The idea that swinging an underweight club or bat, throwing an underweight ball or sprinting with reduced resistance, meaning you can therefore swing, throw or run faster, therefore leading to an increase in swing speed, has been around a while now. However the idea seems to have become really popular in golf of late with SuperSpeed Golf leading the way.
Theory behind Overspeed Training
Overspeed training in general, affects the speed of the neuromuscular reaction that happens when the brain runs a motor pattern i.e. the golf swing. It’s well established in exercise science that there is a continuum of motor units and their associated muscle fibers based on various physiological factors (not just simply fast vs slow, but every option between), with the largest motor units typically being the most forceful and having the fastest contraction speed. Overspeed training is believed to improve velocity of movement by recruiting the fastest specific motor units used in a particular action. Put another way, the body has a “typical” response to any motor pattern that does not usually equate to its potential for efficiency and speed. When the body runs the motor pattern with a lighter implement (one that is lighter than the usual implement, but not too light as to cause the activation of a completely different motor pattern), the neuromuscular response to this motor pattern can happen significantly faster. In a short number of reps, the body will develop a ‘memory’ of this new and increased speed of the neuromuscular response. Essentially, we have tricked the body into resetting the typical speed of the motor pattern.
The need for specificity
As you may have picked up from the above overspeed relies on the idea of specificity, meaning that the training must closely resemble the specific athletic action in order to lead to transferrable results. Take a look at the demo video below and notice that all the drills closely resemble the golf swing. For general training I’m not a fan exercises mimicking the golf swing as these exercises can’t be loaded progressively to drive strength improvement, however with overspeed training we are not after progressive overload by resistance but by velocity and specificity is paramount.
This also leads to the need idea of keeping the weights within about 12% is considered crucial (This value has been determined by the few studies done with baseball swings and throws, where they determined too great of a deviation from the standard weight actually led to velocity decrements rather than improvement). The thought is that more or less than that will lead to the training not translating to actual improved velocity in the action.
Single set response
Much like PAP training in the weight room, this effect if only occurs on a single use basis will fade gradually over about 20 minutes to an hour. According to SuperSpeed, they have found that there must be a gradual increase in load during the training, in order to make this increase in response speed permanent (the reason for our 10% light and 5% heavy clubs in the set). This load cycle repeated many times during the individual training session continues to alter the neuromuscular response speed in the body. SuperSpeed claim that with about 4-6 weeks of regular practice, we find that the player’s initial speed increase will become permanent, essentially representing a reprogramming of the ‘typical’ speed of the neuromuscular response to the motor pattern.
Effect on swing mechanics
According to SuperSpeed, their research on the effect on the biomechanics/ kinetic chain of the golf swing, have found significant increase in especially pelvic rotational speed in many players. This directly results in more speed in the distal segments beyond the pelvis as well. The more energy that is transferred in the first link of the chain multiplies greatly as the players gets to impact. They posit that there are a few reasons for this increase: Improved Stability resulting directly from increased muscle activation from the non-dominant swings. This allows for a stronger load and unload cycle in the lower body. Increased Downswing Loading as a result of the step-change of direction swings, and general attempt by the player to get the club moving faster. We find that not having the goal to hit the golf ball allows the player to “discover” the necessary sequencing elements of ground force interaction and lag. This can also lead to players seeing a significant improved in casting and early release in the golf swing.
What the research says
Currently there is no quality research with golf (although SuperSpeed tell me they currently have some underway, and rest assured we will bring you the result as soon as we have them), we must instead take what we have and see what results they’ve gotten. The idea of overspeed training originated in sprinting so there is a fair amount of research on how it affects sprint speed, however there probably isn’t too much carryover to golf. Baseball is the closest activity to golf that has been studied to any real extent and there are a few reasons the results from studies in baseball may apply well to golf:
- Rotational sports have quite a bit in common, as they sometimes use similar musculature and often rely on the same kinetic chain pattern of muscle activation.
- Baseball swings and throws rely on the same sequence as golf; generating force from the ground by the big muscles in the hips, glutes, and quads and transferring the force through a stable core into the upper body musculature and eventually out to the extremities to the ball.
