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Considering the name of this blog, and the length of time I’ve been running it, it is pretty shocking to admit I’ve never actually addressed this question before now, I’ve made mention to reasons to be strong in almost every article but never actually fully answered this question, all in one place, in a (hopefully) succinct and useful manner, so this is my intention right here right now. And as it’s taken so long I guess I had better be good!
At first glance golf doesn’t seem to a sport that requires much in the way of strength. The club is a light implement and a highly co-ordinated movement in which flexibility and speed are clearly required to execute effectively. That may be the case but strength is vital to all of those physical qualities. Indeed, research has shown strength training to:
- Reduce injury risk in golfers
- Increase Club-head speed by 7-10 percent, or the equivalent of 10-15 yards, without any ill-effects on accuracy.
- Increased strength and flexibility allows golfers to adopt more optimal swing mechanics
- Improve muscular strength and muscular endurance, which has a positive impact on golf swing consistency during an 8-hour, 36-hole round of competitive golf.
- Improve shot dispersion stats
- Increase greens in regulation hit as a result of being closer to the hole after drive
- Improve putting distance control
- Lower scores
- Strength training in lengthened position has even been shown to increase muscle length more effectively than static stretching
The strength-speed continuum
If you’re a golfer you’ve probably swung a 400 gram club your entire life, and have therefore got pretty good at swinging light objects at near maximal velocity. In other words, you are able to put the force you have into the golf ball reasonably quickly, but you don’t have much force in absolute context to put into the ball. This explains why research has shown time and time again that strength training improves club head velocity (there are still some that claim that weight training is bad for golfers and to them I will add this caveat; bad weight training is bad for anybody, good weight training can certainly help).
The speed strength continuum, then, goes from absolute speed on the left to absolute strength on the right.
Somewhere in the middle lies a sweet spot between general force production abilities and the abilities specific for your sport, this will obviously vary from sport to sport with a power lifter needing more absolute strength and a golfer needing to be slightly towards the speed/ speed-strength end of things.
We have the average golfer on the far left side of this continuum from years of swinging a light club at near maximal velocity and we need to bring you towards the right side, because absolute strength is the basis for a lot of things, not just power output but also stability.
Once we’ve developed some strength and brought guys towards the absolute strength end, we can begin to work exercises that work on that ideal middle area with a little more specificity to golf. This is where med-ball throws, weighted jumps, kettlebell swings, etc come in. There is fairly obviously a consideration for individual needs here too, the classic big strong guy for example might need to be moved towards the speed end of this continuum and we would focus our efforts on speed and speed-strength work rather than strength work. There may even a place for expanding the continuum further and incorporating overspeed (underload) training in or supramaximal loading with some individuals. That said, the vast majority of golfers start way towards the speed end and moving them towards the strength end represents the largest and most easily improved window of adaptation.
Reduce injury risk
Right handed golfers typically display adducted or internally rotated right hips, low right shoulders, left thoracic rotation and rib flare (see picture below??)
To a certain extent many of these are sporting adaptations that help to perform the task of swinging a club, however they are also imbalances that left unchecked can lead to injury. As Eric Cressey said recently:
“Specificity works great until you’re so specific that you wind up injured and have forgotten how to do everything else”
A well designed strength training programs will include rotational drills on the opposite side, and you take you through various ranges of motion in various stances so as to round you out as an athlete and counteract the effect of the golf swing to reinforce these imbalances. As noted physical therapist James Porterfield says, a well designed strength training program, working within the individuals current movement capabilities will do wonders to prevent and rehab injury.
Strength is also the basis of stability – a lot of injuries issues are brought about when flexibility/ mobility are greater than your ability to stabilise in the end range position – indeed I’ve often said from an injury prevention point of view I’d rather have an athlete that is tight but stable than a hyper mobile athlete with no stability, as that person is typically spending a lot of time on the physio table!
A good example of this is the lower back, we know that repeated extension and rotation isn’t necessarily the best thing for our spines, hence why a huge percentage of golfers suffer low back pain. Good core and glute strength provides more spinal stability and helps us to achieve better spinal positioning as we rotate, taking some of the pressure of the lower back.
Increased body awareness and movement context
As the world renowned golf biomechanist Mark Bull once put it to me,
“The biggest advantage of S&C as I see it is movement context”
The golf swing is a highly complex, co-ordinated movement requiring precise timing of movements of pretty much every muscle in the body. You need, therefore, a good understanding of where your body is in space to execute it effectively.
Strength training is a great educational tool to develop awareness of how your body is moving and how to control it. Further, external load has a seemingly magical property to make a movement pattern ‘stick’ and become engrained in our memory.
