There has been a fair amount of controversy of late surrounding strength training for golfers, how strong a golfer needs to be, or indeed if a golfer needs to do any strength training at all (for the record I’m backing Rory in the Rory V’s Brandel charity boxing that will never happen, but definitely should!). This article is going to be my attempt answering those questions.
I am a strength guy (just in case the name of this blog didn’t give that away). I come from a powerlifting background and I firmly believe in the benefits of getting stronger, not just for golfers but for everyone.
Stronger means happier, more confident, more resilient injury, likely to live and be active for longer and research proves that!
Besides the general health and fitness benefits listed above golf isn’t a sport that requires you to lift heavy loads or push 300lbs men out of your way, the golf club is light, so why do golfers need to be strong?
The most obvious benefit of improved strength and power is an increase in clubhead speed, which can be increased dramatically with proper training, countless research papers have shown this over the past 10, even 20 years.
Strength, is the mother of all physical adaptations. All other physical capacities, such as power, speed, mobility, balance, muscular endurance and coordination depend on force production within the physical environment. If strength improves, all other capacities improve with it, to varying degrees. With this being that case, strength training should form the heart, soul and major basis of your training programs for golf.
For example, biomechanical analysis of the golf swing has shown that the muscles of the legs initiate the downswing before the upper body reaches the top of the swing to allow for maximal clubhead speed at impact (referred to as the X-Factor stretch). Data also reveals that a rapid weight shift to the lead leg in the downswing creating forces of more than 180 percent of a golfer’s body weight at impact. These robust weight transfer dynamics and torque during the downswing emphasise the importance of leg strength.
Research has even shown than increasing strength improves putting performance. This is likely because stronger muscles helps improve fine motor control. In other words, because you are stronger, each swing is relatively less stressful, and the likelihood of making a mistake — or a small movement pattern error — is less likely.
Let’s not forget issues of injury prevention too, as research shows a comprehensive strength training program working all muscles and joints will help reduce the chances of injury by ensuring that you have a strong, stable musculoskeletal system.
As legendary strength coach Mark Rippetoe puts it “all other things being equal the stronger athlete always wins.”
How strong is strong enough?
The problem with Rippetoe quote above is that all other things being equal part. Golf is an incredibly high skill game with an almost infinite number of variables, additionally a properly executed golf swing demands very high movement capabilities.
While strength is important to build a foundation for the development of speed and power, it’s overvalued if you endlessly chase strength pr’s to the determinant of improving your ability to use it, i.e. relative strength, and movement. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying Maximum Strength isn’t important – It certainly is! It’s vital. Especially considering for professional/competitive golfers, the competitive golf season is a long one, whilst amateurs (and quite a few pros!) typically don’t have a lot of exposure to physical preparation for golf. Therefore, it is safe to say that most golfers live executing movements on the furthest end of the general-to-specific continuum. The greatest training affect according to the law of diminishing returns and largest portion of their workload should therefore be dedicated to work that falls on the other (general) end of that continuum. This is most easily identified as strength training type modalities.
That said, we are in the sport of golf not powerlifting, it is not the tool that’s important, it is that your body is working in a specific movement pattern, recruiting the correct muscles, and generating force when you need it.
The principle of specificity dictates that your body specifically adapts to the imposed demands, therefore maximising the carryover to your sport requires you train movements and patterns that are specific to the demands of your sport, in the case of golf explosive movements carried out in multiple planes of motion.
Focus should be on developing/maintaining a strength base, then improving relative strength and power in the movements you need for performance.
First bear in mind, as I said earlier I’m a strength guy and have carried over some bias here for sure. But without further ado, let the fun start!
Below are the standards of strength I like to see from and what works for my clients. In my opinion if you are not able to complete these exercises at the prescribed weights you a leaving something on the table physically when it comes to force production for golf, swing speed and ultimately distance. (Of course, this doesn’t take into account movement quality, mobility and biomechanical efficiency)
- Bulgarian split-squat 6-8 reps with 0.5 x BW in each hand
- Chin-up 5 reps for men, 1 for women. And pull strength equal to push strength.
Your pull (i.e. the chin-up) strength should also equal your push strength, so if you can do a bench press with your bodyweight + 40lbs on the bar you should be able to do a chin-up with 40 lbs external loaded added to you.
- 6-8 reps feet elevated push-up with 45lbs external resistance (this can be done with bands, chains or a weight plate) for men, 6-8 reps at bodyweight feet on floor for women.
Note: This does assume a relatively normal bodyweight range for the persons height, if you are carrying some extra padding the external load recomendation will be lower.
- 1.5 x bodyweight deadlift for 5 reps.
As I said earlier we are not powerlifters and as such we are not bound by rules on how certain exercises must be completed, we use what is most effective and safest. Oftentimes people don’t posses the adequate mobility to deadlift adequately from the floor, that being the case we modify the exercise to deadlift with the bar slightly elevated or using the high handles of a trap bar and that’s fine for our goals of increasing golf performance.
- 120% height broad jump.
This isn’t technically a strength but a power test it maybe shouldn’t make it on this list. However, power is essentially your ability to demonstrate your strength quickly, and power is obviously of ultimate importance. From that point of view it’s important that as golfers we test our ability to develop power and have a standard to achieve. This also a test I love as it’s really easy to set-up, perform and measure…you can do it literally anywhere!
Strength will reach a point of diminishing returns in which in order to get stronger you will spend time in the gym accumulating training volume that for golf performance could be better spent focused on others of their game improvement.
That said I still firmly believe being stronger than you were makes you a better athlete and a better athlete is a better golfer. Everybody should be trying to get stronger, and at least part of their training should be focused to that end. How much of their training time or training year should be spent on that goal will however vary from golfer to golfer depending on their needs.