Effects on Baseball bat velocity:
Sergo & Boatwright (1993)
Studied 24 collegiate baseball players and split them into three groups based on the bats they would use for practice swings. One group was a control and used a standard legal bat, one group used a heavier bat, and the final group used an underweight bat (overspeed).
They would end up swinging a bat 100 times a day, 3 times per week, for 6 weeks (1800 total swings) and found that all three groups had similar increases in bat velocity (about 8%). Concluded any bat swung that many times will increase velocity, with overspeed or overload having no additional benefit
DeRenne et al. (1995)
Incorporated the use of all three weights of bats seen above into a combined methods training, each individual would take 50 swings with a heavy bat, 50 with a light bat, then 50 with a standard. One group only performed practice swings (dry swings), another took these 150 swings during batting practice, and the final was the control who only used a standard bat. The addition of overspeed and overload in the dry swing and batting practice groups led to significant increases compared to baseline and the control (6-10% average increase). The biggest increases were with the batting practice group (10%) which might have to do with trying to impart maximal force on a ball in a sport specific manner rather than just practice swings with no ball involved
Effects of weighted balls on throwing velocity in baseball:
DeRenne, Ho, & Blitzblau. (1990)
Tested baseball pitchers on throwing velocity after training with underweight and overweight baseballs. Found significant increases when using a ball that was 20% heavier as well as 20% lighter in addition to regular practice with a standard ball.
Effects on swing mechanics and accuracy:
As you can imagine with research in this area being fairly new there wasn’t a lot to go on. One study on bowling in cricket (Petersen, Wilson, & Hopkins. 2004) that found decreased accuracy using underweight and overweight methods, but these decrements were nearly totally wiped out if they had properly matched their intervention and control groups for baseline velocities and skill.
The contention currently seems to be that if using a relatively small deviation from the standard weight, we probably will not see much loss in accuracy, if any at all, but I would like to see that incorporated into future studies just to be sure. In my opinion (and this is only my opinion) it is also certainly possible that it could have some benefits to sequencing as step drills and swings with the club held at the club head end have been used effectively by coaches to teach better release mechanics for a long time.
Conclusion (a.ka. the bit you skipped to anyway)
Baseball has shown an amount of support for the combination of specific overspeed and overload training in a sport that also relies on rotational power. Many golf specific results also report increased clubhead speed immediately after a training session with overspeed, which is going to happen due to maximal activation of the nervous system as well as loosening up the musculature specific to the golf swing. However as of yet, there has been no scientific evidence of long-term retention using overspeed-training devices in golfers, other than the case studies and testimonials of various golfers who are advertising for companies such as SuperSpeed Golf. Additionally no research exist to support it’s use to improve swing mechanics.
This is not to say definitely it doesn’t or doesn’t have a longer term effect simply that the research doesn’t exist to give a definitive answer yet. But we can say that it will have a short term affect for definite and the theory is grounded in well-established exercise science principles.
Finally, a few authors suggest that overspeed and overload training works more efficiently with those who have a pretty solid base of fitness and strength, meaning resistance training and other training methods could be more beneficial for the weaker athletes, at least at first. This would make sense, as it fits with the general thought process of power training for sports. So it maybe for optimal results the best idea is to combine overspeed training with resistance training and periodise both based on your needs and competitive season. Incidentally, I am a huge fan of opposite swings to develop speed and deceleration ability for golfers so this also needs to be built in to any overspeed training protocol in my opinion (SuperSpeed Golf protocols do a great job of this actually)
Hopefully this article has given you some background info on overspeed training and shown you some of the potential gains. If you’d like to add overspeed training to compliment your golf fitness training do take a look at SwingSpeed Golf as they’re making waves in the industry and more importantly are great people. Also if you do purchase be sure to use the code “strongergolf” at check out, that way you get a little discount and I get some money come way too so I can continue to write free articles for you guys. Win win!
This article was co-authored by myself and Alex Ehlert, Alex is former NCAA Division 1 Golfer who was able to gain 20 yards by becoming stronger and more athletic. He is now a Masters Student in Exercise Physiology and writes about optimising golf fitness using an evidence-based approach at his blogwww.golfathlete.blogspot.co.uk and can be contacted via twitter. Information for it was also kindly provided by SuperSpeed Golf.