Take the hip hinge for example, in a good hip hinge the muscles responsible for thoracic extension must be activated to prevent c-posture. The core musculature must do the same to keep the lumbar spine from extending as we rotate, putting the back in a compromised position. Pushing the butt back loads the powerful muscles of the hip that create so much of the speed in the golf swing. Good golf posture requires the ability to bend from the hips whilst maintaining the neutral pelvic tilt and spinal alignment essential for efficient rotation. In short a good hip hinge teaches us many of the skills we need to get into and maintain a good golf posture, come to think of it many of the cues we use in the gym to teach the hinge, such as screwing the feet into the ground, pushing the butt back and bracing your core will drastically improve you golf posture.
Not only that but the more movement variability we have, the broader the foundation we build. The wider the base, the more we can stack specific skills on top of it. An athlete who is solely 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.
Hopefully this post has given you more of the why behind getting strong for golf, the rest of this blog is littered with articles on the how so please take a look around, then go pick up heavy things!
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.
Today’s post is a guest post from Bobby Dattero. Bobby is Co-Owner and Sports Performance Coach at Evolution Sports Performance in Easton, MA, USA. He holds a Master’s degree in strength and conditioning, is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist and TPI certified. You can catch more of him at his blog or on twitter.
The fitness industry is often guilty of very all or nothing thinking, this leads to different people in the industry often stating seemingly completely contradictory or opposing things, this I’m sure can be really confusing and a little disconcerting.
But why does this happen?
Training is not black and white. As Dan John is a fan of saying “everything works until it doesn’t”. There is no such thing as a bad exercise only a bad fit for that particular person at that particular time.
Training for golf is no different. You can get conflicting opinions on methods or programs. Some of this also stems from controversial headlines used to grab a reader’s attention (which hopefully this did).
Unfortunately, this is the way things go. It is much easier to write an article that asks you to “throw out your bench press” than it is to say that “all upper body exercises are pretty much OK to do unless you have an individual reason not to.” There is nothing that’s going to grab your attention with that second example.
This is why it is essential to look at the whole picture and when designing fitness programs and making choices regarding exercise selection.
So, let’s get to that old staple of the weight room, the bench press. There are a few reasons why someone might not want to bench press.
- If you have a shoulder injury bench pressing may be painful. Never train in pain
- The scapulae are not allowed to move freely in the bench press so it’s “bad”
- The exercise is often loaded too heavy which results in missed reps and a lack of progress
- Stability is created by the bench and not the user
- Some gyms are small and cannot fit racks and bench presses in them
With the exception of point 1, I don’t buy into these reasons. If someone has a physical reason why the bench press is not a good fit for them, I have no problem eliminating it from their program.
A combination of points 2 to 4 is oftentimes rephrased with regards golf fitness as “golf is played on our feet so we should train on our feet, its functional.” This is has lead to exercises like the cable press gaining huge popularity amongst golfers. Now, someone can work their pushing strength while on their feet.
The body needs a variety of stimuli to adapt and develop all the facets of fitness required to play the game of golf. The bench press can be one of the best means to build upper body strength and, well, the cable press isn’t perfect either.
“When appropriately programmed and loaded the bench press is one of the best exercises for developing upper body strength”
The Bench Press can be Progressively Overloaded
Progressive overload is a term used to mean that over time we must continually add stress to the body in order to adapt to training. If the training load never increases then progress will cease. Training load includes sets, reps, and weight.
The bench press’s best advantage is that it can be loaded extremely well. We get to use both hands to push against the bar and the bench provides support for us. It basically isolates pushing.
A cable press is limited by stability. You can only load the cable press as much as you can avoid being pulled back by it. This makes progressive overload a challenge.
Take myself for example. I weigh 68kg/150lbs. It is really hard for me to hold the cable resistance in place without getting controlled by the machine. The press is not as hard as getting in position for the movement. A standard bench press is only limited by how strong I am. It will be easier to gain strength with a bench press than a cable press.
Forgive me because I do not have a research study handy, but strong people usually have a good bench press. That means something. If you want to be strong, it isn’t wise to completely disregard its use.
As I’m sure you’re aware Rory McIlroy has added some significant muscle and strength to his golf game in recent years and the bench press has seemingly been a part of a what is doubtless and balanced program of pressing variations to help him get there
Bench Press and Shoulder Health
The bench press can expose shoulder issues and its disproportionate use can potentially cause them. If that is your main concern then you need to really take a look at the risk of the golf swing on the body. More shoulders are beat up because of the golf swing and daily life than through bench pressing and this article is not getting into backs, knees, and hips.
There are steps we can take to protect our shoulders for improved performance and long term health.
