I’m not a fan of golfers using exercises that mimic the golf swing for ‘fitness’ benefits at all. There are much more effective methods to develop the raw materials of mobility, strength, speed and power we need in the golf swing, but more than that these exercises aren’t really that ‘specific’ in the first place. The law of speciality states that training should be specific to the sporting activity in terms of joint movement, direction of force, load and velocity.
1.Not appropriate when generally weak
To put it another way ‘golf-specific’ strengthening exercises are not appropriate or necessary when generally weak. It’s much more valuable to become strong overall, and only then pursue golf-specific strength. Staying injury free should be the goal of any training program first and foremost. The ability to absorb the forces generated in the golf swing, for instance, is important in staying injury free and generally associated with eccentric strength.
2.Competing motor demands
Mobility drills standing in golf posture for example – assuming appropriate stability has been developed these can be a great way to develop dynamic and functional mobility in the golf swing. As golf posture is being mimic the conditions and loads in which the body will be required to produce mobility are also replicated.
However if stability is an issue and the golfer doesn’t possess the ability to maintain these positions and joint loads while trying to demonstrate mobility then mobility will not be displayed nor will these exercises improve it. They could even do more harm than good as the athlete could attempt to generate more ROM and in doing so obtain it in a less than ideal manner (typically in this case by gaining ROM from the lower back and not the thoracic spine), potentially affecting motor control of the golf swing, applying faulty movement mechanics and even leading to injury.
This is where regressions moving away from the specific and allowing the introduction of more stability are vital.
3. Soley focusing on golf like motions leads to a lack of context and poor skill acquisition
It goes without saying that some athletes pick up new movements faster than others. Usually, this occurs because they have context from which to draw.
As an example, an athlete might have a great hip hinge because they’ve done it previously whilst playing sports that utilise the athletic base position. Having that hip hinge proficiency helps the individual to efficiently learn a deadlift pattern (among many other athletic movements).
Establishing context is just one of many reasons that children should be exposed to a wide variety of free play and athletic endeavours. The more movement variability we have at younger ages, the broader the foundation we build. The wider the base, the more we can stack specific skills on top of it once the time is right.
An athlete who is soley engaging in golf like movements and oftentimes cannot or has lost the ability to perform basic movement patterns, they therefore have also lost those wide foundations to build their sports specific skill upon.
The golfer who establishes wider context has a wider array of movement perspective and greater kinaesthetic awareness, they are therefore more likely to quickly grasp new coaching cues or swing changes. In short, they are more coachable. This is also my major argument against early sports specialisation for kids.
4.Direction of force
We talked earlier about the importance of direction of force as it pertains to specificity, citing the work of Mel Siff. One of the problems with many ‘golfish’ exercises using bands or cables is that the actually fail to apply direction of force specific to the golf swing. Take this cable backswing here:
Whilst the movement looks similar to the golf swing the direction of force is completely altered. In the case of the cable backswing, the weight of the cable stack is pulling you down and forward towards it, you must therefore activate the muscles to resist this, this doesn’t happen in the swing normally. The golf swing requires almost every muscle your body to be utilised in a specific sequence, in specific ranges of motion, and in correct tension relationships to all the other muscles. Altering the direction of force, causes your body to change the entire sequence and balance of the movement in order to achieve a similar outward appearance.
5.Time constraint and intensity specific
Let us also consider speed and intensity for a moment as I believe this to be one the biggest failings in the weighted swings, cable machine or dumbbell swings and bosu/stability ball swings that might traditionally be considered golf-specific. The golf swing is a high speed movement, it therefore stands to reason we should train with the goal of developing speed. Additionally adding resistance (particularly via a cable which ensures smooth movement and equal resistance throughout) to the movement alters the velocity of the movement, research has shown in almost all speed based sports that swinging weighted implements decreases speed.
The reason they do
In a word, posture! When you train in the same posture as your goal activity, the forces (namely gravity) acting on your joints and muscles will be replicated. This can obviously be advantageous for sports specific training, the problem is that most of these exercises will contravene one, two, three or more of the rules above. One area I have found this idea to be usable is t-spine mobility drills – once you have gone through an appropriate progression i.e. from lying to kneeling positions before moving into standing – drills like the one below serve to develop the ability to utilise t-spine mobility in a position similar to the golf swing.
A Closing thought
if you are using a drill like this to improve a specific part of your technique/ motor pattern with your swing coach or something then absolutely all for it. RNT band drills for example can be really helpful in teaching correct shoulder/hip turn or kinematic sequence in the golf swing. However, if your using drills like these in the gym in the hope it will improve your mobility, strength, power, you won’t have much success and when it comes things like rotational mechanics and lower back pain it may even be detrimental.