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!