- Monitor Volume – Volume can be problematic for joint health. I would like to see most golfers keep their bench press reps at 6 or less. We can get our volume elsewhere.
- Add Pushups – Pushups allow the scapulae to move freely. This helps train rotator cuff health while improving push strength and core stability
- Use the Cable Press – Just because the cable press has limitations does not mean to stop using it. Again, the scapulae move freely and we train core stability with the movement. It’s a win win.
- Use DB’s and Neutral Grips – A neutral grip is more shoulder friendly than a pronated grip. Use that with DB’s or specialty bars to spare the shoulders.
- Incorporate Posterior Shoulder Work – Add a lot of Y’s, T’s, external rotations, and breakaways to train the shoulder stabilizers. High reps/volume works well here.
- Row/ Pull double: If you do 3 pushes in your program, try to have 6 pulls. This will give the shoulder and upper back the kind of strength it needs to fend off cranky shoulders.
I do not want to make this argument to make the cable press seem bad, because it is not. It should be in most programs. The core stability developed and pushing strength is definitely going to complement your training.
When appropriately programmed and loaded the bench press is one of the best exercises for developing upper body strength. Continue to use it if you want to hit the ball further and shoot lower scores.
What golfers call shoulder turn is actually thoracic (a.k.a. upper back) rotation, however as the head remains still whilst the upper back turns our cervical spine (a.k.a. the neck) must be able to rotate too if you are going to achieve full shoulder turn in your backswing.
The neck also plays a vital role in how well the rest of your body functions. As Dean Somerset says, along with the feet and the core, the neck is one of the major stability centres in the body. To generate power, you need mobility. To have mobility, you need stability. Proximal stability feeds distal mobility. Instability signals the brain and nervous system to put the brakes on power output because it feels threatened. A lack of stability is a threat to your nervous system.
If the deep core stabilizing system of your body (of which the deep neck flexors are a part) is unstable, your nervous system will simply recruit more superficial muscles to take over. Neck position, therefore, can play a HUGE role in not only arm movement but also hip mobility, in other words we talk a lot about fixing alignment from the bottom up (i.e. at the feet up) but fixing from the top down is also an important strategy.
In the case of the shoulder, every muscle that holds the shoulder to the body and keeps it from falling down, is held up by the neck. If the neck is in a forward head posture, muscles like the sternocleidomastoid, scalanes, levator scapulae, and upper traps will be all jacked up, which will alter the ability to move the arms around. One of the most common relationships is inhibition (weakness) of the deep neck flexors to facilitation (tightness) in the hamstrings. Lack of stability in the neck causes a reflex compensation in the hamstrings to take over the job of the neck flexors. Neck alignment/ head position will also play a role in hip mobility due to the anatomical link to the spinal chord.
The deep neck flexors flex, side bend, and rotate the head as well as being a big part of the stability system we discussed. They do a ton of stuff. Assessing them is critical.
So, how can you determine if the deep neck flexors aren’t up to par?
The first test we like to utilise is a standing cervical rotation. Standing upright in good posture with the feet together turn the head to the left as far as you can and tilt it down, you should be able to touch your collar bone with your chin, then repeat on the other side.
Take a close look and you’ll see in the first picture I’m quite able to touch as high on my collar bone and also my shoulder has shrugged up slightly in order to help me get my chin and collar bone too touch. These are the sort of things you need to look for and suggest your neck rotation may not be up to scratch.
Next up we use a supine neck flexion to test the activation of our deep neck flexors. Lying on your back place the base of your thumb at the top of your sternum and point your thumb. Pull your neck down to touch your thumb and hold for 20 seconds.
Do you feel fatigue, soreness, discomfort, shaking, or the need to hold your breath during this exercise? If so that indicates the muscle may be inhibited and needs activation/strengthening.
So what can you do about it?
The key is to activate the neck flexors after releasing areas of your neck such as the sternocleidomastoid, scalanes, levator scapulae, and upper traps that have been prone to tightness and stiffness.
Sternocleidomastoid hands on SMR
Supine lacrosse ball deep neck flexor activation
The video is an abbreviated version just to give you an idea. The full exercise involves; holding ball under chin for 20 seconds. Next side bend right and left four times keeping control of the ball. Then rotate right and left four times maintaining control of the ball. Lastly do not hold your breath or clench your jaw.
So, If you’re in need of more shoulder turn check your neck function. If you find a weakness or lack of mobility put these exercises into action and I bet you’ll see an improvement.
Incidentally, this article came about from question posted on twitter so if you want your questions answered pop over to twitter (follow us if you aren’t already!) and tweet it to us.
