Generally speaking, golfers tend to be the most undertrained when it comes to strength and conditioning for their sport. Even if they are doing some form of physical training for their sport, it is usually flexibility and mobility work. I come across the entire gamut of thera-bands, foam rollers paraphernalia exercises whenever I take on a new client who is an avid golfer. The usual timeline goes like this, the golfer has some injury, might be related to golf, or may not be connected to it. He goes to a physio, who rehabs the injury. The golfer then asks the physio for help on improving his golf. The physio proceeds to prescribe stretching and mobility exercises, along with stretch band exercises for strength.
But awareness is slowly creeping in that golfers need to be strong if they want to play for a long time without injuries. Being flexible/mobile is not enough if certain parts of the body are not strong. We have to keep in mind that younger players are showing the older recreational players what they can do if they get golf fit. Actually, with the arrival of Tiger Woods, golf changed dramatically. People began to look at golfers as athletes who had to be fit to take on the likes of Tiger Woods. This has filtered down to the recreational golfer. Golf coaches are also realizing that their protégés also need to spend time in the gym and not just on the Golf greens.
Needs Analysis of the Sport of Golf
Golf is a unique sport as it requires extreme amounts of mobility as well as strength from the player. Its unique corkscrew action with the feet planted makes it unlike other rotational sport like Tennis. This corkscrew action produces a great deal of torque on the lumbar spine. This torque can be mitigated if there is adequate mobility at the hips and the thoracic region while the core has a great deal of stability. Dr. Stuart McGill has demonstrated that proximal stability of the core enables distal mobility – so a stable core transmits from the legs into the chest and from there to the club. If the golfer's hips and upper back are stiff and he/she compensates by moving from the lumbar spine, then the chances of back pain and injury are greatly increased.
Strong glutes are the base on which the golfer's ability to hit long rests. The glutes and core are the two main areas that need to be strengthened for improved performance and injury prevention which would lead to the player's increased longevity in the game. I check to see if my client can adequately activate the glutes in a single joint exercise like the glute bridge. If they cannot do that, glutes are worked in isolation exercises like clams, bridges, and hip thrusts before incorporating compound movements like squats and deadlifts.
Strength leads to…..Power
We need to remember that Golf depends upon the ability to apply force quickly to the ball, only then would it fly further. If you can squat and deadlift double your bodyweight but the clubhead speed has gone down, then that strength is not going to help drive that ball further. Thus, working on power becomes very important as the player gets stronger. Power is plane specific and golf uses the transverse plane. So training in the sagittal is not adequate – vertical jumps would not cut it, unless we add a turning element to them. Rotational medicine ball throws are the go-to exercises when we need to train power in transverse planes, especially for a rotation focused sport like golf. I prefer not to use variations of the Olympic lifts for my golf players, unless they have been doing them in the past. Even then their efficacy is limited for Golf.
Is Chronological Age a factor?
This is a question I have to constantly grapple with as most of my clients are in their late 60s and 70s. I am constantly reminded by their families that "he is getting long in the tooth – so why is he working so hard in the gym?" I admit that they would not be able to play as they did in the 20s and 30s but if they worked on their mobility, strength, and power, regaining some of the yardage on the swing would be possible as would generally moving better with fewer aches and pains. What's there not to like?
Studies show that smart weight training is the magic elixir that can delay the effects of old age, as gaining muscle and strength is possible at any age. Of course, the trick being that the coach/trainer knows what they are doing.
Training Program for the Older Golfer
We need to individualize and customize the physical preparation program for the golf player. A number of screens are available which can give the the baseline figures for the player. We need to check for range of motion and mobility at the hip, thoracic and glenohumeral joint. Less than ideal mobility in these areas will lead to compensations which would negatively affect the golf swing and could lead to injury down the line. The initial program could be just the corrective exercises to iron out these issues. Then we move to stability exercises like anterior as well as posterior core stability and glute strength.
I do not believe in doing corrective exercises forever. The player has to be quickly graduated to loading as this is the only way to improve strength and performance. Not endless repetitions of foo-foo exercises. Depending on the person, I mix and match corrective exercises with traditional strength exercises. This helps with the buy-in from the client as they can see that they are improving in the gym as well as on the golf course.
Standards to shoot for
Most strength standards tend to be arbitrary and do not necessarily translate to a better performance for an athlete. But If we look at the top ten players in any sport and see what their physical abilities are, then we have a good idea of what to aim for. Otherwise you are just shooting in the dark. As a trainer, I like my clients to comfortably handle their bodyweight on freehand exercises like push-ups, single-leg squats, and pull-ups, but this applies only If the client is fairly lean.
Push-ups – at least 50, pull-ups – 4, single-leg squats 5 each side. Dumbbell bench press – 80% of body weight for 8-10 reps, barbell lunge – 60% of body weight for 8-10 reps per leg, single Dumbbell side lunge – 30% of body weight for 10 reps per leg, single-arm cable row – 40% of body weight for 8-10 reps.
Push-ups – 20, Pull up- 1, single-leg squats 5 each side. Dumbbell bench press – 80% of body weight for 8-10 reps, Barbell lunge – 60% of body weight for 8-10 reps per leg, single Dumbbell side lunge – 30% of body weight for 10 reps per leg. Single-arm cable row – 40% of body weight for 8-10 reps.
The above numbers are the bare minimum that I would want my clients to hit. Once they can comfortably do the above, I start low impact plyometrics – double leg hop, single-leg hop hop, box jumps, along with medicine ball tosses – not more than 4-6 kg for the medicine ball.
The core is hit with a variety of anti-extension and anti-rotation exercises. The aim is to move from easy stabilization exercises to more intensive ones – planks to three-point planks to stir the pot to prone gym ball jackknives. Medicine ball slams are used once the core has been adequately trained.
I am happy if my clients can train with me thrice a week – more often than not, with their business and family commitments it's usually twice.
Periodization – Block or something else
Earlier I used an alternating block periodization model – alternate between accumulation – 8 weeks and Intensification – 4 weeks. But now see that a vertical integration fits better with the needs of most of my golfing clients.
A training week could look like this:
Goblet Squat 3 sets x 12
Alternate with jump squats – 3 sets x 6
Single leg deadlift 3 sets x 8 each side
Side Lunge 3 sets x 12 each side
Single leg hip thrust 3 sets x 12 each side
Landmine Press 3 sets x 12
Alternate with kneeling medicine ball throw – 3 sets x 12
Pull Downs – 3 sets x 15
Dumbbell Rows – 3 sets x 15
Stirring the Pot – 3 sets x 15
Medicine ball slams 3 sets x 10
Pallof Press 3 sets x 12
Box Jumps – 2 sets x 10
Medicine Ball Rotation throw 2 sets x 10 each side
Side to side Jump (Heidens) 2 sets x 10
Bulgarian Split Squat 3 sets x 12
Push-ups 3 sets x 12
Kettlebell Swing 3 sets x 12
Face pull 3 sets x 8
Golf has been slow to appreciate the importance of physical preparation but now the times are slowly changing. From the professionals, it is percolating downwards to the amateurs and recreational players. Keeping the player healthy and performing well on the Golf course will help the game progress and remove the image that Golf creates too many injuries for its players.