If I gave one piece of advice to the average amateur golfer out there trying to feel better and play better through fitness it would be this.
In truth, you probably don’t possess the basics of quality movement or the strength levels to get much out of ‘golf-specific’ training. Practice and get good at the basic human movements in the gym, this will not only get you strong but provide mobility and movement context that will carry over to developing swing technique. Work on technique and scoring on the practice tee/course.
I believe golf fitness, much like fitness in every other sport, should resist the temptation of grabbing the low-hanging fruit of loaded training mimicking the movements of the sport, before taking care of the fundamentals of quality movement and strength.
With that in mind, every golf fitness program we produce is based around the squat, the hinge, an upper body push, an upper body pull and a rotary or extension/flexion core exercise. These 5 fundamental human movements should make up 90% of our training if we want the most efficient and effective carryover to golf performance, and indeed general human performance.
The key is to utilise variations of these movements you can execute well and load within the confines of your current movement capacity. I will present some basic variations that are a great starting point here and you can progress to more advanced variations as your movement capacity and strength improve.
The Goblet Squat is one of the absolute best ways to learn great squatting technique but also achieve a strength training effect through heavy loading. Having the weight in front requires you to stay upright and keeping the core engaged. This will do wonders for your lower body strength and stability, hip mobility and body control.
Grab a dumbbell or a kettle bell. Bring it up to your sternum and make sure the weight stays in contact with your sternum and upper stomach during the whole lift.
Feel like you are dropping your body straight down in between your knees as you squat down, keeping your elbows inside of your knees.
The hip hinge is vital movement for all golfers. For starters, good golf posture requires the ability to bend from the hips whilst maintaining the neutral pelvic tilt and spinal alignment essential for efficient rotation. The muscles responsible for thoracic extension must be activated, to prevent c-posture. The core musculature also, to keep the lumbar spine from extending as we rotate and putting our lower backs in a compromised position. Additionally, pushing the butt back loads the powerful muscles of the hip that create so much of the speed in the golf swing.
The Kettlebell deadlift is a great way to groove a hip hinge pattern. Start standing with the kettle bell on the floor between your legs so you can’t see it. Push the hips backs far as you can maintaining neutral spine then bend your knees enough to lower yourself to the Kettlebell. Your back should remain neutral with the logo on your shirt visible to someone standing in front of you. If you can’t get in this position simply raise the Kettlebell up on blocks until it is high enough that you can.
The upper body muscles play a surprisingly large role in generating speed in the golf swing, as well as being essential to the mobility and stability we need to swing the club on a good plane. Good old push-ups are favourite in this category as they also combine a great amount of core and shoulder stability. Single-arm DB presses are also great as the core is now challenged in an anti-rotation manner. Anti-rotation core strength is vital to golfers looking to develop good rotational mechanics and keep their backs healthy.
The pull movement includes chin-ups, pull-ups, rows, pull downs etc. Below is a half kneeling cable pull, which is good starting point for pulling movements. Many people could benefit from regressing down from standing to a half kneeling position in order to regain control and stability of the pelvis and core when moving the extremities – something obviously of vital importance to a consistent and long golf swing. This opportunity to execute with less compensation leads to better movement patterns when you progress back up to standing.
Core (rotary and flexion/extension)
Your core has a huge role to play in stabilising the spine and keeping it healthy. Additionally, we need proximal stability in order to display distal mobility; in other words, the core must be stable in order for us to have the mobility in the t-spine, shoulders and hips so essential to a good golf swing. The core’s main function in the golf swing though is to transfer the force created from the ground and legs, up through the torso, to the arms, the club and ultimately the ball. We need a stable core to this efficiently and reduce power leaks.
Core training can be divided into to two board categories based on the planes the spine is moving or resisting motion in. These are rotary core movements and flexion/extension movements.
The half-kneeling cable chop is a great option to train the rotary core as it does a solid job of grooving the good rotational mechanics that will keep your back healthy during your golf swing.
The plank is one of my favourite exercises for resisting extension/flexion, and for teaching the core to stabilise neutral spine. The key is getting into and maintaining a neutral posture where the spine, hips, and legs are linear, not arched or drooping. Common compensations are shrugging the ribs up, shrugging the hips up, rolling the shoulders or hips forward, or pretty much anything that’s not neutral. A 10 second plank, done for 3 or 4 reps, produces much better benefits compared to a 30 or 40 second constant hold when it comes to increased hip mobility and core function, as the reduction in fatigue allows you to do a much better job of this.
So that’s one workout sorted, what’s next?
Double progression is a system where you have a target rep range instead of a precise number of reps to do, 3 to 6, for example. You will use the same weight for all your work sets. The goal is to be able to do all the work sets with the upper limit of the range (8 in our example) with the same weight. When you’re able to do that, you increase the weight at your next session. If you can’t get 6 reps for all of your work sets, that’s fine, but it means that you’ll keep the same weight during next week’s workout.
What about the other 10% of my workout?
Specificity of Speed, Intensity, and Direction of Force:
Most golfers lack a base of strength however once this is established it is useful to train with a higher degree of specificity to the golf swing, in terms of speed, intensity and direction of force.
The golf swing is a high-speed movement done with light weight (relative to your maximal strength). So it is useful for some part of your training to reflect this. We should therefore train these movements for high velocity with lighter weights. Med-ball throws and jumps accomplish this job brilliantly. It also important to note that only a small part, 10% or so, of your training will be done in this manner, as it’s still going to be strength gains in the basic human movements that drive improvement in more golf specific exercises. Additionally you won’t get much out of those exercises if you haven’t built a basis of movement quality and strength first, so as I said earlier, until you have built a basis of strength, you likely don’t need to utilise these exercises.
The golf swing is also a multi-planar moment, largely a rotational and lateral (think of the weight transfer in the swing) movement, with a small amount of sagittal movement (up an down) too. Exercises such as squats and deadlifts are sagittal plane dominant so it’s good to utilise some variations in these categories that also work in the planes more dominant in the golf swing. Rotational cable chops, incorporating rotation and weight shift in presses and pulls and lateral squats are great options. This lateral squat with overhead reach is one of my favourites.
As fitness professional there can be a tendency to overcomplicate when in reality it might not be necessary. Utilise these 5 basic human movements, train them using double progression until you own that pattern and get really strong in it, then simply swap the variation to a more advanced one. Finally, use the last 10% of your training to work on your weaknesses and some more golf specific stuff. Do this and you’ll not only play better but you’ll feel better and move better too.
Fuel Your Workout
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Article by Nick Buchan
Nick is a TPI certified strength coach with a passion for getting golfers stronger and moving better. Through Stronger Golf, he uses research-based training methods to create a new breed of stronger, faster, more athletic golfers. Golfers who are more coachable, achieve higher levels of skill mastery, play injury free, and for longer as a result of improved physical fitness.