This is a guest post from Mitch Gill. Mitch is an athletic trainer and strength coach based in Georgia, USA. He also owner and operator of Gill Training Systems. GTS was created out of a desire of mine to educate the general public on how to become a better version of themselves through health and fitness, with a philosophy of moving well, before adding strength and volume at it’s core. He can be reached at his website Gilltrainingsystems.com or through Twitter, Instagram or Facebook
Me and Mitch have had some great conversations over twitter and I totally love his approach to and passion for fitness, strength training and athletic performance. So without further ado, over to Mitch.
Low back pain is a common occurrence in golfers both recreationally and professionally. In a study done by the TPI, it was found that 28.1% of 31,000 golfers surveyed deal with low back pain after every round of golf. It has also been reported that 23% of golfers who play professionally deal with back pain. Back pain is most often an accumulation of stress over 100’s of swings. In a round of golf a good golfer may take 60 to 70 max effort swings and that does not include the practice swings before approaching the ball or the time spent on the practice range before their round. This low back pain can be caused by a mobility restriction elsewhere, such as the thoracic spine or the “mid-back”, causing compensation in the lumbar spine.
The joint-by-joint approach, an idea by Grey Cook, can be used to better explain how this occurs. Cook describes the body as a stack of joints, with each one having a specific function and each prone to certain dysfunctions.
As you can see, as we move up the chain, the need for mobility or stability alternates. The ankle, for example, has a tendency towards becoming stiff and most people will benefit from mobilising this joint. As we move up the chain to the knee we see a greater need for stability.
What does this mean for injury prevention?
When an area, in this instance the thoracic spine, is dysfunctional or tight another area must adjust or compensate. The inverse is true when an area in need of stability becomes unstable, the joint above or below will compensate and create stiffness to achieve stability. In the case of a tight t-spine, greater motion must occur at the lumbar spine to achieve the task at hand. This increases the propensity for issues to occur as the lumbar spine is meant to be a stable segment; you are asking muscles and other soft tissue to do things they are not equipped to do, and in doing so putting them vulnerable position. When you add high speed and force through the area, it is a ticking injury time bomb
Our daily lifestyle can wreck our t-spine mobility due to poor sitting mechanics of the 9-to-5 job. The body will get good at what it’s repeatedly asked to do in order to be as efficient as possible, and as such with all that time sitting flexed over our desk, we lose the ability to extend at the t-spine.
As rotation at the t-spine is also of a form of extension, and what golfers refer to as shoulder turn is really t-spine rotation we can pretty quickly see how a lack of mobility in the t-spine can limit a golfers back swing.
“Our training/warm-ups should counteract our time in these poor posture and prepare us for our activities”
Before we begin with exercise interventions however, it is pertinent to establish a baseline for thoracic mobility and find out our limitations and asymmetries. A quick self-evaluation tool is the seated t-spine rotation test:
You will need 3 golf clubs or wooden dowels and a chair to complete the test.
- Place 2 of the clubs down on the ground in an X or perpendicular fashion.
- Sit in chair so that you create 45 degree angles between two ends of the golf club.
- Place club in the front rack position with arms in a “W” position.
- Rotate the thorax as far as possible to both the right and the left.
- The goal is to achieve 45 degrees of rotation.
- The hips should remain stable on the chair. A ball or foam roller may also be placed between the knees to help you maintain a solid base.
It is important to not only consider your total mobility but also look for any asymmetries left to right. Golf is a unilateral sport, unless you are the unicorn golfer who is ambidextrous, and can often lend itself to some asymmetries. Finding limitations and asymmetries can help lead your plan of attack.
Now you have found that you have the thoracic mobility of a 90 year old…what now?
The first point of emphasis in thoracic mobility work should be extension. A tight flexed thoracic spine can make it difficult to achieve any rotation. Increasing extension will help make your rotation drills more effective later on.
Below is a quick 4 exercise mobility session to include into your warm-up before working out or hitting the course:
- Foam Rolling
- Done with arms crossed to clear scapula to gain access to the paraspinal muscles
- Slowly work your way up the spine finding “hot spots”
- When finding a hot spot, roll back and forth or just press into the area until sensitivity has decreased.
- Foam Roller Extension
- Easy transition from the foam rolling of muscles
- Can also be done with the mobility peanut or two lacrosse balls taped together.
- Use implement as a fulcrum
- Try to stop at each segment
- With a stable “lower half”, “upper half” will extend or “rotate” about the implement.
- Try 8 to 10 mobilisations per segment.
- T-Spine Rotation with Reach
- Sidelying position with top hip flexed to 90 degrees
- Use a foam roller to support knee if need be.
- Put pad under head to support head and neck.
- Start with hands parallel to ground
- Begin rotating thorax, keeping top knee on ground or foam roll
- As arms become perpendicular to the ground begin reaching with top arm, attempting to reach the ground.
