, and lower reps is how we build absolute strength.

Golf Fitness – Speed & Power

I am lumping these two areas together for simplicity sake.  In the end, moving fast has some level of power requirement, and for the beginner specifically the exercises used to target these elements will be the same.  Remember, power = strength x velocity.  People who run fast are a good example.  You may think of this as speed, but in reality this is power.  The sprinter is moving the weight of their body through space at the highest velocity they can; power plain and simple.  Strangely enough, guess what else is an example of power…you guessed it, the golf swing.  Although the object (golf club) we are trying to move quickly through space is not as heavy as our body, it is still power.  How easy do you think it would be to create club head speed if you can side throw a 20 lb medicine ball 30 feet?

Improving speed and power is also quite simple for the beginner, just move as fast as you can.  Sprint, throw light and heavy things, and jump.  However, as you move to intermediate and advanced fitness levels, the inclusion of weighted fast movements is ideal to continue to improve on power production (Olympic lifting and variations are one example)

Golf Fitness – Power Endurance

Don’t let anyone tell you differently, golf does not require significant endurance levels.  There is little to no benefit for you to be out jogging your ass of to train for golf.  I can only see this being a benefit for someone who is extremely out of shape and jogging is simply improving their general fitness; however, there is a limit to that approach and there are better ways.  The only endurance required for golfers is to be able to walk a full round of golf without getting fatigued and be able to produce approximately 30 – 50 full, powerful swings per round without fatigue.  I call this basic power endurance.  You can check out a more detailed explanation of this here

The goal then is to be able to produce a certain level of conditioning stimulus without a negative impact on strength and power.  This is where interval training enters the mix.  In combination with weight and power workouts, high intensity conditioning circuits can be performed without negative impact on power development.  These circuits can be as simple as 4-8 all out 50-100 meter sprints or a 5-15 minute circuit of weighted or jumping type exercises.  Conveniently, the majority of conditioning workouts tend to be easily scalable for beginner to advanced levels using the same exercises.  For instance, a beginner just won’t run as fast as an advanced athlete.

Regarding the ability to walk a full round of golf, aside from what I have outlined above, the best thing to do is actually walk, and do it as much as you can.

At the end of the day, if you are an absolute beginner on the exercise and fitness side of things, it is important to find a professional that can start to develop your athletic movement ability and ensure your mobility is where it needs to be.

Sincerely,

The Barefoot Golfer

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