Tag Archives: Golf Specific

5 reasons why ‘golfish’ exercises don’t work

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.

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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.


What golf-specific training really is

In the simplest possible terms specificity means that if you wish to develop a certain aspect of training then you emphasise that aspect in your training programme. The training of a squash player, for example, will therefore look quite different from someone who is training for the London Marathon.

Athletes who compete in relatively specific directions and actions without the elements of contact and chaos, they can benefit from training with a high degree of specificity to their goal activities (although the athlete should be sure to train in both directions).

This obviously applies to golfers, but what actually is specificity in golf training?

Golf-specific training doesn’t mean the exercise has to look ‘golfish’ or mimic swing.

The overhead squat pattern, for example, isn’t seen in the golf swing. However, it is a highly popular screen for golfers and much has been written about its importance to a properly executed golf swing. As Grey Cook explains here, we know hip rotation is typically important to properly executing the golf swing, that same level of hip rotation is required to squat deep. Additionally the overhead squat requires us to maintain t-spine extension (vital for good posture and rotation in the swing) whilst activating the core (essential for the transfer of power up the kinetic chain in the golf swing). A movement pattern doesn’t have be seen in the sport to carryover to that sport. 

As Mel Siff writes in his book Supertraining:

“To fulfil the criteria of correspondence with respect to the amplitude and direction of movement, it is advisable to select the exact starting position and posture of the athlete, as well as to calculate the direction of action of the forces associated with the working links of the system and the additional load. The line of action of the applied external resistance and of the loaded movement as a whole must also be taken into account.

For example, in middle-distance running, skiing and skating, a knapsack full of sand or a weight belt are sometimes used as resistance. However, the muscles which bear the load are those which resist the weight of the body. This can increase the ability to cope with vertical loading and develop general strength-endurance, but does not strengthen those muscles which propel the body horizontally.

Similarly, a skater may execute jumps on one leg on the floor or from a bench. These exercises strengthen the leg muscles supporting the body and the static-endurance of the back muscles, but do not fully imitate the working of the muscles for the push-off, where the force is directed backward.”

The golf swing is largely dependent on rotational and lateral movement to develop power, although there are also elements of vertical and horizontal power to varying degrees – There is a hip extension moment as we approach the ball in the downswing, this means for most the pelvis we be closer to the ball on striking than at posture, from this we can assume a horizontal displacement of force as occurred. Similarly, many players (Bubba Watson being a great example, whom I talked about in more detail in this article) display a pronounced dip to begin their downswing and then explode upwards as the come towards impact, this demonstrates a more vertical force displacement – To me this suggests there is merit to developing force production abilities in all directions for golfers although it would be pertinent to move to more lateral and rotational measures as we move towards the start of a competitive season say. Interestingly, as some players utilise more lateral means of generating power, whilst others use more rational and horizontal, and some more vertical (anyone who has been put through a BioSwing screen you will know you are grouped into a ‘power package’ based on the directions of movement you typically use to develop power in the swing), an argument could be made that different exercises represent truly specific to different golfers.

Siff then explains how sport typically involves simultaneous coordinated tension of muscle groups, such as the simultaneous flexion and extension at the two hip joints in running, where the angular movement of one leg enhances the push-off movement of the other.

For the golf swing this most easily equates to disassociation of the upper and lower body

By this measure something like a sled push can be seen as fairly golf specific, featuring an element of hip extension to produce horizontal force, disassociation of the upper and lower body (the legs move whilst upper body remains stable), summation of forces proximally to distally (from the ground to the arms, through the core), whilst the position taken up to push fairly accurately mimics the golf posture.

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:

Training should be speed, time constraint and intensity specific, not just movement specific.

If we consider training as a continuum from maximal strength modalities (a 1RM deadlift for example) at one end and pure speed (sprinting) at the other. As the golf swing is an incredibly fast movement and the external resistance utilised (the club) is relatively light, golf will clearly sit pretty close to the pure speed end of the continuum. As such specific training should focus on low intensities (intensity being defined as percentage of 1RM) and high speed movements, occurring within a similar time frame to the golf swing.


An obvious example would be something like a split-stance rotational scoop toss. Much like the sled push this also features disassociation of the upper and lower body and summation of forces proximally to distally, whilst the position taken up to push fairly accurately mimics golf posture.

Specificity in energy systems training

If we consider the energy system demands of golf in more detail; we must walk (admittedly across sometimes substantially undulating terrain) for sometimes upto 5 hours (depending on the pace of play at your course, but the seemingly endless slowing down of play on the PGA tour is a topic for another day and another blog). Walking is relatively low intensity activity that utilises the aerobic energy system, so we must develop the capacity to operate at low intensity for a long period of time. The golf swing itself is obviously a high power output movement occurring very quickly, this utilises the ATP-PC energy system. This only provides energy to the muscles for a very short portion of time, but at a very high power output, it requires short intervals and long rest periods to train effectively. This is a somewhat controversial topic but my suggestions would be to make sure to train your steady state cardio at a very slow place for long duration, to me walking and playing golf itself are the best bets here, and to keep your interval training to short powerful bursts of 10 seconds or so with relatively long rest periods of even a minute or above, depending on your fitness level.

A note on when specificity is appropriate

For professional/competitive golfers, we must understand that 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. Therefore, the greatest training affect according to the law of diminishing returns and largest portion of their workload should be dedicated to work that falls on the other (general) end of that continuum. This is most easily identified as standard maximal strength training type modalities.

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.