- Hold for a couple breathes and repeat
- 5-10 reps on each side
- Quadped T-spine Rotation
- Quadped position or on all fours with knees under hips and hands under shoulder
- Place hand behind head on one side
- Attempt to rotate as far as possible without losing contact of ground with knees
- Also try with hand behind back placing shoulder in internal rotation
- 10-12 reps of each position on each side
Incidentally if you are a lower back pain sufferer, I’ll be running a week long series of posts on lower back pain that will touch on many of the same concepts of spinal positioning and segmental mobility v’s stability on my Instagram page next week so follow us here if you’re not already, and to turn on notifications to make sure you see the posts.
There are a myriad of different core exercises, a wealth of opinion on how to train the core and body of knowledge that has increased dramatically over the last decade or so and continues to do so, so it’s no wonder core training is a somewhat contentious and confused subject.
As I see it the problem with a lot of golfers core training stems from not understanding the anatomy and function of the core, and not utilising proper progression strategies to actually improve core function overtime. Static exercises like planks and side planks are great but doing them for ever increasing lengths of time in the name of progression invites fatigue and loses many of the benefits of the exercise with regard to muscle activation and spinal control. Hyper specific ‘core’ exercises that mimic the golf swing may have a place but if you don’t posses the segmental stabilisation to execute them in the first place they aren’t going to do anything for you, and may even leave you worst off. With that in mind this article is not a set of prescriptive exercises or not do’s and don’ts but rather a set of principles for you to follow when picking your own exercises and progressing your training.
Before we get to the progression element though we must understand the function of the core in the golf swing.
The function of the muscles in your core and lumbo-pelvic hip complex work is to work in tandem to provide protection for your spine, specifically at the lumbar segments in your vertebral column. In an athletic sense the core transfers force between the upper and lower body. Think of this as minimising any power leaks in your spine.
“Train the Function of Your Core; Not the Anatomy”
The work done by Dr. Stuart McGill proves, performing core training exercises that force your trunk and spine into excessive flexion (i.e., crunches and sit-ups), causes the facet joints and vertebral discs within your vertebral column to degenerate quicker. The same can be said for excessive extension.
Of course, we don’t want to avoid moving into rotation, flexion and extension at all costs during our daily lives or the golf swing. That’s not my point. However, spinal injury has been linked to the number of these moments we do so it’s make sense 1) not to increase that number in the gym (particularly by doing sit-ups or crunches). 2) train to be strong in resist these movements which will reduce injury potential.
Most notably, we want to train the abs to resist motion at the spine in an anti-rotation, anti-flexion and anti-extension manner.
Now we understand a bit more about what we want the core to do and the exercises we should utilise to reflect that, let’s take a look at where these exercises fit into a properly planned core training progression.
Establish correct spinal position and control of spinal segments.
This is vital if you want to achieve a strong core that functions well. The spine should have a slight lumbar lordosis (not too much, not too little) and a thoracic kyphosis.
If we want a core that functions well, resists movement appropriately, fires in the most efficient sequence, and is strong and powerful we need to first get the spinal segments in the right position and learn to control them.
Here’s a video of John Rusin, a.k.a. the strength doc, taking you through how to find neutral spine in a standing position (if you haven’t already check this dude out by the way…super smart!)
The cat-cow exercise is also an awesome way to learn how to find and control this position.
Additionally, most people can benefit from developing more thoracic extension. This will increase mobility in the upper back as well as improving posture, meaning movement can be better stabilised at the lumbar spine.
Achieve proper core stability.
Now you understand where neutral spine is and how to control it, you can begin to develop the ability of the core to stabilise the spine in that position against forces acting to pull it out of position
“If you can stabilise the muscles in your core in the presence of change (i.e., movement), than you’ll achieve a greater level of low back and core health and performance”
Static exercises that emphasise pelvic position exercises, planks, bird-dogs, dead-bugs, half-keeling positions, Pallof Press are the right call here.
The problem with these exercises is that they are often done incorrectly. With planks and side planks, for example, 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 good front plank should make your glutes incredibly tired from forcibly making them contract so that your hip flexors stretch and the abs bite down harder. Breathing plays a big role in this too, so tensed and halting breathing will negatively impact the effects of the core exercises compared to deep powerful and full breathing using the diaphragm.
Considering this a 10 second plank, done for 3 or 4 reps, with perfect neutral spine, glutes squeezed and controlled breathing produces much better benefits compared to a 30 or 40 second constant hold where fatigue may cause neutral spine to be lost and the glutes and abs not to contract as hard so as the hip flexors become the primary stabilising muscles and not a muscle on stretch as they should be.
