When I first qualified as a Personal Trainer a few years ago my primary aim was to amass as much knowledge as possible, learn to teach, and ensure I became a really good one. Many courses and experiences later, my focus really shifted to movement and mobility, and corrective exercise, and I began working with a golfer. There are plenty of very fit and mobile golfers but it seemed to me that here was a group of people who love their weekend game yet were often quite limited from a physical point of view, a group where I could make a really big difference (which is my primary aim in all engagements). Consequently, I’ve set my sights on the golf market, and over the past year or so have had some very interesting conversations with golfers of all levels. There’s a common theme, frustration with their game always creeps in at some point. What do they do about it? Throwing golf clubs around might be tempting, but it’s probably not really the club’s fault and they know it. Forgiveness in a driver can help, but it’s going to be a lack of technical execution, which very often stems from a lack of physical capability somewhere. Interestingly, few weekend warriors seem to consider the fitness element, so I challenge and help them to eliminate, as much as possible, their physical limitations to that tee shot they so desire.
Is fitness for golf important?
Yes, is the answer. It’s been clearly shown in studies that strength, flexibility, mobility and power training improve ones game. Golf, however, is one of those games where there often isn’t a huge focus on fitness. There are some very fit golfers, but there is also a large contingent of not very fit golfers that use the game itself for a bit of gentle exercise. Problem is, a round of golf is hard work, and if you’re not in decent shape it can mess you up! The terminology is a bit of a problem, you see, whether an activity is termed a sport or a game. Sports like boxing, rugby or football demand a certain level of endurance, strength and cardiovascular fitness – you can’t partake without it. Golf, however, is viewed as an altogether more leisurely activity, despite the fact that the average golfer will burn in excess of 1200 calories on an 18-hole round.
Just check out the mobility, speed and power exhibited in the swing of the top players and you’ll see top quality mobility, strength and power – the club head speed is incredible. A great swing is a thing of grace and beauty to watch and demands a high level of physical and neurological conditioning.
I want to focus on mobility for a second. In my work as a Personal Trainer and Corrective Exercise Specialist, the biggest limiting factor to performance I see is a lack of mobility. If I can uncover and address a muscle imbalance and improve joint mobility I will immediately unlock the full potential of the human movement system t that was until that point stifled by improper muscle, joint and nervous system action.
So, especially regarding the tee shot and you can see why mobility is so important for golfers.
What does the research say?
I’ve reviewed the research cited up by the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM) and numerous studies show the relationship between posture and performance. NASM performed a literature review that investigated what characteristics best predicted positive outcomes of the golf swing. The primary performance outcomes were handicap and club head speed. The secondary aim was to determine if training programmes improved performance outcomes for golfers looking to improve their swing.
Details of the studies reviewed are below so you can have a read if you’re inclined. In short, there’s a very strong scientific rationale for a movement-specific conditioning programme for improving fitness for golfers, performance, and reducing the incidence of injury.
Unsurprisingly, researchers found a strong correlation between increased trunk strength and flexibility with club head speed and handicap.
Similarly, research shows integrated functioning of muscular, skeletal and neurological systems is paramount for the human movement system to operate ‘optimally’. Optimal alignment is important and establishes correct length-tension relationships of muscles surrounding a joint, allowing a joint to function as intended. To keep this simple, ‘length-tension relationship’ is a key concept because a muscle can only produce maximum force and power when it’s length and alignment is optimal as opposed to being tight (short) or weak (long). Disruption of this relationship can be caused by injury, repetitive movement, or inactivity. A lack of muscle balance causes a joint to move improperly, leading to impaired movement capability, undue stress on musculature, premature joint wear and pain.
As you can imagine, or may have experienced personally, this will play havoc with your golf swing!
The role Corrective Exercise in fitness for golfers
Movement impairment is caused by overactive and underactive muscles around a joint. We just need to understand which are which and then balance can be restored through the 4-stage protocol of corrective exercise. We assess this using postural and dynamic movement assessments.
