A golf fitness exercise program! What does this mean to most people? Well, honestly, what I see and hear from most people is that a focus should be on your core and rotational strength. While there is some truth to this, they are forgetting to include important factors like, what is “the core” and what type of “core” exercises are required to prepare a body for the force created through the trunk during a golf swing. Another problem is with rotational trunk movement and where in the trunk this movement should come from. What is also left out is the main component that allows you to produce torque and power…that’s right baby… it all starts with your legs/hips?
I know I know some of you out there will say: “hey Barefoot Golfer, I work on my legs just as much as my core and upper body”. In return I would say that you are probably structuring your workout in a way similar to a body-builder because hey, that’s how we are supposed to workout, and that’s what the trainer at my health club said, or that’s what everyone else does. I call this Standard American Fitness (“SAF”). Obviously that is a play on the acronym SAD (Standard American Diet) :-). I will also wager that you are working endlessly on lumbar spinal rotational stretching and exercising, that may possibly be detrimental to your body’s longevity and power production. Sound weird? I will discuss this further below.
Well, not to be a jerk, but a great deal of the advice you hear and see out there is wrong. Body-building is fine for looks and if you want to be in body-building competitions, but it sorely lacks the ability to produce real life, sport specific, functional improvement without being combined with more appropriate work. In fact, a body-building style program in and of itself could actually be detrimental to things like power, which = strength x speed. Body-building does not develop maximum force production in muscles, and also does not develop speed of movement (see below for why these are needed for golf).
Given the concerns outlined above, this article will be dedicated to the production of what I would call a golf specific fitness program, although it really just looks like an appropriate general health program with a few tweaks. I will also include an analysis of the physical requirements of golf that lead me to my suggested program. I will also be debunking some myths along the way.
Now, before I go any further, I will say that this program is not meant for someone who is not familiar with general weight lifting and compound exercises. Form, proper movement and muscle activation are very, very important for any type of weight lifting, and if you are not comfortable with the type of exercises noted, please locate the help of a qualified professional. Also, any program outlined in this series is simply my suggestion on what I believe to be a golf specific program, and is what works for me. It may not work for you, and as always, before beginning any exercise/training program, please look for clearance from your physician or qualified medical practitioner.
Lumbar Spine Rotation: Beneficial or Detrimental?
There is some argument out there about this topic, but the debate is basically: do we work on lumbar trunk rotation or not? My take is that when we are exposing the lumbar spine to large forces (whether lifting weights, throwing, or a full golf swing), it needs to be stable – PERIOD. Instability in the lumbar spine will lead to injury and a decreased ability to produce maximum force and speed. In reality, the lumbar spine has very limited rotational mobility (1), so ultimately, we will not be producing rotational power from the lumbar spine even if we allow it to rotate through its full range of motion during our swing. Where we actually see rotation occur is in the thoracic spine (mid-upper back), and the hips.
So, should you do rotational exercises or not? Well, my answer is maybe and sometimes. Clear as mud right? Basically it depends on the individual. However, the majority of my recommended “core” exercises will be based in stabilizing the lumbar spine. I will suggest some rotational exercises; however, the direction for these exercises will include a focus on movement through the thoracic and hip region, while stabilizing the lumbar spine. Stretching and mobility exercises, on the other hand, will focus on the hip and thoracic regions.
Power, Strength, or Endurance
Well, as any good trainer knows, before we dive into creating a well matched exercise program for any given sport, we better clearly understand the requirements of the sport from an energy systems perspective as well as a movement perspective.
What I would ask a golfer who wished to discuss an appropriate golf specific exercise program is explain to me what you do physically when you play a round of golf. To which they would answer as follows:
1.) I take about 40-50 full swings each round
2.) I take about 9 – 18 partial swings/chip shots each round
3.) I take about 30-40 putts
4.) I walk all 18 holes
Excellent response! Don’t mind the numbers, they are just for show, you may take more or less swings than that but you get the picture. I have obviously left out motorized carts simply because they make the game less physically demanding. OK, so the point of the above is to give ourselves a good idea of what the demands of the sport are. So, in the same order listed above, I will outline the physical demands of each requirement:
1.) Full Swings: A full golf swing takes 1 sec? Maybe less? Regardless, it is a very short period of time in which we are trying to create as much power (recall the above equation for power) as we can. Power is not endurance, these are very different things. Also, in between each swing we are going to have a huge rest period (at least in relation to our swing time). So, for simplicity sake, if my swing takes 1 sec and I don’t produce another full swing for 5 mins, then I have a 1:300 work rest ratio. Therefore, fatigue should not be an issue, and a large amount of fatigue during training will not benefit max power production.
2.) Partial Swings: Not a great deal of physical demand here, we are mainly looking at fine motor control, stability, balance and finesse
3.) Putts: Same as partial swings
4.) Walking the round: So walking 18 holes does have a minor amount of physical endurance demands. Although they are minor and nowhere close to the demands of endurance running, they do have an endurance component to them. Obviously, if walking 18 holes tires you out easily, then you will not be able to produce the power you need in your swing. So arguably some type of endurance work will be beneficial; however, do not think that this should be steady state cardio as this will be detrimental to your power production. Think more along the lines of short sprint intervals.
At the end of the day, a good level of athleticism will benefit all golfers and give them an advantage from the start, so this is obviously where your fitness journey should begin. Maybe I will write a future post on golf fitness for beginners. However, once a solid athletic base is developed, a more specific program would look similar to that of a power athlete where the major focus would be on maximum strength and speed development, offset with some short high intensity intervals (whether it is weight work or sprinting). We do not need to develop huge amounts of muscle, and while muscle development will come with this type of training, it will not be detrimental to your game, and in fact much of the focus is actually neurological development. So dude, you won’t look like a huge body builder but you will be strong and fast as hell, that ball ain’t’ gonna know what hit it. Plus you will look damn good on the course too!
As any good golfer knows practice makes perfect; so, I would be remiss not to mention the physical demands of a practice session on the range. So yes, you will be making many more swings than during a regular round; however, as I am sure you know, if you are hitting more than one ball every 1-2 minutes, than you are wasting your time in your practice session. You should be thinking about and visualizing every swing the way you would during a live round of golf in order for your practice to be effective. Don’t skip on your pre-shot routine either. Practice how you play! Basically, in your practice session, although you are making more swings, and the period of time between each swing is shortened a bit, there will still be very little more required of you from an endurance perspective. So rest assured this program will prepare you for these demands.
Well that’s it for part 1, Part 2 will focus on specific exercises, including strength, power, mobility, and conditioning. Part 3 will then go on to putting it all together into an actual sample plan.
The Barefoot Golfer