Similarly, both bird-dogs and dead-bugs are predicated on holding stable core position whilst the limbs move, not moving through the greatest range of motion possible.
Keep the abs squeezed tight, hold a stable lower back position, and don’t allow the lower back to slip into extension (for dead-bugs, as in the video, keep the back flat to the floor throughout). Moving the arms or legs further while flexing the spine defeats the purpose.
Go slow. Gain control. And earn the right to progress.
Strengthen your core multi-directionally.
At this point begin to add forms of external resistance (i.e., medicine ball, resistance band, cable column, Valslides, etc.).
More dynamic planks such as planks with pulldown, planks with dynamic weight shift, rotational planks, rollouts, TRX fallouts and body-saw’s would all fall in to this category for anti-exetension work.
The Pallof press to overhead raise, Dead-bug with Pallof press or Pallof press with reverse lunge would constitute your anti-rotation work. Whilst weighted carries and deadlifts would make up your anti-flexion work.
Add power and explosive movement patterns into your core training.
Training a movement like a Pallof press to overhead raise sounds awesome and does a lot to work on controlling stability through transverse and frontal plane, all in a relatively slow and controlled manner.
For athletes who compete in relatively specific directions and actions without the elements of contact and chaos (i.e. golf), they can benefit from training with a high degree of specificity to their goal activities, as such it makes sense to train the core to produce force quickly just as in the golf swing.
For golfers this also means anti-rotation core work takes a front row seat. Rotational med-ball tosses in half-kneeling or split-stance are my go-to here
Let’s think about a basic core exercise, such as the Plank Hold. During this exercise, your job is to brace your core muscles, create full-body tension and to hold posture, while gravity and your body-weight try to tell you otherwise.
On a higher level, you’re performing an anti-extension exercise, where you’re deliberately trying to avoid spinal extension, specifically in the lumbar spine. Basically, you don’t want to let your hips dip down toward the floor.
In order for you to be able to properly perform all of this at the same time, it’s necessary for you to have core stability. That’s the key. That’s also why I believe it is imperative to learn how to stabilize your core before adding strength. Similarly, just like training any other movement we want to develop strength and force production before we work on power and the ability to develop that force quickly
This progression above will help to bulletproof your spine for long-term health and performance. I recommend mastering the exercises in each section before moving forward along the progression line. Give it a try and see if your posture, you movement and how you feel don’t improve.
Also, I’ll be running a week long series of posts on lower back pain that will touch on many of the same concepts of spinal positioning and core stability on my Instagram page next week so be sure to follow us here if you’re not already, and to turn on notifications to make sure you see the posts.
If you’ve used our coaching programs or looked at our exercise library on Youtube you’ll know that we like to use a lot of half-kneeling and tall-kneeling exercises. This is because we like to utilise a “ground up” approach when designing training progressions – building safe and proficient movement patterns through the use of developmental positions. These positions are in reference to the methods in which baby humans learn to explore movement. As adults, it’s beneficial to revisit these positions to hone and refine our movement – especially since time spend sitting chained to a desk with a sedentary lifestyle, has lead to loss of mobility and reflexive motor control for most.
The half-kneeling position is a fantastic tool to improve these attributes. By lowering the centre of mass (compared to standing), the athlete can practice moving through the hips and shoulders with less compensation and unnecessary motion through the pelvis and lumbar spine – which is common and more difficult to overcome in a standing position. In other words using the half-kneeling position is a great way of a making an exercise more self limiting. This simply means you are reducing the chances of executing an exercise with poor form or your form degrading as fatigue builds up during a set.
So with that in mind, enter half-kneeling:
If you’re not utilising it at some point in your warm-up, training, or corrective exercise strategy – perhaps you should be.
When to use half-kneeling?
To echo the message of smart people such as Gray Cook, Charlie Weingroff , and Mike Robertson who have really made this stuff mainstream, we need proximal stability to have distal mobility. In other words, we need relative stability through the trunk to make full use of the range of motion available in joints such as the hips and shoulders. In other other words, we need a reflexive core that activates at the correct time and with the appropriate intensity, to have arms and legs that perform well. It doesn’t matter how much force you can generate with your extremities if your trunk is not in the position to oppose and transmit that force nor does it matter how rigid you can make your core if the intensity of the contraction is not appropriate or is not timed properly, based on the specific movement demand.
The base of support is fixed at hip width or more narrow. Narrowing the base will increase the demand on trunk musculature, and requires the athlete to stabilise reflexively with intrinsic musculature throughout the body as opposed to simply ‘hanging out’ on their joints and ligaments. In addition, balance overcorrections will lead to you falling on your butt. Half kneeling, forces you to develop reflexive, well-timed contractions from head to toe, in order to remain stable. This is something that carries over to all athletic endeavours, especially a high speed, highly co-ordinated movement such as the golf swing.