Let’s quickly dive into the corrective exercise jargon so you understand the meaning and significance of some key concepts.
Using the dynamic overhead squat assessment, as corrective exercise professionals we can see how the skeletal, muscular and neurological systems are working in relation to one another. We tend not to use the terms ‘right/good’ or ‘wrong/bad’, but optimal and sub-optimal posture. Observing how sections of the body move both individually and in relation to another part of the chain shows us where to focus attention and which exercises to use to restore balance. We must also factor in what someone does in their own training to avoid loading up sub-optimal movement patterns. Very often, an exercise needs to be dropped from someone’s routine, in itself a corrective measure.
The importance of all this is worth restating in the context of fitness for golfers – correct joint operation and optimal length tension relationship of muscles brings balance to the human movement system, improving movement quality, performance, longevity, and lowers the likelihood of injury. That means more game time, more enjoyable and better golf! Who doesn’t want that?
There are physical, mental, and neurological aspects to improving performance in any game or sport. One needs a ‘can do’ attitude, irrespective of age, a neurological system that can adapt and learn new things, and a physical body that can carry them out.
The good news is you already possess these, you just need to learn how to tap into them.
So, there you are – a brief rationale and account of why I am so passionate about the need for fitness for golf, corrective exercise, and why I enjoy working with golfers in particular.
My next post will take a look at the basics of a corrective exercise and movement-focused, golf-specific exercise programme.
Thanks for reading, please email over comments or questions, and email me via the contact form if you’d like to find out more about the 12-week Fitness for Golf programme.
NASM literary review references:
- Fletcher, IM and Hartwell, M, Effect of an 8-week combined weights and plyometrics training program on golf drive performance. J Strength Cond Res. 2004. 18(1): 59-62.
- Fradkin, AJ, Sherman, CA, and Finch, CF, How well does club head speed correlate with golf handicaps? J Sci Med Sport. 2004. 7(4): 465-472.
- Doan, BK, Newton, RU, Kwon, YH, and Kraemer, WJ, Effects of physical conditioning on intercollegiate golfer performance. J Strength Cond Res. 2006. 20(1): 62-72.
- Gordon, BS, Moir, GL, Davis, SE, Witmer, CA, and Cummings, DM, An investigation into the relationship of flexibility, power, and strength to club head speed in male golfers. J Strength Cond Res. 2009. 23(5): 1606-1610.
- Hetu, FE, Christie, CA, and Faigenbaum, AD, Effects of conditioning on physical fitness and club head speed in mature golfers. Percept Mot Skills. 1998. 86(3 Pt 1): 811-815.
- Keogh, JW, Marnewick, MC, Maulder, PS, Nortje, JP, Hume, PA, and Bradshaw, EJ, Are anthropometric, flexibility, muscular strength, and endurance variables related to clubhead velocity in low- and high-handicap golfers? J Strength Cond Res. 2009. 23(6): 1841-1850.
- Lephart, SM, Smoliga, JM, Myers, JB, Sell, TC, and Tsai, YS, An eight-week golfspecific exercise program improves physical characteristics, swing mechanics, and golf performance in recreational golfers. J Strength Cond Res. 2007. 21(3): 860-869.
- Myers, J, Lephart, S, Tsai, YS, Sell, T, Smoliga, J, and Jolly, J, The role of upper torso and pelvis rotation in driving performance during the golf swing. J Sports Sci. 2008. 26(2): 181-188.
- Sell, TC, Tsai, YS, Smoliga, JM, Myers, JB, and Lephart, SM, Strength, flexibility, and balance characteristics of highly proficient golfers. J Strength Cond Res. 2007. 21(4): 1166-1171.
- Thompson, CJ, Cobb, KM, and Blackwell, J, Functional training improves club head speed and functional fitness in older golfers. J Strength Cond Res. 2007. 21(1): 131-137.