Once the position is dialled in, there are countless drills to progressively challenge the trunk while achieving dynamic movement through the extremities. Ageless classics like chops and lifts performed in half-kneeling are a some of my favourites though, as these movements allow us to incorporate thoracic rotation, with the half-kneeling position ensuring a stable lumbar spine. This is similar to the demands of rotational sports such as golf. Furthermore, as we know, faulty rotation mechanics with movement coming from an unstable lumbar spine rather than the thoracic spine is a big cause of back pain amongst rotational sport athletes.
Pressing, pulling and shoulder stabilisation
We humans move in alternating and reciprocal patterns. Look at a person’s gait for example, pelvic and thoracic rotation alternate back and forth; reciprocal rotation in one direction at the pelvis and another in the trunk; flexing and extending the opposite arm and leg; etc. Single arm pressing and pulling work in half kneeling with the opposite leg up mimics this pattern, and is very powerful for developing the diagonal and unilateral stabilisation needed during dynamic standing activities, sifting your weight in the golf swing for example.
It is an ideal position for some focused shoulder stability work or overhead work to because it minimises ones ability to compensate with the lower body. With a motionless platform, all the work goes to the shoulder complex, where we want it. This is also makes it a great place to go for someone who experiences low back discomfort when performing loaded overhead movements, as it minimises the extension moment in the lumbar spine.
Great examples of half kneeling work in this instance are half-kneeling single-arm cable rows, half-kneeling cable pulldowns, half-kneeling single-arm overhead press, and half-kneeling single Kettlebell holds
TL;DR: The half-kneeling is awesome for reducing movement compensations, reducing form degradation and creating a more ‘self-limiting’ exercise, as well as increasing the core stabilisation requirements. Prioritise mastering the base position first, then implement one or two of the myriad of variations in your warm-ups, strength work or core training program. Progress and modify as you begin to improve your control.
This is a guest post by Alex Ehlert, Alex has really caught my attention of late with his commitment to seeking out best practice for golf fitness by applying research backed evidence (something I like to think of as a defining quality in our training at Stronger Golf too).
One common complaint I have heard about golf resistance training is looking at something called the rate of force development or RFD, basically this is the amount of time it takes to develop force.
I’ve heard it said that strength is unimportant in golf because maximal force does not have time to develop during the short time-frame of a golf swing, or that the relative light weight of the club makes it irrelevant.
The first part is true to some extent, studies have shown that it takes about 300 milliseconds or more to create maximal isometric force and most athletic actions, including golf swings occur in a shorter time frame than that (6). But if strength were not important for this reason, it would also be equally useless in nearly every explosive movement in the athletic world, which is obviously not the case. The modern golf swing takes no shorter time than most explosive athletic actions, yet resistance training is common practice in nearly every sport but golf. I want to show why resistance training is important for all explosive activities, including golf.
There have been multiple studies showing that resistance training increased RFD, meaning force was able to be produced more rapidly (1). In other words not only does resistance training allow a greater potential for maximum force, it also allows for faster development of that force. Further, one unique study compared the factors that influence RFD at various time points (2). They found that most of the variance between individuals’ RFD in the first 90 milliseconds was correlated with contractile properties. This refers to the contractile proteins within the cell itself and how rapidly they can cause action. The study found after 90 milliseconds, as much as 52-81% of the differences in RFD were attributed to the individual’s maximal contraction force A.K.A. maximal strength. 90 milliseconds is well within the time frame of a golf swing, so it would seem that strength plays a large factor in clubhead speed after all.
Part of the reason for the confusion on strength’s role in golf has to do with people throwing around the term “power” without actually knowing what it is. Power has a very simple formula of Work/Time, with Work being Force x Distance. So you can simplify it even more to Power = Force x Velocity since Velocity=Distance/Time.
Therefore it seems pretty obvious that a couple factors influence the ability to create power. The first being the ability to generate a lot of force, and the second being the ability to do so with high velocity (5).
It is also important to note that muscle operates under the Force-Velocity relationship. As velocity increases, the ability to generate force decreases. Without getting too physiological, the explanation for this is that with higher velocities, there is less time to allow the contractile proteins to bind together and create cross-bridges which help produce force. This does not mean that a sport requiring high velocity like golf has no use for maximizing force, it just means that optimal power is performed at a level below maximal force as well as maximal velocity. This is not unique to golf, you want the right blend of velocity and force to create as much power as possible in any explosive action.
So how do we develop optimal power and rate of force development?
When trying to increase power, it is important to focus on several factors: overall muscle strength, the ability to develop forces rapidly (RFD), and the ability to utilize large forces at velocity (5). These factors work together, but it is strength that lays the foundation for the others. Put simply, stronger athletes consistently have more potential for high power output (3). Indeed, research with comparatively weak athletes, performing programs with just strength training, led to significant increases in power without any power-specific training (4).
Editors note: The take home message here is therefore the need to develop your strength base first.
This idea brings up another issue, how strong is strong enough? This topic is one without a clear-cut answer but a few things have been shown. First, one study with soccer players found that those who could squat 2x their body mass were significantly more proficient in power activities like sprinting and squat jumps (7). I have also seen consistently the idea of a broad jump of 1.2-1.4x an athlete’s height to be a good goal. Either way I would venture to guess that a large majority of golfers are not currently capable of these feats, meaning there is probably significant area for improvement in the strength department. Others have developed pretty good standards of strength that correlate well with golf performance that golfers should strive for.
It has been reported that stronger athletes are more responsive to power training than weaker athletes so having sufficient strength can help receive more of a benefit from power-specific exercises (4). It is important to note, however, that this does not mean stronger athletes should perform only power movements or that weaker athletes will not also benefit from plyometrics and other powerful exercises. It means that developing a foundation of strength is important for those who are deficient in that area and even once it is achieved a continued focus on strength will prevent detraining, or the decrease in strength over time.
Editors note: For our attempt at answering the question of how strong is strong enough for golf take a look at our strength standards for golfers post.
Once a foundation of strength has been built, golfers can further enhance power by incorporating plyometrics, ballistics, and other power movements into their program. These exercises will help the athlete develop force rapidly and utilize it at high speeds.
Remember that force velocity curve from earlier? To optimally train the body for athletic performance we need to perform at various areas of the force-velocity curve, meaning working on maximizing strength at the high-force, low-velocity end as well as working on RFD at the lower-force, high-velocity end.
This can be done by using a number of methods, either using certain exercises and altering the loads to train for strength vs power e.g. squatting with lower weight (50% max) some times and performing reps explosively, and squatting at a heavier range at others (80-100% or more), or by utilizing different exercises e.g. squats and deadlifts to develop strength and then incorporating more “power” movements like box jumps and medicine ball throws to incorporate speed and explosiveness. Both of these methods have been utilized with success as well as a combination of the two as long as the program is very well designed and the individual is screened for movement and strength deficiencies before proceeding.
One last important idea to remember is periodization and the sequencing of a program. This refers to planning how the program is going to progress to fulfill the individual’s goals. This will be different based on the person’s needs from training. For those lacking the foundation of strength (which is many golfers), it often initially includes a time to correct any deficiencies in their movements that might harm their ability to train. Then it will include a time of resistance training to develop that foundation of strength. Then when the foundation of strength is sufficient, the athlete will be prepared for maximal benefit from a mixed methods program that includes explosive power movements. I also believe mobility and stability exercises should be incorporated into each stage of the training. Finally, the program should also be utilizing progressive overload where the individual is given more difficult tasks over time since the body needs to be challenged in order to change in a positive manner.
1. Aagaard, P., Simonsen, E. B., Andersen, J. L., Magnusson, P., & Dyhre-Poulsen, P. (2002). Increased rate of force development and neural drive of human skeletal muscle following resistance training. Journal of applied physiology, 93(4), 1318-1326.
2. Andersen, L. L., & Aagaard, P. (2006). Influence of maximal muscle strength and intrinsic muscle contractile properties on contractile rate of force development. European journal of applied physiology, 96(1), 46-52.
3. Baker, D. (2001). Comparison of upper-body strength and power between professional and college-aged rugby league players. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 15(1), 30-35.
4. Cormie, P., McGuigan, M. R., & Newton, R. U. (2010). Influence of strength on magnitude and mechanisms of adaptation to power training. Med Sci Sports Exerc, 42(8), 1566-81.
5. Kawamori, N., & Haff, G. G. (2004). The optimal training load for the development of muscular power. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 18(3), 675-684.
6. Thorstensson, A., Karlsson, J., Viitasalo, J. H. T., Luhtanen, P., & Komi, P. V. (1976). Effect of strength training on EMG of human skeletal muscle. Acta Physiologica Scandinavica, 98(2), 232-236.
7. Wisløff, U., Castagna, C., Helgerud, J., Jones, R., & Hoff, J. (2004). Strong correlation of maximal squat strength with sprint performance and vertical jump height in elite soccer players. British journal of sports medicine, 38(3), 285-288.
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 blog www.golfathlete.blogspot.co.uk and can be contacted via twitter.
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.